ARMISTICE TRAP | Vitaliy Portnykov

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One of the main events of the last few days can be considered the disruption of the truce, which lasted on the Donbas front for several weeks in a row. Ukrainian positions were shelled from Russian-controlled territories, killing a Ukrainian serviceman. And despite the fact that the meeting of advisers to the leaders of the "Norman Format,” which later took place in Berlin, agreed to continue the truce, there is no guarantee that it will not be destroyed again by Russian efforts, that new shelling will not start again, that military and civilians will not die.


When the truce was first announced, many questions arose as to why it was needed for Vladimir Putin. Volodymyr Zelensky's goal is understandable, no matter how supporters or opposition treat the Ukrainian president. When Zelensky was coming to power, one of his main promises and public expectations was to end the war. Zelensky even said that the war was over in his head. Thus, the Ukrainian president should naturally strive for any decisions that promise an end of the war. But why the truce for Vladimir Putin? The Russian president did not send saboteurs and troops to Donbas in order to end the war in a few weeks, to actually admit his defeat ‒ and not even in terms of returning the occupied territories, no one in Moscow is even thinking about it, but in terms of stopping destabilization of Ukraine.


So why is this truce for Vladimir Putin? Now the answer to this question is emerging. So, firstly, the termination of the truce, even temporary, only deepens the gap between the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian patriots. Volodymyr Zelensky does not want to respond sharply to Putin's actions, the Ukrainian president has convinced himself that any harsh reaction can only anger the Russian president, then there will be more victims and even fewer opportunities for agreement. That is why Zelensky did not react to the death of the Ukrainian military as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief should have done. And when he was asked a direct question, he said that he was not responsible for the life of one person, but for the life and safety of all Ukrainians ‒ as if there was no direct connection. Meanwhile, the prevailing opinion in Ukrainian society is that only a harsh and decisive reaction to the actions of the aggressor can stop him.


Because Ukrainian society has the experience of the beginning of the war in 2014, when the Russian invasion was stopped only by the decisive actions of our volunteers and the military, and international solidarity with Ukraine. Zelensky has no such experience, he was away from this national impulse. That is why Zelensky and his entourage do not understand the mood of those who criticize them for their fear of Putin. But Putin himself understands this perfectly well. And he knows that Zelensky’s cautious reaction to the ceasefire violation is the exact result he needs, another step towards destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.


Another motive that guided Putin was the desire to build another structure that would create at least the illusion of negotiations between official Kyiv and the puppet government of the so-called "people's republics". Moscow has been pursuing these direct talks almost since the occupation of Donbas in 2014. And this is not some new invention of his. When Russia occupied parts of other former Soviet republics, it also insisted on direct negotiations between their central government and its puppets. It has even succeeded in talks between the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria, Georgia and Abkhazia. There is no concrete result from these negotiations. The territorial integrity of both countries has not yet been restored, although almost three decades have passed since the beginning of the conflicts. And if we remember Georgia, these talks did not prevent military actions. Even if some puppet leader tried to show political will and agree on something concrete behind Moscow’s back, the Kremlin quickly changed him for another puppet.


But Moscow despite the open aggression against this country has achieved the main goal in Moldova and even in Georgia, to be considered not a party to the conflict, but a mediator. And of course, no sanctions against Russia were imposed.


This is exactly the status Russia wants to achieve in Donbas. To convince the international community, and the Ukrainians themselves, that this is an internal conflict, that "it is not there." To take the first steps towards lifting international sanctions and accuse Ukraine of non-compliance with the Minsk agreements.


What does the history of the armistice have to do with this goal? As it turned out, everything. After it became known about the intention to conduct a joint inspection of Ukrainian positions in Shumy, observers were most interested in who would take part in this inspection. And it turned out that there were three parties ‒ the Ukrainian military, puppets from so-called "people's republics", and observers from the OSCE. Russia is not there, as if it really is not a party to the conflict, but somewhere in the middle. And the very procedure of conducting this joint inspection reminded me of how they were going to form a so-called advisory council, the procedure of which was agreed upon by presidential advisers Andriy Yermak and Dmitry Kozak. Representatives of Ukraine and the occupied territories also had to communicate on an equal footing in this council. And Russia, together with France and Germany, assumed intermediary functions ‒ as if it were not its troops on our land, as if Russia is not at war with Ukraine. And only strong public resistance, as well as the negative position of Paris and Berlin did not allow Volodymyr Zelensky and his entourage to implement this idea, which is dangerous for Ukraine's sovereignty. But the main thing has already been done ‒ under the decision to establish an advisory council, the signature of the representative of so-called "people's republics" was signed for the first time by a Ukrainian official, Yermak. And if there was a joint inspection, we would also see the signatures of the Ukrainian military and representatives of so-called "people's republics" under the documents about its result. That's what the Kremlin needs!


And what is interesting is that when the idea of an advisory council was discussed, the Kremlin blackmailed Kyiv by continuing negotiations and contacts between Zelensky and Putin. Because Kremlin saw that for the Ukrainian president these contacts are one of the main political goals. Zelensky convinced himself that personal communication with Putin would help him solve the problem and achieve peace. And now, although over a year has passed since beginning of his presidency, Zelensky cannot face the truth, realize that the issue is not personal contacts with Putin, but the goals set by the Russian ruler.


Even now, the need for a joint inspection with mercenaries in the Shumy was directly linked by the Kremlin to the possibility of a meeting of advisers to the heads of state of the Norman Format. And without this meeting of advisers, the summit itself, to which Zelensky so aspires, cannot take place.


So what is the result? The inspection was abandoned because Moscow, as is always the case, bent its stick and put conditions which Kyiv could no longer agree to. But the meeting of advisers still took place, Dmitry Kozak, who until recently stated that there was no point in such meetings and offered to move the talks to the ground of foreign ministers, arrived in Berlin. He came to say that now there is no point in holding a meeting of heads of state, because Kyiv is not fulfilling the agreement of their previous meeting in Paris. And in order for the situation to move forward, it is necessary to first change the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament ‒ ed.) on holding local elections. That's why Russia needed this meeting of advisers. For blackmail and further destabilization of the situation in Ukraine. It is clear that the discussion of changes to the resolution in the Parliament will lead to the next stage of political escalation ‒ and especially before the local elections! And they can also time to time break the truce and blame the Ukrainian side.


We can, of course, say that the key to resolving the situation is in the hands of the aggressor, Vladimir Putin. But in fact, now the key to resolving the situation is still in the hands of Volodymyr Zelensky. It is necessary for the Ukrainian president to start living in a world of political reality, and not his fantastic and bizarre illusions. He needs to realize that he will not be able to reach an agreement with Vladimir Putin, that his task is to defend the country, not to look for concessions which would satisfy the Kremlin predator.


It is necessary for Volodymyr Zelensky to realize that he is responsible not just for all Ukrainians, but for the life and freedom of each and every Ukrainian.

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