Holding referendum on peace with Russia: Democracy or shifting responsibility?

Author : Maksym Skrypchenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

In his inaugural speech, Zelensky noted that "he is ready for everything so that our heroes do not die." Immediately then he added: "Without losing territory. Never."
22:42, 27 May 2019

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine
Presidential Administration press office

What is the new president ready to do for peace in Donbas? According to the results of recent sociological researches, the most important problem to solve today is the question of Russian aggression in the East of Ukraine (more than 60%), and this is not a secret.

Actually, Zelensky himself, while still being a presidential candidate, actively spoke on the topic of peace in Donbas. However, he has already begun to fulfill his duties as a head of state, and the main questions still do not have an answer: How would we return the occupied Donbas? How to return the annexed Crimea? What the president and the administration are ready to do to achieve ceasefire? Which of the following is essential and what target can be sacrificed for the sake of another?

There were no answers to these questions before. Each of them hides a huge number of doubts, sacrifices, fears and dreams, and therefore any answer will immediately hit the level of support for the newly elected president, who is interested in his preservation for obtaining more seats in parliament in early elections. For this reason, it’s really not worth hurrying with the response of the Presidential Administration, because it will shake the rating.

In any negotiations it is necessary to sacrifice something, with the exception of situations where a large force dictates its own conditions, hiding them under the sign of "talks". I suppose that our case is classical negotiations, where the parties listen to each other, express positions and seek a compromise. Each side has its own “red lines” (what they will not agree to under any circumstances), everything else is discussed, sometimes long and difficult, but discussed.

Andrei Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, who was also called "Mr. No", was a master in this matter. He was able to delineate the "red lines" where they really are not, thus forcing the other side to come to a "compromise", which was more beneficial for the USSR. Now this method is adopted by the diplomats of the Russian Federation.

In his inaugural speech, Zelensky noted that "he is ready for everything so that our heroes do not die." Immediately then he added: "Without losing territory. Never." Later, the head of the Presidential Administration, Andriy Bogdan, added that Ukraine is also not ready to lose people.

So, there are the first "red lines" - territories and people. Recently, Zelensky also noted that the course towards the EU and NATO is enshrined in the Constitution, which means that it should be continued. At the same time, he speaks about a referendum on this issue, and therefore we cannot call it a “red line”. At this moment we are closing the list of our critical starting points, because the new Administration has not yet announced any others.

It is difficult for us to talk about all the "red lines" of Russia, because, having large resources and using the Gromyko approach, Moscow can mislead us about things important to it. We can name obvious interests for the Kremlin: Donbas autonomy as part of a federalized Ukraine, reconciliation of Ukraine and the West with the loss of Crimea, support for the Russian language, impossibility of Ukraine’s membership in NATO, wide economic cooperation between Ukraine and Russia (linking markets), but we don’t know what of these is the most important for Putin.

Each of these points is painful for Ukraine, because it marks the loss of subjectivity and harms national interests. The easiest issue can be a question of language. For the Russian-speaking Zelensky, it is resolved: he believes that the language question only separates people and that it has always been a way of manipulation.

Russia, at the same time, wanted to convene a meeting in the UN Security Council on the adoption of the language law by the Verkhovna Rada. That is, the question of language can be the first element of a compromise in the negotiations, because for Zelensky himself and his team it is not a matter of principle: he used to say that language quotas are a bad idea, because the language needs to be spread using the "carrot" method, not the "whip".

Providing the Russian language with a special status is the first thing that the two parties can agree on. By the way, the new administration is already using the scenario of easing language legislation in relations with Hungary.

Related: Zelensky visits frontline positions of Armed Forces of Ukraine in Luhansk region

However, what about the level of support for such a decision among the population? And we are talking about the most obvious way to start a conversation on peace negotiations. The further - the harder, other decisions will lead to even greater resistance within Ukraine. From this follows the presidential plan for a referendum, through which the people will decide for themselves what they are ready to do.

Of course, to a certain extent this means the removal of the political responsibility of the ruling elite, because the mandate of the president and the MP allows to sign an agreement, based on the fact that they were elected for this. The referendum will show that this decision was not made by the president or the Verkhovna Rada, but by your neighbors, so the authorities have nothing to do with it. Is it the democracy or the transfer of responsibility - think for yourself.

Especially consider the influence of Russia on the internal situation in our state and media campaign, which will unfold in preparation for the expression of will. And the fact is that the Russian Federation does not want real negotiations, as its dictate conditions, and we, as a weaker state, should look for something in return. Frequent practice is to expand the list of objects of negotiation.

For example, in 1962, the United States placed nuclear weapons in Turkey, which could reach the territory of the USSR in 5-10 minutes, while Moscow could only respond after 25 minutes and across the continent, that is, it gave Washington a strategic advantage. The USSR did not negotiate until it deployed nuclear weapons in Cuba and equalized the situation.

Only then the negotiations began. Of course, the potentials of Russia and Ukraine cannot be compared, but Ukraine can also offer something to Russia during negotiations. It is not only about the abolition of sanctions that hit the Russian economy, but also about the abolition of new extraordinary measures that Ukraine can create with the help of international partners.

Perhaps these will be measures that will harm us, but they will harm Russia more. The list of such means is long - from preventing the work of mines operating in the occupied territory (of course, without human victims), to the complete blockade of the territories. These are examples of the most radical decisions that, obviously, will not be preferred by the new government.

So far, Zelensky fully continues the foreign policy of his predecessor, focusing on the strengthening of sanctions against the Russian Federation. Kyiv does not go beyond the limits of Minsk and the Norman format.

However, when the elections are held and we get a new parliament, in which the new president will have his own political power, an active stage of peace negotiations on new scenarios will begin. Then the time will come to outline our "red lines". And, if there will be a referendum, then the people themselves, each of us will determine what he is ready to do for the sake of ending the war in Donbas.

How much and what will we give for this - it will depend only on us. And this is just the first stage, it is followed by the return of Donbas and Crimea. Against this background, Zelensky’s thesis that “each of us is a president” becomes clear. But is each of us ready to be president?

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