President Zelenskyy talking about his intentions at a TV show. Kyiv, 6 December 2019. Photo: president.gov.ua
What are the Ukrainian and Russian plans for the meeting and what results should we expect?
Today, the office of the Ukrainian President has confirmed that the Normandy Four meeting was scheduled for 16:00 Paris time (17:00 EET, Kyiv time). President Zelenskyy is going to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron about an hour before the four-way talks, and 30 minutes later with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The leaders of the four countries were going to give a joint press conference at 18:45 Paris time (19:45 EET).
The Office has also confirmed that a bilateral meeting of Zelenskyy and Putin would be held after the summit.
Russia: the same old theme since 2014
While Russia hasn’t ever tried to fulfill any paragraph of the Minsk peace accords posing itself rather as a mediator than as a side to the conflict, its set of major demands to Ukraine remains unchanged since 2014-2015:
- direct talks with occupation administrations in Donbas oblasts
- local elections in the occupied territory without Russian troops withdrawn and without Ukrainian control of the state border
- amendment to the Ukrainian Constitution to provide Russia’s puppet Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” with a status of autonomy
An unnamed “source in the Russian state structures” of the Russian newspaper Kommersant who, according to the outlet, takes part in the Donbas conflict settlement negotiations with Ukraine and in preparing the Normandy Four summit, said that Moscow’s position regarding the consequence of fulfilling the paragraphs of the Minsk protocols signed back in late 2014 and early 2015 to outline the peace settlement process for the Donbas, remains tough,
“For them (Ukrainian side) this meeting is a political act, and for us it’s a working meeting… Nobody is going to revise anything.”
Holding the local elections in the Donbas is one of the Minsk paragraphs. Ukraine wants Russia to de-occupy the region and return the Ukrainian control of the state border before local elections in the region under Ukrainian law while Russia insists that the elections should be held with the Russian presence and control intact.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin noted on 30 November,
“I think that he [Zelenskyy] really wishes to change the situation for the better, especially in the Donbas.”
In Kremlin’s understanding, the improvement of the situation in the Donbas is nothing but accepting the Russian demands by Ukraine, and Putin seems to put some hopes on Zelenskyy to succeed in resolving the Donbas conflict in the Russian way.
Ukraine: official statements and society’s fears of capitulation
At a TV show on 6 December, Zelenskyy said that he saw the hand-over of Ukrainian ships by Russia in September as a sign that Russia was ready to talk.
“First of all, we will exchange prisoners in the all-for-all format, we will cease fire at all sections of the delimitation line, and we will also find a way to resolve the issue of elections,” which can only be held under Ukrainian law, and after Ukraine regains control over the border with Russia, stressed the official.
Verkhovna Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov from Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party says today that he believes that today’s talks with Putin will enable Zelenskyy to “end the war,” “stop shelling,” and “gradually return the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”
Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba believes that the meeting in Paris is “the diplomatic offensive of Ukraine” “everyone wanted.”
Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko states that key elements of the Ukrainian position at the Normandy Four meeting are the ceasefire, regaining the Ukrainian border control, unarming and withdrawal of the illegal armed groups, and local elections under Ukrainian laws.
However, previous Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin states that under Zelenskyy the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ceased to be a decision-maker and all foreign policies are linked to President Zelenskyy, his aide Andriy Yermak, and several more people from the presidential circle.
Presidential aide Andriy Yermak‘s latest statements are as follows:
- “That’s clear that the Minsk accords were adopted five years ago and they already should be revised“
- Steinmeier’s formula should be promoted to a law.
- If the Normandy talks fail, Ukraine is going to erect a wall between temporarily occupied Donbas territories and the rest of Ukraine. He believes that this will allow freezing the conflict.
Earlier, approving the so-called Steinmeier’s Formula by the Ukrainian authorities caused protests since many Ukrainians saw this attempt to clarify the mechanism of the local elections in the occupied territories as contradicting the Ukrainian interests and even leading to the country’s capitulation to Russia.
The rally dubbed “The Red Lines for Zelenskyy” gathered thousands of people in central Kyiv yesterday, on the eve of the Normandy Four meeting, to warn President Zelenskyy that Ukrainians are not going to accept a peace deal at the cost of the country’s independence and sovereignty.
The “red lines” themselves were outlined earlier, on 3 December, by major opposition parties – European Solidarity, Voice, and Fatherland – in a joint declaration addressed to Zelenskyy:
- no compromises on Ukraine’s unitary status and no federalization;
- no compromises on Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic course.
- no political actions, including elections in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas, until security preconditions are fulfilled – Russian troops are withdrawn, illegal armed groups are disarmed, and Ukraine establishes control of the state border.
- no compromises on the de-occupation and return of Crimea to Ukraine.
- no international lawsuits against Russia are terminated.
Former Ukrainian President, MP Petro Poroshenko also addressed French President Macron from the stage at yesterday’s rally “Red Lines for Zelensky” in Kyiv, saying,
“This is a message to Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic. Friends, you cannot make any concessions to Putin until the last piece of Ukrainian land is freed. And I think this message will also be well heard in France,” he warned.
“Finally, you have returned our territories. How much money are you ready to compensate for seizing our territories and helping the people who participated in Crimea and Donbas escalation?” he literally said as the phrase addressed to the Russian president.
This definitely is not what he would actually say now, because both Crimea and the Donbas haven’t become any closer to their return to Ukraine, and no pre-condition emerged for Russia to relax its grip on the Ukrainian regions.
In his lengthy monologue at a TV show on 6 December, Zelenskyy defined his goals as follows,
“I want to see the man and I want to bring from Normandy the understanding and feeling that everyone indeed wants to gradually end this tragic war. I can clearly understand this at the table… for me, it is very important if we are talking about the ceasefire, we will not speak in Minsk format, not at a meeting in a trilateral group, but we will look into each other’s eyes with the President of the Russian Federation,” said the President clearly implying that he believes that Putin can sincerely want to end the war that Russia unleashed and fueled for five years without any signs of its intentions to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
Russian demands have been unchanged since the beginning of the war and can’t be fulfilled without sacrificing Ukraine’s sovereignty in one way or another, and Russia is not going to give up any of its demands.
Thus, in fact, the best possible outcome of the Normandy Four meeting for Ukraine would be the lack of any result. Anything else would be negative to one degree or another.
Meanwhile, even if the Normandy Four negotiations will be fruitless, Zelenskyy may turn to the “Plan B” voiced by his aide Yermak – building a wall along the frontline in the Donbas, which actually is also favorable for Russia since such a wall would play the same role as the peacekeeping force from both sites of the front proposed by Putin in 2017 – shaping the borders and cementing the territory of Russia’s fake republics in the Donbas.
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