Top leaders from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are meeting in Minsk with their Ukrainian and EU counterparts to discuss Ukrainian crisis. What is the position of the parties and is a breakthrough likely? Radio VR is discussing it with Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, Kirill Koktysh, Political analyst based with MGIMO University, and Manuel Ochsenreiter, Editor in Chief of German monthly ZUERST! Newsmagazine.
The Minsk Meeting scheduled for August 26 will define at what level the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis is on, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted Monday. “Everyone expects that the Minsk Meeting will allow the exchange of opinions of the extent that efforts are on in settling the political process with the goal of settling the crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
Boris Kagarlitsky: “It is very clear that in many ways both sides are interested in making a breakthrough. On the one hand, if you look at the Ukrainian Government today, they are facing a lot of problems and they came nowhere close to any kind of crisis resolution from their perspective. On the contrary, the situation is getting worse and their military solution doesn’t work. We clearly see that they failed so far at achieving the victory against the uprising in the southeast and, moreover, the militias, formed by the insurgents, they are not pushing back and making the Ukrainian Government troops retreat.
On the other hand, however, the Russian Government also doesn’t seem to be really determined to go forward with any kind of aggressive support for the rebellion in the southeast. And on the contrary, I think much of the Russian elite is interested in actually achieving some kind of reconciliation with the West.
But the problem is whether they can achieve anything that way, because, on the one hand, there is very little that the Ukrainian side can offer their Russian counterparts, other than just asking the Russian Government to withdraw its support for the insurgency.
On the other hand, the Russian Government doesn’t really control the situation on the ground, because I think that in many ways Poroshenko and his entourage are the victims of their own propaganda, pretending that the insurgency is very much the result of the Russian kind of intrigues and aggression, as they put it. In reality, it is not.
And ironically, that is exactly the main problem in the negotiations with Russia, because they can demand from the Russian Government to talk with the insurgency and the Russian Government is not capable of doing it, because the insurgency is fuelled by their own domestic contradictions and the domestic conflict, and it is not going to disappear, even if the Russian Government withdrew its support for the Donetsk Republic and the Lugansk Republic.
Representatives of the European Commission are attending the meeting. Is Europe coming up with some kind of solution?
Boris Kagarlitsky: In fact, the EU and, to some extent, the US, are active parts in the conflict. At least, no less than Russia and, maybe, in many ways much more than Russia. And it is an open secret that the Ukrainian Government will simply not be capable of surviving technically, unless it gets a massive support from the West. And I think it is much more dependent on the West than the insurgency in Donetsk is dependent on Russia. And that’s what everybody knows but pretends not to accept publically.
And in that sense, of course, it is very clear that without the West Europeans nothing will go through in Kiev. So, they are going there and they will give some instructions to their Kiev partners. Again, the problem is that there is very little they can offer”.
Kirill Koktysh: “It seems that actually the negotiations would be quite hard, because there is not a hint at a breakthrough, because the distance between the positions is tremendous. Europe has one approach, Russia has another approach and it seems that Ukraine has no position of its own, because it would have been supported by the European Commission. And also, it was adjusted with Angela Merkel’s visit to Kiev. So, it seems that the most possible result is that the framework of further negotiations would be settled.
The EU didn’t mention the possibility of the revision of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU so far. And this should be one of the main topics of the negotiation, because Customs Union, from the one side, would be presented by the three presidents and the EU would also be presented. So, it’s the negotiation on how could Ukraine save its relations with the countries of the Customs Union after it signed an agreement with the EU. This can be raised, because as long as the EU didn’t declare the possibilities to bring that forward, it seems that only a wish could be fixed within this negotiation but not a real agreement.
As for the other topics, Poroshenko rejected the very possibility of federalization of Ukraine, even after Merkel insisted that Ukraine should be decentralized. So, this means that no progress in this sphere could be achieved. And also, the procedure questions could be settled - the issue of refugees, of humanitarian aid. A sort of a framework should be settled for the resolution of these questions, which are not reasons and not the way to regulate the Ukrainian conflict, but the consequences of it.
So, these consequences could be settled in a more or less constructive manner and an agreement could be achieved, but no principle questions could be resolved.
And it seems that Europe will be in a position to try to not put a sort of ultimatum, but to frame its own position and, probably, Europe will be ready to listen. But so far Europe didn’t demonstrate such ability.
So, actually, there will be a struggle who will speak as a single European voice, either Brussels, or the European countries, like Germany and France. This is a question. But so far no single European position was settled and it is still unclear how this position could be worked out.
But the Ukrainian crisis seems to be tackled at this meeting in the absence of the US, though the US has been most instrumental in producing the crisis.
Kirill Koktysh: Europe tries to replace the US as a dealer in the Ukrainian conflict. But it is a minor step forward, actually. I wouldn’t say that Europe is not ready. It seems to me that Europe is semi-ready for these negotiations and it is hardly ready for dealing with this question, especially when all the leaders of the EU are already replaced. Catherine Ashton, who she would speak for? Either she would speak in the name of Brussels. But we know that she is going to become a private person.
This remains to be an intrigue how Europe would combine its voice – would it speak with the voice of Brussels? Who would represent Europe? Because they know that Catherine Ashton that would represent the European foreign policy is going to resign tomorrow and she is going to be replaced. So, whose voice she would speak? The voice of the united Europe or the voice of a private person, or an official who is going to become a private person tomorrow.
So, it seems to me that Europe would face a hard procedure. How its position could be worked out and this position could be adjusted. Europe is ready for some statement, but not for the real progress. Probably, this progress could be achieved with the help of old European countries like Germany and France, who’ve already demonstrated their readiness to take part in the Ukrainian process. But they wouldn’t be present.
And of course, it is the European declaration, but nevertheless, in spite of all the European weakness that it would demonstrate in these negotiations, the absence of the US should be read like the European ability and willingness to deal with the Ukrainian crisis by itself. We would see how successful it would be, because actually we remember that the last negotiations in Geneva, that started in the format of the four foreign ministers (Russia, the US, Catherine Ashton and the Foreign Minister of Ukraine), turning into the negotiations of two ministers (between Lavrov and John Kerry).
And – who would speak to Mr. Putin? Who would be the person in chief, who would be able to speak and to make an agreement with him, because Putin is in the subject, but we know that Poroshenko is quite weak and it seems to me that he has no position of his own, and he has a tremendous problem inside his country. So, it is a problem of what part of the country he would represent. With regards to Brussels, it is doubtful how much these officials could represent and what is their right to speak in the name of Brussels.
So, it seems to me that this problem could arise and this would be one of the reasons why these negotiations would be able to produce only a framework, but no decisions”.
Manuel Ochsenreiter: “First of all, I think this is just another political meeting with the talks, while the bullets are flying on the battlefield, especially in the eastern Ukraine.
And we shouldn’t forget that of all those participants who’ll appear in Minsk, actually, Vladimir Putin will be the only one who is speaking on his own behalf and on behalf of the interests of his country – of Russia – as well as, by the way, on behalf of the ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, especially in the eastern Ukraine.
We have to see that the European participants and the High Commissioner Catherine Ashton are not speaking on their own behalf, they are speaking on behalf of the West. And when we look back on the history of that conflict in Ukraine, we can see that the EU was always taking sides very-very strongly for the new Kiev Government.
So, I don’t think there will be a lot of space for an agreement, because the conditions didn’t change from then until now.
But, as far as I understand, Mrs. Merkel was meeting the Ukrainian President Poroshenko this weekend.
Manuel Ochsenreiter I think that Pyotr Poroshenko is somehow trapped in his fate, because he is also not speaking on his own behalf. He is like doomed to be a puppet of the West and he knows that very well.
The meeting with Merkel shows that he has strong expectations for the financial help. We know that the state of Ukraine is bankrupt today. The winter is coming. We know about the problems of the gas delivery coming from Russia.
Pyotr Poroshenko said very clearly that he hopes for the financial help coming from the EU. And when we speak about the financial backbone of the EU, we all know that this is Germany. So, he hopes for a direct help and Angela Merkel has already announced the help with bonds that worth 500 million Euros.
So, this would give Poroshenko a little bit space for breathing and for improving and developing his own army, which is now in a war. I think he hopes to invest more than 2 billion Euros in army. So, I think this is what he hopes for. And I think those hopes, as it looks right now, will be fulfilled.
He might get it, because until now the EU has been supporting the new Ukrainian Government and also supporting Pyotr Poroshenko’s politics who wants to be part of the EU and wants to be part of the West and western hemisphere represented by the NATO, as well as the EU and the pro-Western politics represented by those institutions.
However, I also remember that Mrs. Merkel indicated that there is no question of Ukraine becoming a NATO member as yet…
Manuel Ochsenreiter: For sure, the NATO question, as well as the membership in the EU, it will not be on the table now. And for sure, it will not be on the table this year. But we already have a lot of Westerners right now calling for getting Ukraine into NATO and, of course, also into the EU as quick as possible. This is not on the table right now. It won’t be the topic of the talks right now.
But we should see that this is like a cloud on the background of all those talks. It is about to bring Ukraine closer to the West, closer to the NATO. And we should listen very well to the voices we hear from Ukraine itself. So, this is a strong expectation towards the EU, towards Brussels, as well as to Washington.
So, the people in the western Ukraine who supported the new Government and who supported the so-called EuroMaidan, they want that. And when we look at the different political parties in Ukraine, this is also what they want. So, now this is not on the table, but it is in the far range.
And also, of course, the financial help for Ukraine right now is not for the military. This is always said also in Europe, maybe to calm down the population. But we shouldn’t forget that in that moment when the financial help comes for the Ukrainian infrastructure, in that moment Pyotr Poroshenko has the free means to arm and to improve the conditions for the Ukrainian army which, if we believe the reports coming from the eastern Ukraine right now, is not as good as the Ukrainian Government always says.
Is it in the best interests of Europe to have Ukraine as an aspiring member of NATO and the EU?
Manuel Ochsenreiter: My personal opinion is that the whole EU is not in the interest of the Europeans. We have to regard the EU as an institution which is part of the transatlantic construction. We shouldn’t regard the EU as a sort of sovereign and independent entity. It is more or less like the forefront of the US. So, the EU doesn’t have a lot of its own standards in those geopolitical conflicts.
And when it comes to Ukraine, by the way, it is a pure geopolitical conflict. It is not about democracy. It is not about the liberal values, as we are always told. The big question is – will Ukraine be in far distance part of the Eurasian tax union, imposed by Vladimir Putin, Moscow and the Russian Federation, or will Ukraine be a forefront of the Western world.
So, this is what the conflict is about. And when you ask me about the interest of the Europeans? The interest of the Europeans would be to be an independent and sovereign entity which doesn’t the decisions on its own behalf and on its own interest, and not on the behalf of Washington or NATO. That’s the basic problem of all those talks and all those debates going on right now.