THE KREMLIN IS DISAPPOINTED WITH ZELENSKY. WHAT'S NEXT? | Vitaliy Portnykov

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On July 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin gathered a special meeting of the permanent members of Security Council. What was discussed at this meeting, which took place just in the days of the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests in Khabarovsk, which began after the arrest of the local governor?


Not about Russia at all, but about Ukraine - this is the eternal "headache" of the Russian political leadership. About the "unconstructive position" of the Ukrainian leadership on the settlement of the Donbas conflict and what Russia should do in this situation. After the meeting, both Putin and his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, subjected the Ukrainian president to humiliating criticism ‒ he does not want to implement the Minsk agreements, and wrongly comments on World War II. In short, not the interlocutor with whom Putin would like to negotiate. That is why summit of the "Normandy Four" in Berlin is not planned for the future. Putin simply does not want to meet with Zelensky anymore, he has nothing to talk about with his Ukrainian counterpart.


Almost simultaneously with the Russian Security Council meeting, the Russian media published a statement by the Ukrainian party “Opposition Platform For Life”, led by Putin's intimate friend, former head of President Kuchma's administration Viktor Medvedchuk, one of Russia's main lobbyists in Ukraine. This statement emphasizes that Zelensky must apologize to all the citizens of Ukraine and resign, because he failed to establish peace in Donbas. And promised in a year!


Where does such a synchronous attack come from both on the part of the Russian leadership and on the part of its Ukrainian supporters? This question is not so difficult to answer. Putin drew his conclusions from a recent meeting of advisers of the heads of states of the "Norman format", which took place in Berlin.


After this meeting, it became clear that there is no shadow of mutual understanding between Moscow and Kyiv on ways to resolve the Donbas. The Russian representative at the meeting, Deputy Chief of Staff of the President of Russia Dmitry Kozak, gave a long interview to TASS, in which he did not choose diplomatic expressions about the approaches of the Ukrainian delegation. Kozak called what was happening at the talks a "theater of the absurd" and noted that "the laws of the Ukrainian political genre are to demonstrate success by pretending desired as real." Well, what should Kyiv do to achieve real success? Kozak also has an answer here. Kozak reiterates the Kremlin's long-held thesis that any "progress" in negotiations on Moscow's side is possible only if "Zelensky's team conducts a consistent, direct and honest dialogue with Donbas." Russian leaders have been talking about the need for such a "dialogue" since 2014, they tried to persuade both Petro Poroshenko and now Volodymyr Zelensky. At the same time, for Kozak, Donbas is the leaders of the so-called "people's republics", not representatives of the displaced people, with whom Zelensky's team is going to discuss the issues of the region’s future. More than that, Kozak calls the Ukrainian authorities' proposal to communicate with these displaced people "anecdotal" ‒ as expected. Representatives of the puppets in the talks are trying to eliminate the issue of displaced as if there were no millions of people who were forced to leave their native places after the Russian occupation. After all, these people ‒ especially if they return home ‒ can significantly change the political landscape of Donbas.


The fact that Kyiv does not agree with Kozak's recipes irritates Putin. When Deputy Prime Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in an interview after the Berlin meeting about the need to modify the Minsk agreements, the Kremlin began to say that in this way Kyiv wants to ... withdraw from these agreements. And they demanded that the President or the Prime Minister of Ukraine confirm or refute Reznikov's words ‒ which, of course, did not happen. Especially because Zelensky himself speaks of the need to revise the Minsk agreements almost from the first day since his election as president. He repeated this thesis during the summit of the "Normandy Four" in Paris. However, only now the Kremlin has decided to show indignation.


All of this reflects Vladimir Putin's frustration with the dialogue with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.


The Kremlin recently covered the same distance in dialogue with Zelensky's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko. When Poroshenko was elected as a head of state, he was perceived in the Kremlin as a moderate politician with ties to the Russian establishment - not as the Speaker of the Parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who were hastenedly declared as leaders of the "party of war". But when it turned out that Poroshenko was not going to turn the occupied Donbas into a "state within a state", insisted on continuing sanctions against Russia and called it an aggressor state, Poroshenko himself was declared the leader of the "party of war" and all contacts with him ended. However, there was hope that the new president, who accused his predecessor of unwillingness to end the war with Russia, would be "smarter".


Now these Kremlin hopes are coming to an end. And I would not be surprised if the Russian Security Council discussed that it would be necessary to reach an agreement with the next Ukrainian president, because Zelensky did not have enough "political courage" to disobey the "nationalists". Or, to put it simply, to surrender to Moscow. And so now they have to wait for Zelensky's successor, as they have been waiting for Poroshenko's successor for several years.


But no new Ukrainian president will provide any progress in resolving the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. No Ukrainian president will still be able to accept the conditions set by the Kremlin ‒ because fulfilling these conditions, associated with the actual loss of sovereignty, will lead to its political collapse. Pro-Russian forces still have an electoral ceiling, now limited to 30-35 percent: yes, these forces can influence, but they cannot decide for the whole country. At the same time, if the Kremlin decides on new territorial grabs, it will only reduce the number of potential voters of pro-Russian forces, "transfer" them to the other side of the line of demarcation ‒ as has already happened with the people of Donbas and Crimea.


And so, as paradoxical as it may sound, in order to return Russian influence to Ukraine in its "before-Maidan volumes", Ukraine needs to return both Donbas and Crimea ‒ the electorate of Donbas alone simply will not cope. But since there is no question of returning the territories, the Kremlin will still have to communicate with Ukrainian presidents, who will have neither the opportunity nor the mandate to capitulate.


The names of these presidents may change, but the essence ‒ the Kremlin's disappointment with each new cabinet owner on Bankova Street in Kyiv and the continuation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict ‒ will not change. Because it's not about who's on Bankova, but who's in the Kremlin. As long as Putin resides in Kremlin, both Ukrainians and Russians will need to learn to live in this endless war, which, as we can see, will not be stopped by economic problems or a pandemic. The war will end when the Russians themselves have the political courage and they recognize Ukraine's right to exist and make independent political choices.

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