What Hides Behind the Exchange of Prisoners With Ukraine?

The saga around the exchange of citizens of Russia and Ukraine, which should become an important step towards relaunching the “Normandy format” of negotiations on Ukraine, finally, successfully ended. But still the day before the situation was extremely tangled and unclear. Moreover, while Russia and the countries of Europe, at last, agreed to put negotiations in motion, the intra-Ukrainian dismantling of the local elite became a stumbling block. However, perhaps, behind this there is the position of the US “hawks”.

Back in July, Moscow and Brussels, in fact, approved the peace plan of Medvedchuk for Donbass, which was designed to bring Minsk-2 out of the deadlock, but Kiev didn’t hurry with its realisation. It was considered that the problem was not Zelensky himself (he supposedly just has to be ready to make a decision), but just that he had no levers of influence. He waited one and a half months for the Ukrainian government and Rada to change, and now it seems that everything is on track. On August 30th Telegram channels reported that an exchange took place — but far from it.

Some say that Medvedchuk is the reason for the failure because he stopped the exchange bypassing him, others say that Zelensky blocked the process by failing the sign the necessary papers. The real reasons are known to very few people, but it is obvious that the postponement of the exchange from August 30th to September 7th is, seemingly, connected to the intra-Ukrainian fight. The stakes are high: the one from Kiev who will carry out the exchange will become worthy of negotiations for Moscow.

In Vladivostok the next attempt to carry out an exchange was announced already at the highest level: Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with Medvedchuk, gave the green light to complete this process. Thus, the Kremlin made it clear that it continues to understand that it continues to see the “Opposition Bloc – For Life” party leader as the chief negotiator from the Ukrainian side.

On the same day in Kiev Medvedchuk received a blow — the National Television and Broadcasting Council appealed to the court to deprive the “NewsOne” TV channel, belonging to Medvedchuk, of its license. And the week prior Zelensky announced that there were big problems in the “Opposition Bloc – For Life” party — there will be “a big story that will end very badly”, thereby having actually started hunting the only force in the country that supports cooperation with Russia.

Moscow immediately caught this signal, and Vladimir Putin during the WEF-2019 clearly warned Kiev that repression against Medvedchuk’s party will return the situation to the time of late Poroshenko, i.e., it will put an end to negotiations on Donbass. In other words, hitting Medvedchuk will disrupt a large-scale exchange, and thus, in turn, negotiations in the “Normandy format”. Because Russia doesn’t intend to resume negotiations without real practical steps, as was once again stated at a meeting on September 2nd in Berlin.

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Judging from the fact that Kiev agreed to the exchange conducted by Medvedchuk, the demand of Moscow was taken into consideration. Participation in the “Normandy format” and, perhaps, the signing of some papers with the leaders of big countries is very important for Zelensky, as it would allow him to advertise this as his own personal international success. The professional showman can’t live without PR, otherwise his approval rating will immediately deflate — and Donbass, as it seems to him, is an excellent opportunity to achieve this.

However, Zelensky isn’t independent at all, it is impossible to consider his actions only as his own. He owes his current status to Kolomoisky and is surrounded by his people — both in the Presidential Administration and in the government. The same strike on Medvedchuk is for certain initiated by Kolomoisky.

Thus, according to the Ukrainian media, Kolomoisky prepares for the total cleansing of the business schemes of Medvedchuk and his partners; it is expected that law enforcement will drag up all materials concerning the businesses of his team for the resumption of criminal proceedings against him.

And it’s unlikely that the reason is the political jealousy of Kolomoisky towards Medvedchuk or his personal rejection of him as an alternative figure for negotiations with Moscow. It’s more likely that Kolomoisky is a tool in the hands of US “hawks”, who want to disrupt the outlined rapprochement of Europe and Russia in Ukraine or to push the implementation of Minsk-2 on anti-Russia conditions.

Thus, on August 28th Kolomoisky in an interview with the Banderist “censor.net” agency stated that “it is necessary to return Donbass now” and it is possible to even lift the sanctions with the following provisions: “When peace will come in Donbass – this is one; when Russia has disengaged its troops; this is two; when we restore Ukraine’s control over the border; this is three”.

In other words, Kolomoisky insolently suggests to Moscow to hand over Donbass in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. It is clear that the lifting of western sanctions is not at all within his competence, and he wouldn’t make such statements without coordination at least with the authorised representatives of the US.

On the same day, John Bolton met Zelensky and said that the US is ready to participate in the process of a peaceful settlement in the East of Ukraine. Of course, he didn’t publicly speak about the possibility of cancelling the sanctions and the demands aimed at Russia. But on September 5th the US Embassy in Ukraine clearly formulated these demands: “Russia must leave Donbass and adhere to the obligations undertaken when signing the Minsk Agreements”.

Thereby Kolomoisky and the US “hawks” relay the same scheme — a defrosting of Minsk-2 will happen only after the withdrawal of Russia from Donbass.

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Moscow sweeps aside such an impudent approach, but at the same time expresses satisfaction from the activisation of the “Normandy format” — first of foremost with France and Germany. The Kremlin is ready for the progressive implementation of Minsk-2 through the following stages: exchange, disengagement of forces, implementation of the “Steinmeier formula”.

Such an approach allows to solve two problems — to stop shelling and to legalise the leaders of the DPR/LPR as fully-fledged negotiators with Kiev. This is categorically not desired by the Kiev oligarchs (first and foremost – Kolomoisky) and the US “hawks”. Hence all previous obstacles placed in front of the exchange and the preparing of strikes on Medvedchuk.

However, in the same US there are also supporters of another position — in particular, the president Trump, who was accused of redirecting more than $750 million from the countering the Russian Federation program (read — for supporting Russophobic regimes, including in Kiev) to construct a wall with Mexico.

Congress(wo)men, however, immediately promised to transfer money to Ukraine ($250 million) next year if Trump doesn’t send it in 2019, but it is obvious that such a signal indicates a split in the leadership of the US vis-a-vis Ukraine. In particular, Trump’s unwillingness to give money to Kiev against Russia is supported by the acting Chief of Staff of the White House Mick Mulvaney. The Pentagon, State Department, and Congress are categorically against such a position.

The position of Kiev on the exchange, the resumption or freezing of the “Normandy format”, and the overall situation in Ukraine largely depend on whose line is followed inside the United States. Actually, the intra-Ukrainian fight of Kolomoisky against Medvedchuk is a reflection of the confrontation of forces in the West — those who are ready to make a compromise with Russia on Ukraine, and those who want the unambiguous defeat of Moscow.

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The successful completion of the exchange despite all the obstacles and disruption attempts can mean that the forces ready to reach an agreement with Russia have taken over. And then the next stages are the disengagement of troops in Donbass and a political settlement along the lines of the “Steinmeier formula”. At the same time, it is impossible to exclude that the exchange is a concession, minor for the US, in order to then demand the handing over of Donbass along the lines of the “Kolomoisky formula”.

One way or another, Russia shouldn’t hurry and twitch, wanting to be the first to go forwards. Ahead lies the end of the gas contract of Gazprom with Naftogaz and a cold winter, so — all the most interesting things are yet to come.

Time is on our side, it is only important to use it correctly — not to wait for handouts and the lifting of sanctions in exchange for the DPR/LPR, but to distribute to the residents of Donbass Russian passports in large quantities, to inspire in them confidence in the future, to systematically improve social conditions, to develop industry, to create from the People’s Republics an example of what the regions that have escaped the control of the Ukrainian pro-West oligarchs can become.


Eduard Birov

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