Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Image: EPA/UPG)
The Kremlin finally became convinced that Poroshenko will not make the concessions it wants, so it changed its tactics
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.