The negotiations between the leaders of the Norman Four in Paris dragged on until late at night; Putin, Merkel, Macron and Zelensky held a joint press conference several hours later than originally planned. After the round-table discussion, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine talked face to face for more than an hour, with representatives of Naftogaz, Gazprom and the relevant ministries of the two countries participating in the discussion (it is easy to guess that it was about a new transit contract). Then the Quartet gathered again for dinner and did not go out to the press for a long time.
All this gave hope for a positive outcome of the negotiations. But Macron, who was the first to take the floor at the press conference, immediately drew all points on the “i”: it was not possible to agree on one of the key issues of a peaceful settlement in the Donbass.
According to Angela Merkel, there are only three specific agreements.
Firstly, the parties agreed to establish a complete and comprehensive ceasefire on the front line by the end of 2019. In essence, this is a new truce. How it differs from all the previous ones, which broke literally in a matter of hours, one can only guess.
Secondly, it is planned to improve monitoring of this same ceasefire: from now on, the OSCE mission will monitor the situation 24, not 12 hours a day. Again, it is unclear how this will help stop the bloodshed. The monitoring mission itself has repeatedly emphasized that they are not involved in peacekeeping, their job is to record shelling. Well, now there will be more information about the shelling. Who is easier on this?
Thirdly, in four months the leaders of the “Norman Four” will hold another meeting to check the clock and discuss the political part of the Minsk agreements – there are no common points here at all. The final declaration only refers to an interest in agreeing on all political provisions.
Zelensky signed on to Merkel’s words and added a few more details: a certain updated mine clearance plan for the territory of Donbass appeared and three additional zones for troop withdrawal were agreed.
Until December 31 of this year, the parties also intend to complete the process of exchange of prisoners on the principle of “all for all.” Here, in fact, are all the compromises. Zelensky then insisted on returning control of the Russian-Ukrainian border to Kiev and listed his “red lines”: the impossibility of federalizing Ukraine, the inadmissibility of foreign influence on the country’s development vector, and the inadmissibility of concessions in territorial integrity. Macron, who at first smiled sweetly, was noticeably sad at the end of Zelensky’s speech …
Putin emphasized that the final joint document on the results of the meeting emphasizes the need to strictly abide by the Minsk agreements. He called on his Ukrainian counterpart to start a direct dialogue with the other side of the conflict (that is, Donetsk and Lugansk) and not delay the implementation of the political part of Minsk-2: extend the law on the special status of the Ordlo, amend the Constitution, and grant amnesty.
Another important message of Putin is to increase the number of checkpoints in the Donbass to make life easier for local residents. If the plans to hold local elections in Donbass in the autumn of 2020, as Zelensky wants, had at least some prospect, it would be unreasonable to build new entry and exit points now. So the president of the Russian Federation does not seriously consider these plans.
All parties, as expected, called the negotiations successful and productive. But in fact, the Norman summit was not very productive. Putin and Zelensky, obviously, have not progressed further than the minimum that they had previously agreed on through their foreign affairs agencies. A number of critical issues remained behind the scenes. Ukraine is still torn to the border, ignoring the 9th paragraph of the Minsk agreements, and Moscow is not expected to make concessions.
It is unclear whether Kiev is ready to consolidate the special status of Donbass in the Constitution. Not a single word was said about the possible lifting or easing of the blockade of Donbass.
Kiev’s direct negotiations with Donetsk and Lugansk also seem to remain a taboo subject for Zelensky, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that Moscow would urge Ukraine to speak with rebellious regions without intermediaries.
According to some media reports, Putin suggested that troops be deployed along the entire front line, but Zelensky did not support this idea.
All that the leader of the “Norman Four” agreed on is purely technical issues. To deal with them, meeting in Paris was absolutely not necessary. The parties had previously declared a ceasefire, exchanged prisoners and deployed troops on the demarcation line. Realizing this, the President of Russia sat in front of reporters with a bored look. Now it’s not a fact that a new summit will take place in four months. Putin clearly does not intend to organize another meeting for the sake of the meeting.
Zelensky has no real roadmap for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. He brings beautiful stories to his homeland that he did not cross a single “red line” and did not surrender the interests of Ukraine. Similarly, Poroshenko ended negotiations with Putin, Merkel and Hollande. Until the Kremlin refused to deal with him.
For Zelensky, the first meeting of the leaders of the “Norman Four” took place at the peak of its popularity. The activities of the President of Ukraine, despite the negative trends of recent months, are still approved by most of his compatriots. Four months later, he will no longer have such electoral support. And it is unlikely that he will be able to fulfill the political part of Minsk-2, even if he takes on such obligations – resistance within the country will be too serious.
It is noteworthy that during the press conference of the Quartet leaders, neither Putin nor Zelensky spoke about energy. Even the word “gas” from their lips never sounded until this topic was raised by journalists. Then the Ukrainian president expressed hope for a new transit agreement, and Putin focused on direct deliveries of blue fuel to Ukraine. Prior to this, Naftogaz’s executive director Yuri Vitrenko eloquently summarized the results of the consultations: “We agreed to agree.” In a word, a breakthrough did not work, and until the new year’s time there is very little time left …
Minsk has remained a half-dead nag that the leaders of the Norman Four are harnessing to the wagon, trying to convince others that it is about to move. Could it be otherwise? The point here is not even the position of Zelensky, who went to Paris to revise the Minsk Agreements (although he perfectly understood that Putin would not agree with this). The problem is much deeper.
Shortly before the Norman meeting, the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, together with the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), conducted a case study that was disseminated by many Ukrainian and Russian media. As it turned out, almost three quarters of the respondents (72.5%) are ready to compromise with Russia in order to achieve peace in the Donbass. Moreover, the appropriate majority of them – 58.5% – consider not all concessions to be admissible. Which ones? When you try to answer this question, the fun begins.
Sociologists offered the survey participants a large and quite realistic list of possible compromises (most of which, however, are no compromises – these are the requirements of the Minsk agreements approved by Kiev and the UN Security Council). And it turns out that none of the options makes Ukrainians happy. No one!
The least support is given to “holding local elections on the conditions that the militants require”, that is, on the conditions of the same “Minsk-2” – the militants do not require anything beyond this.
The vast majority of respondents also rejected changes to the Constitution, granting the state language to the Russian language, a full amnesty for combatants, the formation of a power block in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions (ORDLO) exclusively from local personnel. The relative majority considered the non-aligned status of Ukraine, consent to the special relations of Donbass with Russia, direct negotiations with the leadership of LDNR and the end of the blockade unacceptable.
Few people paid attention to this paradox: Ukrainians are ready to make compromises, but none of the possible compromises are considered acceptable. However, the results of the survey will not seem so strange, given that the question of ending the war in Ukraine is simply not relevant.
By and large, all these years, the share of cunning has been in every case study, which showed that the world is the main priority for the inhabitants of this country. From the proposed list of pressing problems, people chose a conflict in the Donbass, guided by certain considerations of an ethical and moral nature. To do this is to sign your “normality”. Because for a normal person, the numbers in payments for utilities and corruption in hospitals cannot be more important than war.
But if you dig deeper, it turns out that the conflict in the Donbass for most respondents is something incomprehensible.
We should thank Poroshenko for this. During the years of his presidency, the government diligently “highlighted” the theme of war and no less diligently ignored the issue of peace. Serious discussions about how to stop the bloodshed were not conducted either in the media, or in the expert community, or within the walls of parliament.
According to Ukrainian political scientist Mikhail Pogrebinsky, most of the deputies of the previous convocation did not even read the text of the Minsk Agreements and the law on the special status of Donbass, which they adopted. What can we say about ordinary citizens?
As a result, the mysterious Minsk-2 becomes a fertile ground for disgusting manipulations. The same Poroshenko, together with the leaders of two other parliamentary factions, signs a statement “on preventing violation of the national interests of Ukraine”, which states that elections cannot be held before control is established over the border. Although he himself gave the green light to the signing of the Minsk agreements, where the border goes after the elections! Is this not a sincere admission of high treason? But Poroshenko is calm. He knows that the proper majority of his compatriots have not read the Minsk Agreements. You can hang any noodles on their ears.
Ukraine had five years to come to some kind of popular consensus on the reintegration of the Donbass (or “divorce” with the Donbass – this option also has many supporters). It didn’t. Attempts to update the theme of war and peace under Zelensky are also not undertaken. Therefore, it is difficult to understand what the president of Ukraine had in mind when he spoke about his “strong position” before the meeting of the leaders of the “Norman Four”. He went to Paris as the leader of a country that does not know what she wants.
Residents of Donbass can only hope that the withdrawal of forces will nevertheless occur along the entire front line. If Zelensky is not able to achieve peace, then at least stop the bloodshed. Apparently, he is not capable of anything more.