Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Foreign policy achievements and miscalculations of President V. Zelensky at the end of the second anniversary of his tenure as a President

In May, a press conference of the President of Ukraine dedicated to the second anniversary of Volodymyr Zelensky's presidency was held at the Antonov State Enterprise. During the event, Volodymyr Zelensky commented on a number of important issues related to the further development of the state, the fight against corruption and de-oligarchization, as well as prospects for ending the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, including possible ways to return the Crimean peninsula and occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the issue of ending the war and returning territories a priority, while stressing that this will take time. The President of Ukraine mentioned the ceasefire, which was a key factor why «the situation in Donbass was stable for six-seven months», and which laid the foundation for accelerating the restoration of the controlled part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and further peaceful settlement in the East of Ukraine, but in fact it was violated at the beginning of this year. In this context, the President of Ukraine expressed optimism about reaching an agreement on the opening of the checkpoints in Donbas, because this is of great humanitarian importance. However, as of early June, checkpoints from the quasi-republics side have not been opened. Contrary to the initiatives of the Ukrainian side to open the checkpoints «Zolote» and «Shchastya», the so-called. «LDPR» unlawfully continue to restrict the movement of Ukrainian citizens by blocking checkpoints, using this as an instrument to put pressure on the Ukrainian side during negotiations in the Trilateral Contact Group.

Communicating with journalists, Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed his commitment to the Minsk format. The President also noted that due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was difficult to move towards the meeting of the leaders of the countries participating in the Normandy format. However, according to the Head of State, interaction within the Normandy format continues. In particular, Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with President of France Emmanuel Macron and via videoconference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. «I feel their support, but I think they should support more. They know my opinion. I think that they have been weakening their positions in relation to the Russian Federation a little lately». A direct dialogue with the President of the Russian Federation, according to Zelenskyy, also should take place. Ending the war is a priority for Zelenskyy. According to the President, Ukraine has a 1% chance of ending the war on Ukraine's terms. And Zelenskyy will cling to this percentage. Also, the future format of the Crimean Platform activity was outlined in more detail. The President of Ukraine announced that an office will be opened, where specialists from different fields: lawyers, economists and specialists in the humanitarian sphere will deal with the issues of the occupied Crimea on a daily basis.

It is worth noting that the President of Ukraine has recently criticized European states a lot for their unwillingness to help Ukraine more. For example, after Zelensky's mentioned meeting with Macron in Paris, the French president did not consider it necessary to take part in a joint press conference following the talks. German officials, in turn, are divided over the issue of providing Ukraine with defensive weapons. A possible impetus in this context may appear in the event of the victory of the Green Party in the elections to be held in Germany this fall. The initiative to supply weapons to Ukraine was made personally by the co-chairman of the Green Party, Robert Gabek. Also this idea is supported by the Ministry of Defense of Germany.

However, the current leadership in Berlin opposes this step, in particular, Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister, recently said that it would not help to end the conflict in Ukraine. Instead, both France and Germany are calling on Ukraine and Russia to fulfill the Minsk agreements, taking the position of mediators in order to distance themselves and not be drawn into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In a press release dated May 31, the states emphasized: «We confirm our willingness to maintain dialogue with Russia based on the common principles of European Union and more thoroughly consider certain areas of mutual interest». It is worth noting that the statement was published against the background of the interception by the Lukashenko regime with the assistance of Russian special services of a civilian plane for the arrest of the Belarusian oppositionist. Despite the fact that the troops of the Russian Federation remain at the borders of Ukraine, and the initiatives for a peaceful settlement in Donbas are ignored by the Russian side. Under such conditions, President Zelenskyy is betting on the involvement of the United States of America in the process of peaceful settlement.

At the same time, the President is considering the possibility of starting another format of negotiations on Crimea, the war in Donbas and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, possibly with the involvement of the United States of America. On May 31, in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Zelenskyy said that the new negotiating format could be combined with the Normandy one. «Normandy format is not about Crimea, or about a pipe, or about security guarantees», the president said. In this case, the Normandy format and topics discussed within it would become a part of the new negotiation structure. However, the actions of Joe Biden in the foreign policy plane in the last month also raised a lot of doubts about the US intentions to really support Ukraine in the event of a large-scale Russian aggression. The Biden administration primarily focuses on the need of internal reforms implementation in Ukraine connecting it with the possible increase of the level of support from Washington, while ignoring the need for increase of assistance to strengthen Ukraine's defense capabilities to contain the Russian Federation, choosing the path of direct dialogue with Moscow.

In the context of promoting internal transformations, one of the important areas of interaction between the United States and Ukraine is the fight against oligarchs. At a press conference, the President of Ukraine stated that the law on oligarchs is almost 100% ready. According to Zelenskyy, if a person gets into a special register, the oligarch may lose his property abroad. It seems that the support of the United States of America plays an important role in this initiative, and apparently during Anthony Blinken's visit to Kyiv in May, the Ukrainian and American sides, in particular, agreed on joint actions to combat the oligarchs' influence on Ukrainian politics. Already on May 27, fragments of a possible bill appeared in the media, and on June 3, the text of Zelenskyy’s draft law on oligarchs appeared on the website of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

Of course, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government will contribute to further internal transformations in the country, but Kyiv needs practical assistance from the United States here and now. And this should be not only declarative statements, but also real support in the form of the provision of defensive weapons and ensuring permanent rotational American military contingent on the territory of Ukraine. According to the publication «Mirror of the Week», Kyiv intends to conclude a corresponding bilateral defense agreement with Washington[1], which will make possible to implement the aforementioned initiatives. Obviously, the decision on this issue will be made in Washington after the Geneva meeting of Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin and will largely depend on the vision of the American leader.

Press conference on the results of two years of the President's activity outlined the further direction of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's work as a head of state. Among the priority areas, there are still a peaceful settlement in the East and the return of the occupied territories, the fight against corruption and oligarchs, as well as the building of a democratic, developed state, « A Country for 40 millions not for a hundred from Forbes». At the same time, in order to achieve these strategic objectives, Kyiv needs the support of its Western partners. However, taking into account the pragmatic interests of these countries, it can be stated the only factor that can guarantee the security of Ukraine is the development of a strong army, a strong economy and effective diplomacy.