The best option for Moscow was to push Kyiv towards direct negotiations with the Donetsk and Luhansk, thus presenting the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a purely domestic political problem of Ukraine. This would provide Putin with the justification to demand that the Europeans and the Americans remove "unjustified" sanctions against Russia, allowing at the same time to control and delay the proxy talks in Donetsk and Luhansk for as long as it would be necessary.
In 2019, following the presidential transition in Ukraine the Kremlin has focused its efforts on implementing this scenario by utilizing one of the provisions of the Minsk Arrangements that envisaged the involvement of representatives of “particular areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” in consultations and approvals within the Tripartite Contact Group.
The new President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has identified ending the war in the east of the country and returning the temporarily occupied territories under Ukraine’s control as his main goal. To achieve this, he initiated direct dialogue with Putin, agreed with him on the disengagement of opposing forces on some sections of the frontline, the exchange of prisoners and the intensification of negotiations in Minsk.
The parties replaced their authorized representatives in the negotiations. The new Russian delegation was led by Deputy Chairman of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak, known for his plan to settle the conflict over Transnistria in 2003.
The Ukrainian team in Minsk was headed by the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak.
During their first meeting in Minsk on March 11, 2020, Kozak presented the initiative to create a “consultative council” to "... carry out dialogue, consultations and make proposals on draft political and legal solutions to the conflict settlement, including elections in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine". This “consultative council” was to include ten representatives from Ukraine and ten representatives from "separate areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions" with voting rights, as well as one representative from each Russia, France and Germany with "advisory rights". The OSCE was to moderate the meetings of the “council”, and its decisions had to be advisory.
Russia thus would effectively change the status from being the aggressor state to being the observer and advisor, like France and Germany. This would have been the first step towards lifting the sanctions.
According to plan, the protocol on the establishment of such a “council” had to be signed on March 24-26, 2020. However, this signing did not take place. Again, both the Kremlin and the Office of the President of Ukraine did not take into account the reaction of civil society in Ukraine (especially war veterans), which strongly opposed any direct negotiations or consultations with representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk, who are justly regarded as mere sock puppets and mercenaries of Moscow.
As a result, as of the end of April, there have been no major changes in the Minsk negotiations. This creates a dilemma for the President of Ukraine, who hoped to hold local elections in the temporarily occupied territories in the fall of 2020. At the same time, Ukraine's leadership is now forced to focus more on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and preparing for the encroaching economic crisis. Due to the support of its partners in Europe and the United States and the limited reliance on its economy on world oil prices, Kyiv has every opportunity to overcome the effects of the pandemic and the economic crisis.
At the same time the coronavirus pandemic and the sharp fall in the price of oil have significantly worsened the economic situation in Russia. Moscow is rapidly spending its strategic reserves to compensate for the losses of the state budget, half of which is dependent on oil and gas exports, and is preparing for the worst-case scenarios of intensifying sociopolitical instability. Lifting international sanctions and reducing the costs of supporting occupied territories in Ukraine (including Crimea, which is a topic for a separate story) in these circumstances becomes critical for the Russian leadership, as such a crisis has not yet occurred in the modern Russian history.
Therefore, paradoxically, in the near future Moscow may be potentially more interested in accelerating the Minsk negotiations than Kyiv itself.
However, in these circumstances Ukraine must strengthen its army, carry out deep economic reforms, decisively fight corruption, improve the efficiency of state institutions and thus demonstrate the irreversibility of its pro-European transformation.
Putin is doomed to leave Ukraine in order to save Russia from disaster.
Original article published by
Pulsul Geostrategic, https://www.pulsulgeostrategic.ro/