"Can't you see Zelensky does not want peace with Russia, friendship with Putin, special status, exchange of the Crimea for the Donbass, legitimization of the "LDNR", amnesty for militants or everything else. He wants to achieve real peace in Ukraine. This is the number one goal. And he will do everything for this. It should be learned in order to understand the logic of all his past and future actions in this direction. Of course, not all initiatives get through, but, believe me, not all the ideas come off the press. Here everything happens by trial and error", - one of the closest associates of the President emotionally admits to OstroV.
The topic of coronavirus has almost replaced the topic of dialogue and reconciliation with the occupied Donbass in the Ukrainian media space over the past week. The fact is that the NSDC adviser Serhiy Syvokho presented the "National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity" (to build a dialogue with the residents of CADLO) almost simultaneously, and the agreements on the creation of new negotiation platform with the participation of the CADLO representatives – the Advisory Council, were reached in Minsk.
OstroV decided to find out whether the president's team regrets about the publication of these initiatives (spoiler – no), whether they will be implemented and why they appeared right now.
"Reconciliation" from Syvokho
The first mention of creation of the "National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity" from Serhiy Syvokho appeared in October 2019 – immediately after his appointment as the NSDC non-staff adviser. Journalists have repeatedly tried to find out what kind of platform it will be and how it will work, but there were no details. There were only rare statements by Syvokho that it was necessary "to speak the language of sports, culture and business" with the residents of occupied Donbass, "it was necessary to return pensions to the old people (residents of CADLO)", to simplify the procedure for crossing the checkpoint and that kind of thing.
The presentation of this platform was to take place on February 19. What's interesting is that the announcement was published by Syvokho only two days before the event, and it took a lot of effort for journalists to find contacts and conditions for accreditation.
"They wanted to carry out everything quietly – with the maximum number of cameras and the minimum number of journalists with tough questions", - a source in Servant of People told OstroV.
However, the war, which stops in the Donbass not for a day, has made its own adjustments. Early in the morning of February 18, militants attacked the positions of the JFO forces in the area of Zolote, as a result of which one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and four were injured. According to the military experts and journalists, this was one of the most serious escalations in recent years.
Serhiy Syvokho wrote a post on Facebook in the evening of the same day that the presentation of the platform is postponed, with a separate emphasis that it is postponed, and not canceled.
"A cynical provocation to thwart peace initiatives… It was not easy – we doubted and weighed up the pros and cons, but eventually, we decided to postpone the presentation of the National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity", - he wrote.
Along with this, according to OstroV, the initiative to postpone the presentation did not come from the creators of the platform, but from the Office of the President.
"The pros and cons were weighed up at the President's Office not without the help of law enforcement officers. They concluded that Syvokho and his entire platform would simply be brought out against the backdrop of escalation in the Donbass. Or maybe, there was an explicit data that provocations were being prepared. Therefore, they were instructed "to postpone, full stop", - a source in the PO said to OstroV.
In any case, the presentation was postponed for an indefinite period, when everything in the Donbass will become more or less calm.
But already on the evening of March 11, journalists received information that the presentation of the "National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity" will take place the next day (!!!), that is, on March 12. This is exactly the day when quarantine was announced in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine because of the threat of coronavirus.
As OstroV was told in the president's team, the decision was absolutely spontaneous, with the expectation that no one would manage to organize large-scale provocations. Even the venue was different. But this did not save the controversial event: the presentation was disrupted, and Syvokho appeared to be on the floor.
What was presented? Actually, nothing. To be precise, no specifics.
"This is not an organization, this is not a fund. This is a center that unites state and public initiatives", - Syvokho said in the most abstract way.
According to him, the Platform's mission is to unite the government initiatives and the civil sector to develop public policies.
"The National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity focuses on building a dialogue between the civilians throughout Ukraine, including on the temporarily uncontrolled territories", - he noted. It is planned that the discussion platforms will be created, and the "ambassadors" – people who enjoy the unquestioned authority on both sides of the contact line and can unite the society around themselves, will help to create them. Syvokho did not specify the names of potential ambassadors.
In turn, expert on the media and communications Maryna Khatsiuk reported that according to the survey, most residents of CADLO do not see the occupied territories as part of Ukraine, but want the broad autonomy. Most do not perceive Ukraine as a strong state, so one of the priority tasks is to build a dialogue. "We need to get rid of fear and hatred to each other", - she summed up.
Who will work in this "platform", how it will be financed, how its activities will be carried out and other specific questions have remained unanswered. OstroV asked these questions to several people's deputies from Servant of the People, employees of the President's Office and other members of the team of Volodymyr Zelensky, but no one could answer them.
The "platform" does not even have a website or page on social networks. The only source of information is Serhiy Syvokho, from whom it is not easy to get a comment or meet for an interview.
As for the presentation itself, it was disrupted. Activists of the National Corps, other nationalist organizations and ATO veterans, present at the presentation, initially expressed their displeasure with loud cries. Member of the National Corps Serhiy Tamarin was indignant that Serhiy Syvokho refused to call Russia the enemy of Ukraine ("There is a hybrid war going on. One of the warfare modes is initiation of an internal conflict and supporting it by the Russian Federation", - he stated). As a result, the activists broke through to the adviser of the NSDC secretary, started pushing him and knocked him down.
"Some people do not need peace. They want war. Because war is business and a lot of money. They disrupted the presentation, but they will not stop our movement towards peace. We continue our work and our dialogue", - Syvokho wrote later on his Facebook, and noted on the air of one of the TV channels that President Volodymyr Zelensky fully supports his initiatives.
Moreover, according to OstroV, the idea of such a platform comes from Volodymyr Zelensky and the Office of the President. The task – to develop and implement several (!!!) platforms for a dialogue with the occupied territories, was set there six months ago.
"Are Zelensky's people sorry for the creation and presentation of the platform? Definitely not. The platform will work quietly. It is difficult to understand how, but it will be. As far as I know, after all that happened, Zelensky and Syvokho had a short telephone conversation, in which the president expressed his support and said that peace initiatives cannot be stopped", - OstroV was told in the president's team.
Along with that, nineteen people's deputies from Servants of the People have already appealed to the NSDC with a demand to dismiss Serhiy Syvokho from the post of adviser.
"Advisory Council" from Yermak
While many people did not take the "Syvokho platform" seriously, the document, which was signed in Minsk on March 11, 2020, has much more severe consequences.
During the regular meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk, a protocol was signed on the intention to set up the Advisory Council, the main task of which is "to carry out dialogue, consultations and develop proposals for draft political and legal decisions to resolve the conflict in accordance with the Set of measures, including regarding the implementation of elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine".
According to the text of the document, the council with the right to vote includes 10 representatives from Ukraine and CADLO. Russia will be represented by one participant (like the OSCE, Germany and France) as a guarantor of the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Thus, the CADLO subjectivity is actually recorded, and Russia appears to be in the status of guarantor-observer.
It should be separately noted that the meeting was held with the participation of the new authorized representative of the Kremlin on the issues of occupied Ukrainian territories ‒ Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Russia Dmitry Kozak and Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak.
According to OstroV, it was they who made the decision to create this council. Moreover, the Russian party set a condition – new meeting of the Normandy Four leaders will take place only after the start of negotiations between Ukraine and representatives of CADLO. The only question was – in what format. Here, the Ukrainian party was given the right to choose.
"Initially, the initiative came from the Russian party ‒ if you want to continue the dialogue, start talking with the Donbass. Another question is in what format, and here the Ukrainian party took the initiative. Andriy Yermak personally took up this topic of finding such a platform, such a format that would satisfy the Russian party and would be calmly accepted in Ukraine. He confronted Volodymyr Zelensky with the fact that such a format should be agreed on, because they cannot get the best conditions, so the president gave the green light to this initiative. And everything would end well, if not the leak of documents", - people's deputy from Servant of the People, familiar with the course of negotiations, told OstroV.
"The general public should have learned about the creation of the Advisory Council only after its creation, that is, after the fact", - he emphasizes.
The source claims that the President's Office knows who leaked the documents to reporters, but does not give the exact name. Information appeared in the media that Ruslan Demchenko, adviser to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, might be behind this. It is noteworthy that from 2014 to 2019, he was also an adviser to Petro Poroshenko and an active participant in the Minsk negotiations.
The President's Office turned out to be unprepared for such a scenario, and Andriy Yermak came out at a briefing on the results of meeting of the National Security and Defense Council on measures to combat the coronavirus to explain about the "council". He spin out that the signed documents did not mean direct negotiations with the representatives of CADLO and their recognition, that so far, only the intention to create a new body was recorded, that it would be an advisory body, the decisions of which would not be compulsory and so on.
"There are no steps that would create a legal framework for the representatives of the so-called CADLO and their recognition. There are no direct negotiations ‒ we are not talking about this. We are talking about creating a platform where the citizens of Ukraine, who today live both in the controlled and uncontrolled territory, will be able to communicate about issues that are agreed upon in the package of the Minsk agreements", - he said.
But this statement caused even greater indignation in Ukrainian politicum. Already by evening, a statement of deputies from Servant of the People began to circulate on social networks, expressing disagreement with the results of the Minsk talks and with the strategy chosen by the President's Office. By night, more than 60 people's deputies had signed the statement.
To cope with such a revolt of the "servants of the people", Andriy Yermak invited them to the President's Office for a private conversation. According to OstroV, he told them nothing new, but only repeated the theses that there would be no direct negotiations, that everything was being done for the exchange of prisoners and new meeting in the "Normandy format".
"Separately, he quite subtly hinted that if the deputies did not reduce the degree of negativity and failed to negotiate the return of captured Ukrainians from CADLO, the media would quickly give a runaround. In addition, Yermak conveyed "greetings" from Zelensky, having said something like "he is disappointed with your position". After that, Yermak went to the television program to Shuster to explain himself there again", - a people's deputy from Servant of the People told OstroV off the record.
As for the rebel deputies from Servant of the People, some changed their posts to less radical ones after this meeting, others deleted them altogether. In contrast to them, there were also those in the party who defended the head of the Presidential Office and justified the creation of the Advisory Council. In their opinion, it can become a platform for representatives of the population of the occupied territories, who were forced to stay for various reasons, but have nothing to do with starting a war and violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine. As a result, the party called it all a "misunderstanding" and announced further discussion of the issue.
"The overwhelming majority of Servant of the People's deputies supported the creation of such a body on the condition that its members be carefully selected and not cause controversy among the Ukrainian society", - one of the people's deputies from Servant of the People assured OstroV.
As for the other political forces of the parliament, the European Solidarity, Batkivshchyna and Voice parties roundly condemned the signed documents. People's deputies from the Voice even registered a resolution in the Verkhovna Rada, by which the documents on the establishment of the Advisory Council with representatives of CADLO, signed in Minsk on March 11, 2020, are recognized as illegal.
The resolution records that the documents signed in Minsk on March 11 contradict the Constitution and Ukrainian laws; further signing of these documents is unacceptable; all negotiations should be conducted only with the Russian Federation with the involvement of other subjects of international law, and not with representatives of the terrorists; any other negotiations and a peaceful settlement are possible after an unconditional and lasting ceasefire.
The people's deputies from Voice demanded that the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada put this resolution to a vote during an extraordinary parliamentary session on March 17, but Dmytro Razumkov refused them, having noted that the meeting would focus only on the fight against coronavirus.
As for the reaction of President Volodymyr Zelensky, he had only one complaint against Yermak – lack of communication. Allegedly, he did not explain, and when the documents were leaked, no one was ready for that. Separately, sources close to the president claim that he was quite upset by the position of some people's deputies from Servant of the People, who criticized the talks in Minsk.
"Volodymyr Zelensky fully supports the creation of such a body, platform. He spoke about it a few months ago. Therefore, the only question is how it will be framed and presented, but in fact, the decision has already been made. Currently, Zelensky does not have time to study this issue in detail due to the situation with coronavirus. In addition, there are rumors in the President's Office that the creation of this body can be postponed, but there is no question of abandoning it. In this case, coronavirus plays into the hands, everything can be shoved onto it, if not to cancel, then delay", - one of the President's Office employees told OstroV.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV