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Savchenko in Minsk

December 12, 2016

As much as this blog was going to avoid comment upon Nadya Savhcenko’s meeting in Minsk with the leaders of the “DNR” Alexandr Zaharchenko, “LNR” Igor Plotnitsky, and Russian interlocutors on 7th December, too many emails, private messages and direct messages have arrived asking for comment that careful and limited comment there will be.

Firstly it has to be recognised that daily Ukrainian soldiers still die on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.  It may well be the case that those on the opposite side also suffer daily fatalities, though no figures are announced daily like those of the Ukrainian military.  Also Minsk, a framework document that has failed to deliver anything approaching a ceasefire (where the fire actually ceases) since its agreement more than 2 years ago and thus remains diplomatically alive only in the absence of any alternative – and indeed that alternative may actually be worse than continuing with the sham of Minsk.

However, at the very least, those freed following negotiations under Minsk will not consider the process a complete failure when their very freedom comes as a result.

Nevertheless it cannot be claimed that the process has been anything other than a failure in the eyes of many.

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Having met Nadya Savchenko a few times (the last time in June), with regard to her character of the many insights gleaned, and for the purposes of this entry, it is sufficient to note her strong willed personality – so strong that being an “institutional and/or team player” would clearly be secondary.  These character traits alone, as an entry from May made very clear, are not those particularly welcome within the Batkivshchyna Party.

Those personality traits and the fact that as a parliamentarian she has absolute immunity (and impunity) with regard the law, has the potential for some to be somewhat wary of unpredictable and or predictable but unstoppable acts.  (She can, as all other parliamentarians, do what she likes, when she likes, and without (immediate) legal repercussions until such time as parliamentary immunity is lifted by the Verkhovna Rada or her mandate expires.)

Ergo how and who could stop Nadya Savchenko from going to Minsk (other than Belarus)?

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as party discipline and Yulia Tymoshenko cannot afford to be seen as a weak leader of what is in effect nothing more than a Batkivshchyna Party that is political vehicle solely for promoting Yulia Tymoshenko.

Indeed, of Nadya Savchenko’s Minsk adventure, Batkivshchyna have stated they “consider unacceptable any negotiations with the leaders of “DNR” and “LC” and MP N.Savchenko did not coordinate her actions with the factions and parties, and has recently announced her participation in the new political project.”

That said, she is a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party, and has unquestionably gone against the party line that is repeatedly and unambiguously on record.  The “distancing” in the above Batkivshchyna statement is not the same thing as party discipline, nor instigating disciplinary measures within the party for such a blatant departure from the party line.

However, to remove her from the party having been elected upon the party list (as No1 before Yulia Tymoshenko due to populist electioneering when Ms Savchenko was still incarcerated in Russia) opens the way for Ms Savchenko to lose her parliamentary status (as happened to former parliamentarians Mykola Tomenko and Igor Firsov per Article 81 of the Constitution).

The expected and inevitable dilemma for Ms Tymoshenko (foreseen in the May entry linked above) as to just how much she will allow herself (and Batkivshchyna) to be tarred with the undisciplined Ms Savchenko brush once again presents itself.

Dilemma!  What political cost to dealing with Ms Savchenko’s disregard for the party line by disciplinary measures, vis a vis looking weak for not doing so?

Further the SBU is now playing catch up – Yuri Tandit of the SBU making clear that they are now collecting and collating information regarding the Minsk meetings of Nadya Savchenko after the fact.

Nevertheless what’s done is done – and may well happen again (and again).

Ms Savchenko justifies her trip by stating “We must do our best, each of us, to take our heroes home even if we will have to pay those who shoot at us”, saying of President Poroshenko “He, like all of us, wants to pick up our children from captivity and the political prisoners from of Russia.  I am confident that the president on his level of doing everything possible to make this happen as quickly as possible.”

Well fair enough – or is it?

Why shouldn’t she do what she thinks she can?

Putting aside the issue of ugly optics and being seen to be negotiating with the public faces and “leaders” of the “Republics” directly (rather than indirectly and through “channels” as is standard fare, and for good reason of “legitimising” the other parties) there are issues of both her legitimacy and also wider coordination.  (That she has done this at the very least may now make her a “useful idiot” in a wider Kremlin secret service operation.)

And it is perhaps coordination that matters the most.

Ms Savchenko states that she traveled to Minsk on her personal Ukrainian passport and not her diplomatic passport.  Whether or not this is meant to infer a personal and not “official Nadya Savchenko MP” dialogue with the “leaders” of the “Republics” is a matter of perception.  As such, when it comes to framing, were any “negotiations” unofficially official (though they appear unsanctioned officially or tacitly), or were they officially unofficial to which any “negotiation” (whether it may or may not reap results) raises the question of what was “given” and “taken” in that negotiation and the ability, particularly by Ms Savchenko, to deliver thereafter.

Perhaps yet more problematic is that it may well be that this becomes a channel or negotiating format of choice for one side but not the other – thus undermining the negotiating formats that are already accepted and working.  Differences between official and unofficial channels may very well complicate matters further and also be deliberately used to frustrate progress by any party concerned in negotiations when those differences are exploited.  The potential nightmare scenario may arise where with insufficient care and coordination there is a real possibility that due to deliberate, or unintentional, mishandling of negotiations, those detained could be held for far longer than would otherwise have been the case.

If this was indeed a personal pilgrimage (well meaning as it may have been) there are real risks as well as potential rewards as a result.

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Whatever was negotiated and/or agreed may actually be counterproductive to any (or all recent progress) by the officially nominated trilateral groups.  Indeed it may be that an individual uncoordinated effort with such a focus on a specific issue distorts or blinds to the wider negotiating policy repercussions both in the immediate and longer term.

Further, even if Ms Savchenko’s personal and seemingly unofficial interjection delivers any much welcomed prisoner releases, that does not necessarily mean political gains for Ms Savchenko in the long term.  Many of her actions and statements have already raised red flags in some quarters in Ukraine – for her to succeed swiftly where 2 years of negotiations where heavyweights the like the OSCE, Messrs Kuchma and Gryzlov et al have delivered little, may raise as many (if not more) red flags as it would potential voters.

Time will tell how this plays out for Ms Savchenko, how Batkicshchyna (Ms Tymoshenko) deal with this, how much the SBU and the official negotiators will learn of the “negotiations” (and as importantly the resulting interpretations of all those present), and perhaps most critically for those already working so hard to release, whether there will be results within the parameters they have been asked to remain within.

Perhaps, considering the high profile Ms Savchenko has, what a reader may ponder most is that if Ukraine felt she was the most suitable of people to be directly involved in such negotiations then she most certainly would be – and that she isn’t may well say all that needs to be said.

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