An interview with the German expert: “the annexation of the Donbas is not included in the plans of Putin”

As planned, during the first day of the summit G20 in Hamburg took place the first meeting of the presidents of the United States and Russia. Between discussion sessions, the first time they shook hands, and Donald trump smiling, even slammed Vladimir Putin on the back. Talks tete-a-tete took place a few hours later just in time for the discussion session on the climate. In this issue, as you know, the leader of the States severely criticized for his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Instead of the stated 35 minutes, trump and Putin behind closed doors said, according to the White house, 2 hours and 16 minutes. According to the head of the Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian and the American side agreed to create a channel between the representatives of States on settlement of the situation in the Donbas. “When discussing Ukraine, the U.S. side announced that they had appointed a special representative to promote efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. And agreed to create a channel between the representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States to use the opportunities that have with USA to promote settlement on the basis of the Minsk agreements, taking into account and relying on the potential that resides in the Tripartite contact group in the Normandy format,” Lavrov said.

Just a couple of hours prior to the meeting, trump Putin, the US has appointed former US Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, the state Department’s special envoy for the Ukrainian settlement. For Ukraine it is a very good signal. First, never before in history the state Department was not representative purely on the Ukrainian question. Secondly, according to Lavrov, it is about reactivating the negotiating channel Nuland-Surkov. Under Obama, Victoria Nuland, the state Department held the position of assistant Secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. It is quite often met with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov. He is called the architect of annexation of Crimea, separatism and the subsequent Russian intervention in the Donbass. And thirdly, as previously reported, “Today”, Kurt Volker – Senator”Republican” John McCain, who defends the idea of granting Ukraine lethal weapons.

The second day of the summit G20 will bring Ukraine no less news. For today is scheduled tripartite talks the leaders of Germany, France and Russia in the Donbas. It was here, according to experts, Emmanuel macron can present the idea of implementation of the Minsk agreements. We can go on so-called “formula Rules”, as stated by Petro Poroshenko after a meeting with French President in Paris. “Formula Rules”, according to the Ukrainian President’s plan for peace and de-occupation of Donbass.

The possible outcome of these trilateral negotiations, the future of the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format, as well as the plans of the Kremlin on the eve of its presidential elections “Today” discussed with the senior analyst of the European Council of foreign relations (ECFR) Gustav Gressler.

– Makron has repeatedly said that the Normandy four leaders need to meet as soon as possible. How do you think, when will be the meeting?

I know that they are working on the schedule, but now to organize such a meeting difficult. The problem is that with the recognition of documents “DNR”/”LNR”, the introduction of the ruble zone, the expropriation of the Ukrainian enterprises to Russia actually came out of the Minsk agreements. Speaking with people from the working groups (Norman Quartet – Ed.) Ukraine, France and Germany – players who are serious about the process, compliance and back to the steps that need to be done. Russian ignore the progress that has been achieved, reject all the good offers Ukraine, France and Germany. They do not respond to any ideas offered to them, a negative attitude to everything, even to such basic things as the ceasefire monitoring and withdrawal of troops. From the time of blasting of the car of the OSCE (April 23, as a result of undermining of a car of the OSCE SMM was killed in an American paramedic – Ed.) or we have no access or very limited access to the occupied territories. No one has access, and there are no reports about the situation in the occupied territories. All this suggests that we are moving away from the implementation of the Minsk agreements and Russia – the main culprit of this. Russia creates problems to Ukraine was not able to move forward in any direction. I can only recall the continuing daily shelling, which exert pressure on Poroshenko, because the Ukrainians continue to die at the front. The same with the exchange of prisoners. Since then, as traded Savchenko (people’s Deputy from “Batkivshchyna” Hope Savchenko on two Russian “grushnikov” – Ed.) there is no progress in this direction on the part of Russia no desire to participate in such negotiations nor to take concrete steps. Russia wants to destabilize the Ukrainian government and the government wants to shift to Ukraine all the blame for failure of Minsk.

So, we have talks, where the Europeans and the Ukrainians are trying to exert pressure on Moscow. But there was no talk about tightening sanctions pressure for access or sabotage by Russia of Minsk. As long as this continues, Russia will get the impression that she can get away with.

– What role Makron will play in the Normandy format? He can become a leader?

– I hope. Him and Merkel are on the same side and Norman in the Minsk negotiation process. Since then, trump became President, and the US actually came out of this process, Putin thinks he can do the same. Macron are a beginner, it can restart this process may challenge some things, saying, “you Know, I was not a part of this process from the very beginning, some things I can put under doubt.” It can be challenging to put additional pressure on Russia. Thus, it can reaffirm the dominant position of Europeans in this process. Merkel knows all the problems, but, unfortunately, in Germany the election campaign and the domestic front is becoming more problematic. This is now the difficulty for Germany.

– I mean, can the macron to take Merkel palm in the Normandy format?

– I think for both of them there is no leader status in the Normandy format. The Makron will have to form its foreign policy and to show the domestic audience that he is persistent and a skilled leader, and in the Normandy format would be able to show the result. For Merkel, a lot will depend on who she will go to the coalition, if you will be the next Chancellor. If we have a very divided coalition that will decide not to exert pressure on Russia and Minsk, then Merkel will be in a similar position today – is very weak. If it is in a coalition with other parties that share its views on the format of cooperation with Russia and Normandy, then the position of Merkel is much better, she will even be able to support Him or be the kind of leader to change the dynamics. Let’s wait for election day.

– Can Ukraine hopes to replace the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format to something better?

– May I give an analogy: pirates don’t release your vehicle until you capture the best. I do not think that the Minsk agreement is sacred diplomacy. They are weak, there is the possibility of double interpretations. But the only thing that we have to provide diplomatic and other pressure on Russia, to entrust to her the responsibility for the situation in the East of Ukraine. If someone has a better strategy… Merkel knows that Minsk is not the best on the planet, the people in her office for foreign Affairs know that the diplomacy of France and macron know it. Ideas on how to expand in the Donbas peacekeeping mission as to require a more accurate interpretation – all this was discussed at sessions of working groups (Norman Quartet – Ed.). The problem is that Russia always answers “NO.” So long as someone does not appear levers of pressure on Moscow to change its behaviour, nothing will change. And it does not depend on the order in which the format of the talks you have something to offer. You can offer anything in the format of the Minsk-3, you can propose amendments (to the Minsk agreements – Ed.) you can offer different roadmaps. This is not to say you don’t have the diplomatic leverage that will force Moscow to change their behavior. And, unfortunately, we have no such leverage. But that could change after the elections in Germany, let’s wait and see.

– Can States to join the Channel, or another format of talks with Russia on Donbass?

So far, I think the US shouldn’t do for certain reasons. States never expelled from the Norman format. The fact that Obama personally didn’t want to be a part of it. Protocol and international practice, you can’t delegate this issue to the diplomatic offices must engage heads of state and government. The presidential administration (Russia – Ed.) informally tied to the FSB and the GRU who control the war in the Donbass. The Russian foreign Ministry is absolutely useless. They can’t decide they have no leverage, they can’t change the policy, so their activity is absolutely meaningless. If (format – Ed.) no personally the US President and the White house as an institution involved in the process, they will need to delegate to the diplomatic offices, but then this whole process will become useless. As long as you have Lavrov at the negotiating table, you know that it can get nothing, as it solves nothing. Now the question is: do you want to have a trump and led the negotiations with Putin?

– The United States – the guarantor of the sovereignty and security of Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum.

– Yes, the United States one of the guarantors, but what to do with it, is very vague (a common opinion in international offices, in the Budapest Memorandum is not written out of the legal mechanisms for its implementation – Ed.). I don’t know whether trump raise this question. For German negotiators, it would be important to emphasize that Russia has violated a Memorandum to the residents understand what’s at stake. But I have no idea how trump will react to it.

– Trump and Putin held their first talks on the sidelines of the G20 in Hamburg. There is today in a trilateral format at the negotiating table will meet the presidents of Germany, France and Russia. The main issue on the agenda, Russian aggression against Ukraine. Can we say that according to the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format work, which we have not yet spoken?

– Yes, Ukraine is at the agenda of us-Russian, German-Russian and German-American negotiations. It is very difficult to understand how trump put his line (for Ukraine talks with Putin – Ed.). Yet McMaster (Herbert McMaster, Advisor to trump on national security – Ed.) and other key employees of the security service are very interested in this issue and continue to emphasize the negative role of Russia. Judging by the fact that about his meeting with trump said Tusk, as well as what was said in Poland, trump knows it too. This is a good sign. At the same time, Putin is a skilled liar, don’t underestimate him! Trump wants to cooperate with Russia in the fight against ISIS. Putin will try to pull that card in the direction of Ukraine. This meeting could get very unpredictable. Soon there will be a meeting of the Normandy four leaders, leaving only the date approved. At the moment there is no change, nothing new from what would have been discussed over the past two years, not spoken. The only surprise would be if someone could get Putin to move forward. But this is unlikely.

– So what’s the ultimate goal of Putin? To create another frozen conflict in the Donbass?

– Not a frozen conflict. Russia’s problem is that when it comes to Ukraine, she lives in her own world. Russian leaders believe that Ukrainians are Russians. So says the entire political elite of Russia, not just Putin and the Kremlin, but the opposition and a significant part of the political elite outside the Parliament. They used to think that Ukrainians and Russian – one people, one state that Ukraine’s independence is a “joke” that you want to cancel. They still perceive Ukraine as an elite, which is now in Ukraine, another oligarch who runs the country, who wants to promote your business in the West. And Russia just need to get rid of this specific oligarch, because the Ukrainians, mystical and theoretical people of Ukraine want to be part of Russia. This is nonsense. But the Russians believe in it. The Ukrainian elite, the economic and political elite, much less Pro-European set than most of the population of Ukraine. Therefore, any “Russification” of Ukraine met with immediate resistance of the people. But the Russians don’t see it.

Russia resorts to any strategy of destabilization, and the Donbass is part of the strategy of tension. They want to topple current Ukrainian government. They believe that they only need to get rid of the current political class and the window of Ukraine to Russia will open up again. The problem is that they use any opportunity to create unrest in Ukraine. Donbass on the one hand, and with another – corruption, disinformation, Subversion and attack other Russian tools of destabilization.

What was going on in the Minsk agreement? The Minsk agreement is a tool that allows you to buy time for Ukraine to become more trained, reformed and capable of defending itself from destabilizing and subversive actions. Minsk – this is not the end of the game. But it’s a diplomatic tool in this game. And you can lose on many fronts, one of which is Minsk, and other reforms, the judicial system and the stability of the state, which, in my opinion, more important. Nevertheless, the Russian destabilizing actions while people die on the front while their families, young fathers, friends and relatives continue to be held in Russian prisons in the worst conditions that you can imagine. This creates pressure on the government, and the Russians can hold them as hostages, using as a tool of destabilization. Let’s see how they treat people in the Donbass, they do not care about the region.

– Can Russia to Annex the already occupied districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions?

– I think not. Annexation is not included in the plans of Russia. For example, the recognition of passports “DNR”/LPR” due to the fact that Russia is actually struggling to manage these areas. And local so-called “separatists” are behind the process and can’t control “their government” is already doing the FSB and the GRU. For this they need to reward and integrate in a kind of kleptocratic economic structure. Solution (Putin – Ed.) based on the realities of Donbass and the balance between the various factions and thieves (in the “DNR”/LPR” – Ed.). Therefore, the annexation is not in the agenda. And even if it were, no one would know about it. Unfortunately, the Crimea and the Donbass, a rather protracted conflicts.

And very expensive for Russia.

– Expensive for Russia, but Ukraine too. This is a very long-running things. Compare with the Baltic States: U.S. will never recognize results of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And one of the outcomes was the end of the independence of the Baltic States. Ukrainians should not consider the Crimea and the Donbass as an obstacle for further movement to the West. On the other hand, the EU and the US should not take these regions as an obstacle to further cooperation with Ukraine. Sometimes it’s hard to see the plans in the minds of EU leaders. The key is to strengthen Ukraine, to make it an independent player, resilient and able to confront. The war in the Donbass is just a tool for Russia, to prevent a strong and independent Ukraine.

– Will we see some progress in the Normandy format before the presidential elections in Russia? How, in Your opinion, Putin’s regime will use the map of Donbass in his election campaign?

– Putin uses Crimea as a driving force of national glory and restore the pride. Threats related to the fact that election day was moved to the anniversary of the “Anschluss” (may, 24th the state Duma has postponed the day of presidential elections on the day of the annexation of Crimea by Russia on 18 March – Ed.). But the Donbass as subject to use during the election campaign, not very successful. Therefore, the Russian propaganda at home is silent on this matter. I think it (the use of the Kremlin themes of Donbas – Ed.) will primarily depend on Western pressure on Moscow. Putin controls all national media, he can talk about the Donbass what he likes. He has in this issue a free hand. If the West will exert strong pressure Putin to make concessions and tell their constituents that they were “mediators” in his success. If no pressure, Putin can use the escalation in the propaganda picture the face of threat, requiring a strong leader. He can turn the situation how they want.