Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
On October 7th a meeting took place between the Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation Vladislav Surkov and the special representative of US State Department to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The meeting took place in Belgrade – the capital of Serbia, a State that refused to join the sanctions against Russia. Thus, Moscow carried on the tradition of receiving representatives of the US in the “its own” territory. As if hinting – “it is more necessary for you than it is for us”.
As a reminder, earlier Surkov and Volker met in Minsk. And the predecessor to Volker – Victoria Nuland – talked with Surkov in Kaliningrad.
The need to observe the Minsk Agreements on Donbass and a UN peacekeeping mission in the region was officially declared as the topics of negotiations.
In strict privacy
It was one of the most closed meetings between representatives of Russia and the US. Volker and Surkov avoided the press, without disclosing neither the place nor the time of negotiations. The course and termination of the meeting became known from scraps of data from Serbian officials.
And the date of the meeting became known almost incidentally – at first from the Russian pranker who spoke with Volker on behalf of the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Aleksandr Turchynov. Then from the Russian political strategist Aleksey Chesnakov. I.e. officially neither Russia nor the US initially didn’t report about Volker and Surkov’s visit to Belgrade.
It is interesting that literally a day before the meeting – on Friday – President Poroshenko with a scandal pushed the law on the extension of the special status of Donbass through the Rada. And on Saturday, when Volker and Surkov only began communication – he signed it.
It’s possible that extension of this status was a part of the “road map”, according to which there are unannounced negotiations between Russia and the US, without which the meeting could not have any sense at all. That’s why Poroshenko was in a hurry to push this law through parliament and to sign it.
Surkov speaks, Volker is silent
It is Vladislav Surkov who was the first and so far the only one to comment on the results of the mysterious meeting.
“The draft resolution of the UN on Donbass proposed by Russia was discussed (introduction of peacekeepers for protection of the OSCE mission). A mutual understanding on a number of positions was found. The majority of revealed disagreements were recognized as surmountable,” said Surkov.
According to him, during negotiations there was talk about the need for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. “We don’t doubt that finally there will be a result,” added the assistant to the Russian President.
Volker so far hasn’t commented on the results of the meeting at all.
What the words of Surkov mean
1. It follows from words of the Assistant to Putin that Russia insists on the option of the peacekeeping mission in Donbass – Surkov didn’t say that some other options were discussed. This is peacekeepers mainly on the line of demarcation. They can go deep into unrecognized territory to protect representatives of the OSCE.
As a reminder, Ukraine and the US from the tribunes of the UN and other diplomatic platforms formally swept aside the Russian version of peacekeepers. But, according to Surkov, in the closed format it was discussed and, moreover, “mutual understanding on a number of positions was found. The majority of the revealed disagreements were recognized as surmountable”.
However, it is impossible to exclude that the extension of the mandate of peacekeepers – not only for the protection of the OSCE mission, but also for full control of the entire line of demarcation and the border with Russia – was spoken about. But, as “Strana” already wrote, Moscow will be ready to go for such a compromising option only under one condition – if peacekeepers from the “separatist” side of the line of demarcation will be Russian or from countries whose military-political course is controlled by Russia.
But earlier the Ukrainian side repeatedly stood against it.
2. For the first time from Surkov unambiguous optimism is audible – that the Minsk Agreements will be implemented (“We don’t doubt that finally there will be a result”). Perhaps, it is connected to the extension by Kiev of the special status of Donbass the day before – following their coordinated-in-advance plan.
As a reminder, earlier Volker stated that after the introduction of peacekeepers in Donbass elections take place. And after elections, as is known, the law on the special status – which grants the uncontrolled territories the right to form courts, bodies of the prosecutor’s office, and “people’s police” – comes into force, and participants of war from the separatists will be amnestied.
I.e., the political part of the Minsk Agreements will be realized. However, for this purpose there is still a need to go down an even big and very difficult path – to compromise on peacekeepers, to adopt in the Verkhovna Rada the law on local elections in Donbass that suits all sides (which so far seems improbable), and then – through decisions of the government – to renew fully-fledged trade and economic relations with the uncontrolled territories and to agree that they reintegrate into Ukraine with special status (including also their own, in fact, law enforcement structures uncontrolled by Kiev).
At this stage, we will repeat – all of this looks like a fantasy (at least, with the preservation of the current Ukrainian authorities). But, perhaps, Volker and Surkov already have their own vision of how to turn this fantasy into a reality.
“Washington and Moscow look for ways to exit the crisis”
The Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dačić stated that the fact of the meeting in Belgrade is “an indicator of changed and improved foreign policy position of Serbia”.
In general, it is representatives of the Serbian media who covered the meeting most intensively. The Serbians were flattered by the fact that they turn into an international negotiation platform.
Thus, local observers came to the conclusion that Belgrade coped with the task of staging a significant meeting far from the public’s eyes. They emphasized that earlier Volker refused to go to Russia, and that Surkov, because of international sanctions, can’t enter European Union countries.
It should be noted that Serbia recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but doesn’t impose sanctions against the Russian Federation.
Russian politicians who aren’t allowed into the West often come to Belgrade.
Because of this the policy of Serbia is often called in the media “multi-vector” (in the same way that Ukraine was once called) – the intention to preserve the course on accession to the EU with the simultaneous preservation of friendly relations with Moscow.
By the way, some observers in Serbia see in the fact of the meeting between Surkov and Volker in Belgrade a signal that Washington and Moscow look for ways to resolve the conflict in Donbass without the participation of the European Union, which is now too busy to be involved in the Ukrainian question, because it itself is in crisis.
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