Volodymyr Zelensky became president, declaring, among other things, his intention to end the war. It is clear that the implementation of such an intention does not depend on him alone. Germany, represented by its Chancellor Angela Merkel, remained Ukraine's ally in achieving peace. But in September this year, Merkel will leave her post, and it is not known whether her successor will continue the previously launched policy. Significant geopolitical changes also took place in connection with the election of the President of the United States, Joseph Biden.
But perhaps most importantly, President Zelensky himself began to change.
President, deadlines, Minsk
President's timeline for peace has varied as his term passed. In March 2020, in an interview with The Guardian, Zelensky said that he had given Russian President Vladimir Putin a year to reach an agreement that would end the war. "Time is running out ... The government can spend one year on the deal. During this period, it must be implemented, not longer," Zelensky said then.
"I will not spend the 5 years that the Ukrainian people gave me to work in Minsk," the Ukrainian president added.
In August 2020, in an interview with Euronews, Zelensky noted that he hopes to be able to end the war in Donbas in 2020. “If we compare our team and the previous one, then no one wanted peace the way I want. Nobody did that, and there’s so pressure on this issue, and everyone sees it. And I'm not talking only about Ukrainians - everyone from our foreign partners sees it. I know that no one will finish it faster than me," he said.
But in October the concept changed. In an interview with the BBC, Zelensky said: if he cannot end the war, "it means that another person must come who can end this tragic story between our countries."
The position of the head of state on the Minsk agreements also began to undergo certain transformations. In a pre-New Year interview with Focus, Volodymyr Zelensky noted this: “As I said at one of the briefings, I think that we cannot just leave the Minsk agreements. But I would come out ... "
At the same time, “it's too early to talk about plan B for Donbas,” Zelensky notes in the same interview. In other words, plan "A" is still being implemented now - with the Minsk agreements, the Normandy meetings and the like - with all that the president calls "painful and subtle diplomacy."
And in a conversation with a journalist of "Focus" he summed up: "I believe that no one wants to end the war, except for Ukraine." True, the president later clarified: "No, the European partners also want this."
European partners: minus one?
Head of the Representative Office of the Heinrich Belle Foundation, Serhiy Sumlennuy says in an interview with Radio Liberty that recently Angela Merkel has been completely absorbed by two topics: coronavirus and Ukraine. He refers to informed sources.
“There are people who are familiar with the internal cases of the Merkel administration - they say that, in principle, for the past few months, the topic of Ukraine was, besides the coronavirus, the only thing that really interested her. And again she really invested her own time and her own strength, her own resource. Certain people even criticized Merkel for interfering too much in these issues of foreign policy," Sumlennuy says.
But this will last until September at the most. Because in the fall the new chancellor will take the office. True, Merkel's control over the situation in Donbas is her private (or private-political) initiative. After all, all foreign policy is the prerogative of the German Foreign Ministry, and therefore it is not even important who will head the Bundestag, but who will receive the portfolio of the "foreign" minister.
Now the foreign policy department is headed by Heiko Maas. He is a close associate of Merkel, who thinks and acts in sync with the chancellor. Maas is known for its warm attitude towards Ukraine. "Germany is a friend and partner. It stands on the side of Ukraine and will help it to make its future good," he says, for example.
Maas also praises Ukraine for the efforts that our state is making to achieve peace. “It should be emphasized that significant progress has been made recently. The ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine has been observed more and longer than it was in the past. Perhaps even longer, starting from 2014. The point is to consolidate and strengthen it. This is what we are talking about - how to find a mechanism, how to track the violation of the ceasefire, "he noted at one of the joint press conferences with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba.
Ukrainian analysts believe that Germany, with its chancellor and foreign minister, was fulfilling a mission that was especially important among other European countries. It did not allow Ukraine to make those concessions to Russia and Donbas, which were considered excessive in Europe. That is, it acted as a kind of deterrent.
Under the new government, this situation may change. But while Angela Merkel remains in power. On January 15, 2021, she spoke on the phone for the last time with President Zelensky. And as the representative Steffen Seibert said, the parties agreed "to intensify work in the Normandy format to implement the Minsk agreements."
The last Normandy format summit was held in Paris in December 2019. The meeting was planned to be repeated in 2020, but it did not work out. Now Kyiv hopes that the Normandy Four will meet again this year (before Merkel leaves), at least in its former composition. Because, as you know, the desire of President Zelensky (expressed by him at the beginning of the cadence) to expand the Normandy format at the expense of the United States did not come true.
American side: is everything possible now?
With Donald Trump, Washington's role in peacemaking faded away. An eloquent moment: the special representative of the State Department for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, resigned more than a year ago, and, despite many conversations about who will replace him, Volker's place remained vacant. Joe Biden is expected to be active, and considerable.
In any case, in an interview with The New York Times in late 2020, Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated that he has high hopes for the United States joining the Normandy format.
"President Biden understands the issues of Ukraine and Russia well. He spoke about security in Europe, but we believe that talking simply about the end of the war is not enough. And then what to do? We need the reintegration of Donbas. And to reintegrate Donbas, we need strong companies, strong technology, security and money. We understand that the United States of America today is the guarantor of security in the world, a serious strategic player, therefore such steps could accelerate the end of the war in Donbas and the beginning of large-scale construction, the great reintegration of Donbas," Zelensky said.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden has just taken office, so it’s not surprising that he hasn’t made any significant statements on Ukraine and Donbas yet. But Ukraine should not just sit back and wait for the manna from heaven. This opinion is expressed in an interview with Radio Liberty, in particular, by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Klimkin.
"Now we must show the first - that we have a clear strategy or strategy field. We understand what to do and how to do it. The second - that we can implement it. Because the question is really simple - is Ukraine ready to implement this? Because any plan will still contain compromise moments. They will be insanely emotionally difficult for many people. They will be insanely difficult politically. And we, as you can see, do not have political unity," said Klimkin.
That is, the number one task for Ukraine is to propose their own algorithms, and not hope that someone else will write them. Task number two is to do everything possible to neutralize the aftertaste of the scandal with Ukraine's interference in the American elections.
Assignment number three is to look for some common non-standard solutions, analysts advise. For example, to restore the "Kuchma-Gore commission", but, of course, with new names. This commission dealt with issues of strategic partnership, they tried to revive it during the time of Poroshenko, then it existed at the level of "Klimkin - Pompeo". And now a similar format could bring Ukraine a lot of benefits.
Speaking of benefits, experts both go beyond the war in Donbas and remain in its framework. Because cooperation between Ukraine and the United States is not only a story about war, even if it is about the implementation of military security issues.
“We see how the Minsk format of negotiations on Donbas is undergoing stagnation before our eyes. All these dialogues in the Trilateral Contact Group constantly, cyclically end with some greater incomparability of positions between Russia and Ukraine. Therefore, some possible change in the format of negotiations on Donbas is advisable for Ukraine only taking into account the position of the United States and taking into account the possible participation of the United States in this platform," says the head of the Center for Political Studios Yaroslav Bozhko.
But even before attracting the United States, Germany or other partners, Ukraine itself must clearly define what it wants and in which direction it is moving. In the words of one of the speakers quoted above, both "what" and "how" are important here. Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities should have an excellent understanding of both these components - without permanent hesitation and change of position.