Vladimir Zelensky believes that a new meeting in the Norman format could not be held due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said this during a press conference in Kiev, dedicated to the anniversary of his tenure as president of Ukraine.

“Because of the coronavirus, we did not have a meeting in the“ Norman format ”, but we were able to“ squeeze ”and returned home another 20 people,” he explained, referring to the exchange of prisoners.

However, Zelensky expressed the hope that after the abolition of quarantine measures, the meeting of the Norman four would nevertheless take place.

“We both spoke with Germany and France, everyone supports the idea that after COVID-19 we should have a meeting in the Norman format,” said the President of Ukraine.

He noted that he advocated the resolution of the conflict in the Donbass in the framework of the Minsk agreements. However, he reiterated that it gives a year to implement them, after which Kiev may resort to other ways to get out of this situation.

“We will hold on to Minsk. Sanctions against the Russian Federation are associated with Minsk. I give a year to the fact that we will fight. I give myself a few more months to finish, and we could find a diplomatic solution in the framework of the Minsk agreements. “I would not want to move on to plan B and C,” Zelensky said, without explaining what he meant by the backup options.

“Avoid direct dialogue”

Speaking about the desire to hold a new meeting in the Norman format, Zelensky mentioned Germany and France, but said nothing about Russia's position on this issue. Meanwhile, Moscow previously made it clear that the conditions for holding the summit have not been established so far, since Kiev has not fulfilled the agreements reached at the meeting in Paris in December 2019.

“There can be no talk of any summit, because everything that was agreed in Paris is blocked in the work of the contact group and in the activities of the Ukrainian parliament and the Ukrainian government because of the position held by the Kiev authorities,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs Russian Sergey Lavrov, speaking on April 27 with a lecture for students of MGIMO.

On April 30, commenting on the results of the videoconference of the Norman Four Foreign Ministers, Lavrov noted that so far, of the nine agreements reached at the December summit, only one has been completed - the exchange of prisoners.

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
  • RIA News
  • © Press Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Lavrov noted that the remaining paragraphs remain only on paper so far, including the implementation of the "Steinmeier formula", which establishes the procedure for granting Donbass special status.

According to the Russian minister, granting a special status to Donbass is “a key provision of the Minsk agreements,” progress in this issue will speed up the solution of other problems.

The Russian Foreign Minister stressed that it was Kiev that was evading the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the decisions of the Summit of Normandy Summit.

“The Kiev authorities so far are evading a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, namely, within the framework of such a direct dialogue, it is necessary to coordinate all legal aspects in order to ensure the operation of this special status on an ongoing basis,” said Sergey Lavrov.

“Push the line of contact”

Lavrov also pointed out that Kiev still fails to achieve a separation of forces on the contact line. Moreover, according to experts, in the last days in the region the opposite situation has been observed: the number of shelling by the Ukrainian security forces is increasing every day.

So, on May 16, as a result of APU artillery strikes, the Mikhailovka-Kommunarskaya power transmission line was damaged, which resulted in the de-energization of the critical infrastructure of the LPR, which provided residential buildings and social facilities with electricity. The repair team, which set out on May 17 to repair the damage, was also fired upon, despite security guarantees previously received from the Ukrainian side.

In this regard, the head of the LPR, Leonid Pasechnik, brought the units of the People’s Militia to the highest level of combat readiness and urged Vladimir Zelensky to stop the hostilities. Otherwise, he said, the republic’s troops will be forced to move the demarcation line from strategically important infrastructure facilities.

“If such actions continue on the part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, you, Vladimir Alexandrovich, will leave us no choice but to take effective and decisive measures to move the line of contact from the specified power line. In a similar way, we will be forced to act while continuing shelling of civilians and other critical life support facilities, ”the Pasechnik quoted the Lugansk Information Center.

Following the LPR, the head of the DPR Denis Pushilin ordered to increase the combat readiness of the troops.

“The Donetsk People’s Republic is ready for a direct constructive dialogue with the authorized representatives of Kiev, as well as for the conscientious implementation of joint agreements in the case of the same conscientious implementation of these agreements by Kiev. But we cannot endlessly show peacefulness unilaterally when our citizens continue to suffer: a woman, a peaceful resident of Elenovka, was wounded on our territory again, ”said Pushilin.

He added that since May 1, Ukrainian security officials violated the ceasefire more than 250 times. During the 19 days of shelling, one civilian was killed, another 11, including five children, were injured.

  • Ruined house in the Donbass
  • Reuters
  • © Alexander Ermochenko

As Zelensky himself said at a press conference, the representative of Kiev in the negotiations on the Donbass, Leonid Kuchma, on Wednesday asked in connection with the aggravation of the situation to convene an urgent meeting of the contact group. At the same time, Zelensky did not say anything about the cause of the aggravation, accusing him of shelling the "separatists."

According to the president of the Center for System Analysis and Forecasting Rostislav Ishchenko, this is almost the first such harsh statement by the Donbass authorities in recent years, which indicates the seriousness of the situation.

“The DNI and LNR troops were not simply put on alert: Pasechnik announced his readiness to move the line of contact so that Ukrainian shelling would not reach the infrastructure facilities of Lugansk. Since 2015, this is probably the first such harsh statement by the Donbass authorities, ”the analyst said in an interview with RT.  

According to the professor of the RANEPA Sergey Margulis, the aggravation in the region is caused by the fact that Zelensky does not control the army.

“Zelensky is not fully able to control his armed forces. Many there openly refuse to obey his orders. These are former members of the territorial battalions, which, although integrated into the Armed Forces or the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but in practice carry out the orders of those who created these battalions, their temporary commanders, who have been there since 2014. De facto, neither the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, headed by a rather independent and ambitious Avakov, nor the army, are subordinate to the president, ”Margulis stated in an interview with RT, adding that against this background, an early separation of forces should not be expected.

Similarly, the situation and the source of RT in the party "Fatherland" assesses the situation.

“Zelensky has poor control over the situation in the East. They probably tell him about the general situation, but he does not go into details, ”said the source.

"In limbo"

As Rostislav Ishchenko noted, the meeting of the Norman four did not take place at all because of the pandemic: if desired, it could be held in a video conference format, as happened, for example, with the G20 summit. The real reason for the lack of negotiations is that Kiev has not fulfilled the agreements reached at last year’s four meeting, the analyst said.

“The summit cannot be held because of Zelensky, who did not complete his homework given to him in Paris. All meetings that need to be held are now being held remotely, including between leaders of states. The Norman format is not a problem in this regard, ”the analyst said.

At the end of April, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also announced the outstanding agreements. He noted that “for a new meeting, it is necessary to implement what was agreed upon” earlier. 

According to Ishchenko, Ukraine has never seriously prepared to implement the Minsk agreements: for Kiev, their signing was rather a tactical move.

  • The meeting of the Norman four
  • Reuters
  • © Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / Handout

This point of view is shared by Sergey Margulis.

“Kiev obviously did not intend to implement many points of the Minsk agreements, because it would lead to a situation when people, representatives of the DPR and LPR appeared in the legal field of Ukraine, who did not meet the interests of Kiev, who would never vote for the Maidan authorities. They are afraid of this in Kiev, and you can’t expect them to be executed, ”the expert believes.

The tactics of avoiding Zelensky from fulfilling the Minsk agreements are also indicated by the RT source in the presidential party “Servant of the People”.

“Zelensky’s office adopted the behavior of his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who spoke a lot, but did almost nothing. Zelensky does this consciously and expects a maximum on the exchange of prisoners, ”the source said.

Experts interviewed by RT agreed that, given the current dynamics, holding a summit in the near future seems unlikely. Statements by Zelensky about the upcoming meeting of the Quartet are more focused on voters who are expecting peace initiatives from him, Margulis said.

“Zelensky realizes that the implementation of the Minsk agreements is currently impossible. However, he came to the polls as president, ready to conduct a peaceful dialogue. Most of the Ukrainians support peace initiatives - according to surveys, about 70% of such people in Ukraine. Therefore, all this is designed for them, ”Margulis said.

A RT source in the European Solidarity party did not rule out that Zelensky might put off the settlement of the conflict in the Donbass.

“At a press conference, he already said that he could implement his program during the second term. So, nothing will change in the near future and, I think, in a year or two the authorities will begin to build a wall with the Donbass. The conflict will be frozen, ”the deputy said.

This may be the alternative plans “B” and “C” voiced by Zelensky at a press conference, Margulis said. They may also suggest a power scenario, but this, according to the expert, is unlikely. According to him, in the near future the situation will remain "in limbo."

“If Kiev were more decisive, then the chances for dialogue would appear. However, now real steps, such as the separation of the parties and a ceasefire, seem to me unattainable. Nothing has changed for almost five years. And Zelensky does not look like a man who can positively reverse this trend, ”the analyst concluded.