Posts Tagged ‘France’

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Kremlin offers gas at $180 – Ukraine signs a deal with Engie (France)

October 28, 2016

Following President Putin’s very predictable monologue at the Valdai gathering, that day he also made a statement regarding Russian gas prices for Ukraine, should Ukraine decide to buy Russian gas once again.

Nowadays, the price of Ukraine won’t be higher than that for the neighboring states, namely for Poland. I’m not aware of actual prices, but at the moment of our conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Poland was buying gas at $184-185 per 1,000 cubic meters on contractual terms. We could sell [gas] to Ukraine at $180. I named the price – $180 per 1,000 cubic meters.

We have discussed the issue of gas shipments to Ukraine with the president of Ukraine at his initiative. He asked whether Russia could resume the shipments. Certainly, it could, at any second. Nothing additional is needed – we’ve got a contract and an addenda to it. The only thing required is prepayment.

As far as I know, the price of gas for the ultimate industrial consumer in Ukraine already exceeds $300 per 1,000 cubic meters. We offer a price of $180, but they don’t want to buy from us yet.

Let it be – let them work. The main thing is that they could ensure transit supplies to European countries.

(He also commented upon the “illegalities” of Ukraine buying from western sources “which is a violation of a contract between Gazprom and its western counteragents” and to which Russia “had turned a blind eye.” and inferred to a return of  dubious”middle men” between Ukraine and western suppliers.)

 

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At the same time, Prime Minister Groisman was in France.

During this visit a deal was signed with French energy company Engie regarding supply and the reservation of transport and underground storage facilities operated by UkrTransGaz in Ukraine – the deal commencing this winter.

Since mid-2015 Engie has become a major supplier of gas to Ukraine, predominantly via Naftogaz, delivering approximately 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas.  Indeed Engie intends to open a subsidiary in Ukraine.

Thus far, despite quite significant legislative changes in the Ukrainian energy sector to bring it toward EU Third Energy Package compliance and Association Agreement obligations, the Ukrainian energy market has remained impenetrable to external market players.

The proposed privatisation of Centroenergo in 2017, whilst certainly of interest to dubious Ukrainians such as Igor Kononenko (who seems to be filling key positions within the company with “his people”), presents the best and swiftest opportunity for the energy market to receive a competent foreign entrant assuming control and ownership of assets and production in Ukraine – which will cause waves in the corrupt and opaque trough of Ukrainian energy from which no self-respecting oligarch fails to drink one way or another.

Clearly the Engie subsidiary, unless it becomes more than an “on-site” import management entity requires little investment and negligible risk – unlike the purchase of Centroenergo.

Nevertheless, there is a certain degree of symbolism to the French Engie opening a subsidiary in Ukraine which a reader can expect will be embellished for the purposes of political expediency.  Much more to the point however, is a clear move in the direction of a consolidated and irreversible diversification of energy supply for Ukraine.

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Normandy Four – 19th October

October 12, 2016

Having not mentioned the “Minsk document” for some time, and on the last occasion being/remaining somewhat dismissive, the Normandy Four will meet in Berlin on 19th October.

That the meeting occurs when President Putin was originally due to be in Paris (opening a new Russian Orthodox Church among other things) boils down to the fact that France accused the Kremlin of war crimes in Syria and wanted the bilateral agenda to focus accordingly – an agenda which President Putin was not going to accept.  Thus the Paris trip was called off and the 19th October witnesses a gathering of the Normandy Four to discuss The Kremlin’s denied war in eastern Ukraine.

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That said it seems unlikely that President Putin would head to Berlin and a Normandy Four meeting without something to talk about – and The Kremlin will only talk if it believes that its agenda upon its terms will be furthered.

The options for his attending may be one of PR for domestic (and certain foreign) audiences turning out to be nothing more than a photo op to belie the impression of isolation and/or complete belligerence but that seems less likely than there being something to talk about (on Kremlin terms).

It may also be that the Kremlin thinking is that it is overdue another round of “make it, break it, counter-accuse” negotiation made in bad faith.

Kremlin momentum is currently behind forcing Ukraine to adopt an election law for the occupied territories prior to Ukraine regaining control over its borders.  Both Germany and France whose diplomats have hardly gained any concessions from The Kremlin in more than 2 years of talks seem to have decided that when faced with a belligerent Kremlin it is far easier to press Ukraine to therefore meet Kremlin terms with regard to Minsk event scheduling.

A reader may perceive this (rightly) to be a reflection of the problem of handing policy to diplomats who instinctively want to talk (and prize contacts highly) whilst simultaneously displaying an unwavering and almost principled refusal to learn from experience when it comes to interaction with the current Kremlin.

The out-going US Administration with only 2 months left in office also seems to suffer the same western diplomatic stubbornness when it comes to refusing to accept that the only terms acceptable to The Kremlin are its own – particularly in what it still firmly believes to be its rightful and indisputable sphere of influence.

It is also a US Administration that would like to leave office with something of a foreign policy gain to hand on to those that will follow.

As such this twilight US Administration is going to be tempted to also quietly push Ukraine toward the Kremlin terms regarding the adoption of an election law for the occupied Donbas – even if the US political class more broadly is far more unlikely to agree with such maneuvering in accordance with Kremlin terms.  After all, officially the US is not involved in the “Minsk document” or associated negotiations, so the ability to blame Paris, Berlin, Moscow or Kyiv for any failures to solutions it may quietly push exists and may blunt wider US political unease at such a strategy.

Ukraine for its part has actually managed to defend its current diplomatic position for more than a year when it comes to a ceasefire actually commencing and in which the fire actually ceases, the verified removal of Kremlin personnel and weaponry, and the regaining of control over its borders occur before passing election laws and establishing the conditions of holding free and fair elections.

At no point during the past two years has The Kremlin actually bothered to progress “Minsk” issues over which it has control.  To be entirely blunt, the immediate future and beyond also provides little reason for the Kremlin to seriously pursue doing so either.

Further, The Kremlin’s “conversation” with the current US Administration is over – unless that conversation relates to unilateral US concessions, either directly (Syria) or by influence over third parties (Ukraine), to Kremlin interests.  Both existing and new levers will currently be being prepared for use upon the in-coming US Administration in the New Year.  Kremlin contempt for the current US Administration is crystal clear.

A reader may therefore ponder the content of any on-going Surkov-Nuland diplomacy with regard to Ukraine.  It seems unlikely that they would be unambiguously to the benefit of the Ukrainian State if any negotiating ground is to be given to The Kremlin that forces the order of “Minsk” implementation per a Kremlin list of priorities.

The 19th October therefore may be a severe test of the Ukrainian position if “progress at any cost” tops the German, French, Russian and behind the curtain US agenda – for “any cost” will be borne by President Poroshenko who is eyeing ever-poor popularity figures while already positioning for a run at a second term.

If the assumptions described above are even halfway accurate and Ukraine is forced to cede to a Kremlin led Minsk implementation timetable (which The Kremlin probably wouldn’t fulfill on its part), what wiggle room is available to the Ukrainians regarding any proposed law that would stand even the remotest chance of getting through a Verkhovna Rada vote?

(A reader will note that this is a statutory law requiring 226 majority rather than any Constitution changing vote that will simply not see the required 300+ votes no matter how much money or coercion was offered to vote “the right way” to amend the basic law of the land.)

Firstly the Ukrainian State and any “special” statutory electoral legislation has to try to avoid stating a definitive date around which circumstances can and will be manipulated.  Rather, it may be prudent to consider a definitive set of circumstances that automatically trigger the election date.

A definitive set of circumstances may include a consolidating and verifiable time period based upon an absolute and verified ceasefire.  For example 100 days (or whatever) from a complete and strictly observed ceasefire becomes election day.  Any breach of ceasefire resets that clock.

During the electioneering Ukrainian and international media has full and free access to the occupied Donbas.  Should that freedom be curtailed, the 100 day clock is reset.

International election observers have unconditional access during the electioneering period, on election day, and during vote counts – which in turn demands a security environment that facilitates such freedoms.  Any failure resets the election day clock.

Who can actually vote needs to be unambiguously stated.  Perhaps only those voters registered in the occupied territories on 1st January 2014 in order to avoid “constituency stuffing”.  IDPs wherever their location, if registered as a genuine resident upon any specified historical registered voter date will need to be afforded the maximum opportunity to vote – be they displaced within Ukraine or have left for other nations (including Russia).

In short it could be possible to write an election law that may possibly be forced, coerced and bought through the Verkhovna Rada and that possess enough “snap-back clauses” to prevent a volatile reaction among the more militant of Ukrainians, and which would also avoid the most serious of political damage within the majority of the Ukrainian constituency.

Naturally the Kremlin would not be keen on such a law, but it may be enough to appease the “friends of Ukraine” all of whom have domestic political reasons to push the Minsk timetable and proclaim “successes” no matter how small, and yet avoid being perceived to cave into the Kremlin.

(For the sake of sarcasm – Alternatively, following the experience of the Budapest Memorandum, perhaps Ukraine should agree to a Kremlin timetable only and exclusively under the explicit guarantee (not assurances or other woolly terminology) from Berlin, Paris and Washington that should the Kremlin fail to abide, a very specific set of actions would occur.  Naturally none would agree to providing such guarantees when there is no trust in the current Kremlin – so why should Ukraine be any more trusting?)

As 19th October is unlikely to be a PR exercise for President Putin, and neither is any pretense at being constructive likely to seriously influence western capitals regarding sanctions or increased top level interaction, there is probably something else that brings President Putin to the Normandy Four gathering.  Thus questions as to what degree of further concessions and/or appeasement does he expect, what if any will be given with regard to and/or by Ukraine, and what is the substance of any Surkov-Nuland deals behind the curtain?

Will there be another Normandy Four meeting before the year end?

If so will there be yet another official rolling over of “Minsk” as there was last year?  Will somebody within the EU see any wisdom in loosening the rhetoric that ties sanctions to “Minsk” if its rolling over is not to occur but it is instead finally pronounced dead?  Do such sanctions die if “Minsk” to which they are consistently rhetorically tied dies?

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Nadiya Savchenko and Minsk

March 30, 2016

In recent days the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova commented upon demands for the prompt release of Nadiya Savchenko following the end of her show trial, under the provisions of Minsk (I and II).

She stated thus “Russia is not a party to the Minsk Agreements. These agreements only concern two sides that are part of the conflict.

We have the responsibility to influence the parties of the conflict exactly the same way as France or Germany should influence Kiev. That’s all, we owe nothing more.”

For the sake of clarity, the tripartite liaison group charged with resolving technicalities, on 12th February 2015 negotiated the following – “Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons, based on the principle of “all for all”. This process has to end – at the latest – on the fifth day after the pullout of weapons.”

More than a year later whilst there have been occasional prisoner swaps, the pullout of weapons is yet to occur, so whether or not Nadiya Savchenko would have been included in the Minsk process, the basic conditions for an “all for all” swap are still far from being realised.  That notwithstanding any swap involving Ms Savchenko will probably be for high profile prisoners in exchange, not necessarily from within Ukraine.  Moscow still prides itself on getting its most (in)famous prisoners home after all – wherever they may be incarcerated.

Ever since the Minsk text was formulated, this blog has frequently lamented the fact it is was fatally flawed from the very outset by allowing Russia to sit at the table with the same standing as France and Germany – as negotiator and/or mediator – but unrecognised as a party to the conflict that it undoubtedly is.

A reader perhaps would question why such a negotiator and/or mediator would be subject to international sanctions for its part in the Donbas war, but apparently such considerations have no impact upon the status given The Kremlin in the Minsk document or negotiation formats.

Thus, it is simply policy necrophilia to continue try and force Ukraine to follow the Minsk text in the unlikely event of it managing to fully implement its part, to then be left with the hope that The Kremlin will then do the same.  Whatever political embellishments President Poroshenko may be telling his western peers, the fact is that he is a long way short of the 300 parliamentary votes required within the Verkhovna Rada to change the constitution allowing Ukraine to fully meet its obligations outlined in the Minsk document.  Indeed his political party currently does not even manage to lead a coalition that can gather the 226 votes necessary to pass basic statute.

This clearly being the case, this blog has stated that the focus of “The West” should be on pressuring Ukraine to reform and not pressuring Ukraine to adhere to the text of Minsk.

“Indeed only the foolish (or perhaps The Kremlin) would expect Ukraine to fully implement its Minsk obligations in the current circumstances within the occupied Donbas.  “The West” would be far better off publicly stating that it understands that is the situation and thus publicly lean less on Ukraine to fulfill such obligations while the circumstances remain significantly unchanged, and lean far harder on Ukraine to reform instead.

Perhaps such a shift in “Western” messaging would change the Kremlin calculus somewhat.  The entirety of “western” political and diplomatic energy pushing a reformed Ukraine, with less pressure regarding Minsk would at the very least raise eyebrows in Moscow.  Unless the situation changes dramatically regarding ceasefires and the ability to hold elections that in current circumstances would forever sully the reputation of the OSCE, it is policy folly.  Such a messaging shift would inevitably mean Kyiv actually moving “westward” slightly faster than it is doing.  As The Kremlin cares far more about the Ukrainian shift “westward”, and cares nothing about the occupied Donbas should it fail be to an effective lever over Kyiv, it is possible such a change in messaging could have an effect – or not.”

The above quote most recent example of many written here urging the need for western refocus in an attempt to force recalculation elsewhere.

However, Ukraine, like Russia and the “Republics”, have no legal obligation to adhere to the Minsk Agreement (I or II) – which is something that probably requires highlighting once more, lest we forget.

Far too often the Minsk Agreement is touted with the inference that it is somehow a binding legal document that cannot be broken.  It is not.  There are numerous legal international instruments, treaties and laws that have been broken in respect of Ukraine, all by Russia, but Minsk is not one of them – even if Russia were a fully recognised party to the conflict within the document.

Disregarding the Minsk document may be morally wrong (or not), but it is not unlawful to do so.

Neither Minsk I or II have any legal standing whatsoever.  It legally binds nobody to anything.  It is not even a signed and certified document enforceable by law comparable to the most basic of legal contracts.  It carries no signatures of the conflicting parties (recognised or unrecognised).  It has been ratified by no parliament.  It is therefore not a document that has been deposited with any international body or has any domestic power.  It is text.  It is a document listing bullet points along a possible path to the return (prima facie) to international laws and treaties – despite the perilous repercussions that its implementation would have internally for Ukrainian sovereignty as the text stands, if and when territorial integrity is returned.  It is a framework document, not a legal framework.

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The word “Agreement” is something of a misnomer to begin with.  It would be better identified as the Minsk Document or the Minsk Text.  “Agreement” masks the fact that Ukraine was coerced through both hard and soft Kremlin power, to concede its legitimate and lawful sovereign rights.  “Agreement” tends to soften the perceptions through the passage of time of what was, and remains, a serious violation Ukraine.  Minsk is a text forced upon Ukraine under duress.

In two years the Minsk document/text has not managed to secure even a ceasefire.  The closest it came to doing so was when Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande made it clear following a meeting in Paris that they were prepared to declare Minsk dead, prompting The Kremlin to turn down the heat for a while at the time when it had few other avenues to sit at the international table.  It’s actions in Syria have now changed that somewhat, thus allowing for Kremlin disregard of the Minsk text once again.

Further underscoring the absence of any binding legality of the Minsk text was The Kremlin’s clear desire to disregard and circumvent the Normandy Four (and lesser negotiation committees) and seek parlance directly with the USA via the ill-fated Nuland-Surkov channel initiated at the Kaliningrad meeting of January 2016..  No sooner was that channel opened than it was closed, with Berlin making robust representations to Washington and President Obama pulling that plug (no doubt to the ire of Ms Nuland).

A reader may ponder whether in pulling that plug the White House had already decided that no solution would be reached during the final months of an Obama presidency (ergo 2016) and therefore it saw no reason to become directly involved when reality suggests it would probably become an unfinished foreign policy legacy for any new president, or whether it was done to save face for Frank-Walter Steinmeier whose fumbling of the issues has thus far led the western response.  Any Nuland-Surlov solution would hardly be a fitting final chapter for his memoirs as he nears the end of his career.

All of the above said, and in full recognition that the Minsk document has no legal standing, and was necessarily born of entirely illegal Kremlin actions within Ukraine, a reader may now ponder that in the absence of binding legalities upon any parties within or without the Minsk text, how best western diplomacy be employed.

Is “western diplomacy” best employed in keeping Ukraine adhering to entirely arbitrary Minsk timelines during 2016 (and beyond), or it is better employed in finding reasons why Ukraine should not be held to such arbitrary timelines, unilaterally expected to fulfill the text of such an onerous document?

Should western diplomacy pursue the first option then the European neighbourhood is likely to become more rather than less stable.

If it be the latter, which would be the widely perceived path of integrity, then there is a need for either a Plan B to resolve the matter (which seems unlikely – and in fact given the outcomes thus far possibly yet more unhelpful for Ukraine in the long run), or a recognition that a war of exhaustion that will last many years, perhaps decades, presents itself for which it will have to be prepared to fully engage in – purely transactional necessities aside.

Whatever the case, every now and again it will serve us well to remember that the Minsk text in and of itself places no lawful obligations on anybody whatsoever, and is indeed not even a document of any legal standing.  Expectations of it relating to the release of Nadiya Savchenko necessarily have to be tempered accordingly – similarly to those long since discarded (and always misplaced) expectations of a ceasefire or weapons withdrawal.

That Ms Savchenko will not serve the 22 years passed down at the conclusion of her show trial there is little doubt.  Sooner or later she will become a bargaining chip and released long before.  When that occurs however, it will have little to do with the Minsk document.

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Revoking citizenship for terrorism – Ukraine

March 16, 2016

In the aftermath of the latest terrorist outrage in Paris, the French politicians decided that the removal of citizenship for those involved in and convicted of terrorist offences should be a legal option.

The UK too has raised this issue several times in the House of Commons historically.

Some time ago in Ukraine, a petition to deprive citizenship for terrorism gathered the necessary 25,000 (and more) signatures to warrant consideration by the President.

(Yes 25,000 signatures within a country of 45 million is a low bar on a national scale, however it is also quite a high bar if the issue is peculiarly local and sees no remedy from the local and/or regional government.)

For the French such a measure would require amendments to their constitution.  A quick glance at the Constitution of Ukraine would suggest the same requirement to make amendments.  Less of a problem for the UK that has no written constitution to amend.

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Wisely, the French sent their proposed constitutional amendments to the Venice Commission for their considered and official “opinion”.  That official “opinion” has now been published.

Within that “Opinion” particular emphasis is placed upon any such removal/revoking/stripping of citizenship being subject to both due process and proportionality – quite rightly.

“In the opinion of the Commission, the introduction of a citizenship revocation scheme and the rights attached thereto, common to all the French, origin or naturalized mononational or bi- or multinational n ‘ is not in itself contrary to international standards. It nevertheless recommends clarifying in the Constitution that the forfeiture is an “additional punishment”, applying therefore a criminal judge individualized and proportionate manner, after a fair trial.”

This naturally has ramifications for any Ukrainian decision to deprive/revoke/remove citizenship for terrorism too – particularly when considering it is an “Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO)” that legally defines the war in the occupied Donbas.

Reading between the lines, President Poroshenko clearly has no desire to provide for such a legal option and therefore the presidential response to the Ukrainian petition was to encourage the government to study international experience upon such issues.  Such advice however, may be little more than kicking the can down the road if traction is found among 300 or more MPs – for Ukraine is a parliamentary/presidential democracy and not the other way around (despite appearances).

Just how far the presidential boot has kicked the citizenship removing/revoking terrorist can down the road may very well depend upon the speed of actions and their outcomes within the French parliament following this Venice Commission “Opinion”.

It is an issue to keep an eye on from a Ukrainian perspective – as well as from the perspective of international law, regional treaties, and human rights instruments.

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Too many cooks – Ukraine

February 9, 2015

There is an expression that states “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.  And it has merit.

The same can be said of the negotiations and interactions between the actors to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

In the UK media there has been criticism of the UK lead in these negotiations.  Some have made comment within the social media that the UK is silent.

However, it can be said that too many interlocutors spoil the negotiations with as much merit as that regarding cooks and broth.

UK Foreign Minister, Mr Hammond is quite right when he stated today “The participation of too many parties in the negotiations with the Kremlin is useless.”  

Is not The Kremlin, Ukraine, Germany and France enough?  Is there a need for an EU representative – or a representative of each of the EU Member States?  The USA?  The UK in particular?  Where do you draw the line?

If there is a consensus amongst the EU and its members that Germany and France take the lead, as long as their negotiations are within parameters acceptable to all EU members and EU institutions, why do others need to be present?

Does the EU as an entity , with its internal frictions between Member States, want to take part in any negotiations, or is it better that they allow two Member States under their own flags to engage – allowing for the embracing or distancing of any outcomes, thus mitigating to some degree, further internal disagreement amongst members that may follow?

Why would the USA want to tie itself to any negotiations by others whatsoever, when the winds of arming Ukraine despite German objects are blowing throughout The Beltway?  No matter how chilly the atmosphere between Washington and Moscow, direct and back channels will remain open, as they will with the EU and its Member States.  There is an advantage to being an actor that can choose to act in unison or individually of the Europeans – ask the Kremlin.

With numerous interlocutors, how much more difficult would it be logistically to gather together all relevant negotiating parties at the same place at the same time?  Urgent EU gatherings can be announced on Sunday and yet not occur until the following Thursday.  The fewer the interlocutors, the more nimble and timely any urgent gatherings are to accomplish.

There is of course, also the psychological issue of how many people are physically sat one side of the table vis a vis another.  Further, there is the issue of interlocutors that are deemed acceptable to all parties to consider – and those that are deemed unacceptable, preventing negotiation at all.

It may very well be that nobody is entirely happy with the composition of the negotiating format, nor their own nation’s position or visibility in the process – but that nobody is entirely unhappy is much more to the point.

Lastly, there is the question of whether becoming an interlocutor is something a nation or entity is keen to do – or begrudgingly accepts because it has little other choice.  It can be a thankless task – especially if or when outcomes are not those that are desired, or not even thought to be achievable in the first place.

Why mire yourself in something you consider futile and that will carry with it significant and adverse blow-back when it all fails – as you knew it would from the outset?

Would the FCO want a prominent interlocutor role, or is it quietly content to remain in the shadows in this particular instance, using existing channels quietly, as it normally does?  Is it better to be criticised for quiet diplomacy, or unnecessarily self-inflicted evisceration over what it may very well consider are going to be headline grabbing failures?

Germany and France have taken the European lead – whether they wanted to, felt obliged to, or were more or less forced to in the absence of any other willing, acceptable, European interlocutors, is a discussion for another day.  Whether their efforts will be rewarded on Wednesday, with at the very least a ceasefire worthy of the name, or whether they will fail as is widely expected, remains to be seen – but somebody had to try, or at the very least be seen to have tried in a last ditch effort, prior to what seems likely to be a very noticeable escalation.

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Back to the Normandy format – Twice in 10 days?

January 4, 2015

Tomorrow, 5th January, is slated to see a meeting between representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France – this time in Berlin.  The first such meeting aimed at resolving the war in eastern Ukraine was held in Normandy -thus the “Normandy format” becoming the label.

Needless to say, the original Normandy meeting produced nothing by way of tangible results.  The Kremlin is far from giving up its idea of a “sphere of influence” and claims over the destiny of Ukraine, and Ukraine is far from accepting its fate within any Kremlin “sphere of influence”.

Indeed that Ukrainian train has long since left the station, with successive aggressive Kremlin actions simply reinforcing the resolve of the nation to continue on its current course out from under the Kremlin shadow.  It will now be decades, perhaps generations, before anything like a return to normal relations with Russia.  Trust is, after all, easily shattered and yet so very hard to earn.  A cool transactional relationship is the most likely outcome for a very, very long time.

Whilst Ukraine will not be joining the EU or NATO any time soon – if ever – it will certainly not be joining the Eurasian Union or CSTO either.  For the Europeans, the issue of Ukrainian aspirations toward membership of the western clubs – be those aspirations entirely welcome or not amongst the existing membership – the issue of Kremlin aggression is not only about Ukraine.  The whole infrastructure and foundation of European security (and further afield) has been shaken to its core due to the Kremlin unilaterally throwing many major regional and international agreements under a bus.

Europe, on the whole, works by rule of law – not selective rule by law, as works the Kremlin.

Thus any solutions to the Kremlin aggression in Ukraine (which is now overtly creeping into a more belligerent action throughout the Kremlin neighbourhood and beyond) need carefully weigh the appearance of appeasement or reward, verses a solution that is beneficial to Ukraine, the Europeans and very importantly, is seen to uphold and return to the continent, the regionally accepted norms of rule of law that have served Europe fairly well since 1946.

With regard to Crimea, that will undoubtedly mean continued European/US sanctions for many years to come, as President Putin simply cannot return what was illegally stolen whilst being assured of retaining power.  With regard to the Donbas, the situation is less robustly set.  The Kremlin has never once seriously hinted at official recognition of the “People’s Republics”, let alone their annexation.  Quite simply the Donbas offers the Kremlin nothing it doesn’t already have in annexing the territory, but offers some form of leverage over Kyiv by de jure insuring it remains within Ukraine, yet de facto being heavily influenced by Moscow.

Whether this will ultimately take the form of a frozen conflict, economic shenanigans or social manipulation etc – or any combination thereof – remains to be seen in the long term.  The tactics will perhaps become dependent upon the financial costs to the Kremlin and its associated major business interests more than anything else.  Whatever the case, the tactics will not remain static or one dimensional.  The revisionists within the Kremlin are well aware of historically deceitful and workable tactics within the European neighbourhood – as this 1920’s letter by Churchill underlines.

The idea of Novorossiya, was, is, and will remain a dream (or nightmare depending upon your point of view) – as is now being stated by those who attempted to create it.  The actions undertaken in its creation now deemed a “false start”.

Quite how long the “People’s Republics” will last is an open question, dependent almost entirely upon the Kremlin will to keep them afloat militarily, politically and economically – and it is this issue in particular (recognising the Crimean issue is not going to be resolved anytime soon) that the Normandy format will seek prioritise.

Is there any reason to anticipate a major breakthrough in the positions, interests or needs from any of the parties tomorrow in Berlin?  It seems somewhat unlikely based upon what is in the public realm – but whether that which is not in the public realm has changed significantly enough for any dramatic shift, only those behind the curtain will know.

That there is already another Normandy format meeting scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan on 15th January would suggest that there will be no major positional shifts in Berlin tomorrow – but that another meeting is seemingly already scheduled 10 days later, could suggest that something may be floated in Berlin that will not be instantly dismissed by one or more parties present, requiring the consideration and deliberation of all prior to any agreement or rejection in Astana.

The Europeans have to emerge with the rule of law reasserted across the continent, Ukraine with its sovereignty (less what will be a “long grass” Crimean issue) returned, and the right to chose its own destiny unambiguously underscored.

The Kremlin, which is not an aggrieved party to this conflict, but an active sponsor of it, can be presented with a face saving exit from eastern Ukraine if one can be found, in return for some sanctions specifically raised in relation to its actions eastern Ukraine being removed.   After all, those sanctions specifically imposed relating to actions in eastern Ukraine, should the Kremlin exchange its military tactics for others (it’s not about to simply give up on Ukraine), would have done what they were intended to do – change current policy.  Sanctions are not meant to be an arbitrary punishment when all is said and done.

Whether we have reached a time where the positions, interests and needs of those involved have reached a point where shifts are necessary, and thus imminent, does seem somewhat unlikely – but away from the public realm, behind the curtain, things may look very different indeed – for better or for worse.

Nevertheless, that two Normandy format meetings are penciled in within ten days, is an interesting development – though not necessarily hopeful.

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French election results and Ukraine

May 8, 2012

Well it hasn’t taken the political scientists and think tanks in Kyiv very long to start speculating over what the change of the French presidency will mean with regards to Kyiv and Ukraine.

Why would it?  These people are paid to state what they think.  Unfortunately they, like most political commentators, internal or external of Ukraine, will either state the blindingly obvious or slant things towards the bias of their paymasters.

So, let us have a look at the pearls of wisdom that have come forth (and I will do it all in English to save any of you the trouble of translation).

Institute of Global Strategies Director, Vadim Karasev:  “This victory is good news for Victor Yanukovych.  This may give rise to restart relations with the European elite, with whom Mr Yanulovych finally soured relations.”

He also went on to say that it is a blow to the Tymoshenko camp, stating, ” Now some of the lobbying capabilities in the EU, France, is lost to Tymoshenko.” 

Hmmm – Really?

Whilst it is true that there is a great deal to be said for personal relationships amongst political leaders on the international stage, and it is also true that the demise of Sarkozy may result in a weakened EPP, the EU umbrella party to which both Tymoshenko and Sarkozy belonged,  does that mean Mr Hollande will close the door to Ms Tymoshenko’s plight or human rights?

Now “Mer-kozy” is past and we now have “Mer-de” instead, (yes I know that means “shit” in French but it is funny and may well yet prove to be an apt name for the new Franco/German tandem), there will be trials and tribulations between these leaders, but also areas where easy political harmony can be found for the sake of public unity appearances.

Mr Hollande, like Ms Merkel have issues at home and within the broader Eurozone.  An unnecessary divergence over Ms Tymoshenko in public?  Hardly, when it is an easy political unity “win” to show to the rest of the world.  In short, there is little likelihood of a falling out over Ms Tymoshenko’s situation, when as many points of joint easily achieved public agreements are needed, no matter what they are.

Next we have Viktor Nebozhenko, political scientists of the” Ukrainian Barometer” who claims, “Regardless of who came to power now in France, in the next year the relationship between France and Ukraine will not change.”  

Now that is a safe prediction given the current situation, however as the saying goes, 24 hours is a long time in politics, and things change rapidly.  As Harold McMillan once stated when asked what he feared most, “Events dear boy, events.”

Now there are events in  Ukraine and several of them in the next few months.  There is the Euro 2012 who some are trying to politicise and others attempting to keep it a purely sporting event, and then there is the parliamentary elections in October in Ukraine which could well see the current government replaced by the opposition parties.  (The presumption is that should the opposition win, Ms Tymsoehnko will be released very swiftly, however that may not be the case with President Yanukovych remaining as President until 2015 before he is up for reelection.)

There is also the fact that whilst the issue of Ms Tymoshenko (and others) make the headlines, there is also numerous statements from EU bodies welcoming certain reforms and laws that have been passed under the Yanukovych tenure so far, and as such those positives have been recognised by France as an EU Member.

How much time and effort Mr Hollande will give to Ukraine is really rather unknown.  He certainly has some very big fish to fry domestically and internationally the markets have not reacted well to the democratic decision of the French people.  As far as foreign policy is concerned however, it remains to be seen where and how Mr Hollande will make his mark outside of the EU.  In the old French colonial territories or the EU bordering nations perhaps?

In short, it is far too soon to be making any predictions, particularly as he does not take office until 15th May and who knows what will happen between then and now, other than predictable and unpredictable “events.”

The Ukrainian foreign policy position must surely be to drive a wedge between France and Germany over Ms Tymoshenko if they plan to leave her in prison.  As yet, it remains to be seen if a crack appears into which a wedge can be pushed.

Too soon to say how the Franco/Ukrainian relationship will change, or even if it will change, so I won’t be jerking my knee just yet with predictions and pontifications.

* * * * *

Possibly more exciting than the guesses relating to the new French presidency towards Ukraine, is that tomorrow, on what is known as Victory Day in the FSU (and more politically correctly as Europe Day within the EU),  is that there will be a guest blog, fingers crossed, relating to Odessa, The Great Patriotic War/WWII, Hero City status and something for the TAOW/war-gaming community as well!

If that fails, then you will be struck with more ruminations from me – Apologies in advance.

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