Ukraine Is Given the Opportunity to Independently Bury the Minsk Agreements

The Normandy format meeting of leaders of Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and France in Paris on December 9th has every chance to become historical, because it will be the last one.

Who is not satisfied with the Minsk Agreements?

Russia clearly doesn’t expect anything special from the meeting. For the Kremlin, it is only necessary to record, in the presence of European partners, either the commitment of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to move gradually in the process of implementing the Minsk Agreements, or his inability to give such a commitment and unwillingness to reaffirm Kiev’s loyalty to the Minsk Agreements. The second option is most likely.

Firstly, Vladimir Zelensky himself has repeatedly claimed that he is not satisfied with the Minsk Agreements and would like to rewrite them. All key members of his team spoke about the same thing.

Secondly, as is known, the final statement has already been agreed by the parties and it, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadim Prystaiko, contains no specific obligations – only general provisions.

Thirdly, the Ukrainian right-wing radical opposition is already preparing a warm meeting for President Zelensky. His opponents are ready to call even the most innocent actions “the betrayal of Ukraine’s interests”, let alone serious concessions.

Fourthly, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that Russia, of course, wants constructive negotiations, and that for this purpose he is even ready to hold a one-on-one meeting with Zelensky, but the statements of the Kiev authorities and Vladimir Zelensky himself are extremely contradictory and not encouraging.

Fifthly, on the eve of the meeting, the state structures of Ukraine constantly carry out actions and make statements that are aimed if not at disrupting the meeting (it is almost impossible to disrupt it at this stage of preparation), then at creating maximum difficulties in achieving any agreements.

It is difficult to imagine that under such conditions, even under triple pressure from Putin, Macron, and Merkel, President Zelensky will go beyond a pre-agreed position with key Ukrainian policy players.

He needs to make a statement about Ukraine’s desire to reconsider some points of the Minsk Agreements, track the reaction of the West (Russia’s reaction is clear to him, Moscow has indicated it in advance), then to sign a pre-agreed joint statement and go home.

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No one wants to speak to the Ukrainian state

Another indication that the Russian leadership is ready for Ukraine’s rejection of the Minsk Agreements is the unprecedented activity of the DPR/LPR leadership. Donetsk and Lugansk adopted a special law, in addition to the Constitution defining the borders of the republics of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine. I would like to remind you that within the framework of the Minsk Agreements negotiations are under way between Kiev and certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. I.e., the Minsk Agreements do not recognise the sovereignty of Donetsk and Lugansk over the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk regions controlled by Kiev. On the contrary, their implementation implies the reintegration of “separate districts” into Ukraine, albeit under special conditions. Consequently, the adoption of this law creates a new reality: if Kiev denounces the Minsk Agreements, it will have to deal not with “separate districts”, but with the DPR/LPR, which extend their sovereignty to the entire territory of the former regions and will demand the withdrawal of the occupation troops of the Kiev regime.

This is a completely new situation. As Kiev tries to raise the stakes, Russia is showing a willingness on its part to raise the stakes. It is clear that the DPR/LPR could not make such a serious decision (like the border law) without consulting Moscow. Moreover, if they decided to do so, Russia would immediately condemn such an initiative and demand a return to its original position. But the Kremlin ignored the actions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

As a result, the DPR declared their intention to abandon the Ukrainian language as the second state language – motivated by their intention to integrate into Russia, where they will not need Ukrainian. Once again, the Kremlin has not reacted. Meanwhile, so far Russia has specifically stressed that in all territories that Ukraine lost control over after February 2014 (both in Crimea, which left Russia, and in the independent DPR/LPR) the rights of Ukrainians are particularly protected, in particular, the Ukrainian language has been declared one of the state languages everywhere.

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This (linguistic) demarche is also important because in reality the “Ukrainian language as the state language” didn’t hamper the DPR in anything. It was here, but nobody used it anywhere. I.e., the language situation in the Republic clearly did not pull on the priority problem. But from the point of view of demonstrating to Ukraine the irreversibility of the process of losing Donbass in the event of the rejection of Minsk, this step is more than effective.

The language issue has always been extremely painful for Ukrainian nationalists (at least because only a smaller part of the country’s population spoke Ukrainian). Nationalists in Kiev consider the state status of the Ukrainian language as an even more important symbol of sovereignty than the coat of arms, anthem, and flag. Therefore, the demarche of the DPR cannot pass unnoticed in Kiev and will be absolutely correctly interpreted there.

In general, all preliminary statements and actions of all interested parties demonstrate to us that no one from the meeting in Paris expects any breakthroughs. However, if the incredible happens, and Zelensky shows the will to carry out constructive work, and thus Kiev will be able to defend the reached agreements from the attack of nationalists, everyone will be only happy. But it’s from the field of fiction. In such cases, you can only rely on a miracle.

The gas issue damaged Kiev

Optimists say that in Paris the issue of gas transit through the territory of Ukraine can be solved. I very much doubt it. Even if the gas issue is discussed, it should be remembered that the final statement has already been agreed and Kiev diplomats have not seen any sensations there. Meanwhile, heads of state (and the Chancellor of Germany) can only reach an agreement on such an issue in principle (without details). But the problem is just the details. In principle, both Ukraine and Russia agree on the feasibility of reaching an agreement on transit. But technically, the positions of the parties are absolutely not the same.

Russia is ready to sign an agreement for one, a maximum of 2 years. Ukraine wants a minimum of 10 years. The transit fee Ukraine wants is 2.5-3 times higher than the one Russia is willing to pay. Ukraine is not ready to zero the lawsuits of “Naftogaz” and “Gazprom“, which is Russia’s fundamental demand. Finally, in connection with the unbundling of Naftogaz, it is not yet clear with whom to conclude a contract.

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The most important thing is that all these issues are within the competence of the relevant economic entities (state companies), which are managed by governments. I.e., even if some general agreement is reached, Heads of State can only order governments to negotiate accordingly. They, in turn, should form delegations with the participation of representatives of companies, issue them directives, and start discussing details. I have no doubt that “Naftogaz” and the Goncharuk government are in a position to “bury” any order issued by Zelensky in such a discussion.

So on the gas issue, too, you don’t should expect anything more than a declaration of intent. Rather, even behind closed doors Zelensky will try to explain that transit is needed not only, and not so much, by Gazprom, but by the EU. After that, it will only be hoped that he will be able to break the resistance of his own state structures in order to reach an agreement.

However, this is as “real” as Ukraine’s implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

President Putin’s harsh statement about Bulgaria’s failure to build its Turkish Stream site (seasoned with a more than transparent threat to find a more adequate partner) shows that Moscow and the gas issue are ready to welcome Ukraine’s wonderful “vision”, but do not particularly believe in the reality of such a miracle and are preparing for the worst case scenario.

In fact, Russia and its European partners agreed to this meeting, only to avoid being accused of the agreements breaking down because of the non-constructive position of some of them. Ukraine is given the opportunity to “bury” the Minsk Agreements on its own and accept full responsibility for the consequences. However, nobody takes away the chance of constructive work from Kiev either.

Rostislav Ishchenko

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