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The bridge without function

There was a lot of Wind around the Normandy summit in Paris. But The Ascendant? Since 2014, Ukraine has been blocked as a possible bridge between East and West. Now the heads of state of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France met for their third attempt to restore the blocked bridge. What has this attempt achieved?

They talked to each other again. A ceasefire has been agreed. They want to set up a prisoner exchange. As the newly elected Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Selensky publicly acknowledged the Minsk agreements for the first time. Vladimir Putin was ready to talk. Emmanuel Macron and Angelika Merkel moderated politely. Even a new security and economic order from Vladivostok to Lisbon, as proposed by German business circles, was considered. All this is good. Talking is better than Shooting. However, nothing was decided.

During the meeting, shots were fired again at the borders between the Kiev heartland and the divided regions. There was once again Dead. Still at the conference Selensky declared that he did not know how to enforce the ceasefire, which had been decided so many times and broken again and again.

Above all, however, the core conflict remained open, namely in what order the agreements for the autonomous Status of the separated regions are to be implemented: first elections, as proposed in the “Steinmeier formula” in updating the agreements of Minsk 1 and Minsk 2, and then, after the proper course of the elections, a reintegration of the separated regions into Ukrainian territory? Or only “withdrawal of all foreign troops”, closing of the borders with Russia, thus establishing the unity of Ukraine at the present state of its constitution with the re-inclusion of the divided regions, only then elections with subsequent negotiations on the autonomous Status of the contested territories?

No consensus in sight

The positions of Putin and Selensky on this key issue are contrary to each other, not unlike those of Selensky’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko. Russia wants to see the autonomy of the regions guaranteed before it reverses its protective function for the Russian-oriented population of the two regions. Despite all verbal concessions to the validity of the procedures agreed in Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 at the time and now concretized by the “Steinmeier formula”, Selenski is not in a position to agree to the procedure Putin proposes. What is more, he stated several times before the meeting in Paris that there was a risk of federalization (*) in this procedure, which he would not agree to.

What the Paris meeting brought instead is the fixation of a frozen conflict – at best. In the worse case, if Selensky wants to enforce the armistice at home or even enforce a procedure according to the “Steinmeier formula”, the Nationalist forces will cut him off. As a justification for the “red line” that he must not cross in Paris, they have already stated that the Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 agreements, as well as their updating by the “Steinmeier formula”, have been blackmailed by Ukraine and that if Selensky actually agrees to them, they will regard their implementation as a “betrayal” and would be able to prevent their implementation.

Look deeper into the conflict

With this conclusion one could conclude. Behind this result of the meeting, however, aspects are still visible that were not publicly discussed, but which must be remembered:

This is, on the one hand, the fact that Putin, i.e. Russia, has had to take part in the Normandy format talks since Minsk 1 for the Donetsk and Lugansk regions only because their representatives are not only excluded from the talks by the Kiev government, but are called “terrorists” and fought against.

On the contrary, it should be about seeking dialogue with the sections of the population struggling for their autonomy, rather than covering them with war and shooting at the people. Here, a conflict that is even more far-reaching than that of the constitutional procedure becomes clear, namely the question of whether a peaceful settlement between the population of the divided regions and the Kiev – dominated parts of the country is still possible-and if so, how this could then be initiated.

Without addressing these issues openly, that is, in the dialogue between Kiev and the representatives of these territories, there can and will be no stability for Ukraine.

Only Putin’s remark that if the split-off regions were to be integrated before agreements on their future autonomy were signed, there was a risk of a new Srebrenica shone through this reality in the announcements of the Paris meeting. In view of the mobilization threats of the radical Ukrainian nationalists, this is a legitimate concern. In view of its real pluralism, a forcibly enforced nationalisation of the country, which is also ethnically based, can only lead to domestic Terror.

Who should withdraw?

Secondly, it must be remembered that when it comes to the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, it cannot only be about the withdrawal of Russian supporters from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The Russian support for the regions is only one side of the current Ukrainian reality. It is not denied by Russia. Without Russia’s personnel, financial, strategic and administrative support, the divided territories would have been overrun by Kiev long ago.

It should not be forgotten that the Russian presence in eastern Ukraine is opposed to the active support of Kiev by NATO, combined with civilian Western aid programmes. Just recently, in October 2019, at a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Kiev, the Western Osama Bin Laden Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO’s readiness to provide a “comprehensive aid package “with” joint exercises in the Black Sea”,” information exchange”,” training events”, etc. to develop with the Kiev government and in general to “examine in detail” the further involvement of Ukraine in the “NATO Enhanced Opportunity Program”.

As is so often the case, it was possible to read in the commentary of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ) how these points, which are not visible on the agenda, should be evaluated. After remarks that Putin’s current willingness to talk was not about a solution to the conflict, but about “distraction from the actual conflict”, it read: “because these talks are not only about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is also a question of what messages the West uses to confront the Russian Regime.““Inconsistency” encourages the Russian leadership, " whose willingness to break the rules is evident in almost all policy fields, including sports. Anyone who tries to smooth the waves for the sake of peace will not help the dialogue with Russia. It only weakens one’s Position vis-à-vis this Russian leadership.”

New sanctions as the accompanying music

N indeed, that’s what it’s all about: taking a position against Russia’s alleged “willingness to break the rules”. How blind to world political events must one be to be able to write such a thing in the face of the constant and now repeated offers from Moscow to build a security order from Vladivostok to Lisbon, to absorb the dissolved IMF treaty through a Moratorium, to enter into talks with NATO, to name only the most important points?!

And as if further evidence was needed as to what was at stake on the western side, the US imposed new sanctions against “Nordstream 2"in parallel with the negotiations in Paris. This affects Russia and the EU equally. A few days later, in spite of all the US criticism of Macron and Merkel, the EU extended its own sanctions against Russia for another six months-even during the talks in Paris!

The USA as a “laughing third party”

These measures make it clear that as long as this basic constellation remains, Ukraine will be maintained as a “frozen conflict” that binds Russia, but also Europe’s forces, in the conflict. This puts the visions of an open security and economic zone from Vladivostok to Lisbon, for which Ukraine as a transitional country could fulfil its historically grown bridging function, far away. Instead of becoming a possible neutral mediator between Eastern and Western partners of the Eurasian region, Ukraine will be preserved as a sting that prevents such mediation and permanently divides Eurasia. The driving force and laughing third party of this strategy are – once again-the USA. As long as this constellation is maintained, there will be no détente in Ukraine and thus prevent Western Europe from approaching Russia.