The leaders of the authoritative states are not able to find a way to end the war in the East of Ukraine in the sixth year of it. The German chancellor Angela Merkel announced the Normandy four summit in Paris. For the first time, Volodymyr Zelensky will appear in the quadrangle of states Ukraine-Germany-France-Russia. What to expect with the restoration of the Normandy format (NF)?
There is a desire…
The composition of heads of state was half-renewed since the first NF format meeting in June 2014 in Bénouville, French Normandy. The French and the Ukrainian presidents Francois Hollande and Petro Poroshenko were replaced by their successors Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky. As the head of state, Mr. Zelensky has already had meetings with Macron and Merkel during his first foreign visit. His communication with Putin was limited to telephone conversations. The Russian president seems to not be against a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, but on the condition of direct talks between Kyiv and the leaders of the separatists in the Donbas.
Mrs. Merkel called Paris, she didn’t invite to Berlin, because the previous Normandy meeting was in Germany, so France is next. The last summit in this format was held back in October 2016. The new meeting, which Mr. Macron said is due in September, will be preceded by preparatory meetings of advisers and foreign ministers. Germany and France, as Angela Merkel noted, are working on the organization of the summit. Russia, according to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, is also for holding such a meeting.
Volodymyr Zelensky noted the need for NF format negotiations. Ukraine will be represented by other new faces apart from the president. We have a new government and new foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko. While speaking in the Verkhovna Rada before the vote for his candidacy to the post of the minister, Mr. Prystaiko said that the biggest foreign policy priority will be the restoration of peace in the East and returning Crimea:
“For five long years, we have been engaged in an unequal struggle with Russia… We need peace and stability. We cannot and will not conduct endless negotiations in different formats. I appreciate the work done before me. I believe that with persistence, caution, and sometimes with the help of our predecessor’s tricks and unconditional support from our partners, we have managed to prevent a catastrophe – a full-scale war with Russia, which threatened to finish by full disintegration and the disappearance of Ukraine from the international arena.”
Vadym Prystaiko clearly claimed the aggressor – Russia. The task of the diplomatic service, he said, is to make not only us talk about it, but also our partners. No wonder the people’s deputy from party ES Artur Herasymov reminded Mr. Prystaiko that in the last hundred days we have lost subjectivity, people are talking about Ukraine without Ukraine. At the same time, almost the minister then noted the compromise steps offered by the president, first of all, “directed at the restoration of ties with our own people who appeared behind the line of contact”. The question is, how deep will the Ukrainian government plunge into compromises without neglecting the interests of the state?
…but there is less readiness
Being convinced of the need for a Normandy summit does not mean being ready for an event. The executive director of the Institute of World Politics Yevhen Mahda assured Opinion that Ukraine is not ready for such a meeting for a number of reasons:
“The main ones are President Volodymyr Zelensky’s lack of political experience, a short reserve bench in the field of foreign policy. But his victory in the presidential elections and the triumph of the SP party in the parliamentary campaign create a situation of concentration of power in one hand which the West may well interpret as favorable for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which Petro Poroshenko stubbornly avoided. Such a scenario poses significant threats to the stability of political power in Ukraine.”
NF needs to be transformed. It is not excluded that there will not be the usual four states, but six. Volodymyr Zelensky would like to see the leaders of the United States and Great Britain as the negotiators. Kurt Volcker said the Americans are ready to join the NF. But does the president Trump need it? Is London interested in the problems of the far away Donbas?
“The ability to involve the US and the UK to the work of Normandy four is bluff because neither Washington nor London have any reasons for joining,” Evhen Mahda said. “Another factor – I see no reason for Russia to strengthen the position of the opponent. Kurt Volcker’s statement has obvious grounds: he has been working as a special representative of the US State Department in Ukraine for almost three years, but has not achieved any significant success. For the British prime minister Boris Johnson, the main problem will be Brexit in the next two months, and I see no reason why he should change his priorities.”
Volodymyr Zelensky is not the only Ukrainian politician who is for the expansion of the NF. Yuliia Tymoshenko also offered it in the framework of the “New Course”. But the position of the Ukrainian side alone is not enough to advance this issue.
“First, the expansion of the NF depends not only on Ukraine but also on the will of the states directly involved in it,” Viktor Savinok, an expert in international affairs, told Opinion. “Secondly, on the will of the states to which Ukraine wants to extend the NF – the UK and the US. In 2014, when Ukraine tried to initiate interstate consultations based on the Budapest Memorandum, neither the US nor the UK showed significant interest in them. I do not see much change in the positions of these countries.”
According to a politician, a diplomat and a former representative of Ukraine at Minsk negotiations Roman Bezsmertny, the offer to add Great Britain and the USA to the NF is attention-worthy. It is because of this that we started talking about the format and the desire to resume its work again.
“It is not by chance that the Seven (G7 – ed.) considered the issue of Ukraine, included in the final statement,” Mr. Bezsmertny told Opinion. “This indicates that all the countries of the Seven show great interest in participating in this process. They will do everything necessary to consider the issue. But will they soon be added to the format? I doubt. There are several reasons. The first is the productivity of its work. The second is the desire of individual members of the Seven to accept Russia as the Eighth. Being at different, especially conflict, tables with Russia will be very difficult. The third is the impending of the economic crisis, which will require a different nature of relations with Russia from all members of the Seven and Twenty. Although the proposal is correct, and Ukraine should initiate various formats and platforms on which the issue of security would be discussed.”
What to do?
No one will decide anything for us. Therefore, Ukraine should be proactive and persistent, consistent and systematic, show creative approaches and innovative solutions in negotiations with the Western partners to end the war in the Donbas.
“In order to avoid the weakening of positions and a significant crisis, the Ukrainian leadership should speak in a single voice, clearly emphasizing Russia’s aggressive actions,” Yevhen Mahda said. “Tactical curtsies to the aggressor, even if they are due to negotiations on the exchange of prisoners, is not an effective way to resolve the conflict in the Donbas. I will allow myself to advise Volodymyr Zelensky aloud to mark the red lines and not to cross them, contrary to the desire of our partners.”
“To some questions voiced in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Moscow, the answers are formed already, and I would not advise the Ukrainian leadership to return to them, because they are already defined as final, for the benefit of Ukraine,” Roman Bezsnertny believes. “Question number one –not to amend the Constitution in any case. The second is the so-called Steinmeier formula. Now many people interpret it not as it sounded in the original, but it is important that the Ukrainian side has its own understanding of this “formula”. Next, in matters of security, economy, social and humanitarian bloc, and the political stabilization, the Ukrainian side should have its own proposals. It should be tough on security issues, constructive on the entire agenda, see its road map and answers. With this approach, Ukraine will win a diplomatic duel with Russia.”
So, the advice boils down to the fact that the solution to the problems of Ukraine is impossible without the presence of Ukraine itself. It is important to coordinate positions between all sides of the dialogue.
“However, it should be borne in mind that under certain circumstances and certain interests, some parties, in particular, the United States and Russia can come to some solution without Ukraine,” Viktor Savinok warned. “Therefore, we need to find arguments, convince Washington, Berlin, and Paris that the involvement of Ukraine is simply necessary. And no issue that will concern Ukraine, Crimea, the Russian aggression in the Donbas, can be solved outside the broad Ukrainian context and be the subject of any exchange or bargaining.”
“What do we hope from the Normandy summit? Can Ukraine get at least a small victory regarding the end of the war in the East?” Opinion asked famous Ukrainians.
Anastasiia Stanko, a journalist:
“If the exchange of prisoners will take place, the meeting in the NF will be appropriate to also say – we managed because we didn’t manage a lot for a long time in fact. For Merkel and Macron, it is also important to show this success, because the NF cannot boast of many successes. But, obviously, there will be talks about further steps. I do not think that Russia is simply ready to exchange its own people for ours, there is something else behind the exchange. I am talking about lifting some of the sanctions on Russia or returning it to the G7. So, after the exchange, Putin can say: look, you can negotiate here, for our part we have done everything, and no you do something. I think the president Zelensky also wants to show some results and do it quickly. What pleases me? There is less public rhetoric around the issue of exchange, and I am glad to finally not hear “Putin has the key” constantly, and see Ukraine doing something. I really want the issue to move forward. At the same time, reading the thoughts of Chesnakov, who is close to Surkov, we understand that the Russian Federation is interested in making Donbas something like a buffer zone, where Ukraine will only have nominal power. So, of course, Putin will offer various political options immediately after security and humanitarian ones, or even with them, as he always likes to do. For example, the law on the special status of the Donbas, recorded in the Minsk agreements – the extension of its action was voted in the Verkhovna Rada only until December 1, 2019. Russia has an interest in amendments to the Constitution and in the implementation of this law. If we talk about Minsk agreements, there is only one point, written very clearly. The withdrawal of armed forces begins the day after the election. Let’s see what Ukraine is ready to offer, and what road map we have, for fulfilling Minsk.”
Taras Fediuk, a poet:
“It seems to me that Ukraine loses subjectivity under the current government. Therefore, it is quite difficult for us, the Ukrainians, to foresee the development of events that do not depend on us. How do Russia and the West want to “agree” on Ukraine? I think this way: small concessions from Russia and big concessions (de facto capitulation, when a small, separatist-minded part of the country will control the foreign policy of the whole state) from Ukraine.”
Oksana Kuziv, a writer, a member of the NUJU:
“In 2014-2015, I was still waiting for the corresponding sober reaction of the world to settle the issue of war in Ukraine, a clear position on the Minsk agreements, but nothing has changed. Now I don’t expect anything from Normandy four, these are only empty talks and attempts to demonstrate the alleged concern. Everyone thinks only about their own homes, even when the neighbor’s house is burning, as long as the flame does not touch them.”
Oleksandr Yaholnyk, a producer, a composer:
“My hopes and feelings are that things will finally move forward. The US has always outplayed Russia in key issues, and the Ukrainian issue is key because it lasts too long. Putin did not like Poroshenko, now the President of Ukraine is different, they have contact in the form of telephone communication. And this is important – so the chances are bigger now.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky