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Despite the apparent lack of success in resolving the military conflict in the Donbass, Ukraine is implementing a verified and consistent strategy in this direction.
The conflict in Donbass is the main foreign policy challenge and the main threat to the national security of Ukraine. A year ago, on December 9, the sixth summit in the Normandy format was held at the level of heads of state. Then, in the course of six hours, it was possible to develop and sign a final communiqué, which provided for:
Putin and Zelenskiy have disagreed on the timing of Ukraine’s restoration of control over the border with Russia. The Kremlin insisted on the unconditional observance of the Minsk agreements – gaining control over the border the day after the elections in Donbass, Kiev – to restore control over the border before the elections in the unrecognized territories.
Position of Ukraine. Defending its position on the most controversial issue of the Minsk agreements (first the security component, then the elections to ORDLO), Kiev is implementing the scenario of a politico-diplomatic peaceful resolution of the conflict with the subsequent reintegration of the occupied territories. Since in modern conditions it is impossible to instantly seize the initiative, the Ukrainian side imposes its own vision of the conflict settlement, trying to complete it on its own terms.
The position of Germany and France. The foreign ministries of these countries adhere to the official thesis that the Minsk agreements “will not be considered fulfilled until the full territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine is established in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.” However, in previous years, the behavior of Berlin and Paris was dominated by the policy of “silent non-interference”, which was in Moscow’s hands.
Today, their rhetoric has become more harsh, at times angry. This happened as a result of the critical accumulation in Europe of toxic cases related to Moscow, including the sharp condemnation by the West of acts of the Kremlin’s physical elimination of its opponents. It is known that on October 7, the Supreme Regional Court of Berlin began the trial of the Khangoshvili murder; on October 15, the EU imposed sanctions for the poisoning of Navalny. Finally, on November 30, the Hague District Court completed the pre-trial investigation into the downing of the MH17 airliner, rejecting the Russian side’s demands to consider alternative versions.
The position of other world players. Here the victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential elections and the formation of a team of supporters of tough anti-Russian sanctions stand out. Europe already expects the White House to return to transatlantic cooperation and abandon unfriendly steps. In the future, we should expect a thaw in relations between Washington and Brussels and a partial synchronization of common efforts in resolving problems on the world agenda, including the Donbass.
On November 27, Sweden announced its policy during its chairmanship of the OSCE in 2021 and assured that resolving the conflict in Donbass will be one of Stockholm’s priorities. Britain may also return to active anti-Russian actions after resolving differences and concluding a trade agreement with the EC under Brexit.
The victory of Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in the military incident in Artsakh demonstrated the possibility of a military solution to the territorial conflict, as well as the ability of regional leaders to resolve disputes. Ankara’s uncompromising position on the occupied Crimea adds it to Kiev’s allies.
Despite the fact that Ukraine still should not hope for a possible expansion of the “Normandy format” with the involvement of the United States and Great Britain, the external situation is generally favorable for Kiev. The position of international partners in relation to Russia, including on the Donbass case, in the event of the Kremlin’s next “careless” steps, may be significantly aggravated, which will significantly narrow Moscow’s room for maneuver. In this case, the greater freedom to exacerbate the conflict on the basis of the prevalence of national legislation over international law can hardly be applied, since it will cause a quick and painful reaction from the West for the Russian Federation.
The only thing that Russia has in its toolkit for the Donbas case is increased pressure on Ukraine (diplomatic and media) in the hope of persuading Kiev to go over the “red lines”, i.e. go to a political settlement without progress on the security component.
But here, too, Ukrainian diplomacy has already prepared and handed over to the OSCE a “Plan of Joint Steps”, which will allow local elections to be held in the regions of Donbass not controlled by Kiev in March 2021. The program provides for the disarmament of the militia, the self-dissolution of the “LPNR” and the transfer of the border with the Russian Federation under the control of the AFU.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he gave Russian President Putin a year to end the war in Donbass, otherwise he would withdraw from the Minsk agreements, which, in his opinion, were signed by Ukraine under pressure. This is what Moscow fears, knowing that the next format for resolving the conflict will not be in Russia’s favor at all.
Summing up, we can state that the external environment is developing favorably for Ukraine. Back in May, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo announced that the time had come to resolve conflicts in Europe, in particular in Ukraine.
Thus, the war in Donbass and the occupation of Crimea have been placed on the top of the list of priority issues in building relations between the United States and Europe with Russia. And the Kremlin understands this.