Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Plan "B" of Ukraine and Russia on the Donbas: what does this mean?

On January 23, Ukraine stated its intention to review the Minsk Agreements concluded in 2015. Kyiv insists on revising the points of the document – so that the issue of transferring control to Ukraine over the border will be carried out first, and then holding elections in "DPR and LPR". This was stated by the representative of Ukraine in the political subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group, Oleksii Reznikov "The new position of Ukraine is unchanged. It was proclaimed during the "Normandy summit" by President Volodymyr Zelensky, <...> that at least in part (border control issues), the Minsk Agreements are subject to revision" he said. The Ukrainian parliamentarian believes that "Minsk" should be carried out in the following sequence: disarmament of illegal armed groups in the Donbas; establishing a regime of complete silence; withdrawing all illegal armed groups from the territory of Ukraine, establishing Ukrainian control over the Eastern border; holding elections.[1]

Already on January 27, 2020, it became known that Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky wants to hold elections in the occupied part of Donbas in the fall of this year. But one of the main obstacles to such a scenario remains the issue of restoring control over the border. The positions of the Ukrainian and Russian presidents on this issue are radically different. Russian President, Vladimir Putin is against returning control to Ukraine before voting day. Moreover, the Russian President said that in this case, Srebrenica – a mass massacre of the local population, may be repeated in the Donbas. "The Ukrainian side constantly asks for the opportunity to close the border with troops. Well, I can imagine what will happen next, the Serebrenitsa will happen" this statement was made by Russian President, Vladimir Putin the day after the meeting with Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky at the Normandy summit in Paris.

In response to Putin's remarks about Srebrenica, Zelensky said: "We understand that Ukrainians live there (in the territories occupied by Russia - auth.) and we respect the citizens of Ukraine. And there is no difference – that's what I said to Mr Putin...I don't know who you imagine in my place, but I'm a different person. I don't know who you spoke to earlier, but we have a different state, we are a different authority. And for us, human life is the most important thing».

But why does the Russian President, speaking about the border, once again frighten the residents of Donbas with massacres? "Under any pretext, he does not want to stop this conflict and transfer Donbas under the sovereignty and authority of Ukraine. He wants this limbo to remain there: neither Russia nor Ukraine fully. That's it. And to further destabilize Ukraine because of this. Because he understands that if to exclude the Russian factor, withdraw the troops from there, stop the supply of weapons there - the war will not exist"  says the head of the Center for Military and Legal Studies, Alexander Musienko.[2]

Until recently, Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Kozak, was appointed to the post of deputy head of the Putin administration. He became the "curator of Ukraine" in the Kremlin, replacing Vladislav Surkov, who had a significantly conflicted relationship with Kyiv. Surkov allegedly leaves the civil service because of the "change of the course in the Ukrainian direction". The Kremlin does not comment on his resignation, and denies changing the course. However, there is every reason to question the motives of this personnel change, and the change in the strategy of the Russian Federation, which is determined not by Surkov and not by the Kozak, but by Putin personally. There are also many reasons not to exclude that the whole story of the resignation and the game of "good cop" and "bad cop" between the Kozak and Surkov are parts of a well-thought-out special operation, the purpose of which is to give the new "curator of Ukraine" points in the eyes of Ukrainian vis-a-vis.

But is it worth connecting any bright hopes with the possible replacement of Surkov to a Kozak as the curator in the "Ukrainian direction"? Unlikely. And it doesn't matter whether Surkov leaves the post or not; the change of the "curator" was a consequence of the struggle in the Russian post - whether we were only spectators of the play. The main thing is that an official was appointed at the Ukrainian direction, who concentrates on federalization issues, has learned to promote it well, and at the same time hide it.[3]

Thus, Surkov's role is very overrated. The war against Ukraine is the result of Putin's policy, the war was led by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the FSB, and Surkov was not a "gray cardinal", but only a performer of certain information tasks. In oreder to understand that Surkov's resignation does not affect Putin's strategic goals in any way, it is necessary to clearly formulate - what is Russia's goal in Ukraine?

1. To force Ukraine to cease fire and thereby recognize the occupation de facto. This is the scenario of Transnistria and Karabakh - when peacekeepers are not introduced, and the occupied stae itself recognizes the impossibility of resisting the aggressor. Donbas and Crimea are actually annexed to the Russian Federation, the process of their integration into Russia is ongoing.

2. Volodymyr Zelensky's peacemaking policy, which many politicians and experts consider pacifist, is in line with Putin's long-term strategy, since it weakens resistance to Russian aggression and confirms the Kremlin's position that Ukraine is unable to control its entire territory. Ukraine refuses to fight for the occupied territories and thus helps Putin to gain a foothold there permanently. Russia is trying to influence Zelensky through direct contacts with his circle, primarily with assistant to the president, Andriy Yermak. And it is obvious that for various reasons, Putin decided to appoint a new сommunicator for contacts with Yermak, without the "plume" of public scandals - Dmitry Kozak. Surkov does not leave - just his position will be called differently.[4] And therefore, we see that the Kozak was appointed, first of all, to negotiate with Yermak, in order to to push the Ukrainian side to agree to the elections in the Donbas and legitimize the Russian authorities there.

Also, on January 27, 2020, the Press Secretary of the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov in the program "Moscow.Kremlin.Putin" said that "effective contact" had been established between Russian President, Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky. "Working contact has already been established between the two presidents, which is very effective, as recent events have shown" he said. Kremlin representative stressed that "the contact itself is neither unusual, nor sensational." "This is such a working, meticulous workflow" Peskov explained.[5]

In this regard, it is noteworthy that this Plan "B " provides for the achievement peace in the Donbas (in which V. Zelensky is primarily interested), but in return for such a "peace", Russia wants to maintain its control over the border, legalize its military presence and power in the occupied territories by holding local elections there. That is why Dmitry Peskov says that negotiations are underway between the Ukrainian and Russian sides.

In turn, Deputy Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Sergiy Krivonos said that in the current situation, Russia can easily continue its aggression against Ukraine and seize more territories. In addition, he is convinced that Ukraine can resort to a forceful method of liberation of Donbas, but this requires a number of prerequisites. We should not relax, because Russia, at the expense of its current groups and capabilities, can resort to expanding aggression and seizing Ukrainian territories in a short time. According to him, there are no prerequisites for this yet, but the Russians may have the opportunity to do so at any time. Therefore, he stressed that the Armed Forces of Ukraine should be ready for the forcible liberation of Donbas, if there is such a political decision. The Armed Forces must be prepared for this. How much this will be possible depends on the work of politicians at the level of support of other states. After all, for example, if there was no support for Croatia from NATO, there would be no "Croatian scenario" Sergiy Krivonos said.[6]

Summarizing the above, it can be noted that Ukraine is trying to make peace with Russia in every possible way. For his part, Putin gives the bait: prisoners, withdrawal of troops. But instead requires us to implement the "Steinmeier Formula" and implementation of special status for "DPR and LPR". And this special status, in turn, will allow the "DPR and LPR" to become full-fledged subjects and veto the foreign and security policy of Ukraine. By the way, the annexes of the Minsk Agreements contain provisions that state that they will have their own police, prosecutor's office, etc. Therefore, the Russian Federation is pushing the Ukrainian side to compromise. However, the consequences of such a compromise are known on the example of Transnistria and South Ossetia, because Russia will not refuse to withdraw its troops from uncontrolled territories.