Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The President of Russia Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, November 15th, for the first time held personal telephone negotiations with the heads of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky. It was reported that the recent initiative of the leader of the social movement “Ukrainian Choice” Viktor Medvedchuk concerning an exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and the republics of Donbass was discussed.
As the press secretary of the head of state Dmitry Peskov said, the initiative found support in the leadership of the DPR and LPR. Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky thus stated that the issue should be further developed with representatives of Ukraine.
Putin’s intention to have a talk with the leadership of the DPR and LPR became known on Wednesday after a meeting between the President, the patriarch, and Medvedchuk in Voskresensk in the New Jerusalem monastery. At the meeting the Ukrainian politician suggested to Putin to discuss with the heads of the republics the possibility of 306 people being released by Kiev in exchange for the release of more than 70 people by the militia within the framework of an exchange of prisoners in Donbass before New Year.
Prevously Donetsk and Lugansk repeatedly drew attention to the fact that Kiev drags out the process of preparing for an exchange of prisoners and continues to divide lists into those who are subject to and not subject to an exchange, while in the Minsk agreements it is accurately stated: exchanges must take place according to the formula “all for all”. The Ukrainian side refuses to do it, stating that this contradicts its legislation, because some of the prisoners can’t be released as they are held responsible, allegedly, for especially serious crimes.
It is also worth noting that an exchange of prisoners actually hasn’t taken place since September, 2016, simply because of the position of the Ukrainian side, however negotiations within the framework of the contact group on Ukraine in Minsk have continued during all this time.
It is possible to expect that this time the process will, at last, move off dead center? What does the personal address of the Russian leader to the heads of the republics mean, and to what extent will their status in the negotiation process increase thanks to this? We asked our experts these questions.
Putin shows to the whole world that on issues relating to Donbass final decisions are made not by him, but by the leaders of the DPR and LPR, noted the Director of the Center for Eurasian Studies Vladimir Kornilov.
“I think that it’s not a coincidence that this demonstrative dialogue happened immediately after the meeting between Surkov and Volcker, during which, as is known, serious differences concerning the idea of introducing UN peacekeepers in Donbass were revealed. The US demands from Russia consent for their project, while Moscow constantly emphasises: a decision must be made solely with the participation of the DPR and LPR.”
According to the member of Bureau of presidium of the “Rodina” party and Director of the Institute of Freedom Fedor Biryukov, a telephone conversation between the President of Russia and leaders of the Donbass republics became an important stage in the course of the pacification of passions between Kiev, Donetsk, and Lugansk.
It is still too early speak to speak about the practical results of this. But in respect of media-political support the result is obvious. The leaders of the LDPR are de facto recognised by the Kremlin as official sides of the process, who Moscow talks to completely as equals. Besides this, obvious support for Viktor Medvedchuk and his movement “Ukrainian Choice” was expressed. Very possibly, it is precisely this force and this politician that will become the official partners of Moscow on the platform of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Thus, Vladimir Putin quite definitely showed his priorities in respect of solving the prolonged conflicts between Ukraine and Donbass and Ukraine and Russia.
“SP”: Possibly it is also a signal to the government in Kiev?
“The Kremlin’s accent on support for the initiative of Medvedchuk shows to the government in Kiev that it exhausted the patience of Moscow and stopped being even a nominal ‘partner’ in negotiations. But the Russian side, certainly, will still work in a conservative key, trying not to aggravate the situation and to use any opportunities for the achievement of desirable results. I think that now new vectors will appear, and the process will become structurally more complex, which must lead to an increase of its efficiency.”
“This is indeed the first public direct negotiations between the Russian President and the heads of the republics,” said the head of expert group “Crimean Project”, the political scientist Igor Ryabov.
“It is clear that these talks were given a humanitarian aspect, the topic of prisoners is indeed important. It is caused by the fact that endlessly pretending that the interests and needs of the LPR and DPR aren’t important for us doesn’t make any sense. Ukraine sabotages the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, aggravates the situation on the line of differentiation, and spits on the opinion of the republics. We should look for ways to support the republic in the public sphere. This meeting is the first step. The more the republics feel sure about themselves, the worse Poroshenko feels.”
“SP”: Why didn’t Putin directly communicate with heads of the republics before? To what extent will this case bring an increase of their status and the readiness of Kiev to conduct negotiations with them?
“As far as I know, non-public contact already took place. Moreover, its initiator was Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko. The meetings took place on the territory of Crimea. By the way, the main intermediary was Medvedchuk, who has historically good relations with the President. Putin appreciates Medvedchuk’s efforts to save the ships of the Black Sea fleet. In the 90’s there was a threat of their buyout by NATO.”
“SP”: Who does Medvedchuk represent here? Who in general will score points on such an exchange if it takes place?
“Medvedchuk represents those elites in Ukraine who, on the one hand, are ready to develop its statehood, but see it in a close sheaf with Russia. Medvedchuk has a business in Russia, including in Crimea. Thus, there is also quite serious business connected also to the West. He is a readied negotiator in the extreme case that Poroshenko’s regime falls down. The fact that Medvedchuk acted as the initiator of a humanitarian initiative of the exchange of prisoners will give him the chance to increase his authority in both Ukraine and in the republics of the DPR and LPR. He doesn’t lay claim to power, even should Poroshenko be overthrown, but he tries to actively participate in negotiations on Ukraine.”
“SP”: The meeting in the New Jerusalem monastery took place the day after the negotiations between Surkov and Volker. Did the result of the negotiations between the special representatives somehow have an effect?
“Of course, there is a complex stage of negotiations on Ukraine, everything is interconnected. Now the format of deploying peacekeepers in Donbass is being decided. But the approaches are so different that it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached soon.”
The political scientist Aleksandr Dudchak stresses that war is ongoing not on the border with Germany, not on the border with France, and more so, not on the border with the US.
“War is ongoing on the border with Russia, and citizens of the Russian Federation even perished on the territory of the Russian Federation because of shells that flew from the territory of Ukraine. That’s why there is no reason to be surprised by the fact that Russia is interested in the fastest termination of military operations in the border territories, and takes an active part in it. It’s not Ukraine that provided humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of Donbass, but Russia. And it is precisely Russia that was obliged to solve problems with IDPs from the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Attempts to demand from the Russian Federation neutrality and indifference to the processes that were organized from the outside and are ongoing on its border are cynical nonsense.
It is necessary to remember that the LPR and DPR arose as an answer to the coup d’etat in Ukraine, and it is precisely Kiev that first gave the order to attack Lugansk and Donetsk, and not vice versa. It isn’t necessary to speak about the legitimacy of the present Ukrainian authorities. But most of the territory of Ukraine is under its control, and we are obliged to conduct negotiations with this government. And negotiations must also be conducted with the leadership of the LPR-DPR. Direct negotiations between Kiev and the unrecognized republics would be the best option. And how these republics look in the opinion of Kiev or the West it simply emotions.”
“SP”: Who benefits most from Medvedchuk’s initiative? Moscow? Donetsk and Lugansk? Kiev?
“This initiative is beneficial for all, first of all those who were included on the lists for exchange, and for the members of their families. The ball is in Kiev’s court. Kiev doesn’t show a big desire to carrying out an exchange, because after this, of course, it will be necessary to also implement the other points of the Minsk Agreements. And as Kiev artificially creates a stumbling block, it slows down all of the Minsk process.”
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