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Setting the stage for the next “Normandy Format” meeting

August 20, 2015

Today Berlin will host an informal meeting of legal experts from the “Normandy Four” – also in attendance will be the Venice Commission – the aim is to explain to The Kremlin that the collective interpretation is that the proposed amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution regarding “decentralisation” fall squarely within the terms of the Minsk II agreement – despite the said amendments falling far short of what the Kremlin hoped to achieve via its Donbas adventure and the interpretation of Minsk II that the Kremlin has tried to force upon the “Normandy Four”.

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The Kremlin of course already knows that the proposed Ukrainian Constitutional amendments fall within the Minsk II agreement.  The entire point of the dramatically increased violence in the Donbas, and immense Kremlin diplomatic effort to have Germany and France pressure Kyiv into more concessions without any Kremlin reciprocity reflects an evermore frustrated Kremlin.

At the very least it has resulted in Germany calling the “Normandy Four” Berlin meeting on 24th August.

Taking into account the understanding of our Normandy Four partners that amendments to the Constitution suggested by Ukraine are in line with the Minsk agreements, the goal of the meeting is to explain legal aspects of the constitutional amendments to Russia.

As the people are the only source of power and holder of sovereignty in Ukraine.  The people execute their power directly and via representative agencies, and the decision on any amendments to the Constitution is made by the Verkhovna Rada. According to the Constitution, the right to establish and amend the constitutional order in Ukraine belongs only to the people and can’t be usurped by the state, its agencies or officials. Moreover – by a foreign state.

We’ll talk solely in the legal sphere on constitutional amendments, preliminary approved by the parliament and their being in line with the logic of the Minsk agreements, and thus the way to peace. But no one in Ukraine will adjust the Constitution to Russia’s wrongful understanding of the agreements.” – was the statement regarding today’s Berlin legal conclave.

(The Ukrainian representatives will be Serhiy Holovaty and Roman Bezsmertny.)

Fairly robust rhetoric designed, in short, to inform the Kremlin that there is no further room to try and frame interpretations their way, or that will further undermine what has already been conceded by way of concessions in previously weak negotiations.

This statement made simultaneously with a statement from NATO – a key paragraph being – “Russia has a special responsibility to find a political solution. Any attempt by the Russian-backed separatists to take over more of Ukraine’s territory would be unacceptable to the international community.

This infers more costs to the Kremlin for any further loss of territory.

The problem with this statement is that since Minsk II was signed Ukraine has continuously lost territory – a village here, a few kilometers of terrain there, the occasional town etc.  This should have been unacceptable to the international community already, but this continuous territorial creep has garnered no response.

Therefore so far, the “unacceptable” has in fact been acceptable – and de facto accepted.  The rhetoric empty.

Nevertheless it is seemingly designed to reinforce the aforementioned Berlin pre-messaging/framing – and perhaps post-Berlin outcomes.  The message being that the current Kremlin sponsored up-tick in violence will not gain further concessions, and Kremlin sponsored territorial punishment will not go without costs when no further meaningful concessions are forthcoming.

Whether such messaging will be duly noted remains to be seen.  Russian “humanitarian conveys” will be much more frequent with the increased speed at which ammunition is being expended by its troops and proxies in the Donbas.

A “hot” to “very hot” front line may well be ahead for the remainder of the year.

There are key political dates within Ukraine between now and year end which will be both presaged and latterly punished by the Kremlin when it does not get desired outcomes.  Front line “heat” will be accompanied by yet hotter political, diplomatic and economic pressure as important political dates come and go.

Few should be surprised that the 1st January EU-Ukraine DCFTA implementation date will also be accompanied by something approaching a synchronised (almost) complete ban of Ukrainian imports by the Kremlin – and a Donbas “winter offensive” of sorts – to express its displeasure.

Kyiv needs to hold its political and diplomatic nerve – and the Ukrainian military hold the line.  The rest of the year will be characterised as much – if not more so – by a battle of governance as it will be a seemingly ever “hot” front line.

Nevertheless, in attempting to preset the stage/pre-frame the 24th August Berlin meeting in a way that implies limited scope for yet further pocketed concessions for the Kremlin, a very very “hot” front line can be expected this weekend.

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