A landmark event in the field of negotiations on the Donbass, which have already been dubbed "the Minsk process reform", took place last week. President Volodymyr Zelensky approved the new composition of the Trilateral Contact Group from Ukraine, which included the current deputy ministers and heads of the parliamentary committees.
The Presidential Office is now waiting for symmetrical changes in the delegation of the second side of the negotiations - Russia.
"We hope that the Russians will make the same increase. This means that the negotiations will become effective", - head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak stated.
Another initiative of the Ukrainian side is the involvement in the negotiation process of IDPs from the Donbass, who left the uncontrolled territories. However, how they will be selected, what powers and legal status they will have, remains a mystery.
In addition, the Office of the President of Ukraine initiates negotiations in Minsk "daily, and not semiweekly".
All these initiatives of the Ukrainian side indicate that President Volodymyr Zelensky is tired of consultations in Minsk that give no result. The quick peace he strove for turned out to be an unattainable goal. The Normandy format negotiations brought no expected ceasefire (and this is the main criterion of peace for the president), so now attempts are being made to restart "Minsk" as much as possible. Otherwise, the President's Office states in, Plan B will be implemented, about which nothing is known for certain.
On May 5, Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on the new composition of the TCG in Minsk. The Ukrainian delegation was again led by the second president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma. In addition to him, the group included:
- Vice Prime Minister - Minister for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov (First Deputy Head of the Delegation),
- Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation, People's Deputy Oleksandr Merezhko (deputy head of the delegation),
- Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture Yulia Svyrydenko (representative of Ukraine in the working subgroup on socio-economic issues),
- Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legal Policy, MP Andriy Kostin (representative of Ukraine in the working subgroup on political issues),
- Deputy Minister of Defense Oleksandr Polishchuk (representative of Ukraine in the working subgroup on security issues),
- Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Social Policy and Protection of Veterans' Rights, MP Halyna Tretyakova (representative of Ukraine in the working subgroup on humanitarian issues).
According to the document, the head of the Ukrainian delegation and his first deputy can determine the deputy representatives of Ukraine in the working subgroups and involve delegations of people's deputies, representatives of state authorities, advisers, experts and technical workers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is entrusted with organizational, informational, advisory and other support for the activities of the Ukrainian delegation in the TCG.
Moreover, Andriy Yermak proposed that internally displaced persons who were forced to leave certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts after May 2014 be invited for consultations and discussions in the TCG subgroups as invited persons, representing these areas.
"From the next meeting, Ukraine will represent on our side the people who are representatives of the (occupied) territories. These are citizens of Ukraine. This is very important, since so many people living in the territory of the "L/DNR" received Russian passports. We will attract displaced persons who are forced to live outside the occupied territories today, but have a residence permit there (in CADLO - ed.) and were forced to leave - but these are citizens of Ukraine, residents of the Donbass. We will invite these people as guests for subsequent meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group", - he told.
According to him, Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov and his department will form the list of displaced persons. And they will be invited in the necessary amount depending on the topic of the meeting.
As for the powers of these people in the negotiations, Reznikov himself accurately described them in a recent interview.
"No decisions are made there, only consultations and coordination. An authorized representative of the government of Ukraine and the OSCE will always be nearby", - he said.
Causes and consequences
According to OstroV, the author and the main initiator of the Minsk reboot is head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak.
"Plan A consisted in the possibility of reaching an agreement directly with Russia, "just stop shooting and making money off the war" and other everyday things that Volodymyr Zelensky manipulated with. When it became clear that this did not work, they wanted to immediately go to the so-called Plan B – to fence off from the occupied Donbass and officially declare that we have done everything possible, but we need to move on. What is being implemented now is a transition point between plans A and B. This is the initiative of Andriy Yermak and, in fact, he personally holds responsibility for it. Zelensky liked the idea, but set clear conditions - so that there would be clear implementation deadlines and no betrayal. Otherwise, Plan B would be implemented", - a source familiar with the progress of the negotiations told OstroV.
In fact, this reset of "Minsk" is a hybrid version of the very Advisory Council that has caused so much noise in recent months. Now everyone will closely monitor who exactly will be part of the negotiation group, and most importantly, whom the negotiations with CADLO will be conducted with.
Only if the Advisory Council was to a greater extent the Russian idea, then new composition of the TCG and the attraction of IDPs is purely Ukrainian know-how. It is no coincidence that during the last online meeting of the Normandy Four countries' foreign ministers, Sergey Lavrov raised the issue of creating the Advisory Council.
"My Russian colleague Lavrov raised this issue - he expressed a rather detailed position on this issue. But we did not discuss this issue. We listened to the position on the "Advisory Council", - Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated
He said no more details. This is not by accident, because the most important task of the Ukrainian government now is to convince the Russian Federation (via informal negotiations, of course) that things the Ukrainian side proposed today is no worse than the Advisory Council itself.
Head of the Presidential Office, author and main initiator of the Minsk reboot Yermak says that all this is being done to give impetus to the Minsk talks. But given that everything depends on the position of Russia in this matter, the President's Office does not particularly believe in the success of this initiative. Of course, according to its optimistic scenario, the Russian side will approve this plan, negotiations will reach a new level and after some time, there will be joint control over the border and elections in CADLO. But the more likely (aka pessimistic) scenario is that the Russian Federation will not symmetrically strengthen its delegation, but may agree to involve IDPs in the negotiations.
"Negotiations are now going on via informal channels. As far as I know, everything is "cold" there. Firstly, because of coronavirus, and secondly, Ukraine acted as an initiator in something almost for the first time, and Russia is still thinking how to react to this. In any case, Andriy Yermak is pleased with his work. Now the ball is on the Russian side of the field and whatever it does, this will be a plus for us. If it agrees to all this - the negotiations will be more productive, if refuses - we can put full responsibility for the failure of negotiations on the Russian Federation and begin a conditional operation to build up a "wall" with the occupied Donbass", - a source in the President's Office told us.
As for Plan B, which is planned to be resorted to in case of the negotiations failure, it is kept under close wraps. It can be conventionally called the "wall" (as Zelensky himself once said), but now the President's Office has decided to avoid this name.
"We have a definite deadline. If we see that there is no desire to put an end to the war from the other side, we will not do it for years. I believe that the term that the president spoke about is unchanged today – we will really do everything to make this process move before the year is out… Of course, we have Plan B announced by the President, but we will talk about it in detail when we realize that Plan A does not work. But it exists and is developed. This is not an idea - we clearly understand what we will do in one case or another", - Andriy Yermak told.
Russia stubbornly keeps silence and does not react in any way to the idea of expanding the Ukrainian delegation and attracting immigrants to the negotiations. The only one who responded was Russian political strategist Alexey Chesnakov, close to Putin's ex-assistant Vladislav Surkov.
"It does not even make sense for Moscow to discuss such obviously losing configurations. Therefore, this signal is only for the Ukrainian audience. Just that much… Negotiations are conducted with those forces that really control the territory (that is, with representatives of the DNR and LNR in this case) and not with those who are most convenient", - he stated.
International partners also keep silence.
The reaction of the so-called "republics" as repeaters of the Kremlin's position is worth noting individually. Occupation authorities of the "DNR" and "LNR" categorically opposed the involvement of displaced persons, who were forced to leave the Donbass due to Russian aggression, in the negotiation process. Statements on this subject were made by those who called themselves "ministers of foreign affairs of the republics" Natalia Nikonorova and Vladislav Danego.
In particular, Nikonorova, who represents the unrecognized "DNR", noted that "IDPs from the Donbass, if they are connected to the Minsk talks, will defend the interests of Kyiv, and not of the region residents, which will not lead to the conflict resolution".
"Kyiv should talk not with the displaced persons, but with representatives of the second side of the conflict - the "people's republics", - she stated.
At the same time, unlike his Donetsk "colleague", representative of the "LNR" Vladislav Danego nevertheless does not exclude the possibility of temporary participation of IDPs in the negotiations.
"Based on the fact that Ukraine sees the mechanism for forming the Advisory Council this way, we will be ready to accept such a mechanism of interaction as a temporary transitional model on the way to forming a full-fledged mechanism for public discussion of draft legislative acts within the framework of the Contact Group", - he stated.
Ukraine treated this idea quite composedly. In order to avoid leaks from Russian resources, as it was before, communication with the media was established very subtly. First of all, there were several official and detailed messages on the Presidential Office's website, then there was a private meeting between Andriy Yermak and Oleksii Reznikov with journalists, at which they answered all the questions in detail and with revealing frankness.
According to OstroV, a similar meeting had previously been with the leadership of the Servant of the People party.
"Yes, the meeting took place. It was held in a quite narrow format. It was an informal explanatory meeting. It was a gesture on the part of the Presidential Office that it respects the parliament. It clearly did not want to repeat the story with the Advisory Council. Plus explanatory information was spread in our party chats about what decisions had been made. Do not forget that now the people's deputies are part of the TCG. As you can see, there were no statements from Servant of the People that this is betrayal. Although there are MPs who do not like it", - one of people's deputies from Servant of the People told our agency.
In general, the presidential party supports the initiatives of the Presidential Office to expand the composition of the TСG and to attract immigrants to the negotiation process.
"But this is fragile support. Each step will be with a fine-tooth comb", - is noted there.
As for other political forces, they reacted in a more substantive way. Head of the Voice parliamentary faction Serhiy Rakhmanin criticized the decision of President Volodymyr Zelensky to expand the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.
"The fact is even not that now we will have a respected delegation for budgetary funds that will consist of members of the government and heads of the parliamentary committees in a structure that is not official and the decisions of which have no legal consequences. The fact is that according to the statement of head of the Office of the President Yermak, he expects the same mirror step from the Russian side", - he said.
According to him, this means that the Russian negotiating group will include "persons from the Ukrainian sanctions list".
"We will get Leonid Slutsky, who uses the word Nazism whenever he mentions Ukraine… We will get Leonid Kalashnikov, who said that Ukraine would destroy the entire population of Donbass… We will get Yaroslav Nilov, one of the heads of the LDNR party, the leader of which called for the preventive destruction of Ukraine. We will get Deputy Minister of Defense Bulgakov, who seized our ships in the Crimea. I suggest giving a credit to the wisdom of the president in order to avoid the unnecessary illusions and renaming the TCG to the "Association of Collective Hemorrhoids", - the people's deputy explained.
People's deputy from European Solidarity Iryna Herashchenko calls this the legitimization of the "republics".
"This is a continuation of the "republics" legitimization, a new step towards the implementation of the Kremlin's scenario of a "direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk". Why? Because representatives of the executive branch at the level of deputy prime minister and deputy ministers are being officially introduced into the negotiation group. Thus, raising the status of the so-called "representatives" of CADLO, who are sitting in Minsk as invited, not being participants. By the way, the representation of Russians there, on the contrary, was gradually decreasing, the Kremlin's tactics were to lower its status, demonstrating that Muscovites were only moderators and not the direct participants and responsible for the wars. The presence of the leaders of relevant committees of the Verkhovna Rada in Minsk will also allow the Russian Federation and its puppets to speak more loudly about "coordination of the Ukrainian legislation with CADLO", - she considers.
Political analyst of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation Maria Zolkina considers the decision on new appointments to the Ukrainian TСG unjustified.
"Increasing in rates due to such appointments is unjustified. The Minsk TCG is not the level of deputy ministers or heads of the committees. Too much. "Turning on" the logic as in classic international negotiations is not entirely expedient. Especially considering that the "invited" impostors from CADLO are sitting there. And our officials - this is not that level", - she wrote on Facebook.
She also believes that Yermak's statements that Russia will make a symmetrical move are empty.
"Russia does its best to avoid responsibility, and by the way, does not bear it in accordance with the Minsk agreements. Therefore, why should it symmetrically nominate the same officials to the TCG? Therefore, I suppose that it not significantly increase the TCG's effectiveness. On the contrary, it may create additional problems by adding "weight" to Russia. What is expedient in this reform is that now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide comprehensive support for the work of the Minsk TСG", - the expert believes.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV