WHY ZELENSKY NEEDS KRAVCHUK? | Vitaliy Portnykov

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It may seem strange that 26 years after the end of his presidency in Ukraine, 86-year-old Leonid Kravchuk became one of the main newsmakers of the Ukrainian media. One can, of course, assume that this is due solely to the new appointment of Kravchuk as head of the Ukrainian delegation to the talks in Minsk. However, Kravchuk's predecessor in the talks and his successor as a president, Leonid Kuchma, tried not to comment on his participation in the Tripartite Contact Group, did not give interviews and generally avoided publicity. This was the case when Kuchma headed the Ukrainian delegation under Petro Poroshenko, and it happened again when Kuchma returned to the negotiation process under Volodymyr Zelensky. Kuchma had his own interests in this process ‒ not only political but also clan interests. After all, Kuchma is also a representative, one might say, the patriarch of one of the oligarchic clans, the Victor Pinchuk’s clan. And his very participation in the negotiation process was for him a confirmation of the clan's participation in Ukrainian politics.


Kravchuk differs from Kuchma ‒ as it was in the 90’s ‒ primarily by his attraction to publicity, to being a constant focus of attention. When Kravchuk was president, he was in constant contact with journalists, giving numerous interviews and comments. The first president loves attention to his person ‒ that's why there are so much of him in the media now. But the conversation with Kuchma was not an easy task, such conversation was initiated in the presidential administration, and not in the newspapers or on the TV channels. So, from this point of view, Kravchuk is useful for Zelensky in that he can create the necessary information content for the Minsk process itself. To give the impression that the war is really coming to an end and that its end does not depend on Vladimir Putin's desire to give up on Ukraine, but on Ukrainian diplomatic efforts.


Zelensky needs Kravchuk precisely because he knows how to create an impression ‒ well, at least the illusion that one more effort is needed and the situation may change for the better. Zelensky also keeps the public's attention with promises and initiatives that are difficult to implement but that create hope. For example, a proposal to create a free economic zone in the Donbas and to negotiate with its representatives. Ukraine has already forgotten that such a zone was created for Crimea in 2014, but it did not lead to anything. And when Kravchuk starts talking about such a zone, it creates hope again - maybe such a step will work!


Perhaps even Kravchuk himself thinks that this is the way to solve the problem that will lead to peace. But he is wrong for one simple reason.


Peace could be negotiated with the "representatives of Donbas" if they really were representatives of the population of Donbass, and not Russian puppets. If there really was a popular uprising against the Ukrainian authorities in Donbas then these people would have been it’s participants. If they pursued their own interests ‒ political or economic. For example, how the participants of the war in Chechnya pursued their interests ‒ the independence of their republic. Or how protesters in Khabarovsk, Russia, are pursuing their interests today. These people have their own score with the Kremlin. And the Kremlin really should have a conversation with them ‒ but for some reason it is not in a hurry.


And the "people's republics" in the Donbas just created by the Kremlin. Their representatives were neither leaders nor participants in the uprising against the Kyiv authorities simply because there was no uprising. The uprising took place in Kyiv ‒ against Yanukovych and his gangster entourage. And Yanukovych himself and his Russian patrons failed to imitate the Anti-Maidan even for money.


Therefore, there is no point in direct negotiations with puppets and it cannot be. And they do not need any free economic zone. They only need what Russia will tell them to stand for. That is why we are negotiating with the aggressor, not with his puppets.


Kravchuk ‒ from a generation of presidents who succumbed to the Kremlin's deception. His Moldovan counterpart, Mircea Snegur, held direct talks with the leaders of Russian-occupied Transnistria. His Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, held direct talks with the leaders of the Russian-occupied autonomies of Georgia. As a result, almost three decades after the beginning of the conflict, the territorial integrity of Georgia and Moldova has not been restored and it is unclear when it will be restored at all.


But for Zelensky, all these facts are exclusively lines from the encyclopedia. For him, Kravchuk is a statesman who has experience of talks with Russians, who persuaded even "Boris Yeltsin himself" to agree to Ukrainian independence. The fact that Yeltsin is in fact different from Putin in his actions and could see Ukraine's independence only as a temporary solution in the fight against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is somehow not taken into account. It's too difficult. But to put it simply: Kravchuk did not deceive or persuade Yeltsin. Yeltsin agreed with Ukrainian independence precisely because he considered it beneficial for himself. And Putin, unlike his predecessor, is a "collector of Russian lands." And he can give up Ukraine only if he simply does not have the strength to continue the war. No Kravchuk will change the situation here ‒ no matter what proposals he makes.


I deliberately ignore here the talk about Kravchuk's relations with Viktor Medvedchuk, the main lobbyist for Russian interests in Ukrainian politics. I ignore it for one simple reason ‒ this relationship has no obvious impact on the negotiation process, even if it does exist. After all, during Poroshenko's time, Medvedchuk himself took part in the negotiation process and this did not change anything. Kravchuk's participation as such will not change anything as well ‒ with or without relations with Medvedchuk.


The war in Donbas could end only then when Russia does not have the strength to continue it, or when Ukraine has the strength to end it. I have already mentioned Snegur and Shevardnadze. But at the time when Ukraine was ruled by Kravchuk and Kuchma, there was another president, the Croat Franjo Tudjman.


Tudjman did not negotiate with puppets in neighboring Serbia and liberated his territory. Twenty-five years after the end of the war in the Balkans, Croatia is not only a country with restored territorial integrity, but also a member of the European Union and NATO. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine can only dream about it.


Ukrainians have a simple choice ‒ to follow the path of Snegur and Shevardnadze and get stuck for decades in anticipation of a miracle, which still will not happen, or to follow the path of Tudjman and defend their country. There is no alternative to this choice - so that Kravchuk would not invent it no matter on what positions Zelensky would appoint him to.

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