Borysfen Intel

A Step to Peace or a Sign of a Truce?

December 11, 2019
<p>A Step to Peace or a Sign of a Truce?</p>

Results of the meeting of the “Normandy Four” in Paris

 

Victor Hvozd

On December 9, 2019, the first for the last three years meeting of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, the so-called “Normandy Four”, took place in Paris. At the official level, it was highly estimated by both, Ukraine and Russia, and by Western countries, as well as by international organizations, including the UN, EU, NATO and OSCE.

All interested parties believe that during the negotiations they managed to consolidate the achievements of spring–summer 2019 in the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, and to outline the prospect of their further development. First of all, the achievements include the agreements made during the meeting and reflected in the overall agreed conclusions of the Paris Summit. This is, in particular, the exchange of prisoners of war; the full and comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire regime; arrangement on three additional disengagement areas for the disengagement of assets; opening new delimitation border crossing points; expanding the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM); further implementation of the Minsk Agreements, including the creation of conditions for elections in the occupied territories of the Ukrainian Donbas.

 

However, the possibility of implementing these arrangements is quite controversial. For both objective and subjective reasons. In particular:

  • attitudes of Ukraine and Russia to the formula for the exchange of prisoners of war differ greatly. In Ukraine's view, it should be an exchange of “all for all”. Russia, however, believes that “those who will be identified (selected) by the parties” should be included in the list. This can cause controversy about some persons who will be included in the appropriate lists, which will complicate the entire exchange process;
  • Kyiv and Moscow have different approaches to disengagement of troops on the front line. The Russians insist on withdrawing troops all along the front line. Ukraine considers this impossible as it would significantly worsen the tactical position of its armed forces in the conflict zone. Especially in the area of Mariupol, which may find itself in the zone of the enemy's artillery fire;
  • the full and comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire regime is practically impossible. As shown by the experience of the conflict in the Donbas, Russian troops and armed militant units constantly violate all armistice agreements (including shelling on the day of the “Normandy” meeting). Besides, the enemy does not withdraw from the front line its heavy weapons (including artillery and rocket launcher systems), which allows it to fire positions of Ukrainian troops and peaceful settlements. There is also a possibility of snipers and sabotage and reconnaissance groups' entering demilitarized zones, which is already happening in reality;
  • extension of the OSCE SMM's mandate does not guarantee that it can really benefit from this. The militants are constantly hampering the work of the mission staff, and this will continue to happen.
The “Normandy” meeting did not address any of the key issues on which peace in the East of Ukraine depends
The “Normandy” meeting did not address any of the key issues on which peace in the East of Ukraine depends

Besides, the “Normandy” meeting did not address any of the key issues on which peace in the East of Ukraine depends. The fundamental contradictions between Ukraine and Russia have not been eliminated in the order of implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Yes, Ukraine believes that holding elections in the occupied territories is quite possible, as well as enacting the Law on the Special Order of Local Self-Government in Some Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions (the so-called Law on the Special Status of the Donbas) is possible only under the conditions of withdrawing Russian troops from the occupied territories and regaining control of Ukraine's eastern border. This is the order of actions envisaged by the Minsk Agreements.

But Russia demands from Ukraine to hold elections in the occupied territories, as well as to enact a law on the special status of the Donbas without any obligations on the RF's part. At the same time trying to convince everyone that the armed confrontation in the Donbas is an “internal conflict in Ukraine” and “Russia and its troops have nothing to do with it”.

These contradictions reflect deeper, strategic issues in relations between Russia and Ukraine. The reason for these problems is Russia's desire to regain control of Ukraine, which is one of the basic conditions for its revival as a “great world power”. Such Moscow plans completely contradict Ukraine's national interests, that is, strengthening its statehood and independence, as well as European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Having provoked the conflict in the Donbas in 2014, the Russians are trying to use it to achieve their goals for Ukraine. Thus, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements according to the Russian scenario would allow Moscow to formally return the “DPR” and “LPR” to Ukraine, while maintaining control over them. This would create preconditions for the federalization of Ukraine, as the first stage of its disintegration and gradual absorption by Russia. At this, the “DPR” and “LPR”, formally forming part of Ukraine, would be able to influence its foreign and domestic policies, in cooperation with NATO and the EU included. Moreover, Russia would be given the opportunity not to withdraw its troops (as a factor of pressure on Ukraine and the possibility of further expansion of military invasion into Ukrainian territory).

…Russia desires to regain control of Ukraine, which is one of the basic conditions for its revival as a “great world power”…

At the same time, the formal elimination of the Donbas problem would create grounds for lifting Western sanctions from Russia, which is very important for it in terms of removing obstacles to the development of the Russian economy.

In contrast, Ukraine seeks to really cope with the conflict in the Donbas, based on its national interests. That is why it demands withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories, and regaining its control of the eastern border of the country as a condition for fulfilling the political part of the Minsk Agreements.

At this, Ukraine understands that partial autonomy may be granted to some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (current “DPR” and “LPR”) within the framework of the aforementioned law, but completely excludes the possibility of the federalization offered to it. All this should guarantee the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, its positive development, as well as European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

This position was confirmed by the President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi at the meeting of the “Normandy Four” on December 9, 2019 in Paris.

However, as before, the Russian President again insisted on the Russian version of the order of implementation of the Minsk Agreements. In this connection, V. Putin reiterated the “absence of Russian troops in the Donbas conflict zone”, repeated his demand for Ukraine to adopt a law on amnesty of militants, reconfirmed his position on the impossibility of transferring control of its eastern border to Ukraine because of “threats of Ukraine's military actions against the population of the “DPR” and “LPR”.

The existence of such fundamental contradictions between Ukraine and Russia is the main obstacle to holding elections in the Donbas. Therefore, the “Normandy Four” promised to step up their work to reconcile Ukraine and Russia's positions on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This will take four months, after which a next meeting of leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany should take place.

 

Russia uses V. Zelenskyi's desire to establish peace in the East of Ukraine as soon as possible
Russia uses V. Zelenskyi's desire to establish peace in the East of Ukraine as soon as possible

Given the strategic nature of Russia's policy goals on the Ukrainian direction, we should be prepared that the pressure on Ukraine to force it to adopt the Russian version of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements will intensify. For this purpose, Russia will use several factors, namely:

  • Ukraine's consent to the inclusion in the summary document of the Summit of the “Normandy Four” (N4) of the clause of the need “to incorporate the “Steinmeier formula” into Ukrainian law according to the version agreed by H4 and the Trilateral Contact Group” (which was the main condition for Russia to hold a “Normandy” high-level meeting).

I mean the document signed by L. Kuchma (Representative of Ukraine in the Tripartite Contact Group) on October 1, 2019. In particular, it envisages the enactment of a law on the special status of the Donbas after the elections in the occupied territories and recognition by the OSCE of their compliance with Ukrainian law and international legal norms. At the same time, the document contains no obligations on the part of Moscow, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories and the return to Ukraine of control over its eastern border.

This gives Russia an additional opportunity to put pressure on Ukraine, accusing it of failing to comply with the decisions of the “Normandy Four”. France and Germany may support such accusations. At this, Russia hopes that the OSCE can draw favorable conclusions for it about the Donbas elections;

  • Ceasefire violations observed by the OSCE SMM, December 09, 2019
    Ceasefire violations observed by the OSCE SMM, December 09, 2019
    Ukraine's further dependence on Russian gas, as well as its being interested in continuing gas transit through Ukrainian territory. During the personal meeting of the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia within the framework of the Summit of the “Normandy” group the possibility of negotiations on the gas issue was unlocked. However, this in no way guarantees energy security for Ukraine.

To begin with, in the near future Russia may launch a new pipeline “Nord Stream 2” bypassing Ukraine. Thus, Russia's dependence on gas transit through the Ukrainian territory will be eliminated, which will allow it to dictate to Kyiv its conditions, including on the issues of resolving the Donbas problem;

  • Russia may also resort to other provocations in the conflict zone in the Donbas, including a serious escalation of the armed confrontation. In particular, as repeatedly stated by V. Putin, peace in the Donbas can come only after Ukraine has implemented the Minsk Agreements. He means its Russian version. At this, Russia uses V. Zelenskyi's desire to establish peace in the East of Ukraine as soon as possible, as a key position in his election program (and, accordingly, one of the main factors influencing his rating).

The evidence of the implementation of such an approach by Russia is the constant violations of the armistice in the Donbas by Russia and militia controlled by it. As a result of such actions by Moscow, on the day of the Summit of the “Normandy Four” alone, three Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the conflict zone.

 

The Summit of the “Normandy Four” has allowed the resumption of dialogue on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas
The Summit of the “Normandy Four” has allowed the resumption of dialogue on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas

The Summit of the “Normandy Four”, despite all these problems, is of great importance as it has allowed the resumption of dialogue on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas. At the same time, Ukraine is facing a difficult and serious stage of negotiations with Russia before the next “Normandy” summit, which will largely determine the future of the Ukrainian state.

In this regard, much will depend on the position of Western countries and international organizations that generally support Ukraine. Thus, according to the USA and EU's statements, they will not lift sanctions from Russia until it has implemented the Minsk Agreements (including withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories of the Donbas and returning to Ukraine the control of its eastern border).

Such intentions, as well as their willingness to continue pressure on Russia, were confirmed by Washington and Brussels on the eve of the “Normandy” meeting. Besides, during the summit, German Federal Chancellor A. Merkel agreed with the President of Ukraine on the advisability of revising certain provisions of the Minsk Agreements (which exactly — is not disclosed), since they do not correspond to the current situation. At the same time, more and more negative factors are emerging regarding Ukraine.

First of all, the West is beginning to feel tired of Russian-Ukrainian problems. Besides, as a result of Russian propaganda, Western countries are beginning to get the idea of “the need to re-establish relations with Russia in order to strengthen European security in general”.

…Ukraine is facing a difficult and serious stage of negotiations with Russia, which will largely determine the future of the Ukrainian state…

American, European and even Ukrainian businesses' being interested in restoring economic ties with Russia also plays its role. At this, businessmen (Ukrainian oligarchs included) focus on their own economic interests, not on the strategic interests of their countries.

Finally, there are personal interests of the leaders of France and Germany, who are also interested in ending the conflict in the Donbas quickly. For French President E. Macron, it is to strengthen his position as one of the leading EU politicians. A. Merkel, who will soon leave the post of the Federal Chancellor of Germany, wants to leave her mark on history as a peacemaker who has managed to put an end to one of the hottest conflicts on the border of the European Union.

Besides, the common interest of EU leaders is to strengthen European security in the face of the USA's decreasing interest to European problems, against the background of China's expansion on European direction. From the point of view of European politicians, this also requires ending of the EU's confrontation with Russia.

The US President D. Trump's position is also uncertain. On the one hand, he talks about the need to support Ukraine, but on the other, he tries to re-establish relations with Russia. At this, Ukraine has largely been hostage to the internal political struggle in the United States.

Further development of the situation around the conflict in the Donbas will depend on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership
Further development of the situation around the conflict in the Donbas will depend on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership

Based on the above, further development of the situation around the conflict in the Donbas will depend on the political will of the Ukrainian leadership in defending the interests of the country, and on the West's readiness to continue its support for Ukraine.

…Even if the conflict in the Donbas really is resolved, this will not create conditions for a real and lasting improvement of relations between Russia and Ukraine. Because Moscow will never abandon the strategic goals of its policy towards Ukraine…

However, in any case, it takes time and considerable time to resolve the conflict in the Donbas. Therefore, tensions between Ukraine and Russia will remain. In particular, there is a likelihood of the dialogue in the “Normandy” format turning into an “endless serial with interesting intrigues”, but without real results (except for some tactical successes such as regular exchanges of prisoners).

But even if the conflict really is resolved in one form or another, all the same, this will not create conditions for a real and lasting improvement of relations between Russia and Ukraine. Because Moscow will never abandon the strategic goals of its policy towards Ukraine.

 

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