Why Putin replaced his Donbas negotiator

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Image: EPA/UPG) 

International, More, War in the Donbas

Article by: Vladimir Fesenko, political analyst, Novaya Gazeta (Ukraine)

The Kremlin finally became convinced that Poroshenko will not make the concessions it wants, so it changed its tactics

Vladimir Fesenko, Ukrainian political analyst (Image: nv.ua)

Vladimir Fesenko, Ukrainian political analyst (Image: nv.ua)

I consider the change of the Russian representative in the Contact Group on the Donbas to be a landmark event. Apparently, Russia did not just change its representative in this group – it is changing its overall tactics in the conflict.

The fact is that the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, who previously represented Russia in the Contact Group had a previous personal relationship with the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko when Poroshenko was still just a member of Ukrainian parliament.

As far as I know, the Kremlin planned to replace Zurabov with Vladimir Lukin. But when Poroshenko won the presidential election, it was decided to keep Zurabov. He was used not only as a formal representative of Russia in the Tripartite Contact Group on Donbas, but also as a channel of direct personal communication with Poroshenko. Yes, Putin and Poroshenko could talk on the phone, but Zurabov–as a direct communication channel–was used in parallel as well.

Moscow realized that the use of Zurabov does not make sense anymore, he has exhausted his function as an instrument of influence.

Thus, he was not just a participant of the Contact Group, but also a point of contact with the President of Ukraine. The events of recent days — Zurabov’s removal from the Contact Group and the seizure of [Poroshenko-owned] «Roshen» factory in Lipetsk, Russia — serve as evidence that the Kremlin finally became convinced that can they not influence Poroshenko.

I think the Kremlin had certain expectations that they will be able to make arrangements with Poroshenko directly, that it would be possible to get him to accept some informal compromises, get him persuaded to accept the Russian scenario for peaceful settlement in the east.

Now, it seems to me, the Kremlin has finally become convinced that Poroshenko will not make the concessions it wants on the Donbas. Convinced of this, they realized that the use of Zurabov does not make sense anymore, he has exhausted his function as an instrument of influence.

This new Russian negotiator in the Contact Group on the Donbas will build a line to escalate the conflict.

Therefore, Zurabov was replaced with a hard negotiator with experience in conflict diplomacy – Azamat Kulmuhametov. As is known, he was the ambassador of Russia in Syria. This suggests that the activities of the new negotiator are not aimed at resolving the conflict, but at its escalation. In particular, in Syria, the goal of Russian diplomacy was to maintain Bashar al-Assad in control of the country, escalate the crisis and implement the Russian interests in the region.

Similarly, the new Russian negotiator in the Contact Group on the Donbas will build the line of escalating the conflict.

Translated by: A. N.

Source: Novaya Gazeta

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  1. Avatar puttypants says:

    Wow…obviously, this guy is really good. Look how well Syria is doing. Is this really what Putin wants in Ukraine. I can’t believe Putin is that stupid and would want a frozen conflict in Ukraine. Doesn’t he realize sooner or later it will spill into Russia? And even more countries will get involved. Look what’s happened in the middle east. It’s obvious he wants WW3! Who knew he was that stupid. The thug, murderer surly fits. He like Assad think nothing of killing their own people. When will Russia wake up and get rid of if this stupid Putin regime?

    1. Avatar puttypants says:

      Start reading more than RT. Once a war starts and the person who started it Putin continues to push…there is no way to stop it. We’re already getting to that point. Syria is a prime example. Read history read the news. So far the Ukrainians have been fighting with one hand tied behind their backs because USA, Europe are controling all out fighting with aide. Eventually, Ukraine will get defensive weapons, other threatened countries will help and off you go. READ HISTORY!!!!

      1. Avatar Kruton says:


      2. Avatar Brent says:

        Doofus. Ukraine hasn’t attacked Russia and has no plans to. Their interest is in reigaining sovereignty of their own land. that Russia invaded.

        As the man said, READ HISTORY AND STOP WATCHING R.T.

    2. Avatar Jari Hämäläinen says:

      But will elimination of Putin really change anything? For sure his successor will be even more harsh and would not give a shit about any Gorbachow style Glasnost. Russia as whole is seeking for a conflict and any of the neighbouring countries, except for China, will be at safe.

      1. Avatar Brent says:

        But his successor won’t be a long time friend of Merkl…if someone more hardline replaces him, then I think you’ll finally see Europe standing up to Russia which they’ve refused to, mostly at Germany’s leaders insistence. Merkl, Steinmeier and Gabriel have all refused to provide Ukraine with arms and keep declaring their can be no military victory for Ukraine.

        If a hardliner replaces Putin, then Merkl and her government have to develop a backbone.

        You are right. No other countries will be safe. That’s what Europe needs to understand and that’s why giving in to Russia now is a waste of time because whether it’s Putin or someone else, they don’t stop after they are done taking whatever part of Ukraine is their goal.

        1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

          Germany won’t develop a backbone where Russia is concerned, in part because of war guilt feelings. That the Ukrainian SSR and Belarusian SSR suffered infinitely more than the RSFSR is immaterial. To Germany, the USSR = Russian Federation. Merkel and/or Putin leaving the stage won’t make a difference. The only countries in the EU that will support Kyiv are Poland and the Baltics, and to a lesser extent Sweden and the UK. The others are just as useless as Germany- basically, their governments don’t care what happens to the Ukraine. So forget about REAL EU sanctions such as kicking Russia out of SWIFT or boycotting Russian oil.

          As for the US, as long as Obama remains in office I don’t see Washington supplying modern antitank missiles to Kyiv. Obama will veto any bill that Congress passes. It will take a new president- whether Hillary, Cruz or anybody else- to change this.

          1. Avatar Villemar says:

            I know this will stoke the paranoia of our troll friends (who cares what they think anyways?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if sub-rosa delivery U.S. armaments via third or fourth parties can be delivered to Kyiv, with enough plausible deniability to extricate the U.S. from any accusations of direct arming. I’m sure contingencies are already being put together in case the situation gets dire enough. If Russian troops with no Russian military insignias can invade Ukraine, I see no moral issue with a much smarter and more sophisticated masquerading of U.S. armaments (perhaps re-tooled as part of that process to ambiguize the source) via third or fourth or even fifth parties.

          2. Avatar Dean Venture says:

            I don’t know… if TOW missiles start showing up in Ukraine, I’m sure no one will have any doubt as to the source. I think they should do it anyways, and plead ignorance when Russia complains. It won’t change anything, but I’d love to see Lavrov in an apoplectic state.

          3. Avatar Josh Moore says:

            Not TOW, the new stuff, Javelin, smart missile, dual explosions, first anti armor, then the copper plasma jet. Woo Hoo. Have you seen the videos, the welding rod hasn’t been invented yet to handle this.

          4. Avatar Lord Lucan says:

            Send defensive weapons ….. Just don’t tell anyone. Apparently works for Russia !!!

          5. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

            Hmmmm…….. “There are NO modern US antitank missiles in the Ukraine, just as there are NO regular troops of the Russian Army in the Donbass.” Sounds good to me! BUT…. that would require a US president with a steel spine, and Obama’s spine is made of rubber. Fortunately, with the exception of Ron Paul his potential successors are made of sterner stuff.
            The Ukrainians do have an equivalent to the Javelin but, according to an article on Euromaidanpress some time ago, they were stored under appalling conditions and some 90% were useless as a result. The remaining 10% should have been checked ages ago and the defective 90% cannibalised if necessary to get as many operational as possible. If that STILL hasn’t been done those responsible for this inaction should be shot on the Maidan with sh*t using a HUGE sh*tgun, and remedial action be taken forthwith. “Action this day!” as Churchill would say. Sadly, Poroshenko is too soft to be a wartime president, though he would probably be a good peacetime president.

          6. Avatar puttypants says:

            I agree Poroshenko is too soft to be a wartime pres…I think Yat’s could do it!!

          7. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

            Respectfully disagree. Yats is too soft as well. Yulia on the other hand would be a great wartime Pres precisely because she would probably be a dreadful peacetime Pres, just as Churchill was a great wartime PM but less so in peacetime. She’s abrasive, not willing to compromise and doesn’t care if she steps on people’s toes. She’s as tough as nails and anybody who gets in her way had better commit hara-kiri. The country is at war and fighting for its very existence, and this is no time for a nice guy as Pres.

          8. Avatar Murf says:

            I would like to see her in the Ministry of Defense. By the time she got finished there would be blood and eye balls on the floor of the place.
            say what you will of her, she is all Ukraine. If she ordered the to hold Debal’tseve then she probley would have been in the town when she did it.
            Proshenko and Yats need a pit bull like her.

          9. Avatar kievjoy says:

            And just before the election before she was put in prison by Yanokovitch she was saying Ukraine should have closer ties with Russia.

          10. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

            The presidential election was in 2010, the “trial” against Yulia started in July or August 2011. And while she may have been in favour of better relations with Russia, she was also 100% for a pro-EU course and still is. She has a huge ego and is extremely ambitious as well as very intelligent, and she knows perfectly well that even a hint of being pro-Russian is political suicide now.
            I’m not sure I would want to be married to her (probably not), but she is a tigress and that’s exactly what the country needs. No wonder Yanukovich was so terrified of her.

          11. Avatar kievjoy says:

            It’s not just me, a lot of people in Ukraine don’t trust her further than they could throw her. She was the person who was negotiating many of the gas deals that ended up having the gas prices hiked. When Yushenko was president she helped get a lot of his powers taken away. He tried to bring in some laws that would help the people, and she kept going to the high court to get the laws overturned.

          12. Avatar kievjoy says:

            What are they gonna do it with. A lot of western countries are refusing to sell Ukraine modern weapons, let along donate them. As for the army, we are gradually building it up. One region (and I’ll honest and say not sure which one) had twice the number of people enlist than were called up.

          13. Avatar John Shirley says:

            I thought so too until I saw an interview where he made a remark about Russian made AK 74’s. Get my point?

          14. Avatar Josh Moore says:

            Awesome idea.

          15. Avatar Dean Venture says:

            Bring back the Battle Act. I’m sure that would have an impact. The
            Americans can refuse to trade with anyone who trades with Russia. Force Europe to chose between a 14 trillion dollar economy and a 2 trillion dollar economy.

          16. Avatar Josh Moore says:

            Lot of good points, but don’t dismissed the French. When the shit hits the fan they will go to the wall.

          17. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

            I don’t think so. Hollande is useless, but his potential successors are no better. Sarkozy was an appeaser (together with Merkel) when the dwarf attacked Georgia in 2008, opposing all calls for a hardline policy from Poland, the Baltics, Sweden and the UK. Why would he suddenly be different?
            As for Le Pen, she is already in the dwarf’s pocket- her party is at least partially funded by Moscow, which has “lent” the FN several million (some sources say $9 million). She’s not going to bite the hand that feeds her and could help her become Président de la France. For the dwarf Le Pen is the ideal ally: she wants to take France out of the euro, which would destroy the euro and at the very least severely damage the EU. Even if the FN never pays back the loan, those millions would be well spent in the dwarf’s view if Le Pen becomes president.

          18. Avatar Abacs says:

            Very much so, unfortunately. Russians bear is suffocating us here in Serbia too.

        2. Avatar Josh Moore says:

          You are right, the furball is on.

      2. Avatar puttypants says:

        Do you think Putin gives a shit about Gorbie’s Glosnost? Eliminating Putin might scare those idiots in Russia enough to start thinking real hard about trying to re-create the Russian Empire that never was except temporarily.

      1. Avatar Kruton says:


    3. Avatar Anders Nielsen says:

      Russia has a difficulty with diplomacy and consideration of the peoples wishes.
      Only raw brute power play counts.
      Since Poroshenko understand the Russian mentality in depth, it shall be interesting to see what happens next…………..
      The game of chess continues, still advantage Poroshenko.

      1. Avatar Brent says:

        Correct. Russian negotiating…..”my way” or “my way”….the U.S. gave in on Syria when Russia convinced them they could convince Assad to get rid of all his chemical weapons and there was a report a week ago that he may have used some that he didn’t give up.

        I think Poroshenko is smart enough to know he can’t give in to the style of “Federalization” Putin is demanding. It leaves Kyiv at DPR/LPR’s whims ane mercy. The longer this festers, the more it costs Russia. Financially as well as politically.

        1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

          I doubt whether the cost to Russia interests the demented dwarf at all, whether political, financial, human or otherwise. He is obsessed with recreating the USSR no matter what and in his warped view there is no Great Putinstan without the Ukraine. The Ukraine must be taught to obey and if it costs Russia 20 million dead, permanently alienates the EU, Canada, the US and Australia/NZ and bankrupts Russia so be it. HIS children won’t be the ones dying and you can bet your last ruble that his ill-gotten fortune is safe in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands and other locations.

    4. Avatar Brent says:

      Chechnya. Haven’t you been paying attention? That’s a powder keg that Russia is going to have to deal with one wary or another.

      Russia unleashed Kadyrov’s Chechens on Ukraine. Now the FSB is making lots of noise about Kadyrov and there is talk they want to take him out. They go after him, all his Chechen fighters in Ukraine immediately come home and they will be wanting to fight Russia to defend what power Russia gave Kadyrov. Considering Kadyrov is what keeps the Chechen rebels at bay, if Russia targets him, it also allows the rebels to become active again.

      Then Russia has to send troops to Chechnya…AGAIN. Their most seasoned fighters are in Donbass and South Russia.

      Seriously, pay attention!

    5. Avatar Anders Nielsen says:

      For Ukraine to join NATO is minimum 10 years away.
      Russia doesn’t have the resources to keep on like this.
      Each day money are flowing out and its political capital depleted.

      1. Avatar Anders Nielsen says:

        And they shall not be allowed to do that.

        1. Avatar Jari Hämäläinen says:

          But on the other hand, that is exactly what Merkel and Hollande aim for. Those Minsk papers and also those so called Elders talks with Putin includes a strong special autonomy to East Ukraine areas. With such “autonomy” they won’t be part of Ukraine but only in paper. In real life they would become such areas like Abhasia, Ossetia, Königsberg and Transnistria.

          1. Avatar Anders Nielsen says:

            I doubt this will ever happen.

            It is doubtful what Hollande/Merkel wants.

            It looks like they are buying time so reforms can take root and the UA army can improve capabilities.

            Poroshenko clearly work towards administrative self governance in east, but with same right to all regions, with foreign policy and military strictly and only under Kiev control.

            Anyway, any changes to the constitution will be send to a national referendum and the result will determine the way forward.

            I dare Russia to withdraw all weapons and to disarm their stooges and then hold a free fair monitored referendum.

          2. Avatar puttypants says:

            What’s happening in abhasia, Ossetia, Transnistria…how good of shape are they in economically? So no more pensions..etc., etc. from Ukraine for this region?

          3. Avatar Jari Hämäläinen says:

            I have no idea if they are in better or worse shape than their “mother countries” (Georgia and Moldova) are at the moment. But as the self-proclaimed leader of the so called Donetsk National Republic announced, they don’t consider themselves as citizens of Ukraine. So be it. Let Ukraine then cut all the power and water supply and of course financial connections to those areas as long as they are willing to return to a legitimate order. If its their will to be “independent” and enemies of Kyiv regime, lets just treat them that way too.

  2. Avatar Rods says:

    Putin is losing in Ukraine and he is losing in Syria. Assad is going to at some point fall and in 2016 Russia is going to run out of currency reserves. They will never achieve a successful victory in Ukraine, even if the steal more territory, stealing and holding are two very different things and the USSR and the US have both found to their cost in recent wars. The longer the Russian supply lines in Ukraine, the more partisan IED gauntlets they will have to run and the more body bags will be going back on the remains of the supply convoys.

    If Putin launches the expected spring offensive in Ukraine, the Ukrainian army is now bigger and better trained than it has been since the conflict started and I think the US will quickly supply defensive weapons as you can’t keep breaking agreements and ceasefires without the West starting to push back. This means the economic and human costs to Putin will continue to grow.

    Dictators tend to make the mistake that because democracies try to avoid wars and give people the benefit of the doubt, that these commodities are all in an infinite supply and are all that will be used. Once too many red lines are crossed the West will react and Putin will not like the results. The economic ‘nuclear bomb’ would be to disconnect their economy from the SWIFT payments system. The only way then to import or export goods is through the exchange of large suitcases of money, which in practice means they are all but isolated.

    Putins faltering $1tn economy is no match for the $44tn might that he has taken on and where 1917 food riots lead the the fall of the Tsar, the same fate may well await Putin 100 years later in 2017.

    Putin now having a tough negotiator is all well and good, but he has got to have somebody to negotiate with!

    1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

      I’m not so optimistic. Merkel and Obama will continue their “no arms for the Ukrainians” policy no matter what the dwarf does in my opinion. I’m beginning to suspect that the dwarf has some sort of hold over Merkel. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he has a copy of Merkel’s Stasi file and that it contains something that would instantly destroy her if it became known in Germany. Merkel has placed her Stasi file in Germany, and her father’s, under embargo. Why, if they have nothing to hide??????

      1. Avatar Dean Venture says:

        Obama can only hold off Congress for so long, and they are almost unanimously in favour of sending lethal aid. I’ll bet that if a new offensive opens up, he will be under enormous pressure from his own party to act. Although Obama isn’t running, the Democrats still want to win in the next election and Obama’s legacy may make that difficult.

        1. Avatar James Godber says:

          I would hope impossible, not just difficult . for the free worlds sake

      2. Avatar Fred Hernandez says:

        Its always been my belief that they learned each others language in bed together…. at the beginning of all of this the two would be way to cozy.

    2. Avatar Josh Moore says:

      You make a lot of good points, but I think Obama is way too detached to know enough to send weapons.

    3. Avatar carpin says:

      You don’t know anything about geopolitics.

    4. Avatar hammermann says:

      Kiev: Well being here i wish I could be so optimistic. Ukraine has proven twice now they can’t go toe to toes with the Russians, who have consolodated the leadership- the Seps/mercenaries now bring up the rear or are only in a support roll; there TOTL gear is fresh from the factory, ukr soldiers are using bullets from WW2. Then you have the criminal abandonment of those poor guys in Dbaltseve, the Seps now are saying they slaughtered them, up to 4000 who were left there. Since that was the 4th time they left 1000 or more in a clu-de-sac instead of withdrawing them, I don’t understand why anyone would fight for Ukraine. There is a good reason Pravy Sector wants to be independent; I would too.

    5. Avatar Fred Hernandez says:

      Way too hopeful assessment. And it pains me but I believe the EU and Obama will not respond the way we should to this bully. Putin will continue to push west until he gets what he wants. And with his puppets in firm control of Donbas he has already won.

  3. Avatar Vol Ya says:

    This is just more fascist war mongering by Putin. It is an illusion to think putin ever had an peaceful intention towards Ukraine. Putin must be defeated. #1 Ukraine and Europe must stop buying Russian gas. This is crazy, it is just feeding the russians with hard currency. #2 maintain sanctions against putin and his oligarchs, but most importantly freeze their assets abroad. The oligarchs don’t trust putin so they are stashing their assets abroad. Freeze and confiscate these assets. #3 Provide guided missiles and anti tank weapons to Ukraine.

    1. Avatar puttypants says:

      Right on Brother…exactly what needs to be done and quickly!!!

    2. Avatar Czech Friend says:


  4. Avatar Josh Moore says:

    Sounds to me like he knows what he is talking about. We will see. World War III is on but so far only Putin knows it. Leaders of the West are in denial. Obama only wants it to hold off 20 more months, so it doesn’t go down on his watch. Bosnia will be next after Ukraine.

  5. Avatar what's what says:

    Obama has clearly long ago placed Ukraine on his “rhymes with ‘bucket’ list” – putin has either blackmailed or bribed merkel and hollande to some degree, susan rice is adamantly anti-ukrainian, the clintons gave 20% of n. america’s uranium reserve rights to russia, ‘hillbilly’ clinton got a $500K moscow speaking fee from russian investment bankers (not to mention obvious un-reported perks)…so none of them are going to lift a finger to help Ukraine, unfortunately.

  6. Avatar Abacs says:

    I wish and hope that free Ukraine would prevail and win.. We are aware of Russian imperialisam and brutality. Wholeheartedly support from Serbia….

  7. Avatar Anders Nielsen says:

    Still Ukraine has no intention to attack Russia.
    Any “spillovers” is entirely Russias own doing.