Unlike his predecessor, President Volodymyr Zelensky does not hesitate to publicly talk about granting Donbass a "special status". This is despite the fact that he strongly opposed it during the presidential election campaign.
"Should Donbass have a special status?" – the journalist asked. "I believe not. I believe that this is generally our big story, and we will have to get out of this criminal situation for a long time. Here, perhaps, the information war will help us", – Zelensky stated in April 2019.
Everything changed after it became known that Ukraine agreed to the "Steinmeier formula" – in fact, a way of fulfilling the Minsk agreements (special status begins to operate in the Donbass after holding fair and democratic elections in accordance with the OSCE standards).
"The law on the special status of Donbass, you know that it exists and is valid until December 31, 2019. Then there will be a new law that will be developed by the new parliament", - the head of state said on October 1.
After this statement, the journalists tried to find out from Volodymyr Zelensky and members of his team what this new law would be, how it would differ from the previous one, who, when and how would develop it and so on. However, the president's team, as well as the guarantor of the Constitution, stubbornly remain silent. It all boils down to one thing – waiting for the Normandy format summit, after which the authorities will develop a new law together with Ukrainian society.
"So far, the work on it (the new bill on the special status of Donbass, - OstroV) has not begun. I think this is right, since the beginning of work on bills, on the general framework of which we have not yet agreed with the Russians, can be perceived as that Ukraine will do it anyway and do whatever the Russian Federation wants. No, that is not so. We set clear security conditions for the continuation of the peace process, and the work on new bills that will allow to implement some of the Minsk agreements' provisions will take place only if progress is made in the peace negotiations", - MP from Servant of the People Bohdan Yaremenko stated.
However, according to the information of OstroV, the people's deputy is a little disingenuous, saying that the work on the new bill has not begun. Several interlocutors in the presidential team confirmed that the development of the new document is in high gear. Moreover, the President's Office prepares several versions of the future law at once. This work is conventionally called "Plan A". In the event of its failure, Zelensky's team also develops the so-called "Plan B" – but its presentation and implementation are possible only after the failure of the Normandy format meeting.
Initially, the Normandy format meeting was to be held in mid-September. But Russia put forward a condition - the need to commit the "Steinmeier formula" to paper. After Ukraine agreed to this condition, a new one appeared – the withdrawal of troops in the area of Petrovske and Zolote. It turned out to be much more difficult to fulfill this requirement of the Kremlin. Firstly, shelling by the militants does not stop in the area of these settlements, and in order to start the withdrawal of troops, it is necessary to observe the ceasefire for at least seven days. Secondly, some nationalist forces of Ukraine fuel tensions, saying that they will not allow the disengagement of forces. The situation was also escalated by the statement of Russia that it cannot guarantee the withdrawal of troops of "that side".
"Confirmation of the OSCE SMM that there have been no violations of the regime (ceasefire) for at least 7 days should be the condition for the start of disengagement of forces and means from the demarcation line. Now this condition is not being fulfilled by the armed formations that continue regular shelling. In particular, there were shelling in the disengagement area in Zolote recently", - Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodniuk stated in the Verkhovna Rada on October 18.
While Ukraine objectively cannot fulfill this condition, the Kremlin has already announced the new one – a pre-agreed draft of future final decisions of the summit. According to Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation for International Affairs Yuri Ushakov, the meeting should result in steps to implement the Minsk agreements, but not in Kyiv's revision of the "provisions of the comprehensive plan".
"We are somewhat worried about the situation that developed after the political advisers of the Normandy format leaders conducted some work among themselves, then their agreements were entrenched by the decision of the contact group in Minsk. Now I would say so: there is no special progress in the context of preparation of the planned Normandy format summit, although all parties have a desire to hold such a meeting", - he stated.
The latest information regarding a possible date of the Normandy format meeting is mid-November.
"President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky is now doing everything possible to hold the Normandy format meeting. We hope that this meeting will take place next month (November, - OstroV)", - Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko stated.
According to him, it will be, "perhaps, the last honest attempt to follow the Minsk path".
By delaying the summit, Russia is trying to weaken Ukraine, - Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba consider.
"Undoubtedly, the fuss that we see around the Normandy format on the part of the Russian Federation is an attempt to weaken Ukraine and create even more problems for President Zelensky before they gather in the Normandy format", – he believes.
The President's Office is trying not to comment publicly on the reasons for the delay in the summit, limiting itself to common phrases.
"I do not know, I cannot tell you about it now. I know one thing - this meeting should be held. If we want to end the war, it should be held. We are talking only about the Normandy format now. So far it is like that, I am grateful that we have it at least like that. Now everyone is ready for the Normandy format", - Volodymyr Zelensky says.
But within the walls of the President's Office, they perfectly understand the reasons for prolonging the meeting: Russia is trying to get the most favorable conditions for itself and realize its wishes and desires.
"Yes, everyone understands everything perfectly, but there is an unspoken instruction from Zelensky that there is no need to escalate the situation. Yermak (aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, is responsible for international politics, in particular with Russia, - OstroV) wriggles like snake, trying to use all possible contacts so that this meeting could be held as soon as possible. But so far, all these efforts have brought no results. We are already afraid of what new conditions the Russian party may put forward. The problem is that the Kremlin does not know what Zelensky will bring to this meeting, and they are trying to find out what the "red lines" are from Zelensky. But our people are still holding and are economical with the truth. Therefore, Russia now sends signals about the final document", - one of the members of the Ze team told OstroV.
What does Zelensky want to offer Putin? According to the interlocutors in the president's team, he will present the very plans A and B to the Russian leader. "Plan A" is granting Donbass a special status (the new one) and its integration into Ukraine, and "Plan B" will officially freeze the conflict and isolate CADLO.
"Several scenarios are being considered currently, and all of them will be announced to Vladimir Putin at the Normandy format summit. By and large, this is why Zelensky is trying to hold this meeting as early as possible. His main message will be: the situation in the Donbass will not remain the same. We want to show Putin that we will not be afraid to say out loud that the situation reached a deadlock. It seems to us that Russia is to some extent afraid of this", - the interlocutors from Zelensky's entourage say on condition of anonymity.
Virtually, "Plan A" is implementation of the Steinmeier formula: elections, development and implementation of special status for the Donbass and integration of the occupied region into Ukraine. But many questions arise in this context: whether the Russian troops will be withdrawn before the elections, who will control the Ukrainian-Russian border, what special status will be given to Donbass, who will hold elections there, and so on.
The president and his team members told for almost three weeks that the new law will be developed publicly, openly and together with Ukrainian society. But the Verkhovna Rada speaker Dmytro Razumkov recently stated that the law would be initiated by the president, who will also determine its "framework positions".
"When the opportunity arises to create this bill, it will be initiated by the president, because it is he who is responsible for this direction… I am sure that the framework positions will be provided by the president, but they will be proposed to the Verkhovna Rada, which will join this process, and most importantly – the Ukrainian society will be attracted. Because adopting such important bills without public opinion will be wrong, incorrect and illogical", - he says.
The Servant of the People party itself knows little about the development of new law. On the one hand, it was given the order to wait for the Normandy format summit, on the other hand - the discontent that it was not involved in the work on the document appears.
"The party (Servant of the People, - OstroV) not really understands how the situation with the Donbass will develop. On the one hand, everyone says that the Verkhovna Rada will develop a new law on the special status of Donbass. On the other - no work is being done. At least, my colleagues and I are not aware of this. All we have is internal talk about the possible nuances and red lines that will be in this document. But again, it is too early to speak on all this without holding a summit in the Normandy format. This is starting to annoy many deputies of the Servant of the People. We have nothing to say to our voters on this topic, what is bad. We know that the President's Office has some ideas on the new law, but it does not show them to us stubbornly", - one of the people's deputies from the Servant of the People says.
"There are rumors inside the party that the President's Office has already developed several scenarios for resolving crisis in the Donbass. Including several versions of the law on the special status of Donbass: from the most acceptable and winning for Ukraine to the one that will cause even greater mass protests", - he adds.
What is known about the future law? Firstly, the new law wants to abandon the total amnesty for "participants in events in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts". Instead, they are ready to develop a completely new amnesty law.
Secondly, the president's team is not going to leave paragraphs on the "people's militia" from among local citizens. Recently, the MIA reported that they prepared 800 police officers to work in CADLO after de-occupation, and it is possible that they will be attracted instead of the "people's police".
Thirdly, special procedure for appointing heads of prosecution bodies and courts is going to be abolished as well.
Along with this, Zelensky is going to leave provisions on linguistic and cultural self-determination, socio-economic support for the region, add investment clauses and also lift the economic and transport blockade of the region.
"Do you think why the economic blockade of Donbass has not yet been lifted? After all, the president used to say that he was in favor of lifting it. But the question is being slowed down. They are going to lift the blockade only if "Plan A" is implemented", - the president's team said.
As for the elections, according to sources of OstroV, Zelensky is not going to make concessions on this issue: only after the withdrawal of Russian troops and gaining control over the border. In truth, who exactly will receive this same "control" may become a trade-off. The best-case scenario – the Ukrainian military and border guards completely take control over the Ukrainian-Russian border, the bare-bones agenda – peacekeepers or the OSCE mission.
"The issue of border control is one of the most important. At first, we were told that there would be no elections without this control. But what kind of control are we talking about? There were Ukrainian military, now we are considering the issue with the OSCE mission and peacekeepers. If one continues at this pace, we will give the control over the border to the Russians. That is, there are nuances everywhere, we should carefully watch who and what will control", - one of the people's deputies from Servant of the People says.
"Plan B" is known mainly from the comments of Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko. According to him, in case of failure of the negotiations within the framework of "Minsk", "we will have to honestly tell all citizens of Ukraine that we will not be able to resolve the situation this way, and we are forced to go to track number two, etc.".
"We always have "Plan B". For example, one of these ideas is to request the world community to help us with a peacekeeping mission. So far, there has been only discussion of these issues, but no one has even come close to a solution. Even the mission that should would have come to Ukraine and assess as far as it is possible at all was not sent from the United Nations. These steps are also possible. But eventually, we still have the right to defend ourselves to the end, like every nation on the planet", – the MFA head recently stated.
By and large, Prystaiko talks of a peacekeeping mission in the Donbass. But firstly, the Russian Federation will not agree to this option (and without its approval this decision will not pass to the UN), and secondly, Volodymyr Zelensky opposes such an option. According to the interlocutors in the President's Office, he likes the option "with the wall" more, or, as the MFA head correctly described it, the "Cyprus scenario".
"There may be a Cyprus scenario, when the state knows that the occupier "chopped off" the territory, but still, despite this, he finds the strength to develop and move in the direction that we, the majority of our people, have chosen for ourselves", - the minister says.
By and large, the "Cyprus scenario" is freezing the conflict for an indefinite period, but again, under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping mission, which Russia may not agree to. Therefore, a more simplified version of the "Cyprus scenario" is being considered – this is the complete isolation of CADLO, the "wall", already without peacekeepers, the maximum – under the supervision of the OSCE SMM. At a recent closed meeting of Zelensky with ATO veterans, the president said frankly: if the situation is not resolved in one year, he is ready to "build a rampart".
"Zelensky hopes to solve affairs with the Donbass within a year. If he does not succeed in a year, he is inclined, I quote, "to build a rampart"- I understood it as a return to the current status quo with isolation of the occupied territories. In general, he is sure that he can jump off at any moment and return to this state (but I am not sure of it). But he considers this option to be negative, and is so gung-ho to reintegration", - Viktor Trehubov, who was present at the meeting, wrote on Facebook.
Zelensky was asked during the press marathon under what conditions the "wall" might appear between the occupied territories of Donbass and controlled part of Ukraine. Oddly enough, the president did not categorically deny this possibility, which suggests that such an option is indeed being considered.
"If we cannot find a dialogue that really did not exist. If we fail in the Normandy format (and I feel it just as a person), if I feel that there will be no dialogue - it will not work like that. I will openly say this in the Normandy format", - he replied.
The President's Office and Servant of the People party are slowly discussing the "wall plan" from Zelensky and even call it the most likely development of events for which the society should already begin to be prepared.
"Few people believe in the agreement with Moscow on the terms of Ukraine. Of course, there is a chance that Zelensky has an ace up his sleeve, thanks to which these negotiations will result in our victory, but we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, that is, the so-called "PlanB", - the Office of the president says.
And one more important detail. According to OstroV, both options (plans) are going to be implemented only after a "broad discussion with the public", which means conducting, if not an all-Ukrainian referendum, then a large-scale sociological survey.
It does not matter anymore that during his election campaign, Zelensky criticized the Minsk agreements (and today speaks about their implementation), opposed the special status of Donbass (and now offers everyone to develop it), promised a quick peace, reintegration and powerful information war, but no progress in these matters has yet been observed. It is important that in the pursuit of a quick peace, the new government does not make irrevocable mistakes, for which more than one generation of Ukrainians will pay.
P.S.: Volodymyr Zelensky stated at one of the last meetings with the deputies of Servant of the People that he has a "special plan" for the Donbass, which he wants to present to the leaders of the Russian Federation, Germany and France, and the content of which is kept low key. According to the leader of the state, he is not going to show all his cards, as this could harm the negotiations. Therefore, he asked people's deputies to be patient and wait for the Normandy format summit.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV