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Portnikov: It’s not about ‘negotiation formats,’ it’s about Russia

A heavily-protected Russian entry point into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea annexed by Russia in March 2014 (Image:
A heavily-protected Russian entry point into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea annexed by Russia in March 2014 (Image:
Portnikov: It’s not about ‘negotiation formats,’ it’s about Russia
Translated by: A. N.

The President of Ukraine’s new representative in Crimea, Anton Korynevych, speaks about the need to find an international format for negotiations on the future of the annexed peninsula. Korynevych reminds Ukrainians that there are several negotiation platforms on the settlement issue in the Donbas – the “Normandy format” and the groups in Minsk created by the agreement of the leaders of the countries participating in this format, while there is literally nothing for Crimea.

But this is not surprising. The “Normandy format” exists only because Russia formally recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Participation in the Minsk process creates an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it is not a party to the conflict, but a country of mediation in the negotiations between Kyiv and the “people’s republics.” For Ukraine, the Minsk talks are advantageous solely because for all these years they’ve allowed to maintain sanctions against Russia, which annexed Crimea and occupied territories in the Donbas.

With Crimea there is a completely different situation. From the point of view of Russia, the issue of the peninsula has been resolved: they consider Crimea an integral part of the territory of the Russian Federation. Ukraine and the entire international community have a similarly hard-line stance: Crimea remains an integral part of Ukraine, and Russia is holding it illegally.

Therefore, the crux of the matter is not at all in negotiating formats and platforms, but in the absence of any room for compromise and dialogue. Such room can appear only if Moscow recognizes at least the illegality of the very fact of the annexation of Crimea and will want to discuss a settlement of legal problems that have arisen after the annexation of the peninsula. But the fact is the Kremlin does not see any legal problems, but only sees “unfriendly” actions of Ukraine and Western countries against Russia, which simply need to be reversed by them unilaterally.

Ukraine can, of course, imitate the creation of international platforms for negotiations on Crimea without Russian participation. But what would it do at such platforms? American, European or Turkish diplomats will simply agree with the Ukrainian conclusions that the annexation of Crimea is not legal and that the control over the territory should be returned to Ukraine. They do not need any convincing. Only Putin has to be convinced. But he does not need proof from Ukraine.

Then what can be done to secure the return of Crimea? First of all, one has to understand that this return can take place only after conditions in Russia itself have matured. Meanwhile, the issue of restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine should remain the main political issue for the country itself. I emphasize: it is this issue, to which all other issues – from the end of the war to economic reforms – are secondary. Because a country with undetermined boundaries can neither end the war, nor carry out reforms, nor attract investments. It seems that in order to turn Ukraine into such a disabled state, Putin annexed Crimea and began the war in the Donbas.

And I think the Ukrainians should do everything possible not to forget about this “disability” themselves, and not to let the world forget. The memory that Ukraine was deprived of a part of its territory and it is not going to agree with that crime – for now, I am sure, is the most important weapon of the Ukrainians. This is much more effective than the imitation of different negotiation formats, which, apparently, will not exist anyway.

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Translated by: A. N.
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