April 3, 2018 – Fort Russ –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
On March 2nd, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced an upcoming meeting to be held in the German city of Aachen with the leaders of Germany and France on the topic of deploying international peacekeepers to Donbass. According to the newspaper Kommersant, which cited sources close to the Ukrainian president’s administration, these discussions would be held without Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Kommersant’s words, this would essentially be a “Normandy Four” meeting without Moscow.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, in the face of presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, has claimed that it is unaware of such an initiative.
If this news is true, then the conclusion can be drawn that Poroshenko is trying to take advantage to the fullest of the “Skripal situation” which has served as the latest pretext for the West’s diplomatic war against Russia.
It is no coincidence that Ukraine expelled a record number of Russian diplomats, coming in third only after the United States and United Kingdom. As I have written for Fort Russ before, the reason for such servility on Ukraine’s part is its desire to achieve NATO membership. In this sense, it is probably no accident that over the past few weeks we have seen increasingly active discussions on Ukraine’s “Euro-Atlantic future” dealing with topics as specific as the risks for the Ukrainian budget which complying with NATO standards would impose.
As has been made clear by Poroshenko’s announcement, Ukraine is also counting on the West’s help to “nudge Putin out” of the fundamentally important issue that Donbass is for Russia, and in so doing hopes to win the opportunity to hold “separate negotiations” with the other members of the Normandy Four. First and foremost, Ukraine is seeking to gain the agreement of Western countries, especially UN Security Council members, to overpower Russia’s potential veto and deploy “peacekeepers” to Donbass. How China will act is a separate question.
Thus, Ukraine, the US, and the UK are playing the same game and giving each other legs up. Ukraine, for example, is working on intensifying efforts to discredit Russia on the international stage by reinforcing the claims of the Anglo-Saxon UN Security Council “reformers”, who want to eliminate Russia from the council and altogether restructure this body in their interests. The reciprocal gratitude which Ukraine hopes for is the organization of an international occupation of Donbass.
Nevertheless, I look at Poroshenko’s scheme with great skepticism. First of all, this news has only come from his lips – we have yet to hear confirmation from Macron or Merkel. Secondly, the leaders of France and Germany are unlikely to opt for such a sharp deterioration in relations with Russia – at for least now and the near future. Despite the anti-Russian campaign and their compliance in the diplomatic war, Macron and Merkel are very cautious in both word and deed, something which Poroshenko notoriously lacks. The Ukrainian President’s radicalism and sharpness are symptoms of weakness, not strength.
Thirdly, excluding Russia from the Normandy Four would cross out the Minsk Agreements, which European diplomacy has entrenched itself in defending. Russia, Germany, and France are all three named in the text of the Minsk Agreements as the countries guaranteeing their implementation. If Russia is eliminated, the Minsk format loses both legitimacy and expediency – with no one with whom to negotiate. In such a situation, the “Normandy Troika” would turn into a collective body unanimously lobbying for the Ukrainian occupation of Donbass.
Excluding Russia from the Normandy Four, and from the negotiation process altogether, would annul the Minsk Agreements and make a large war inevitable. It is hardly likely that Europe’s capitals want this.
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.