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Portnikov: President Zelenskyy is deceiving himself and Ukrainian people

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing the Ukrainian people about his government agreeing to the Kremlin-demanded "Steinmeier formula" for the Donbas. Kyiv, October 3, 2019 (Photo:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressing the Ukrainian people about his government agreeing to the Kremlin-demanded “Steinmeier formula” for the Donbas. Kyiv, October 3, 2019 (Photo:
Portnikov: President Zelenskyy is deceiving himself and Ukrainian people
Translated by: A. N.
A video message in which President Zelenskyy tried to explain Kyiv’s decision to implement the “Steinmeier formula” demonstrated once again that the head of state continues to live in his own world, which has nothing to do with reality.

Zelenskyy claims that his agreeing to the implementation of the “Steinmeier formula” was necessary solely to unblock a meeting in the “Normandy format.” But at the same time, he does not explain to us or to himself why he needs this meeting of the four leaders [including Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy]. Or – if to be absolutely precise – why he needs a meeting with Vladimir Putin. What exactly should happen at this meeting that Zelenskyy is so eager to have it? And if no specific result is expected, then why have it at all?

In this sense, Vladimir Putin, who speaks of the possibility of holding a meeting only if a specific result can be achieved there, looks much more logical than Zelenskyy, because Putin is not fooling himself. Putin wants to force Zelenskyy to give more and more concessions and, in the end, to force to Ukraine’s very surrender that the “head of the DNR” Pushilin spoke about on Russian television yesterday. And, for now, everything has worked out well for Putin: Zelenskyy transferred [the witness of the Flight MH17 downing] Tsemakh to Russia and agreed to the “Steinmeier formula.” What’s next? Will Zelenskyy agree to direct negotiations with Kremlin puppets under the guise of consultations with “Ukrainian society”?

However, I am not saying at all that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will make such a concession. It is entirely possible that the Ukrainian president does have “red lines” that he does not want – or is afraid – to cross. And these “red lines” are connected with the impossibility of holding elections in the occupied territories in the presence of Russian troops and without providing full conditions for such elections, such as ensuring there is Ukrainian legislation, Ukrainian parties, Ukrainian media, public safety, conditions for voting by internally displaced persons and so on. But Putin has completely different views and completely different plans for these elections. And the more Zelenskyy talks about his “red lines,” the less there is opportunity for him to “negotiate an agreement” with the Kremlin. With Putin, you can come to an agreement only on Putin’s terms.

Zelenskyy might pursue another goal, however, also nothing new, which is to demonstrate his peacefulness to Western partners, to lure Putin into a meeting to show that Zelenskyy fulfills all the conditions of his Russian colleague, while Putin comes up with unacceptable requirements. But it’s not so difficult for Putin to figure out this childish trick – all the more so since Zelenskyy shares it at all “closed” meetings, which even schoolchildren have a transcript of, and the Russian special services even more so. The Kremlin is going to postpone the meeting in the “Normandy format” and put more and more demands forward. And Macron is going to be furious that the meeting is being delayed and will put pressure on Zelenskyy. While Zelenskyy will be worried that he has not succeeded in luring Putin to a meeting and outwitting him, and will make more and more concessions, and make new mistakes. And Putin will be amused – because all this looks very funny indeed, if you look from the vantage point of Kremlin. Comical, I would say.

Zelenskyy should understand that he is not a great operator who tomorrow will deceive Putin and everyone else, but just a target of a seasoned KGB officer who is using his own ego to destroy Ukraine. The president should heed the logic of those who gather by his office building and demand to stop the surrender. He should listen to them simply because these people could be much better realists than he and his entourage. Because they already went through all these “peace initiatives” and attempts to deceive Putin in 2014-2016, when Zelenskyy and his friends were not interested in politics.

“We are against war, but we are also against defeat,” reads the placard held by a participant of the “Let’s Stop Capitulation” rally in Kyiv on 6 October 2019. Photo: Dmytro Karpiy/Facebook

A high political rating does not necessarily mean a strong intellect. It simply means support of ignorant and naive population that is far from understanding the realities… and one that might fall in love with a new idol tomorrow, just like a child with a new toy when an old one gets boring. Holding a high rating for a long time is as impossible as holding water in a sieve. Zelenskyy should stop thinking about his ratings and start thinking about Ukraine, of course, if the fate of this country interests him more than polling.

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Translated by: A. N.
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