Borysfen Intel

The Kremlin's Fourth Step

November 20, 2017
<p>The Kremlin's Fourth Step</p>

November 15, 2017, RF President V. Putin, for the first time held personal telephone talks with the leaders of self-proclaimed republics in the East of Ukraine O. Zakharchenko and I. Plotnytskyi. According to the Russian side's official report, the issue of the exchange of prisoners between the “DPR”/“LPR” and Ukraine was discussed, which was presented as “Moscow's gesture of goodwill”. At the same time, given the peculiarities of the development of the situation around Russia in connection with the continuation of its armed aggression against Ukraine, the said event is an obvious Kremlin's next signal of the possibility of changing its policy in one direction or another.

The previous signals made by Moscow have already been analyzed by “Borysfen Intel”. But the Kremlin's latest step is fundamentally different in nature and proves that the armed conflict in the Donbas is coming on a qualitatively new level of state significance for Russia. Moscow raises the stakes in the political game, which is an indicative trend. In this regard, a natural question arises: what is the aim of this step of the leadership of the Russian Federation and what caused it?

Moscow's goals are clear enough and include a demonstration of its leading role in resolving the conflict in the Donbas (due to the subordination to it of the leaders of the “DPR” and “LPR”). Proceeding from this, Russia shows the possibility of either returning the self-proclaimed republics to Ukraine (if Ukraine and its western partners take into account Russia's interests) or of recognizing the “DPR” and “LPR”, as was done regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is also clear there are also V. Putin intentions to improve his international reputation by facilitating the release of hostages.

However, all these Moscow's options were well known without their demonstration at the highest state level, let alone in such a miserable way as direct talks between the Russian President and the terrorists. What made him do that? The same is always the case, namely, the intransigence of the USA's position and the cold pragmatism of China, which cares about exclusively its own interests in relations with Russia. Evidence of this was “grand master” V. Putin's completely expected failures on the political “chess board” that have taken place recently.

First of all, US President D. Trump's taking off the table a full-fledged meeting with V. Putin on the sidelines of the APEC Summit on 10–11 November, 2017 in Vietnam, which was of absolute importance to Moscow in terms of the possibility of rapprochement with Washington. Thus, did not come true V. Putin's environment's hopes for the possibility of averting the threat to their Western assets as a result of new sanctions on the part of the United States. The inevitability of the American position regarding Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine was also confirmed by US Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations K. Volker during his meeting with Adviser to the RF President V. Surkov on November 13, 2017 in Belgrade. Despite the statements by some Ukrainian politicians and experts, he did not support the principles of Russia's approach to deploying a UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas and in no way abandoned the US-Ukrainian plan for resolving this issue.

Washington's clear and unequivocal position with regard to Russia was also expressed by Director of Security and Political-Military Affairs at the US Department of State M. Murphy. According to his statement dated November 18, it is the Russian leadership who is responsible for the non-fulfillment of the Minsk Agreements. At this, M. Murphy acknowledged the fact that Russia continued the armed aggression against Ukraine, and also supported the position of Kyiv on the need to ensure security in the Donbas prior to implementing the political part of the peace plan.

A direct challenge to Moscow was the result of the talks between US President D. Trump and PRC President Xi Jinping on November 8–10, 2017 in Beijing. The leaders of the two countries not only confirmed the strategic nature of relations between them, which once again showed the uselessness of Russia's aspirations for the possibility of rapprochement with China on an anti-American basis, but also concluded a series of economic agreements that were completely contrary to Russian interests.

All this became the basis for V. Putin's decision to negotiate with the terrorist leaders in the Donbas. What should we expect next? Proceeding from the unchanged Moscow's strategic plans to restore its control over Ukraine, Moscow's interests would most fully be met by the return of the “DPR” and “LPR” to the Ukrainian state. Due to this, the balance of political forces in Ukraine would change, which would increase the chances of the pro-Russian forces to win (or at least strengthen their positions) during the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. Given these perspectives, Russia does not really need either its total control over the authorities of the Donbas, the presence of Russian troops on its territory, or even the preservation of the most self-proclaimed republics.

In this aspect, the only problem for Putin's regime is the prevention of “losing his face” within Russia as a result of the complete failure of his ideology of building the “Russian world.” Taking into account the above-mentioned circumstances, Russia may well go for an option to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, which is already being actively lobbied by a number of Russian and Ukrainian “experts”, and envisages: at the first stage — deployment of UN peacekeeping forces on the line of delimitation of the parties; at the second — adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of amendments to the Constitution on the decentralization of the state and granting special status to the occupied territories; at the third — the spread of responsibility of peacekeepers to the whole conflict zone and the conduct of elections in self-proclaimed republics; at the fourth — returning to Ukraine the control over its Eastern border and reintegration of the “DPR” and “LPR” with new special statuses.

Formally, this would allow the Minsk Agreements to be realized and create the impression of settling the situation in the East of Ukraine. At the same time, such decisions would inevitably lead to the actual disintegration of Ukraine in the version of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which is the Russian Federation's exact aim. As a result, “freezing” of the conflict in the Donbas, while preserving the threat of restoration of armed confrontation, as well as the emergence of a real danger of new sources of tension and conflicts in other regions of Ukraine. In this way, Ukraine would turn into a powerful wave of instability for the whole of Europe, as at one time was the former Yugoslavia, and now to a certain extent remains BiH. Do Ukraine and Europe need this?


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