Negotiating since August, Yermak and Kozak are now in constant contact, report says
Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s pointman on Donbas, has been negotiating to resolve the warfare with Dmitry Kozak, recently promoted to be Russia’s pointman on Donbas, ever since August 2019, the pravda.com.ua news site in a Feb. 12 profile article. The ability of Yermak, appointed as head of the President’s Office on Monday, to conduct two large exchanges of war prisoners – as well as return two Ukrainian navy ships captured by Russian border agents (and their 24 crew members) – prompted Russian President Putin to promote Kozak as a presidential administration deputy head and lead the peace talks to replace the rigid Vladislav Surkov, the article stated. “Yermak’s arrival in the talks with the Russians marked a change in strategy in the very Kremlin. And instead of the ‘archtect of Novorossiya,’ the uncompromising Surkov, the overseer of Ukraine became ‘the good Ukrainian’,” the article said, referring to Kozak, who was born in Ukraine.
As a result of the negotiating process, Yermak and Kozak are in “constant contact by telephone,” according to a leading Ukrainian diplomat cited by the article. “Surkov was radical and that’s why it was easier with him. You knew what to expect from him. Kozak is something else. He’s reflective, listens. As if a Ukrainian. But in reality, not less dangerous than Surkov. And that Yermak is uncontrollably and constantly in telephone contact with him can be a problem. No one, other than the president, knows what they are talking about. That’s if the president knows,” the anonymous diplomat said. Though the diplomat hinted that Yermak’s decisions with Kozak are not coordinated with leading diplomats, Yermak insisted that “everything always occurs in coordination with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.”
Yermak’s negotiating style consists of brief, informal talks with the key figures able to resolve a conflict, the article said. Besides talking this approach with Dmitry Kozak, Yermak met with Rudy Giuliani, U.S. President Trump’s personal lawyer, for an informal meeting in Madrid in August to iron out relations with the White House, the report said. Their renewed relations prompted Yermak to convince President Zelensky to drop his campaign to replace Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, which had been initiated by the previous President’s Office head, Andriy Bohdan. “Yermak began to shut around himself informal communications with Americans, which he didn’t get approved neither with the Foreign Ministry, nor the Ukrainian embassy in the U.S. His disdain for classical diplomacy and diplomats virtually became the business card of the president’s aide. He doesn’t like long and boring official negotiations, preferring brief meetings in cozy steakhouses,” the report said
Zenon Zawada: It’s Yermak’s out-of-the-box approach to Russia, and politics in general, that was precisely what was needed to reach a breakthrough in the war in Donbas (and why Ukrainians voted to make Zelensky their president). We expect Yermak to build upon his successes so far with Kozak in reaching the latest in a series of small breakthroughs on Donbas in the coming weeks, culminating in a Normandy Format meeting in April, which we see as more likely than not (largely because Zelensky and Yermak have a strong will to bring it about).
We expect not one breakthough deal to be announced to resolve the warfare, but a series of mini-breakthroughs to ease the public into accepting a peace deal. What some will consider to be a breakthrough achievement will be considered by others as capitulation. And it will also be Yermak’s challenge to deal with that reaction.
While there is much speculation that Yermak has pro-Russian leanings, his biography indicates extensive experience in Europe (producing a hit film in Slovakia) and a respect for Western institutions (having built his career in intellectual property law.) We see Yermak as sharing the same geopolitical model favored by Zelensky: advancing EU-NATO integration with caution, reintegrating Donbas, and re-establishing pragmatic relations with Russia (both in economics and culture), but without submitting to any supranational structures (like the Moscow-led Customs Union). If Yermak’s efforts are successful this year, this geopolitical model could become the consensus for peace that Ukrainians have long been looking for. Of course, we see this model as undermining Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic prospects, particularly the reintegration of Donbas.