Russia accuses Normandy Format of retreating from Mar. 11 protocol

7 April 2020

Russia has accused its Normandy Format partners – France, Germany and Ukraine – of “political games” and retreating from the agreements of the Mar. 11 protocol signed in Minsk, including the launch of an advisory council. A Mar. 26 follow-up teleconference “ended in failure,” according to an Apr. 2 statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Though the direct talks of the Trilateral Contact Group in early March were able to produce important agreements, capable of moving the peace talks from their dead end, “strange things began to happen after the planned breakthrough, unfortunately,” the statement said.

 

Ukraine backed out from the signed agreement under pressure from its Western partners, the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said. “During telephone negotiations between the aides of Normandy leaders, Berlin and Paris avoided support for the agreements between Kyiv and Donbas under various pretexts. Following this, Kyiv backed out of these agreements during the contact group meeting on Mar. 26. It seems as though the Ukrainian negotiators agreed to this not without prompting from abroad,” the statement said.

 

The Russian Foreign Ministry also rejected Western criticism of the Donbas leadership for not allowing the OSCE special monitoring mission free access to the territory. “The right of the republics, with the aim of fighting the coronavirus, to introduce restrictive measures, analogous with Ukraine and other European countries, is consciously rejected. These are very questionable democratic values,” the statement said. It concluded, “We call upon our Normandy Format partners to stop their political games and engage finally in serious negotiations to resolve the conflict in Donbas in accordance with the Minsk complex of measures and decisions of the quartet’s Paris summit in December 2019.”

 

Recall, Ukraine’s lead negotiators at the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk signed a protocol on Mar. 11 to implement a series of steps to further resolve the war in Donbas. Among these measures involved creating an advisory council in which Ukrainian diplomats would negotiate directly with representations of the Donetsk and Luhansk self-declared republics. The proposal drew fierce opposition from Ukraine’s pro-Western forces, prompting the Zelensky administration to turn to France and Germany on advice on whether to move forward with the advisory council.

 

Zenon Zawada: We expected that Germany, at minimum, would be opposed to forming the advisory council, which would have crossed the red line of allowing direct talks between Ukraine and Russia’s proxies in Donbas. But France was opposed as well. Now it seems certain that President Zelensky, and his lead negotiator Andriy Yermak, have firmly decided not to fulfill the Mar. 11 protocol, particularly in creating the advisory group.

 

This is a wise move, considering how much the Zelensky administration is dependent on the West, particularly with IMF financing. Just yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent USD 1.2 mln in aid to deal with the coronavirus. At the same time, this development puts the Minsk peace talks at the same dead end that they had been under former President Poroshenko. And we don’t see Zelensky maintaining the public’s support for another four years of Russian aggression in Donbas.

 

Speculation is rising in Ukraine, among experts and observers, that the West – led by the U.S. – will use the current global crisis, particularly the plunge in oil prices, to apply more pressure on the Putin administration with the goal of its replacement. Only time will tell whether attempts are made, and if they’re effective. But the longer Putin remains in place, the higher grows the likelihood of political instability in Ukraine.

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