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Zelensky’s first month: I promised you peace in Donbas? Forget it

Author : Ihor Valsky

What are the results of the first month of Zelensky’s presidency?
20:52, 20 June 2019

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky
Radio Liberty

The war in Donbas is a key question for Ukraine and for its every citizen. This fact does not require proves, confirmed by all sociological polls and obvious. It is so evident that Volodymyr Zelensky before the elections put this issue in priorities of his campaign. With this thesis that we need to achieve a ceasefire in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and restore peace, he won the elections. Moreover, he said that return of all prisoners of war is his main task. So people were bound to vote for him, as they believed that Zelensky out of all candidates, were capable of bringing the country together.

Zelensky spoke a lot about Donbas and that he can and wants to do for it. For example, he said he was ready to talks with Putin and claimed it was necessary, even though the “witnesses” – the United States and European Union, would watch over it. Remember how at his inaugural speech he said: “I can assure you that I am ready for everything to stop our heroes from dying. I'm definitely not afraid to make complicated decisions. I am ready to lose my popularity, my ratings, and if necessary, I am ready to lose my position without hesitation, so that peace would come.”

It sounds nice and you want to believe him, right?

However, what do we have in fact after the first month of Zelensky’s presidency?

The controversial appointments, overtures with NATO in Brussels, public rhetoric that Ukraine is not ready for negotiations with “LNR and DNR” about the return of the territories and that Russia is an aggressor country on which more sanctions must be imposed. And at the same time, lunches at gas stations, interview on fitness cycle and splashing in a fountain. Does it have anything to do with peace in Donbas? I guess not.

Related: Zelensky creates President's Office instead of Administration

Moreover, Ukrainian political analysts are saying that Zelensky continued the external policy of Poroshenko. He became a Poroshenko 2.0, but a little worse, as he does not speak foreign languages.

One could say that he did not have an opportunity, that little time has passed or that Russia rejected the initiatives of Ukraine. But it is not true.

As a president, Zelensky is responsible for the external policy and he has these powers. However, he did not propose any initiatives to Russia at all. Even though, when your priority is ending the war, you have to negotiate. Instead, Zelensky refused from services of Viktor Medvedchuk seen by the Kremlin at the only mediator who deserves trust. Zelensky went to Brussels to the NATO headquarters, where he promised to lead the country to the Alliance (though earlier he said it was only possible through a referendum). The new president also stated that Russia was an aggressor, that there will be no talks with the Donbas. Regardless that French President Emmanuel Macron clearly urged to negotiate.

Do you think that the Kremlin would want to talk with Zelensky after such first 30 days? In fact, Zelensky for this month has ruined all opportunities to establish contact with the Kremlin to bargain the profitable conditions for both sides. For just one month! I am sure, the  Kremlin has already deemed Zelensky as a person who is impossible to talk to. Because the public rhetoric of the Ukrainian president is no different from that of Petro Poroshenko. And this is a wrong move by Zelensky, which will eventually lead him to a dead end, as it did the previous president.

Related: Zelensky discussed priorities of his activity with YES representatives

But after all, Zelensky had opportunities to somehow establish contact with the Donbas and the Russian Federation. Almost immediately after the inauguration, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed him. He invited the Ukrainian president to make an “all for all” exchange. This is what Poroshenko did not do, but what the Ukrainians were waiting for. If Zelensky had agreed, 62 Ukrainians could already be at home. But he simply ignored the proposal of the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry. But now he loudly publicly declares that the Russian Federation must comply with the decision of the International Tribunal and return the Ukrainian sailors home. He says he believes it. Faith is a good thing, but very naive if you are the president of a country. When it was possible to return all the prisoners to Ukraine, having increased public trust to himself, Zelensky, apparently, was too busy playing table tennis or planning the relocation of the Presidential Administration from Bankova. Otherwise, his entourage simply does not understand diplomacy. A moment that could turn the story in a different direction was missed.

Now Volodymyr Zelensky answers the critical questions of journalists with something like “oh, and I was joking.” I joked about lowering the tariffs, I joked about readiness for a dialogue with Russia. We got it wrong, we misunderstood Zelensky. Well, we have not heard such excuses from the Ukrainian politicians yet. These are truly new approaches.

To sum up, what do we have in Donbas? Half a dozen promises of President Zelensky, which he either forgot or refused from. Ukrainians are still in captivity. And in Donbas combat zone, there is an escalation - not only military servicemen but also civilians are getting killed and injured. It seems that the parliamentary elections will correct the level of public trust in Zelensky team.

Related: Zelensky comments on conclusions of JIT on MH17

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