The epic with the failed Ukraine-Russia teleconference ended in a few hours, but the unexpected result of the Russian information operation was the reaction of the Ukrainian President. Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ready to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but this conversation should be joined by the leaders of France, Germany, the UK and the United States. That is, we are talking about the resumption of negotiations in the Normandy format, and even with the involvement of new participants. "Apostrophe" inquired whether it is real to return to such negotiations, and whether it is necessary for leaders of Europe and the USA.
The interests of the United States and the Russian Federation
Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly stated during his election campaign that he is ready to discuss the subject of Donbass with Putin, and the Russian leader himself last week in an interview with the Italian media noted that the main condition for such negotiations should be the implementation of the Minsk agreements and direct negotiations with the leaders of militants in isolated districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which Moscow actively insists.
But bilateral negotiation is one thing, and contact in the Normandy format is quite another, because the last meeting in this format took place in 2016 in Berlin. After that, the Normandy four either gathered in an incomplete composition (without Vladimir Putin), or everything was limited to meetings at the level of Foreign Ministers and telephone conversations. And that last telephone contact of presidents of Ukraine and Russia was in June of last year. However, in November 2018, immediately after the capture of Ukrainian sailors, ex-President Petro Poroshenko tried to contact directly with Putin, but the Kremlin did not want to talk due to the "incompatibility of schedules."
Now the Kremlin notes that Zelensky's initiative, of course, will be considered, but so far no conclusions may be done. Moscow is worried about the involvement of the United States and Great Britain in the process, that formally have nothing to do with negotiations in the Normandy format.
Belarus, where Zelensky proposed to hold talks in Normandy Format four plus, says it is ready to provide a platform for dialogue on Ukraine. "Our President absolutely supports the proposals of Volodymyr Zelensky," the press service of Alexander Lukashenko noted.
The desire of the Belarus leader to attract the leaders of the EU and USA in Minsk for talks is clear, but do Western politicians need it?
"For the first time it was officially announced at the highest level on the need to change the list of participants in the negotiations. Here we can see Ukraine's attempt to seize the initiative, which did not happen under Poroshenko, and the attempt to set the tone at least in form, with a possible transition to the content. Now the participants of the Normandy format should officially declare if they support the changing of the format or not? If not, why not? - Ukrainian analyst of the Institute for the future Ihar Tyshkevych commented to "Apostrophe". – For Germany and France, for example, the statement that they do not want to see the US and the UK in the negotiation process will raise big questions."
"The probability of meeting in this format is questionable, including due to the change of the leaders of the UK", political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko commented to "Apostrophe".
According to political strategist Yaroslav Makitra, a more or less clear picture regarding the formalization of USA participation in the Normandy format will appear after Zelensky's meeting with Trump, which is scheduled for August-September this year.
"The meeting of Zelensky and Trump should be decisive here and, obviously, this issue will be raised at this meeting. But earlier there were no signs that the US or the UK demonstrated a big desire to enter into such a format of negotiations," Makitra said to "Apostrophe".
But if the USA and the UK agree to join the Normandy format, will the Kremlin agree to such a configuration of negotiations?
"After all, the Kremlin has found a certain formula for relations with the EU, France and Germany, and this formula leads to a weakening of sanctions against Russia, for example, the return of the Russian delegation to PACE. But the United Kingdom and the United States can set completely different accents and conditions. And the output may be other agreements, and Russia generally is satisfied with current agreements," Makitra said.
However, Russia will have to agree to the participation of the United States, at least for indicative progress in the Ukrainian issue.
Russia will have to agree to the participation of the United States, at least for indicative progress in the Ukrainian issue
"As for Russia, recall the recent meeting between Putin and Trump, at which Ukraine was discussed, too. And now there is a proposal from Ukraine: let's get together and talk. And if the Russian Federation says in this situation, that it does not want to talk with the USA about the possibilities of resolving the crisis in Ukraine, it is poorly correlated with contacts between Putin and Trump," Ihar Tyshkevych commented said.
However, Russia will try to delay the implementation of this format as much as possible.
"They want to see how the parliamentary elections will end, and what configuration will arise in the Parliament, and on the basis of it Russia will build its foreign policy plans in relation to Ukraine," diplomat Oleh Belokolos said to "Apostrophe".
By the way, before the meeting in the format "Normandy four plus" consultations of the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia can be held.
"The Normandy format will not go anywhere. Moreover, as far as I know, the meeting in this format is already being prepared. In July, a meeting of assistants to the leaders of the Normandy format countries will be held and the date, place and agenda will be discussed," Fesenko said.
The agenda is the cornerstone of the negotiations on the Ukrainian issue, because whatever format it is, it is obvious that Russia will insist on its version of the Minsk agreements: direct negotiations with the militants and their integration into the political field of Ukraine. At least for three years Moscow's theses have not changed. Then what's the point of new negotiations and formats if Putin repeats the same?
"Indeed, there are variant readings in the Minsk process. But as for the peacekeeping operation, it is not spelled out in the Minsk agreements, it is a new initiative, and at least we can discuss the format for further action: either we are working on the Minsk agreements, or we are working with peacekeepers. Plus, options for the restoration of Donbass may be discussed", Ihar Tyshkevych added.
"It will be the same agenda as before, only in a modified form: the cessation of hostilities and security in the conflict zone, Volodyyr Fesenko adds. – Zelensky's goal is the cessation of hostilities, not a political settlement. Therefore, the interposition of forces in Stanytsia Luhanska took place. If it is successful, they will try to implement the interposition of forces along the entire line of demarcation. And then there should be a detailed road map with a clear schedule with the participation of a third party – peacekeepers. Those problems that were not solved 2-3 years ago should be brought back to the negotiation process and it is necessary to try to make progress."