“Normandy Format” and the Imitation of Maidan

The protests of nationalist radicals against “capitulation” in Kiev started 24 hours before Zelensky left for a meeting in the “Normandy Format”. Observers, including Ukrainian and Russian experts, have already managed to call them sluggish and not numerous. This is not exactly true.

Of course, by the standards of the Paris or Hong Kong protests, Kiev’s daytime Poroshenko “veche” and the nighttime blockade of the presidential office on Bankova Street by the people of Biletsky are children’s babble on the lawn. But Maidan, which demolished Yanukovych, also did not differ from the numbers in Paris or Hong Kong. If compared to the events of six years ago, the picture of the daytime rally of Poroshenko’s people, taken with the help of a drone, gives the number of protesters at ten-fifteen times more than what Nayyem collected before the dispersal of Maidanists.

Official Ukrainian estimates of the number of anti-Zelensky protesters give a figure of 2,000 by day and 500-600 by night. I don’t know, at night maybe there were 300 in total: Bankova is a short and narrow street, 500 people will look like 5,000 on it. But the picture from Independence Square (taken by a drone), suggests that the number of protesters was twice as large as what was declared (not 2,000, but 3,000-5,000 people). By the way, in March last year, during anti-Poroshenko rallies, the Ukrainian police and media, twofold fewer that those present, who gathered in the same place were estimated at 2,000-3,000 people.

However, it does not matter whether Zelensky’s opponents gathered 3,000 or 5,000 people on the streets of Kiev. Firstly, even the quantity of people which were brought by them (as the experience of the overthrow of Yanukovych shows) is quite enough for the organisation of a Maidan. Secondly, they are clearly not going to organise a Maidan. For the time being, street rallies are a means of pressuring Zelensky and his master Kolomoisky into making concessions in favour of various oligarchic groups, as well as to accelerate the reduction of Zelensky’s approval rating. The task of overthrowing the government has not yet been set.

If on the 8th-9th there was an attempt to gather a real Maidan and move on the path of overthrowing Zelensky’s government, there would be not only Poroshenko and some backbenchers from the “Golos” and “Batkivshchyna” parties on the stage. Tymoshenko and Vakarchuk would stand shoulder to shoulder with him and would try to wrest the leadership from him. And the Nazis of Biletsky/Avakov would come outside the President’s Office not as a separate column, but would join the general Maidan crowd, would organise it (being the main striking force), and would impose their agenda and their leadership.

Right-wing radicals are well aware that Zelensky’s team has prepared proposals that are completely unacceptable to Russia and the DPR/LPR for the Paris meeting. They understand that Ukraine can hope for at most with this approach the formal preservation of the Minsk Agreements. Kiev is clearly not ready to commit to their early implementation, and Zelensky (who promised the voters peace) will not break into the honorary position of grave digger of the Minsk process.

Zelensky’s team initially, when they immediately after the inauguration demanded an immediate meeting in the Normandy Format, made a mistake, hoping that France, Germany, and the United States would actively support Kiev’s intention to review the content of the Minsk Agreements. They believed that Zelensky could be “sold” to the people as a more successful negotiator, who would if not immediately achieve a new agreement, then at least manage to break out of the cycle of “Minsk humiliation”. But everything worked out completely in the opposite way. And now Zelensky needs, on the one hand, to demonstrate a tough position, and on the other hand to prevent the collapse of the Minsk process, as there will be no negotiations on new conditions with him, and the DPR/LPR has already officially declared claims to the whole territory of Donetsk and Lugansk regions – the stakes have increased.

Via this it is tried, not without success, to bait Ukrainian nationalists. Knowing full well that Zelensky will not agree on anything and will not concede anything, and that he already needs only a more or less beautiful PR-picture for the voter, they carry out hysteria. Now the president who returned without a serious breakthrough will look bent under the pressure of radicals, which, of course, will again reduce his support among voters (past falls of Zelensky’s approval rating happened just when he clearly gave way to the demands of radicals).

Moreover, they will also try, having shook the situation a little, to force the president to explain publicly and swear that he has not given up any “Ukrainian land” (including Crimea); that in no case will he agree to the terms of Minsk; that he will seek Ukraine’s unconditional control over the border, that there will be no amnesty to the military and officials of the DPR/LPR; that there will be no special status, etc. In general, an attempt will be made to try to once again force him to publicly reaffirm his loyalty to Poroshenko’s strategy, and to do so under the clear pressure of radicals.

It is clear that the result will be another collapse of Zelensky’s approval rating (not fatal, but perceptible). If his approval rating collapses to 35-40% before the New Year, the team of Zelensky/Kolomoisky will have to make serious concessions to oligarchic groups to stabilise the situation in the country. Otherwise, by the spring it is possible to reach a 15% rating, and this is already a direct way to a real (rather than operetta) coup.

He can, of course, follow the path of tightening bolts. But Zelensky does not have enough power to establish a personal dictatorship. Avakov has such a resource. But an agreement still needs to be reached with him. Then it is to be hoped that he will not betray, having switched at the last moment to the side of opponents. Finally, it is ridiculous to believe that Avakov will seize power for Zelensky and withdraw. Rather, he will make his own puppet out of the president.

The statement of the IMF plays in favour of Zelensky, as it seems to have agreed to open a $5 billion credit line for Ukraine. For four years (i.e. until the end of Zelensky’s presidency), although this decision hasn’t yet been officially formalised. This is a signal to all Soros fosterlings in Ukrainian politics (and 90% of them are in senior and middle positions) that the West is still on the side of Zelensky. I.e., “people with good faces, three higher educations, and five foreign languages” should not support the rebellion against Zelensky, and the West is clearly not going to sign up for the usual Nazi coup.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky are also in his favour. But everything here is mixed, because so far no one can provide Kolomoisky with the termination of his criminal prosecution in the US and Europe.

Finally, Zelensky could get support from Putin, Macron, and Merkel in the form of a favourable-for-him photo from the summit and relevant statements to the press. But to do so, he will have to convince his negotiating partners that the continuation of Zelensky’s eclectic rule, covering up the unfolding big fight of the oligarchs for control of the last crumbs of the Ukrainian resource, is better for Russia, France, and Germany than the frank (uncloaked) war of Ukrainian oligarchic families in an all-against-all format.

In addition, all the measures listed, playing in favour of Zelensky (even if they can be implemented), are temporary and unable to stop the fall of his approval rating, under increasing pressure from opposition oligarchs and right-wing radicals. In the last two or three months another nazi-oligarchic consensus has been emerging. Its leaders constantly demonstrate to Zelensky that they are able to remove him at any moment (and no one will defend him); that he does not control law enforcement; that they have more than enough marginality to paralyse the life of the capital and militants to storm the presidential office.

They can this already, but are not in a hurry, as in the future Zelensky will be weaker, will lose popularity, and the domestic political-foreign policy costs of the coup will thus have to decrease. Moreover, the overthrow of Zelensky is not an end in itself. It is enough for the oligarchic group that controls him to suppress his oligarchic opponents.

There is a fight for power and resources. Zelensky in this “big boys” fight is only a tool, and every day he becomes less suitable for use. In the “Normandy Format” he saw his chance (his Toulon, his Arcole Bridge, his Austerlitz). But so far the situation is more like not even Waterloo (an epic battle), but the shameful desertion of Napoleon (without an army) from Egypt or the similar fleeing from Russia.

Rostislav Ishchenko

Copyright © 2022. All Rights Reserved.