Staunton, December 16 – The Paris summit of the Normandy Four provided three important lessons for the world about Russia and Ukraine, lessons that the various players in this drama understand in different ways and that may play out unexpectedly in the coming months, Andrey Piontkovsky says (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5DF77756F1DB5).
First, the Paris meeting showed that Vladimir Putin remains committed to the two-stage tactic he adopted five years ago, first using Russian military force to seize Crimea and occupy the Donbass and then demand that Kyiv take it back under the pretext of restoring Ukrainian sovereignty but in ways that will destroy that sovereignty.
Putin’s goals were well articulated several months ago by former Donbass official Aleksandr Boroday when he declared that “the borders of the Russian World are significantly broader than the borders of the Russian Federation” and “now, the Ukrainian separatists who are in Kyiv are struggling against the Russian Empire” (tsn.ua/ru/politika/boroday-rasskazal-chto-boretsya-s-ukrainskimi-separatistami-wall-street-journal-376876.html).
The Kremlin leader wanted to absorb all of Ukraine but having been blocked by Ukrainian resistance that until recently had parried all Putin’s thrusts has adopted the fall-back position of appearing to make a concession – restoring Ukrainian sovereignty – in order to destroy that sovereignty.
Kyiv until the recent presidential elections insisted on its own interpretation of the Minsk Accords and said no changes could be made with regard to the Russian-occupied Donbass until there was a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian military personnel and arms from Ukrainian lands, and the transfer to Ukraine of control over its borders.
And Ukraine was supported in this by the West which condemned what Moscow has done and is trying to do and has imposed serious sanctions on the Russian Federation pending changes in the Kremlin’s behavior. And while it has been clear that “Putin will never leave the Donbass” and Kyiv can’t force him, “the Minsk Accords were de facto dead.”
In this situation, the only thing one could hope for in the near term is a real ceasefire and the emergence of another “frozen conflict” around Russia. But that changed – or at least Moscow assumed it had changed – with the coming to power in Kyiv of Vladimir Zelensky who accused his predecessor of leading “the party of war” while presenting himself as “the party of peace.”
Not only did that represent a radical departure from the past five years, but it provided the basis for the second lesson, no one in the West “can be more pro-Ukrainian than the Ukrainian leadership itself.” If Kyiv wants peace at almost any price, Western leaders have no reason to sacrifice their economic interests to support something else.
But unexpectedly after appearing to agree with Putin in everything, Zelensky at his press conference “completely contradicted what he had just signed” – rejecting elections in the Donbass carried out by the occupiers, changing Ukraine’s constitution, and reasserting that Russia must return Crimea.
And that provides another lesson, although one whose dimensions and consequences are less clear, Piontkovsky says. If Zelensky, surrounded as he is by “traitors and agents of the Kremlin,” feels the need to make such declarations, it says that in his view, Ukrainians are very much against the concessions Putin continues to demand.
If that is the correct reading of Ukrainian opinion, the Russian commentator says, there are no obvious mechanisms by which “Moscow will be able to force Ukraine to join with the occupied Donbass. This simply can’t be and won’t ever be, despite all the efforts of the Heroes of Russia (by secret decree) Yermak, Kolomoysky, Bogdan and Shefir.”