KYIV – It’s no coincidence that the warring in Donbas has calmed this month, with relatively few casualties and injuries, Kyiv experts said.
The Russian government was satisfied with the decision of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, to approve on August 31 the first reading of constitutional amendments establishing a specific order in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Yet there’s another factor to the reduced fighting, experts said. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be addressing the United Nations this weekend for the first time in 10 years and he wants to present himself as a peacemaker and open the door for more negotiations, experts said.
“Putin really wants this meeting” of the United Nations (U.N.), said Volodymyr Fesenko, the director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Reseach in Kyiv.
“He needs it more than [U.S. President Barack] Obama. The majority of Russians and Western experts believe that the Russian Federation’s recent actions, particularly in Syria, are aimed at spurring the Americans to this meeting and demonstrating its necessity.”
The U.N. Sustainable Development Summit will meet on September 25-27, which will be attended by Messrs. Putin, who is scheduled to address the U.N. on September 28, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is scheduled to speak on September 29.
(Mr. Poroshenko was originally scheduled to speak immediately after Mr. Putin, reported Ukraine’s Liga news agency.)
Yet the Russian autocrat won’t meet with Mr. Poroshenko at all, reported the eurointegration.com.ua news site on September 24, citing an anonymous Ukrainian diplomat. Additionally, Liga reported on September 23 that Mr. Putin has decided to reduce his visit to two days instead of four, starting September 27, according to anonymous Ukrainian diplomats.
The Russian delegation rejected a proposal by the Ukrainian government to hold talks in New York to resolve the Donbas war in the Normandy format (including German and French leaders), probably out of concern that the U.S. would join, the diplomats said.
“The Russians said that they don’t trust not only the walls, but the air and all that’s there. The Germans and French shrugged their shoulders, ‘Well, okay, that means we’ll meet in Paris,’ ” the liga.net report said, citing one of the diplomats who referred to the meeting planned for October 2 in the Normandy format.
So what will happen?
U.S. President Obama has agreed to engage in a bilateral meeting with Mr. Putin on either September 28 or 29, the New York Times reported on September 23, citing an anonymous source in the White House. The last time they met formally was June 2013.
Mr. Putin will likely use the visit to discuss the Syrian conflict with President Obama, as well as the entire political configuration in the Middle East.
“They will mainly talk about the Near East and possibly organizing a large kind of conference on Syria. Taking into account that the meeting will be short on the U.N. territory, there won’t room nor time for Ukraine,” Vadym Karasyov, the director of the Institute for Global Research in Kyiv, told the segodnya.ua news site.
He added, “There won’t be any results there. The main thing will be the messages voiced by the sides.”
If they do find time to discuss Ukraine, Mr. Fesenko said, Mr. Putin will stick to his positions of forbidding Ukraine’s NATO membership, requiring Kyiv to negotiate directly with the terrorists and to establish the local governments of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, to be financed by the Ukrainian budget.
He will also propose his own version of a world order, or a “New Yalta,” he said. Yet that’s unlikely to muster much support. In recent weeks, Russian Duma deputies went as far as proposing to move the U.N. headquarters to Switzerland.
The German publication Die Zeit reported Mr. Putin will propose creating a new global anti-terrorist alliance, with its primary target being ISIS. Russian diplomats have already tried to muster the support of the U.S., Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the report said.
In his turn, Mr. Poroshenko will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her press office said, as reported by the Ukrinform news agency. She will leave New York the same day Mr. Putin arrives and will wait until October 2 to meet with him in Paris, the report said.
He will also meet with President Obama, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry reported on September 11. The Ukrainian president will propose introducing a U.N. peacekeeping mission to the occupied territories of Donbas, the Presidential Administration press service said on September 23.
Mr. Poroshenko’s main goals will be to maintain the international coalition against Russian aggression and keep the economic sanctions in place to pressure Russia.
He will also seek to restrict vetoes of permanent members on the U.N. Security Council, as well as advocate for Ukraine to become a non-permanent member in the elections next year, which it hasn’t had for 15 years, said Kostiantyn Yeliseyev, a Presidential Administration deputy head.
Yet so far, there isn’t enough support in the General Assembly to amend the rules of the Security Council, Mr. Fesenko said.
The president will discuss the criminal persecution and human rights violations of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian diplomats will meet with their counterparts to consider forming a tribunal to hold accountable those who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands could help form this tribunal, The New York Times reported on September 24, without the Security Council, where the measure was rejected by Russia. “That could be a very important result,” Mr. Fesenko said.
Another topic for discussion is hybrid warfare and how to counteract it by mobilizing international support, Mr. Yeliseyev said. The president is also scheduled to meet with Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the Presidential Administration said.
The violence in Donbas could escalate yet again after Mr. Putin returns from New York, Mr. Fesenko said. Sooner or later, whether in New York or elsewhere, Western leaders will have to face up to the fact that the Minsk accords have reached a dead end and a new tool of diplomacy will be needed, he said.
“Putin will further attempt to control this territory and he will continue to be interested in removing sanctions, or at least reducing them. That’s precisely why he’s playing this game of ‘establishing peace’ in Donbas,” Mr. Fesenko said.