Archive for March 2nd, 2017

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A new negotiating format for Donbas? (UK and Poland throw in their hats)

March 2, 2017

That the Minsk document was never going to be implemented was clear even before the ink had dried – as stated by the blog at the time.

That the second amended Minsk outcomes would be just as dead in the water before the ink dried was also clear – and stated by the blog at the time.

That Minsk remains an inanimate corpse that no necromancer can bring back from the dead either in spirit or in body remains equally clear.  In 3 years there has not been so much as a ceasefire where the fire actually ceases.  The prospects for that changing in 2017 remain about as low as winning the national lottery.

Indeed the usual marked up-tick that comes with each August approaches.  The Guns of August are beginning to become an annual event where the fighting reaches new heights for the year it occurs within.

This year however, it will occur against a backdrop of the 100th anniversary of the first ever colour revolution – that of 1917.  That revolution toppled Tsarist Russia and inserted 7 decades Communist mismanagement and atrocities instead.

Clearly The Kremlin has absolutely no idea how to handle the commemoration of this event.  President Putin is undoubtedly a “White Russian”  and not a “Red”.  The Kremlin is no fan of colour revolutions.  What to do and how to do it?

Quite how it will manipulate this 100th anniversary in line with its continuous institutional history warping remains to be seen, but as it is almost certain that the politicians and security services will be doing the thinking and not the historians with regard to whatever commemorations take place and the framing of them, it seems all too prickly domestically.

Ergo diversions remain very necessary – with Ukraine (and perhaps Belarus) being likely unfortunate diversionary foreign theatre for the domestic audience.

That and finally putting the moth-eaten and rotting corpse of Lenin in the ground would also perhaps capture the attention of the domestic audience for a short while.

These events take place only a few months prior to the March 2018 Russian presidential elections.  That President Putin will win is beyond doubt.  The official results will be whatever The Kremlin dictates them to be.  What will interest the Kremlin is the true polling figures by demographic and constituency – rather than those released for public consumption.

Meanwhile the occupied Donbas remains part of a much wider exhaustive, coercive war against Ukraine.  One in which those coercive objectives currently remain far from achieved.  It is a war that will continue to be waged against Ukraine for a decade, perhaps two, into the future – even if the fighting ceased and the Donbas situation was effectively frozen by The Kremlin, political, economic and cultural battles will vigorously continue.

In France, it appears that Marie Le Penn is set to be defeated in the second round of voting by either the odious Mr Fillon or the least of the French evils, Mr Macron.  With those election due toward the end of April it is questionable that any “Normandy Format” talks will occur until those elections have past and a new French President (perhaps with more energy) assumes office.

For whose benefit that new energy will be used remains to be seen – and thus “Normandy Four” talks are unlikely in the coming weeks and months.

It is probable that there will only be “Normandy Four” talks post the French elections – and perhaps several meetings prior to the German elections which will again come to naught – at the very least keeping the corpse of Minsk relevant in the absence of anything else will continue.

As for the US, perhaps by summer its foreign policy will start to become clearer, and debilitating still vacant institutional positions slowly filled – or not.  Whatever the case it seems likely that for the foreseeable 6 months US engagement/involvement in any negotiating format will remain behind the curtain – if it occurs at all in any meaningful way.  As the blog stated last year, it seemed likely that the US involvement would be handed off to somebody else – Poland being the candidate the blog identified.

Lo, with so much going on for all parties concerned (directly or otherwise) the corpse of Minsk will be temporarily embalmed in the short term – and recognised albeit still dead a couple of months from now when policy necrophilia will recommence.

However, the UK and Poland on 2nd March have made public an offer to create a new negotiating format during a joint visit to Kyiv by the respective Foreign Ministers – “We have not agreed to the new format, but, of course, as I said, we will evaluate the results of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, as well as an assessment of “Normandy format”.  We hope for the opportunity to open a discussion about the new resolution format. But the answer to this is definitely for Pavel Klimkin (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine), President Poroshenko and the Ukrainian authorities.”

In summary, a reader might understand that to say that Minsk is a corpse and the Normandy format had produced far too little to be considered much of a useful platform for the future.  Give us the opportunity to do something else, or at least do things a different way.

Hmmm.

Certainly every policy requires review.

The first thought that comes to mind for many readers will be, why would Russia agree to any new negotiating format with two nations that are historically distrusting and hawkish toward it?

To be seen to sit peer to peer (no matter how distrusting and hawkish the US may be toward Russia) with the US thrashing out a deal over Ukraine is good “power optics”.  That such a deal would not work given that Ukraine now has a more robust agency of its own (with its own coercive ability) compared to 2014/15 doesn’t effect the optics of sitting one to one at the big table with the White House.

For The Kremlin to now sit down with Poland and UK presents no significant change in optics to the existing German-French duo – both of which have far less hawkish positions – unless face to face truculence with two other capitals counts as ending any perceived isolation.

(Neither nation are exactly poster children for any form of Ostpolitik.  Neither are debilitated by a coalition partner historically soft on Russia as Angela Merkel has had to reconcile.)

It is clearly a Polish/UK initiative made public too – for the response of Ukraine via FM Klimkin was certainly cautious – “When three friends meet, get together – this is not necessarily the formal start of the new format, but it is certainly the beginning of the new joint efforts.”

The question for Ukraine is what is gained by pushing a new negotiating format with the UK and Poland over and above the existing French-German format – and what is lost by ditching the French and Germans for the British and the Poles – even if The Kremlin was amenable to a new negotiating format?

What is the US position regarding any new format considering its behind the curtain liaison with the Franco-Germanic negotiators these past few years?  (Does the US even have a position on this issue, and did the Brits and Poles even bother to forewarn the US over its now public offer?)

What drives the British-Polish offer when both are currently subject to the combined “tutting” of Brussels?  A way to irk Berlin, Paris and Brussels, or a way to perhaps sooth them?  Is it a matter of being seen to be doing something, even if nothing actually gets done, to mitigate the ire of other European capitals and institutions or provoke them?

Is it that both see some domestic advantage in becoming parties to a more diplomatically adversarial negotiating format with The Kremlin as a diversion to other European and/or domestic issues?

Is it perhaps that London and Warsaw simply see the need for new impetus despite recognising that this is a war of exhaustion that will continue for a decade and more?  Is there a line of thinking that having recognised a war of exhaustion, the Europeans can perhaps “tag-team” its negotiators across the coming decade whereby The Kremlin cannot.  Therefore the corpse of Minsk remaining on display and regularly visited in its mausoleum yet never quite buried in the absence of anything else.

Perhaps both UK and Poland see this as in some way raising their profile in the Trump White House – both by way of their combined offer and if it be subsequently accepted further along the passage of time?

Blessed be the peacemaker perhaps, but as both Poland and the UK know well, peace at any cost is not peace but an armistice that will eventually fail – and a bad peace is what is on offer via Minsk – so what issues drive this joint initiative, why was it made public when Ukraine had clearly not agreed to it (nor seemingly enthused to entertain it) and why now?

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