Ukraine Monitor

Date: 10 September 2019

Putin plays with Zelensky: Berlin conditions

The exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia is a political victory of the Kremlin. In exchange for the captives, with 24 sailors ahead who should have been unconditionally released by Russians after the decision of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea from May 25, Kiev released spies, rebels and terrorists, including Vladimir Tzemach, a key witness in the investigation concerning MH-17. Now, it is time for another step which is the Normandy format summit. Also, in this case, one should assume that if the meeting takes place, it will bring decisions unfavourable for Ukraine. Unfortunately, led by national political calculations, Volodymyr Zelensky takes steps which are not favourable for the interest of the state.


A meeting of the Normandy format between advisors of the heads of states took place on September 2 in Berlin. Ukraine was represented by new Minister of Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko and president’s advisor for Donbas Andriy Yermak. Moscow was represented by Vladislav Surkov. The meeting aimed to establish the agenda of the meeting of the Normandy format leaders. However, the date has not been set yet. Nevertheless, Prystaiko said that the meeting was successful and brought the proper meeting with the participation of Putin, Zelensky, Merkel and Macron closer. Macron has already announced the meeting in September. Meanwhile, the Kremlin – probably surprisingly for the partners, as Paris could have got the signal of consent to the meeting from Moscow in August – set out several conditions. The fulfilment of the conditions will convince Putin to attend the meeting.

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According to Prystaiko, Kiev wants to focus on the withdrawal of both parties’ forces from Stanytsia Luhanska and on the reconstruction of the bridge over the Siewierskij Doniec. Meanwhile, according to the words of Sergey Lavrov from August 26, it seems that Russia will be pushing for the withdrawal of the forces from Petrovskoye and Zolotoye as well. In Berlin, Surkov repeated that he wanted such a manoeuvre in three parts of the front. It is not surprising as while Ukrainian forces are withdrawing and liquidating fortifications in Stanytsia Luhanska, rebels are doing the opposite. Another condition of Surkov is the realisation of the “Steinmeier formula”: local elections in the “People’s Republics”, OSCE’s recognition, the temporal introduction of special status of DPR and LPR and subsequent changes in the Constitution of Ukraine and handing over the control over the border to Kiev. Russia claims that in both matters they managed to make progress in Berlin. Ukraine is focused on the Stanytsia Luhanska and remains quiet in the matter of Steinmeier formula. It is not known whether the issue of laws concerning language and education were discussed in Berlin – the Kremlin is still demanding the changes or withdrawal. Zelensky has earlier allowed the possibility of making the Russian language a regional language in Donbas, but after regaining control over the region by Kiev. However, Moscow will probably not be satisfied with such a solution.

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