Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
On the night of April 18th a telephone conversation took place between the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President of France François Hollande, and the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko on the settlement of the situation in the East of Ukraine.
Reports about the results of night negotiations are rather laconic and formal. “The leaders of the ‘Normandy Four’ countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Minsk Agreements on security and political settlement. They welcomed the decision to reinstate the Easter truce, agreed at the March 29 meeting of the Contact Group, and stressed the importance of strictly abiding by this arrangement,” it is noted on the site of the President of Russia.
There it is also emphasized that “the leaders called for stepping up efforts to resolve issues related to the all-for-all prisoner exchange” and expressed regret in connection with the cases of threats concerning the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.
The so-called Normandy format of negotiations on Ukraine (“Normandy Four”) has existed since June, 2014, when on the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the disembarkation of troops of allies in Normandy, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany for the first time discussed the settlement of the conflict in the Southeast of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, one and a half years has already passed since the moment when Kiev had to implement the political part of the Minsk agreements providing the establishing in the Constitution of Ukraine of special status of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics. Ukrainian politicians now prefer not only not to remember these obligations, but also regularly urge to resolve “the issue of Donbass” in a military way, which was done recently by the head of the National Security and Defene Council of Ukraine Aleksandr Turchynov. About what Minsk agreements in these conditions we can speak of here is a riddle. It is only clear that the situation is in the air and that can’t remain like that forever. And it isn’t excluded that it is exactly during the last telephone conversation the leaders of the countries of the Normandy Four were working out how to exit the “Minsk impasse”.
“For Kiev the time to pay the bills comes and closer,” said the political scientist, the research associate of IMEMO RAS Yury Baranchik. “At least, in an economic aspect. Before 2021 Ukraine must pay bills of 35 billion dollars for the repayment of previous debts. There is no money in the budget, especially such money. And there won’t be any in the near future. Moreover, the last months showed that the US in every possible way distances itself from the Ukrainian problem. Washington makes it known that it isn’t going ‘pay for the upkeep’ of Ukraine.”
At the last “G7” summit the Foreign Minister of the United States Tillerson made it known to the Europeans that the Ukrainian crisis is mainly their problem.
That’s why it’s not a coincidence that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested to schedule a visit to Russia in earlier terms. The logic here is clear: The European Union can’t maintain Ukraine and doesn’t want to do it. There, on the contrary, they expected to grab from “independent” Ukraine as many resources as possible. So there is a necessity to come to an agreement somehow with Russia on how to get out of such an unpleasant situation. Already now Ukraine owes the countries of the West about 80 billion dollars. And if Ukraine ceases to exist as a uniform state, it is absolutely unclear from whom to ask such a serious sum.
“SP”: To what degree is this money serious for the West, considering that the US perfectly prints dollars in necessary quantities? Isn’t it simpler for them to waive these debts, but to safeguard nationalist Ukraine as a certain lever of influence over Russia?
“If to assume that a certain huge provocation in Crimea or Donbass will be staged on the eve of presidential elections in Russia in 2018, the West can’t but understand that this, on the contrary, can make the electorate in Russia consolidated in front of an external threat around the most probable candidate — Vladimir Putin. Besides this, the military brigades of the DPR and LPR are quite able to beat off an offensive of the Ukrainian army. In addition, they could also broaden the territory of their States. They don’t do it only because of the rearrangement of the liberated territories – there will be a need for larger means, which aren’t present so far.
On the other hand, the Kiev regime is in a condition of zugzwang. Whatever step Poroshenko takes, he will only worsen the situation in the increasingly-poor Ukraine. If the West , for example, demands from Kiev to implement the political part of the Minsk agreements in exchange for a delay of the payment of debts, Poroshenko will be compelled to dissolution the Verkhovna Rada because the present parliament won’t adopt this law. And the dissolution of the Rada in turn will shake up the entire political situation in Ukraine. Consequences can be the most unpredictable, both for Petro Poroshenko and for all the country. And any other President who will come after Poroshenko will be in an even more difficult position than him. Positive options for the development of the Ukrainian statehood are not seen. It is possible that as a result on its territory a new State or States will appear, which will refuse the debts of the present Kiev authorities. Such an option with some reservations suits Russia, but doesn’t suit the West at all.”
“In more than two years after the signing of ‘Minsk-2’ Ukraine, in fact, didn’t execute any points of this agreement,” said the president of Foundation for Development Civil Society Institutions “Public Diplomacy” Alexey Kochetkov. “Everything that Kiev demands is to return to them the part of the border with Russia that the DPR and LPR controls. And by this he [Poroshenko] justifies his inaction. So it is obvious that in the Minsk agreements this point must be implemented only after the constitutional reform of Ukraine providing the special status of the Donbass Republics. Against this background not only ‘patriots of Ukraine’, but also high-ranking officials regularly state that they intend to resolve the issue of Donbass by force, and then to ‘deal with Crimea’. The Prosector-General of Ukraine Lutsenko stated that there will be no amnesty for inhabitants of Donbass, and each ‘candidacy’ will be considered separately: to judge or to partially pardon.”
“SP”: It is clear that the Ukrainian side simply buys time. How can this end?
“In our contemporary history there are similar examples. We remember that for 20 years Georgia didn’t want to consider any options for the creation of a confederation with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I.e. they pretended that the negotiation process was being conducted, but under this veil an armed operation against Tskhinvali and Sukhumi was being prepared. Now Georgia finally lost these territories. Something similar with a high degree of probability can happen also to Donbass. De facto Ukraine already doesn’t control these territories any more. It means that by preserving the present policy, they, sooner or later, can lose them de jure.
However, the return of these territories under its control, by and large, isn’t necessary for the present Kiev regime. They need only to justify their existence in the eyes of the West, and to try to beat out new credits from them. Without a conflict with Russia these people who now represent the Kiev power won’t be needed neither in Ukraine nor in the West. They buy time, and at the same time ‘divide up’ western credits. Poroshenko’s people hope that, as a last resort, they will go to the US to live off the excessively acquired billions, as Mr Yatsenyuk now does. The interests of the thing that is now called the State of Ukraine concerns them little.”
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