Yes, the presidency of Volodymyr Zelensky lasts only two months. But the issues of war and peace, by his own definition, are today the main challenge. In this case, it would be logical to expect some kind of work towards peace. However, such work is not visible - at least not yet.
Give him a year
On July 18, president Zelensky voiced yet another statement that was close in content to the famous "you just have to stop shooting." “I think if you want to stop the war, you will definitely stop it. I’m sure that the former authorities didn’t want to do it. But I don’t know all the reasons, all the conditions why they didn’t want it, why they slowed down,” he said in an interview. Zelensky chided his predecessor Poroshenko for the fact that his meetings within the Normandy four were completely meaningless.
However, it seems that it makes no sense to analyze what Petro Poroshenko did or did not do. Carte blanche is what Zelensky has, and it is his turn to keep these promises. Among them is the intention to end the war in a year (that is, approximately in the middle of 2020), moreover, exclusively by diplomatic methods. And also - a promise to tell Putin that Crimea and Donbas belong to Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelensky promised to say this to his Russian colleague as soon as possible.
Actually, since on May 23 Ukrainian president publicly called the Russian Federation an aggressor, then he would never retreat. But we heard a lot of words over the past five years, so what about deeds?
A second Poroshenko?
"Of course, the statements that Zelensky made earlier (that you just need to stop shooting) are not an action plan at all," said Bohdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism. In his opinion, Ukraine is now experiencing a rollback to the situation in 2014, when the issues of granting us a loan and upholding sanctions against Russia were especially relevant. (In fact, the situation with sanctions is now much worse compared to the period of five years ago, because the rejection of Russia's obstruction by Western institutions is in full swing.)
But, adds Petrenko, President Zelensky has an important trump card up his sleeve. “His plus is that he does not have the negative burden that Poroshenko once had in the eyes of those people who live in the occupation zone, as well as the Russians. There are no emotional filters that would prevent the Russian authorities from meeting him. The advantage of his position is not that Zelensky has a specific strategic plan, but that he is a new person who does not cause idiosyncrasy. "
"The key to success can be that ceasefire that has been conditionally functioning since July 21. I say" conditionally "because we understand that they will still shoot, because even at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border they still shoot, although it’s been 25 years since that war ended. So they will shoot, but if there are no sharp spikes in military activity, this can be regarded as a signal from Russia about the readiness to compromise, "our source said.
Other experts agree that Ukrainian president repeats the main mistake of Petro Poroshenko: the previous commander in chief also believed that reducing the intensity of our own hostilities could push Russia to search for peaceful ways. To earn the mercy of the adversary, so to speak, demonstrating his condescension to him. Actually, “just stop shooting” phrase of Zelensky is inspired by the experience of his predecessor, only expressed more primitively.
But such a scenario does not work with Putin. And it is also proved by Poroshenko. But it was him who Zelensky “cosplayed”, either making sudden movements and statements, or promising to cease fire. “It’s difficult to talk about the president’s plan. The detention of a tanker in Odesa may aggravate the situation on the part of Russia. At the same time, this may indicate that Zelensky continues the policy started by Petro Poroshenko. And here the question is: is the continuation of this policy simply a domino effect (because the system is used to working so) or is it Zelensky’s conscious choice? Most likely, we are talking about the inertia of external relations laid down by Poroshenko, "Petrenko notes.
But in the meantime, everyone was noticeably tired of Ukrainian inertia. The other day, even US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that the new Ukrainian government "have more creative ideas" regarding the return of the occupied territories of Donbas to the Ukrainian protectorate.
Four that won't become six
"The American administration already has comments on Zelensky’s personnel, but the very fact of Kurt Volker's arrival in Ukraine is a positive moment. He says that the United States, as before, is interested in Ukraine, as it is interested in ending the military conflict on our territory. For the United States, the conflict in Ukraine is especially important because this year precedes their presidential election," says Bogdan Petrenko.
US President Donald Trump will talk to Volodymyr Zelensky pretty soon. This will happen in Warsaw, at events marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. Russia is not being called to attend them, and this is already a very good sign. How Zelensky uses the opportunity to speak with an American colleague depends solely on his tactical preparation and how clearly he presents the agenda for such a meeting. In fact, this will be the first significant test of Zelensky’s diplomacy. The task, however, will be complicated by the fact that the Ukrainian president must first of all gain the trust and sympathy of the “owner of the house” - Polish leader Andrzej Duda, since relations between Poland and Ukraine cannot be called simple.
However, if our president fails his first contact with Trump, he will be able to rectify the situation during an official visit to Washington. Here, however, there is a nuance: Trump invited Zelensky, but neither the one nor the other side says the details of such a visit. "The president of Ukraine must decide in advance exactly what he wants from the Americans. It is pointless to seek the status of an ally, to seek guarantees of support for Kyiv in case of war - there are also big doubts," international expert Serhiy Tolstov said
As for the meeting of the Normandy four, here Zelensky cherishes hopes for moving forward. “Four leaders will try to meet. It's me, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron,” he said in a video message on his YouTube channel on July 17. But the key here is the word "try." “Zelensky, as a new figure, has the potential to put together the Normandy four, but again, much will depend of the position of the Russian Federation. It is also not known whether Zelensky will act in line with Poroshenko’s policies, or whether the president’s office will be able to develop the latest action strategy to end the war," Bogdan Petrenko says.
While the strategy is being worked out, Putin assures that he is not against the restoration of the Normandy format. Even more - he is not against expanding the four to six, with the involvement of Britain and the United States. "We have never refused any of the proposed formats, including the expansion of the Normandy format. But these meetings should be well prepared. We can talk about something more or less concrete after the parliamentary elections and the formation of the Ukrainian government," Putin said in mid-July. “It can be interesting,” he added, obviously not without irony.
And the irony, in fact, is caused by the fact that Zelensky’s idea of attracting the signatories of the Budapest memorandum to the end of the war looks, to put it mildly, utopian. For a variety of reasons. An expanded international platform is a good thing, but do not forget about the existing leverage. The same Kurt Volker communicates with the entire political elite. He is the eyes of the States in Donbas. In addition, he has a connection with Surkov - let's not forget that there was such a format as" Surkov-Volker. "Of course, it is already forgotten, but Russian-American relations have long held on to this tandem. The Normandy format, the Minsk talks, and the exchange of prisoners depend on this.
In a word, the current head of Ukraine should conduct an audit of all the diplomatic tools that he has at his disposal. And then learn how to use it. And preferably - as soon as possible. Because the countdown, during which Zelensky promised to end the war, has already begun.