Three soldiers killed in weekend fighting ahead of Normandy summit
Two Ukrainians soldiers were killed on Dec. 1 when a Russian-backed sabotage-reconnaissance group ambushed the rear of Ukrainian positions in the Donetsk region frontlines, the Joint Forces Operation press center said. “During the execution of their military task, two Ukrainian soldiers were blown up by unidentified explosive devices,” the statement said. The unit commander dispatched reserve forces to close off attack routes and the possible retreat of saboteurs, the statement said. Another Ukrainian soldier was reported killed on Nov. 29 by the press center near the frontline village of Shyrokyne in the Donetsk region.
Meanwhile, Russian-backed forces suffered 10 casualties and 15 injuries in the fighting between Nov. 22 and 28, as reported on Nov. 29 by the Joint Forces Operation press center. Forty-one Russian-backed fighters were killed in November, while another 66 died from injuries, the press center estimated. Throughout the weekend, armed fighting occurred along the Donbas separation line, with reports of dozens of shootings using armaments prohibited by the Minsk Accords, including handheld anti-tank grenade launchers and high-caliber machine guns.
The format of talks between Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be made public closer to Dec. 9, when the Normandy Format summit is scheduled to occur in Paris, Russian Presidential Administration Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Dec. 1 television broadcast. “Putin and Zelensky will communicate, in one way or another. The case of Putin and Zelensky is much more important than the meeting’s entourage," he said, as reported by the tass.ru news agency.
In his turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the broadcast summit meetings will occur in various formats. “Undoubtedly, the contact will be beneficial because we really want to understand, after all these ill-defined, contradictory statements from the President’s Office, how the Ukrainian leader himself sees movement towards fulfilling the Minsk Accords,” he said. “There will be a Normandy Format meeting: the four leaders will be there one and of the same time. As already stated by the Presidential Administration, Putin and Zelensky will have the opportunity to talk. It won’t be formal so it will occur ‘on the field’ of another event.”
Zenon Zawada: With the Normandy Format summit just one week away, the Russian leadership is behaving audaciously. We had expected the fighting would be intensified deliberately ahead of elections to prompt Ukrainians to vote for peace/capitulation, which they did as part of the Kremlin’s script. Now the fighting is intensifying to pressure Zelensky to cave into Russian demands, which are certain to be painful for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Peskov and Lavrov are keeping summit details to a minimum, which we believe is being done so that the Ukrainian president is disoriented and unable to prepare. The Russians know Zelensky can’t walk away from Paris emptyhanded, lest he disappoint his Russian-oriented core electorate. Moreover, the Zelensky administration understands that another such opportunity like the Normandy summit may never arise.
So all the conditions are in place for Zelensky to capitulate to a large portion of Russian demands. Anything other outcome will not only be a surprise, but likely the second major blow to his public support (following his backing of the land market).