Normandy format meeting: Is it worth hoping for it?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed hope that the next meeting of the Normandy Four would take place in April this year. His optimism is not shared by the current Foreign Minister, Vadym Prystaiko: the meeting will take place, he says, but maybe not in April. Maybe later.
22:36, 19 February 2020

Le Monde

Or it is generally unknown when, Putin adds. A spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, says that first of all, you must "at least re-read the Paris document (that is, adopted at the summit on December 9, 2019 in the French capital) and try to reflect on whether something has been done."

In other words, Moscow is hinting: Kyiv has not completed its homework. Consequently, it will be punished by the lack of continuation of the Normandy epic. It does not matter that President Zelensky brought to Munich a whole package of new proposals that Putin might like.

The Ukrainian guarantor is determined to be described in history as a man who managed to stop the Russian-Ukrainian war. Zelensky takes 5 years on this mission (of which the first year is coming to an end soon). But Putin’s plans are diametrically opposed and do not coincide with Zelensky’s intentions. “We want to live. Our neighbors want to see us dead. This leaves not too much space for compromise,” the legendary Golda Meir once said.

Volodymyr Zelensky could have subscribed to these words if he had not been so busy erecting a monument to himself. In any case, he really does not have much space for a compromise with Putin. Another question is whether our president understands this.

What does Zelensky offer

The topic of Ukraine was far from central one at the Munich Conference. However, when it came to it, a scandal arose. Everyone started discussing the informal 12 Steps project, which appeared on the event’s website and was designed to phase out the war.

This plan was developed by the former head of the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain Desmond Brown, the head of the Munich Conference Wolfgang Ischinger, Senator from Georgia State Samuel Nunn, and the former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Ivanov. The Ukrainian side put forward a diplomat Vasyl Filipchuk.

One of these steps involves launching a “new dialogue” about Ukrainian identity. The patriotic public saw in this wording the need to consult, in particular, with Poland and Hungary (regarding language and education), not to mention Russia.

With the help of Oksana Zabuzhko, the document began to be compared with the “Munich conspiracy” of 1938, which divided Czechoslovakia. But this was only a warm-up before the speech of Volodymyr Zelensky. His performance excited if not Munich, then Kyiv for sure.

Zelensky promised the following. First of all, local elections in the fall, which will be held (attention!) throughout Ukraine simultaneously. He also announced readiness for dialogue with the "civilian population" of occupied Ukraine, but not with the leaders of the fake republics.

He promised to soon propose a plan for the sectoral disengagement of forces. And also - to conduct a large-scale exchange of prisoners with the Russian Federation. He supported the idea of ​​joint patrolling of the border together with representatives of the occupation forces, as well as with the OSCE. In fact, Zelensky presented the dowry with which he was ready to go to matchmaking in Normandy.

But what will be the effect of such a matchmaking? Bogdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism, notes that history already knows cases of joint patrols and the withdrawal of forces.

“I know only one example when the troops were separated and a demilitarized zone arose between them,” Petrenko says. “This is not a good experience, because the two countries are sitting opposite each other, pointing their weapons at a neighbor - I mean North and South Korea "What will it lead to? We are just preserving the situation that exists now."

“Regarding joint patrolling, there was such an experience in Serbia and Croatia, during the reintegration of Vukovar into Croatia, but it’s impossible to say that this contributed to a final reconciliation. Conflicts erupt from time to time there, "the expert adds.

By the way, Petrenko reminds: the withdrawal of troops is not at all spelled out in the Minsk agreements. Zelensky had already disengaged (or rather, withdrawn) troops, and this led to an aggravation of public sentiment. The situation may be repeated a second time.

“Russia will agree to a Normandy format meeting only if Ukraine fulfills the conditions which it has signed,” Petrenko comments. “This, in particular, is Steinmeier’s formula. But it’s problematic to implement it, because the formula will have to be implemented in legislation. And this will have an extremely negative reaction in Ukrainian society - such as occurred during the withdrawal of troops."

Related: Russia informs on condition for next Normandy Four meeting

But the director of the Ukrainian Institute for Political Analysis and Management Ruslan Bortnyk believes that Zelensky’s proposals may interest the Russian side. But on one condition - if the Ukrainian president spoke sincerely.

“It’s difficult to predict the outcome of the Normandy format meeting,” Bortnyk believes. “Everything will depend on how its other participants, especially Russia, evaluate the new initiatives of the President of Ukraine. The one of them, for example, regarding sectoral separation of forces. As well as joint patrolling. And if this is the tip of the iceberg, and under the tip really lies the desire to achieve peace through a discussion of compromises, then such a meeting can be very successful. But if it's just rhetoric without concrete plans, then Normandy format meetings are at big question. "

Trying to decide ...

Andriy Zolotarev, the head of the Third Sector Center, is convinced that the Normandy format meeting may fail, although "the situation is not in Russia's favor, because France and Germany have a vision that the Minsk agreements require adjustment." But the breakdown will happen due to inconsistency of positions: "one side believes that first there should be elections, and then control over the border, and the other side believes the opposite: first, control over the border, and then elections."

Moreover, says Zolotarev, inconsistency exists not only between Ukraine and Russia, but also between Ukraine and ... Ukraine. "There is a statement by Yermak that Ukraine is ready for the elections, but there is also a statement by Reznikov that Ukraine does not refuse the Minsk agreements, but cannot fulfill them," he notes.

Actually, everything is not like this. The new head of the President’s Office, Andriy Yermak and the candidate for ministers of the occupied territories (who is also the representative of Ukraine in the Tripartite Contact Group), Oleksiyi Reznikov, do not demonstrate significant contradictions. Although Reznikov is more categorical, he states that the Minsk agreements need to be revised, in particular, “the last two clauses of the agreements should be swapped” so that the elections in the temporarily occupied territories will be held after the establishment of Ukrainian control over them.

Yermak also allegedly recognizes the primacy of borders over elections, but at the same time announces their holding. "I hope that we will take the following steps so that local elections under Ukrainian law take place throughout Ukraine in late October," said the presidential aide.

As for Zelensky himself, recalling that Auschwitz-Birkenau was released by fighters of the 100th Lviv Division of the 1st Ukrainian Front he angered Putin, Zolotarev believes. And even suggests that if the Normandy format meeting is disrupted, then also because of the president’s words spoken in Auschwitz.

In general, “Zelensky squeezed out everything that was possible, but then he has neither political resources, nor sufficient support from outside and inside the country to come to some kind of decision. At the same time, he cannot but understand that the implementation of the Minsk agreements is actually the path to the federalization of Ukraine. And this means to keep Ukraine on the hook - in the zone of Russia's geopolitical interests," said Andriy Zolotarev.

But not Zelensky is to blame for this situation, but Petro Poroshenko. Actually, the Minsk agreement belongs to his authorship. “It was Poroshenko who signed the de facto surrender of Ukraine. Even Russian experts said that they were very surprised by both the first and second Minsk agreements - Ukraine could bargain for better conditions. If Poroshenko thought that the Minsk site is a market where Putin can be the fool, he was mistaken, "summarizes Zolotarev.

Kyiv vs Moscow

Now Zelensky must consider the legacy of his predecessor. And achieve progress in the Normandy format. If only such advances are possible.

“From a technical point of view, Zelensky’s statement on joint patrolling means a compromise,” says Bogdan Petrenko. “But the question is whether Russia will make a step forward - even having such a compromise. The answer to this seems to be negative, especially against the backdrop of a decrease in European interest to Ukraine’s problems. Russia will not take any reintegration actions with respect to Donbas until the final legal status of Crimea is decided. That is, until Ukraine declares that Crimea is Russian. If it does not happen again, the Russian Federation will again use Donbas as a trigger.

To the words of his colleague Ruslan Bortnyk adds the following: “Zelensky urgently needs a meeting of the Normandy four. Or, at least, an exchange of held persons. For only in the subject of war and peace can he demonstrate this or that effectiveness. Because the topic of the fight against corruption is blocked by his partners, and the topic of achieving economic success and increasing social welfare has been blocked by our creditors. But progress is possible on the topic of war and peace, so at least an imitation of certain steps is needed for this."

That is why, perhaps, Zelensky recently called his namesake in the Kremlin. This telephone conversation was interpreted very differently by official sources in Kyiv and Moscow. The latter once again emphasized that there is an internal conflict in Ukraine, and this, they say, was the subject of a conversation between the two presidents. Whereas in the Zelensky Office they accentuated on another - in particular, on the exchange of prisoners.

“For Zelensky it’s important not to reintegrate Donbas as to carry out his humanitarian mission,” says Bogdan Petrenko. “Not to stop the shelling (which is impossible), but to return the hostages (which is possible). And the hostages add him a rating. That is why he is trying to knock out as many of these ratings from Putin as possible."

Related: Russian Foreign Minister announces condition for new Normandy Format meeting

“At the same time,” the expert adds, “Zelensky understands that Russia will not just compromise its interests. Therefore, in February 2020, we have a slightly different Zelensky than the one that was in December 2019 - before the Normandy format meeting. "The impulse to please Putin has diminished, but the belief that an agreement can still be reached is still present."

But faith itself is not enough for success. Therefore, “there will be no progress,” says political analyst Kyrylo Sazonov. “The positions of the parties have not changed, and they are too different. Let us recall the Crimea, recall the position on the amnesty for the militants - these two reasons are enough to exclude all kinds of concessions. Most likely, everything will end with the traditional “agreed to negotiate.” The Kyiv scenario is unacceptable for Moscow, the Moscow scenario is the same for Kyiv. The parties are doomed not to agree. ”

Paris & Berlin

But such a situation (with endlessly ongoing negotiations) should be profitable for the other two members of the Normandy Four - France and Germany. "The local bureaucrats love long negotiations. For them it is very comfortable: the problem has not been resolved, but the process continues, and there is something to tell the voters about," Sazonov says ironically.

It’s not worth counting on these countries anymore, he continues. Especially on Germany, where "German business wants to do business with Russia. It cares about its own interest, not about Ukraine. Our allies now are rather the Baltic countries and Poland, as well as the United States."

Bogdan Petrenko adheres to approximately the same point of view. “Angela Merkel,” he says, “is more occupied with the internal situation and the search for a man who will act as her successor.” And "Macron, as it seems, is trying by all possible efforts to return Russia to the circle of countries worthy of a handshake. Moreover, Europe is interested in the Russian Federation with its hydrocarbons returning to European markets."

"Both France and Germany want Russia and Ukraine to somehow get along, and in this situation they would already skim the cream," Petrenko sums up.

Andriy Zolotarev is angry with the allies. He also recalls the well-known scandal in which US President Donald Trump was involved, who blackmailed Zelensky by not providing assistance of $ 400 million. But the political scientist emphasizes that Germany did the same. Indeed, at the end of December 2019, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko spoke about Germany’s refusal to provide military assistance to Ukraine.

But, as Kyrylo Sazonov emphasizes, in order to receive assistance from the Western countries (and only military one), Ukraine must learn to be interesting for them, and not just demonstrate its pain points. “So Andrzej Duda built a military base for the Americans, called it “Trump’s Fort.” Trump personally came to the opening - he really liked everything. Ukraine should do something like that.”

To a clarifying question, what exactly should we do, Sazonov replies that we could, for example, "attract American investors for gas production and transportation. And why not, Europe is very close, and the Americans will be interested." Actually, the project, according to which liquefied gas from the USA and Qatar enters the Polish LNG terminal is already in effect. And in December last year, the Polish company PGNiG and the American ERU Management Services signed an agreement with Ukraine on the exploration and exploitation of gas fields in the Lviv region.

Related: Medvedchuk: It's problematic to talk about next Normandy meeting without Paris Communique implementation


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