Crimea, Donbas and Merkel: interview with political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko

Photo: Facebook / Volodymyr Fesenko

On August 24 Ukraine celebrates the 30th anniversary of its Independence. But on the eve of this important day, no less important events took place in our country. August 23 – the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform, August 22 – visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, founder of the Normandy format and the Minsk platform on Donbas.

We discussed these topics with political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko during the marathon “Ukraine 30” on UA TV channel.

Aliona Chornovol and Denys Pokhyla hosted the marathon.

– As for Ukraine-Germany relation. Elections will be held in Germany in autumn, and the Chancellor of Germany would change. What foundation does Ms. Merkel leave for her successor on post? On the one hand, we see cooperation, on the other – the situation with the Russian Federation. Plus, one still has to build a relationship with the new chancellor.

– Undoubtedly, Germany is a partner of Ukraine. It supports us, participates in negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbas, provides political and economic support. In terms of aid among foreign partners, Germany is among the top three states.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German leaders have played a very important role in ensuring that sanctions are imposed on Russia, and that these sanctions remain intact. Because there were risks of their withdrawal or weakening.

Although, of course, there is a subject for criticism of our partners. This is Nord Stream 2. Here we can talk about Germany’s economic selfishness, no doubt. In my opinion, Germany is overly flexible in its relations with Russia. They act very pragmatically. They can be understood, but in this regard there are, of course, some contradictions.

Therefore, the foundation [Merkel leaves – ed.] is ambiguous, of course. Because this foundation includes the complicated situation in the negotiations on Donbass within the Normandy format. And, well, inertness is most likely to remain in the issue of Minsk agreements.

But Angela Merkel was, so to speak, the mother of the Minsk agreements and the Normandy format. And there were three other parents [presidents of France – Hollande, of Ukraine – Poroshenko, of Russia – Putin – ed.]. When Merkel leaves, only Putin remains among the founders of those formats. This, of course, will underestimate the significance of the agreements.

However, I do not expect drastic changes in Germany’s foreign policy with regard to Donbass, Nord Stream 2, relations with Ukraine and Russia.

Continuity is a very important deal in German foreign policy. Most likely there will be a coalition government after the autumn election to the Bundestag. We do not yet know who’s going to lead it. This is still the main intrigue of the election. But I think it is very likely that the positions formulated by Angela Merkel as Chancellor will be preserved. There can only be some slight tactical changes.

And we should always mind the ambivalence of Germany’s foreign policy. There is no need to be afraid of it. No need to take offense. Each country has its own specific interests. They do not always coincide, as in the case of Nord Stream-2. But we must constantly remind everyone of our interests, protect our interests. Even in relations with partners, in particular, with such partners as Germany.

But on August 22 there was a visit by Angela Merkel. I think it was rather positive. Some say it was a kind of a formal farewell. No, there were concrete results. Please note that in the evening after the meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Angela Merkel negotiations took place between representatives of the Ukrainian company “Naftogaz of Ukraine” and the German energy company. A memorandum of cooperation was signed. This, by the way, is the implementation of the agreements between the United States and Germany in relation to Ukraine on Nord Stream 2. Because we are talking about cooperation, in particular, in the production of еру so-called green hydrogen. On August 24, the energy ministers of three countries – Germany, the United States and Ukraine – also met. That is, Angela Merkel is fulfilling her promises.

– Now that the government in Germany is going to change, and the election in France is approaching as well, it is important for us that these countries continue to share our position. Germany and France have developed the so-called clusters for the peaceful settlement of the situation in Donbass. There is a lot of talk around them. But what are they? I would like to hear more detailed explanations.

– The foundation of the peace process is the Minsk agreements. Many do not like them in Ukraine. The so-called clusters, like the Steinmeier formula, are technical tools for implementing the Minsk agreements. These are attempts to find compromises.

I agree that we need to provide more information about these clusters so that we understand what trade-offs are in question, where they are supposed to move within the negotiations on the Normandy format and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Because there are so many nuances that can be ambiguous.

What is the meaning of these clusters? These are not new ideas. It’s just called “clusters” now. Formerly they are called “road maps”, it is about linking security issues and the political part of the Minsk agreements. Because this is the main contradiction between Ukraine and Russia regarding the Minsk agreements. We insist that security issues must be addressed first – above all, a ceasefire must become a lasting truce. And only then the elections will be held and the political part of the Minsk agreements is kept. Russia insists on the opposite. That first of all there should be agreements on elections, and then – everything else. Those are the things one needs to negotiate and find compromise.

I think that the work on clusters is not finished yet, so there is not enough information about them.

– Besides, Minister of Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that their President Emmanuel Macron will also come to Ukraine. What should or can Macron come to Ukraine with? What could be the offers? Because Merkel was expected to use phrases about Nord Stream-2. What should we expect from Macron?

– Well, one expected not only information from Merkel, but also guarantees regarding Nord Stream-2, regarding continuation of Russian gas transit through Ukraine. Although, I think it is very difficult to talk about any guarantees now. We can only talk about them conditionally.

Macron and president Zelenskyy will talk, first of all, on the intensification of negotiations on Donbass, on the development of bilateral cooperation. I would like to note that we have had a positive trend with France in recent years, and there are agreements in trade and economic relations and military-technical cooperation. Not so long ago several contracts for French helicopters were implemented, there’s a number of economic contracts with France, they were recently signed at the intergovernmental level.

The dynamic is positive, it needs to be strengthened and developed. France can become our important partner. And this is even more important for the reason that France has a traditional pro-Russian position. Russia has a very strong influence on public opinion in France, and for us the position of France, as well as Germany, as partners in the Normandy format, is very important.

Therefore, despite the fact that the President of France had changed, we see that the country remains an active participant of the Normandy format, and France’s position is quite significant. And President Macron is very active in these negotiations. And there are no fundamental changes.

I would not say that there is a complete match in the positions of Ukraine, Germany and France. But there is unity on fundamental issues, and this unity must be preserved.

– Let’s think logically: Merkel met with Zelenskyy on August 22, at the end of August president of Ukraine meets with Joseph Biden in the United States. Then Macron’s visit. It is logical to assume that the next meeting should be with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin or a general meeting of leaders of the Normandy format.

– Negotiations on a meeting with Putin have been going on for a long time, since spring. The idea is being discussed, but, as in the case of the summit of the leaders of the “Normandy Four”, it all depends on Putin. Unfortunately, this is a problem we have been facing for a long time: from time to time Putin blocks the negotiation process.

Let’s take, for instance, the summit of the “Normandy Four”. It would be logical and even symbolic to hold it in the near future, in September or October, before Merkel leaves the post of Chancellor. At least in order to say Ms. Merkel “goodbye” and “thank you”. She was still one of the founders of the Normandy format, and it would be a sign of respect that the partners – leaders of the Normandy Four – thank her.

However, this summit should also be used to, of course, discuss how to bring the current negotiations out of the deadlock. And there are options. The clusters. It is necessary to agree on return of the ceasefire to Donbas because without there won’t be any further movement without it. There are chances that a meeting will take place. There are not many chances, but they are.

– We cannot but ask you about the first summit of the Crimea Platform, which took place on August 23. How do you evaluate this event for yourself? Because there are a huge number of opinions.

– This is a great diplomatic victory. In my opinion, the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform is the largest international event that has taken place in Ukraine over the entire history of the country’s independence. Experts and diplomats can recall 2-3 major international conferences in Ukraine, with the Chornobyl Summit held in 2010 being the last one of those. There was a big OSCE conference. But from the point of view of level, scale of representation, and most importantly, significance of a subject, the Crimea Platform is, of course, the largest. Because Crimea, as well as Donbas, is the main foreign policy topic for Ukraine. Therefore, in my opinion, this is a great success of Ukrainian diplomacy and President Zelenskyy. It became the largest and the most significant event in our country.

– But we also understand that before the summit they talked about its possible failure, or that the countries announced will not come. Because the Russian Federation blackmailed them.

– You are absolutely right. This summit took place, even despite strong opposition from Russia. I know from diplomatic sources that the Russians tried to disrupt the beginning of the summit, then influenced governments and leaders around the world in an effort to reduce participation in the summit. However, the summit took place. And what is very important – 46 countries and international organizations participated in it. More than 10 heads of governments and heads of state, all EU and NATO member states, all G7 countries were represented at the summit. This is a huge political beginning. This is a long-term project.

This is an international platform which will help Ukraine fight for Crimea, and it is very important for us that the problems of Crimea and the Russian occupation are not forgotten. Russia would like to forget about it, and we will constantly remind about it. This is what causes such hysteria in the Kremlin.