"Why did Andriy Yermak (head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, - ed.) introduce displaced persons from Donbass into the Minsk negotiation process? To share responsibility and remove some of the negative for accusations of treason. If the group works well, he will chalk it up (as his initiative), if it is a failure – the IDPs are to blame, not him. The situation is win-win anyway. Is it good for negotiations? More likely yes than no. After all, Ukraine was the initiator for once in a way and not catching up. Are they now expecting a breakthrough from the TCG?? No, of course. Everything is decided on a different level", - one of the associates of Volodymyr Zelensky told our agency off the record.
The working group on political issues of the Trilateral Contact Group was replenished with four people from Donbass at the beginning of June. The Donetsk oblast is represented by journalists Denis Kazansky and Serhiy Harmash, the Luhansk one – by well-known doctor Konstantin Liebster and head of the Luhansk Fellowship non-governmental organization Vadym Horan.
From then on, the IDPs have taken part in several online meetings of the Minsk TCG. And according to them, no special progress has been made yet.
"During the discussion of law on the special status of Donbass with the Russian party, once again, it was not possible to reach a consensus even on the preamble, not to mention other fundamental articles, which can hardly be agreed on in general", - Denis Kazansky says.
According to him, it is the Russian side that is slowing down and leading this process into deadlock.
"Russia and its satellites do not accept and block virtually all the proposals put forward by Ukraine. The preamble to the law on special status is a case in point. As everyone can see, it does not contain any sharp and principled theses. This is a paragraph of text with a common theme "for all the good things". But even such a text is blocked by the Russians, demanding not to mention the displaced persons", - the journalist explains.
Representative of CADLO in the political subgroup of the Minsk TCG Serhiy Harmash also notes that the Russian party has no desire to compromise and solve the problem.
"Depending on what to consider progress. We have two agreed articles of the so-called law on the special status of CADLO. That is, technically, there is a progress. But in fact, I see no progress. There is no desire to solve the problem from that side. I see only a desire to prolong the process. There are constant demands unprovided by the Package of Measures. They already want to coordinate our Constitution, although this there is no such thing in Minsk. That is, I do not see a real desire for progress on the other side. Along with that, there is a desire on our part to solve the problem constructively, but the solution should be based on compromise, and compromise is a movement on both sides. Since there is no movement on the other side, there can be no compromise", - he said in a comment to our agency.
OstroV found out how the involvement of displaced persons affected the Minsk process and what should be expected in the near future.
Progress or regress: positions of the parties
The President's Office believes that Ukraine dominates the Minsk talks now. In general, there is quite a positive assessment of the negotiation process after the involvement of IDPs there.
"Such a strong support for the position and new initiatives of Ukraine to reset the representative office in Minsk with regard to the representatives of CADLO from our side – these were, probably, the strongest negotiations in which we felt this both from Germany and from France. I really hope that that we will be able to reach an agreement at the next meeting of the TCG on a package of measures that would really ensure the ceasefire", - head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak says.
He notes that there are agreements to continue the exchange of prisoners, which may take place in the near future. There is also progress in matters of disengagement of forces and means and a plan for demining the territory. As for the political part of the negotiations, there are few concrete achievements.
"We have already started working in the political subgroup – laws on the peculiarities of local self-government were presented, in which we are going to implement the Steinmeier formula. If the formula for representation, presence and participation of representatives of the territories proposed by Ukraine works, it will be a powerful step for these legislative acts, which are predetermined by the package of the Minsk agreements, to begin to be considered in order to be later presented in the Verkhovna Rada, for discussion in the Committee, for discussion in society and so on", -Yermak notes.
The Kremlin does not share the optimism of the Ukrainian side. It continues to insist on a direct dialogue between Kyiv and representatives of the self-proclaimed "republics" and do not consider the entry of IDPs into the negotiation process a progress. Moreover, it directly declares about the decline in the negotiability of Ukraine recently.
"Regarding the negotiability, I would like to note only the following. Until recently, approximately until the beginning of March, there were cautious hopes for a constructive open dialogue on all issues of resolving the conflict. But these hopes have been rapidly dissipating in recent months", - Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation Dmitry Kozak stated.
"If President Zelensky's team maintains a consistent, direct and honest dialogue with Donbass, there is a prospect of resolving the conflict. And in a fairly short time. If the position is as it has been quite frankly demonstrated in recent months – to negotiate only with the aim of delaying the negotiations as much as possible and not agreeing on anything, – this is a highroad to freezing the conflict for many years", - he notes.
In general, the Russian party did not say anything new. It continues to repeat its uncompromising theses from one year to another: direct dialogue between Kyiv and the militants and a special status for the Donbass.
"Russia is interested in ending the conflict on its terms, but it does not want to talk about a compromise solution yet. The very fact that Russia is posing as an observer, a mediator, and not a party to the negotiations, says a lot. We are imposed a dialogue with people, who are completely dependent on Moscow and in fact, decide nothing, moreover, CADLO is not a party to the TCG, these people are legally absent in the Minsk process. If we are officially included in the Ukrainian delegation, it turns out that those people are not members of the Russian delegation. How to negotiate on something with people who are not legally in the process and who, accordingly, do not bear any responsibility for their agreements. Such a dialogue actually means an imitation of a solution to the problem, and not its solution. The position of the Russian Federation has not changed over five years. Ukraine makes compromises, including those that are painfully perceived by the Ukrainian society. Can you name me at least one compromise on the part of Russia?", - representative of CADLO in the political subgroup of the Minsk TCG Serhiy Harmash says.
OstroV's interlocutors in the president's team assure that the relationship between Kozak and Yermak, who initially got along famously, deteriorated sharply after Kyiv had refused to create an Advisory Council with representatives of CADLO and introduced IDPs to the delegation.
"If they got along famously at first, then after our rollback in terms of creating the Advisory Council, their relationship can no longer be called trusting. Kozak believes that Yermak betrayed him in this matter, although the Russian Presidential Administration was very pleased when Kyiv agreed to this. But after a public anger in Ukraine, Yermak pretended that no direct negotiations with the CADLO representatives were planned and quickly came up with a scheme with displaced persons. Of course, Russia did not like this. So the negotiations clearly became less productive. On the other hand, and this is important, Russia is also not on velvet now. It is also interested in some progress. This is what the Ukrainian authorities are hoping for", - one of the Servant of the People's MPs, who is familiar with the course of negotiations, told our agency.
In general, same as before, progress in the negotiation process is observed in relation to the exchange of prisoners, disengagement of forces and means, declaration of a ceasefire (which is never observed) and some other humanitarian issues. As for political issues (special status of Donbass, holding local elections, amnesty), there is no progress.
"The most difficult situation is in the political sphere… Without the amendments that are supposed to be introduced to the Constitution of Ukraine in terms of decentralization, it is impossible to discuss the draft laws on special status that are on the negotiating table in the contact group", - Kozak stated.
At the same time, he admitted that decentralization can be so "radical and attractive that the Donbass itself will say that it is ready to live in such a legal field".
By the way, amendments to the Constitution regarding decentralization are still being actively worked out in the committees of the Verkhovna Rada, and it is not known when they will be put to a vote. But according to member of the political subgroup in the TCG in Minsk Andrey Kostin, the parameters of decentralization will be the same for all regions of Ukraine. That is, they are not going to register special rights for the occupied Donbass. This is clearly not what the Kremlin expects from Kyiv, so it is not difficult to predict the comments of representatives of the Russian Federation regarding decentralization.
The Ukrainian side insists that the meeting of leaders of the Normandy Four should take place in August 2020.
"Everyone confirmed the importance of the Berlin summit. No one denies that this summit should come as soon as possible. Therefore, I believe that this summit should take place in the coming months", - head of the President's Office Andriy Yermak told journalists on July 10.
Deputy Prime Minister Oleksii Reznikov noted that a summit of the leaders of the four countries is possible in August.
The Kremlin, however, has made it clear that there were no grounds for holding a new summit.
"There are simply no grounds for holding a new summit today and in the foreseeable future, given the current position of Ukraine. The summit can only be held if decisions of previous summits are implemented. As of today, none of the agreements of the Paris summit have been implemented", - deputy head of the Presidential Administration of Russia and Donbass curator Dmitry Kozak said.
French Ambassador to Ukraine Etienne de Poncins also made it clear that it was too early to talk about the next summit of leaders of the Normandy format countries.
"Our goal is not to hold a summit for the sake of holding it. In our opinion, an important task today is to implement the conclusions that were adopted as a result of the December Normandy format summit in Paris. We can consider organizing the next new meeting in this format only under this condition", - he stated in Kyiv on July 13.
Why, then, does Ukraine continue to insist on holding the Normandy summit so stubbornly? OstroV's sources in the President's Office cite the upcoming local elections in the fall of 2020 as one of the main reasons.
"The topic of peace in the Donbass was one of the key topics in the election campaign of Zelensky and Servant of the People, and if we lose this direction now, our main electorate in the southeast will go to OPFL, Shariy and other local "parties of peace". Our surveys already show it. Therefore, our task is to show closer to the elections that Volodymyr Zelensky continues to implement the peace initiatives and intends to seek peace in the Donbass", - the interlocutor said.
According to him, the minimum task is to carry out an exchange of prisoners, to bring the Normandy summit as close as possible and to make some kind of breakthrough in the Minsk process (possibly, of a humanitarian nature) before the holding of local elections. The maximum task is to hold a meeting with the leaders of the Normandy Four and sign new agreements that will become a "real breakthrough".
"Andriy Yermak is now working very actively on this. A prisoner exchange will take place 100%, there are questions about the Normandy meeting. Russia demands concessions. In general, Yermak is encouraged, as he believes, by Ukraine's progress in the Minsk talks and is behaving a little boldly and even too proactively. Zelensky, in principle, is still satisfied with this, but he demands concrete results as soon as possible", - the source noted.
According to the interlocutors in the president's team, the conditional "Plan B" has not gone anywhere and continues to be worked out by the President's Office. If the Normandy meeting is not held by autumn and no progress is made in the negotiation process, Volodymyr Zelensky may initiate, if not Ukraine's withdrawal from Minsk, then its revision or a new parallel format.
"I do not see any prospects for a breakthrough in the Minsk process for the next month. But an initiative of a new format at the political level may mature by the end of the year. At the same time, it is advisable to keep Minsk as a technical platform for resolving operational issues", - Serhiy Harmash considers.
Perhaps, it is no coincidence that Minister for the Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksii Reznikov recently stated that the Minsk Agreements did not reflect the current realities and needs to resolve the conflict in Donbass, and the West should support their revision and a pragmatic approach to their implementation. In turn, Russia immediately accused Ukraine of almost withdrawing from the Minsk agreements and demanded a refutation of this information (which did not follow).
"If this statement is confirmed or not refuted by the now prime minister or president of Ukraine in the near future, it really means Ukraine's withdrawal from the Minsk agreements", - Dmitry Kozak said.
While the negotiations and the search for new strategies for a political settlement of the conflict continue, Ukrainian soldiers continue to die in the Donbass. Remember only the blatant provocation of Russian occupiers, who fired on July 13 at three servicemen, who were supposed to carry out the evacuation of body of the deceased Ukrainian intelligence officer. Ukraine agreed to evacuate the body through the OSCE and the JCCC, the militants gave the go-ahead. When the Ukrainian group in white helmets and special vests moved forward to take the body, they were ambushed. Despite all the guarantees, the group was fired from three sides. Two Ukrainians, one of whom was a medic, died on the spot.
After all, the escalation of military situation in the Donbass was often used by Russia to force Ukraine to sign agreements that were unfavorable for Kyiv. In recent weeks, the topic of a possible invasion of the Russian Federation into the territory of Ukraine has become acute in the Ukrainian information space. There are supposedly two prerequisites for this: the Caucasus 2020 military exercises and critical situation with water in the occupied Crimea, which may cause the Russian Federation to seize part of the Kherson oblast. Perhaps, Russia is now not interested in an offensive operation (as many experts are talking about), but, as they say, there is no smoke without fire. If these bogus stories were made, it means someone needs them.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV