The idea of President Volodymyr Zelensky to attract immigrants from the occupied Donbass to the Minsk negotiation process began to be realized. On Tuesday, June 9, it became known that the working group on political issues of the Trilateral Contact Group was replenished with four immigrants from Donbass. The Donetsk oblast is represented by journalists Denys Kazansky and Serhiy Harmash, the Luhansk – by famous doctor Kostiantyn Libster and head of the Luhansk association of fellow-countrymen non-governmental organization Vadym Horan.
"The engagement of representatives of CADLO is carried out in order to implement the provisions of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, in particular clause 9, clauses 11-12, which provide for consultations with representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasets regarding the criteria of a political settlement and amendments to the legislation", - the President's Office notes.
An online meeting of the political subgroup of the Minsk TCG with the participation of displaced persons took place on June 9. They participated directly in the TCG meeting the very next day. Serhiy Harmash talks about his first impressions of the talks and his vision of ways to end the conflict in the Donbass in an interview with OstroV.
- Please, tell us how did you receive the offer to join the Ukrainian delegation of the Minsk TCG?
- At first, the adviser to Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksii Reznikov called me and asked how I feel about the idea of integrating IDPs to the TCG. I said – positive, on the whole, but it all depends on what specific functions will be assigned to them there. Our journalists, foreign experts and diplomats sometimes come to me with similar questions, so I just shared my opinion, they made no specific proposals to me. Then there was a conversation with the Minister via conference call.
- Was it an interview?
- It was a conversation. I asked him questions, he asked me as well. We clarified each other's positions regarding the resolution of conflict in the Donbass. I already understood what these conversations were for, but I did not think that I would be part of the delegation, because recently, I have spoken of initiatives in the Donbass by head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak quite harshly on the air and in social networks. However, they called me a week later and invited to a meeting at the Presidential Office. It was attended by Oleksii Reznikov and Andriy Yermak.
- What was discussed?
- There were no declarations or clear objectives. First of all, we get acquainted with each other, IDPs. Then we get acquainted with Andriy Yermak. He answered our questions. The main thing that worried us was not whether they were trying to drop old hints of the Advisory Board from a new perspective, because Den (Denys Kazansky - ed.) and I, for example, would definitely not agree to this. I came to the conclusion that we were invited just the opposite – to literally implement the Minsk agreements, which stipulate "consultations" and "coordination" with representatives of CADLO – with us, and not with people who call themselves "ministers" of the "republics".
We already took part in the work of the TCG political subgroup the day after this meeting.
- Was the status of your work in the TCG clearly described?
- At that point in time – no. This issue has been discussed. Literally 40 minutes before the start of work of the political subgroup of the TCG, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine sent a note to the OSCE, which informed the negotiating parties that the representatives of CADLO from Ukraine would participate in the consultations in the status of advisers. Our participation was a surprise for both Russia and the OSCE.
This was a new communication model for moderator of the meeting from the OSCE Pierre Morel. It is apparent that he still has not adapted to it, I even specifically asked him and the representative of the Russian MFA to clarify who they were contacting when talking about the representatives of "CADLO" or "Donetsk" and "Luhansk". That is, even in technical and bureaucratic terms, we have significantly changed the model of negotiations, and a new model is still being formed.
- So you are representatives of CADLO.
- We are representatives of CADLO of Ukraine.
- It turns out that now we have two parties representing CADLO?
- I do not know who those people represent. They represent Russia, because CADLO are certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are administrative units of Ukraine. Accordingly, only Ukraine can appoint these representatives. And it appointed us. It did not appoint them. Those people, as we were told for five years in a row, were invited by the Russian party. They defend exclusively the position of Russia at the negotiations. In addition, they cannot be a party to the negotiations, because they did not participate in the development of the Minsk Agreements, that is, they did not directly participate in the negotiations. They are not presented in the Normandy format, and the Minsk process is a derivative of the Normandy format. I call them "representatives of Russia from CADLO". We are official members of the Ukrainian delegation. And whether they officially form part of the Russian delegation – I intend to find out this question. We do not have a direct dialogue with them. Of course, we listen to them and respond to their words, but we turn to the representative of the OSCE or the Russian MFA.
- Did you have any briefing before the TCG meeting?
- Unfortunately, no. There was no time. So that our readers understand: negotiations are not a conversation about everything, – this is a clear agenda. For example, we entered the process when specific amendments proposed by the Russian representatives from CADLO to the law on the special status were discussed. This is a specific work with a pencil on a specific text. If I know the texts of laws and the Minsk documents due to the fact that I have been closely engaged in this topic for all 6 years of the war, so I was quick on the uptake, then, for example, Kostiantyn Libster is a practicing physician and, of course, it was difficult for him to join the process.
In addition, negotiations, after all, are a diplomatic process and they have their own subtleties and rules. For example, I said at the TCG that the Russian Federation occupied the Donbass. Russian representative in the TCG Boris Gryzlov replied that only the vocabulary recorded in the Minsk agreements can be used in these negotiations, there is no such word as "occupation" there. The OSCE representative corrected me too. I accept this, but I hope that Russia, in turn, will also use only the "Minsk" vocabulary, which does not contain "self-proclaimed republics", "intra-Ukrainian conflict", "Donetsk" or "Luhansk". By the way, this "mistake" of mine is probably the only thing that excited Mr. Gryzlov and made him react to the process.
- Please, tell us how the Russians reacted to your appearance in the TCG in more detail?
- Representatives of Russia from CADLO first reacted to us more or less calmly. They decided that this was an implementation of the decision on the Advisory Council. Miroshnik (representative of the Russian Federation from CALO Rodion Miroshnik, - ed.) began to congratulate us sarcastically. We objected to him that this was not so. We were supported by the OSCE moderator and were informed that the decision to create the Advisory Council was discussed, but was never adopted. However, they did not hear this, probably, due to poor connection, and still tried to present our appearance at the TCG the next day as the "Advisory Council". I had to explain them again, already in the presence of Boris Gryzlov, that this was not so.
In general, my subjective opinion is that the Russian Federation has not yet formed its strategy regarding our presence. Of course, I saw Gryzlov’s statement that Ukraine almost withdrew from the Minsk process by this step. But I think this is a war of nerves. Of course, we did not withdraw. On the contrary, we enter it, but in an unpleasant format for Russia. However, it can do nothing with it – Ukraine has literally fulfilled the points of the Package of Measures that provide for "consultations" and "coordination" with "representatives of CADLO".
By the way, apparently, the Luhansk "colleagues" reacted more nervously to us on the second day of negotiations in the TCG for that reason. They probably "got it". Or they sang for their supper towards Gryzlov. They were indignant, inquiring who we were, that we were chosen non-transparently and we were representing no one… Danego even stated that he knew us and we somehow showed ourselves badly in 2014. We – who did not rob car dealerships, did not run around the city with the flags of a neighboring country, did not seize state-owned institutions, did not kidnap or kill people… If comrade Danego considers this to be "bad", that says a lot about him…
- How did representative from the Russian Federation Boris Gryzlov react to you?
- It is hard to tell. The Russians used quite an interesting trick: the video camera in Moscow was far away and Gryzlov's face and his emotions were not clearly visible. His reaction can be judged from today's statement that "Ukraine has left Minsk", but what he really thought – unfortunately, was not visible.
- What conclusion did you make for yourself based on the results of the negotiations?
- The main conclusion that I made for myself is the lack of political will on the part of Russia to resolve the conflict in the Donbass. Moscow is not yet ready. So far, this process is more reminiscent of a "talkfest", and mostly people from CADLO say, who decide nothing.
But at the same time, I believe that the Minsk process should be preserved, because if under the influence of another "black swan", Russia suddenly finds political will to leave the Donbass, saving its face (Putin will never do it in a different way), then the Minsk Package of Measures gives the Russian Federation such an opportunity. However, it is acceptable for us, only if it is implemented in our interpretation. Well, let us not forget that the West still does not see an alternative to Minsk. And we need to reckon with the opinion of Western capitals – unfortunately, our weight is still too small without their support, in direct contact with Russia. They are kind of balancing us on the same scales with Moscow.
However, this does not mean that other formats cannot be created and work in parallel. For example, the "Budapest" or "Geneva", or some kind of "Euro-Atlantic" with the participation of the USA and Great Britain. These formats may be political, at the level of heads of states, but I believe that Minsk should be maintained as a technical platform and, most importantly, as a factor in maintaining sanctions for Russia.
- Representative of the Russian Federation in the TCG Boris Gryzlov accused Ukraine of withdrawing from the Minsk process due to the involvement of displaced persons. Are not you afraid that Russia will sabotage negotiations in this way?
- I think that it will be good for us if the Russian Federation sabotages Minsk. In any case, we are on velvet. They will begin to speak with us, which means they recognize that we are representatives of CADLO. They will not - they will show the whole world the unconstructive position of Russia, which does not want to implement the Minsk agreements. There again, this will give us a reason to talk about the need for other formats. This is an extremely undesirable scenario for Moscow.
I repeat once again: we literally complied with the requirement recorded in the Package of Measures. Moreover, we really express the interests of at least 1.5 million people who left for political reasons and have political views that are contrary to the postulates of the Russian world. After the region returns under the jurisdiction of Ukraine (and I recall that this is the official goal of the Minsk talks), these people will return and if not live there, then own property, come to their relatives, etc. If we do not create conditions of security and freedom of expression for them, a real civil conflict may simply erupt there. Therefore, who else can Ukraine consult with on the political future of the Donbass? I always remind our authorities: you will not be good for everyone, this is impossible! You should first of all think about people who have not betrayed Ukraine, who love it. They are your hope and support in the Donbass. They and their life in the Donbass are a guarantee that Ukraine will really, and not declaratively, be there. Signals, hope and help should be given for them. A model for the future of Donbass should be formed with respect to them. Do not worry about fans of the Russian world – Russia will take care of them. They have already received passports and if it becomes unbearable to hear the Ukrainian anthem, they know where to go. But we have nowhere to go and no one to hope for, except for our state.
- Boris Gryzlov's claim is just that you left Donetsk, so you cannot represent that region.
- We left because we were forced to do it. Because we were persecuted there and being there was dangerous for our lives. We did not beat a single pro-Russian protester, did not kill a single supporter of the Russian world. It was them who beat and killed us for our patriotic views. Let Mr. Gryzlov provide me with security, freedom of expression and guarantee the observance of human rights – I am ready to go there even today. Just like hundreds of thousands of IDPs.
Putin likes to talk about the "massacre" that nationalists will carry out there if Russia leaves the Donbass. But can he guarantee us that when we return there, the massacre will not be carried out by his puppets? Especially since there was no massacre in liberated Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, etc., but in the "Russian" Donetsk and Luhansk, people were killed and tortured for their political views for all six years of Russia's "care" for the Donbass
There again, if we have already touched on this topic: the Ukrainian state is most interested in ensuring that there is no "massacre"! Can you imagine the reaction of the West, especially of the pro-Russian or anti-Ukrainian politicians (including the current U.S. president) if something like this happens? Moreover, this will give Russia a handle to, now openly, send in its troops for "humanitarian reasons", to protect Russian citizens. I believe that by distributing its passports there, Russia itself created the conditions when Putin's argument about the "massacre" became completely unsound.
- Since you have touched on this topic, how do you think Ukraine needs to respond to the Russian passportization of CADLO?
- I believe that this fact has already happened. It must be accepted and not just by expressing negative attitude towards it, but taken into account in policy and think how to neutralize and use it.
Why is Russia doing this? I see several reasons. The main ones are: to create conditions for the possibility of an invasion under the pretext of "protecting Russian citizens", or to plant Russian citizens into our authorities, law enforcement and other state institutions. First of all, by way of their participation in the elections. I will not speak publicly about the first. And on the second one – everything is quite simple: we need to pass a law that allows dual citizenship, but restricts citizens who have a foreign passport in the opportunity to be elected in elections to government and local governments, work in law enforcement and other public services and institutions. This is not my invention, this approach is already practiced in many countries worldwide. That is all - greetings to Moscow!
Moreover, I believe that we can benefit greatly from the passportization of our cross-border regions. And not only from the Russian passportization, – we know that similar processes are ongoing in the west of the country. This is a double-edged sword! Especially in the Donbass, where people get Russian passports mostly out of necessity: either for economic reasons, or being forced at work. But they remain Ukrainians, being not very impressed with what Russia has done with their region and, after Ukraine returns there, bringing peace and stability, they can expresses exactly Ukrainian interests! Then they will be able to go to the border Rostov or Krasnodar (historically not alien to Ukraine regions) and vote there for those political forces that will meet our interests… Let Putin think about it…
- Do you think the Russian Federation has already formed a position on your appearance in the TCG?
- Russia is now looking for a way out of this situation. It understands perfectly well that if Kyiv took this step, then this surely happened not without the knowledge of Berlin and Paris. It will put pressure on them, but formally, Moscow has nothing to come down on. I explained the logic of the need for our participation, I think the West understands this as well, if it do not want a civil conflict in Ukraine. Therefore, it will be difficult for the Russian Federation to ignore us.
- What issues were discussed during the TCG negotiations on June 9-10?
- The agenda was devoted to amendments to article 10 of the law on the "special status" of Donbass. The elections date is December 7, 2014. It is clear that the law is outdated, and Ukraine proposes to change this date to October 25, 2020. That side does not agree, they do not want to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. In addition, they propose other changes to this law, but we consider them inappropriate.
- Do you think this date is realistic?
- I remind you that this is a diplomatic process… And we set specific conditions for the elections holding: transfer of state borders to our control, withdrawal of illegal armed formations and foreign troops, return of state institutions that ensure the safety of citizens and democratic elections. If Russia agrees to these conditions, we will hold the elections on October 25. Moreover, I want to remind everyone – these are local elections. They will not be able to influence the politics of the country as a whole. But they will create legitimate authorities there, with which Kyiv will be able not only to solve problematic issues, but also to hold them accountable in accordance with the law. In a word, even if pro-Russian candidates are elected (and this will happen in any case), these people will still have to work in our legal boundaries, their actions will be limited by our laws and our law enforcement system…
- At the last meeting in the Normandy format, Ukraine took on the obligation to implement the Steinmeier formula. What is your view on that?
- The Steinmeier formula provides for the introduction of the law on the special status on the day of elections and after the preliminary recognition them as democratic by the OSCE. Ukraine agreed with this. But! I emphasize once again – the very possibility of holding elections in CADLO will be determined by the conditions we have defined: ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign troops and illegal armed formations, border control and security mechanisms for the elections' participants. If all these conditions are met, the Steinmeier formula will no longer be scary for us, but useless for Russia.
- Do you think the Russian side will do this?
- During the negotiations, I did not see any signs that the Russian Federation was ready for the beginning of a constructive dialogue. But outside the negotiation process, analyzing the facts and information, including from my sources, in Moscow, and contacts in the West, there are symptoms that Russia is getting closer to the real desire to implement the Minsk agreements with reasonable compromises and leave the Donbass. We are becoming too heavy ballast for it. Not only in economic terms, but also in political and even in domestic political. The "black swans" in the form of coronavirus and falling oil prices, as well as the global economic crisis provoked by these "birds", are forcing Russia to "optimize" its wants. Of course, the results of the U.S. elections will have a great influence on its behavior regarding Ukraine… I believe that the main task of the Ukrainian state is to intensify its actions to increase for the Kremlin the cost of its Donbass gamble. In all areas: geopolitic, domestic, economic, diplomatic, information and even military.
- In your opinion, what compromises can Ukraine make in the Minsk process?
- There can only be one compromise on our part: we can let Putin leave, saving his face. I mean, we are implementing the Package of Measures that Moscow wants from us, but in our interpretation. Russian media will be able to formally interpret this as Putin's victory and even claim that he brought peace to the Donbass. In addition, Putin will be able to save billions of dollars and get lifting of sanctions. This is a significant bonus to meet the vanity of the Russian leader. And we will get the real peace and the real return of Ukraine there.
- What do you mean by different interpretation?
- For example, it says "the participation of local authorities in the appointment of heads of prosecution authorities and courts of CADLO". What is meant by "the participation of authorities"? After all, it can be advisory. We can ask the local authorities how they behave toward the person whom Kyiv wants to appoint as a prosecutor or judge. And their opinion must be taken into account, the arguments must be studied. But this must be done in all regions. And these bodies will not appoint – this is fundamentally important. Because Russia now wants these bodies to have the right to appoint.
Or a clause on the creation of the "people's militia". Ok – we adopt the law on municipal public security authorities in Ukraine, and let the "people's militia" be in Donetsk, and some "municipal guard" in Lviv. But they do not have the right to carry weapons (except for batons and pepper guns) and patrol the cities only in cooperation with the legitimate Ukrainian police. And are also funded directly from city budgets. Do many cities have funds for such appendages to the police?...
We will carry out the Package of Measures in this interpretation and the Russian Federation will be able to leave, having saved its face.
- Is a breakthrough in the negotiations on Donbass possible in the near future?
- I think that the Russian Federation will either start a real dialogue, or this process will be reduced to absurdity. And even not by us.
- In your opinion, what is the problem of Minsk?
- First of all, this is the lack of political will on the part of the Russian Federation. And the second thing is that there is no Russia in the Package of Measures, that is, there are no clearly defined parties to the conflict and negotiations.
- Are you not embarrassed about the fact that the Package of Measures was signed, including, by Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky?
- No. It really contains signatures of private individuals, Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, without specifying their status. The first one had already been disposed of by the FSB, the other peacefully lives, it seems that in Voronezh. Their signatures do not oblige Ukraine to do anything. They signed that they were acquainted with the decisions made by the negotiating parties. The negotiators decided that way – this is their right to be the first to tell about their decisions…
- What is your attitude towards the statements of President Vlolodymyr Zelensky to give Minsk another year?
- I welcome it, I do not like long processes myself. I prefer rather a painful ending than endless pain. But Zelensky did not say that he would bury Minsk in a year, he said that he would make some decision on it. This means that another process can be run in parallel. For example, I believe that negotiations with the guarantor countries of the Budapest Memorandum would be much more effective. But let me repeat, Minsk must be preserved, because it already exists, the West already considers Russia a party to negotiations (respectively, to the conflict as well), sanctions are tied to it, and the text of the Package of Measures can be interpreted for the benefit of Ukraine. That is, I would keep it as a starting and technical platform.
- Have you gained more optimism in resolving the conflict in the Donbass during these two days of negotiations?
- My optimism has increased not in the fact that the conflict will be over, but in the fact that the current Ukrainian government wants to end it, and not imitate the process, as it was the previous five years. This is important. And in the fact that, at least for now, it has chosen the right, in my opinion, tactics for this. Zelensky's illusions about Russia seem to be shattering. The more he is in the know, the more realistic his policy on the Donbass.
- In which case will you leave the Minsk TCG?
- I will definitely leave (or will be left) if some games like the Advisory Council start, if the process does not go in the direction I have just told you about. I have been expressing my views for six years in a row now, they are clear and understandable: Russia is an aggressor, elections after the closing of the border, special status – perhaps, in the humanitarian and economic spheres, but not in the political and power spheres. I am ready for compromises, but they must be such, so that when we return there, we will not find ourselves in the Russian world, and a real civil conflict will not break out.
Interviewed by Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV