Recent negotiations over the phone between the Normandy quartet leaders have left all participants holding their ground and pursuing their own vision of how to move toward the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Each meeting and each conference call of the Normandy Four (Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia) is another attempt to give a new impetus to the negotiation process. However, after many such attempts, today we can state with certainty that the process is anything but productive, being unable to yield any results in the Donbas settlement.
Gradually, Western leaders, including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, as well as the new U.S. administration, began to realize that are not dealing with internal Ukrainian civil conflict (the mantra repeated by the Kremlin) but with the Russian aggression and an actual war between the two states, Ukraine and Russia. When the time comes that no one is able to deny that fact any longer, all sides to these negotiations will come to understand that the talks in their existing format may no longer be a positive thing as such, since they position Russia as a mediator, not a party to the conflict.
There is one way to rectify this problem, that is by strengthening Ukraine’s defense and security sectors. Negotiations with the Russian side can be productive only when the balance of forces is restored, when the Russians have no significant advantage on the battlefield. To this end, not only does Ukraine need deterrence weapons, it must also have potential retaliation weaponry – that is, lethal offensive arms. But first, the balance of forces must be restored on the battlefield, in order to start tentatively to consider holding negotiations and reaching agreements.
In fact, Russia is not interested in fulfilling any requirements that are not favorable to Moscow. The Kremlin is interested in using the Minsk agreements to force Ukraine through intermediaries – France and Germany – to fulfill the Minsk agreements the way Russia wants, i.e. unilaterally.
Given the lack of the balance of forces, Russia will try to achieve progress in the negotiations at the expense of the weaker side. Therefore, Ukraine needs to be strengthened, while Russia – weakened. And this process must be both simultaneous and more intense. The West has long embarked on a path of weakening Russia, through economic and personal sanctions. But they are still not enough to make the Russian leadership ready to strike deals.
Therefore, there are two recipes: arms for Ukraine and more sanctions against Russia. Only this will create conditions for productive talks with the Russian side.
What would the U.S. involvement change in these negotiations? First of all, it should be noted that U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker has already been involved in the process. The only reservation is that the U.S. is not a member of the Normandy format, and Ambassador Volker takes no direct part in these talks. But the U.S. is engaged in bilateral talks with both Ukraine and Russia, in particular, to discuss the issue of the implementation of Minsk accords. That is, the American side, in one way or another, is present in the negotiations process.
I believe that the format will not be changing anytime soon. However, another format of talks may emerge in parallel lines, as it was before along the Nuland-Surkov line. Similarly, Ambassador Volker will be involved in parallel negotiations.
Volodymyr Horbach is a political analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. The commentary above was release by the UNIAN news agency on July 26.