Ukrainian President Zelenski is under pressure before meeting with Vladimir Putin in Paris at talks in the Normandy format. Zelenski wants peace, but he can’t make big concessions, so he won’t have any problems at home, according to an analysis of the Deutsche Welle portal.
The expectations are huge. The atmosphere is the same, both in the press and on the political scene: the summit on eastern Ukraine that takes place in Paris on Monday in the so-called Normandy format could be a turning point. Particularly in Ukraine, a great deal of analysis has been done, talking about the issues to be noted and the possible things that could go wrong at the summit attended by Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France. Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition warns President Volodimir Zelenski not to make too many concessions to the Russians at his first personal meeting with Moscow counterpart Vladimir Putin. Further pressures on Zelenski come from outside the country after US President Donald Trump spoke about the chance for “great progress”.
Why Putin goes to Paris as a winner
The reason for all this turmoil is Zelenski’s willingness to accept painful compromises with Russia, with the aim of restoring peace in eastern Ukraine. Peace in the conflict started in 2014 was the central promise made by the 41-year-old Ukrainian president, elected in March, after previously having a television comic career. The road to peace is specified in the Minsk Agreement of 2015, treaties whose provisions have not been applied so far. For this situation, the Kremlin, the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine supported by Moscow and the Kiev government accused each other.
No summits in Normandy have taken place since 2016, as Russia considered that the former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko would only aim to block the initiatives planned at the meeting and refused to negotiate with him. Following the change of power in Kiev, Russia declared its willingness to speak again but set conditions for organizing the Paris summit: withdrawal of Ukrainian troops and rebels in three specially provided places and Ukraine’s willingness to accept Ukraine in writing. a political initiative that Moscow calls the “Steinmeier Formula”. These are proposals made by former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, regarding special status for the territories controlled by separatists. The “Steinmeier formula” describes when and how the law in this regard would come into force.
Volodymyr Zelensky fulfilled Putin’s conditions, thus renouncing a fundamental position of his predecessor Poroshenko: he always demanded a lasting armistice as a precondition for any withdrawal of troops. The fighting in the region continues to this day and Ukrainian soldiers lose their lives almost daily. The fact that the Kiev president signed the “Steinmeier Formula” triggered a wave of protests in Ukraine. In the social networks, renowned Ukrainian activists have threatened with new protests, if Zelensky will make Russia too big concessions in Paris.
What Zelenski and Putin want to get in Paris
His appearance in Paris is a premiere for Zelenski: a few years ago, he held a performance with his team of comedians in front of several presidents of the former Soviet republics, including then-Kremlin leader Dmitri Medvedev. Now, Zelenski is meeting with Putin as Ukraine’s president.
Kiev is pursuing a complete armistice in Paris and new prisoner exchanges, which have been postponed lately. The last direct exchange of prisoners took place in September, when Ukrainian director Oleg Sentov was sentenced to 20 years in prison for terrorism in Russia. Senţov has expressed skepticism ahead of the Paris summit and recently warned in the European Parliament that Zelenski could fall into a trap prepared by Putin. And Olena Serkal, recently Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, told DW: “I doubt the sincerity of Putin’s intentions.”
The Kremlin boss is not under pressure, unlike his Ukrainian counterpart. Putin’s goal is to convince Kiev to accept political concessions. This includes the law on the special status for separatists, scheduled to expire at the end of the year. It seems that the current law will be extended, before the adoption of a new normative act. In addition, Moscow would like to force the Kiev authorities to hold direct talks with the separatists – Russia would aim to present itself as a mediating country for the conflict, not as a part of it.
Putin’s main objective could be to organize elections in the separatist territories, which would legitimize their autonomy. In Paris, one could discuss when and under what conditions the elections in Donetsk and Lugansk would take place and whether or not Ukraine would take over border control before the vote.
Gas transit through Ukraine
Further tensions are caused by the unresolved issue of Russian gas transit through Ukraine to Europe. The agreement on transit between Russia and Ukraine expires on December 31 and negotiations for its extension have so far failed. The Paris summit could be the last chance to stop the supply of Russian gas through Ukraine.