10:51 Sep. 3, 2016
Ukrainian political expert Oleh Belokolos on the upcoming talks on Donbas in China, where Ukraine will not be present
The upcoming G20 summit, scheduled for September 4-5 in China, will serve as a platform for discussions and haggling on the Donbas conflict. This time, however, Ukraine will not be present at the talks on its future, so the country's fate is left for Russia, Germany and France to decide.
Kyiv had to swallow its pride, after President Putin declined his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko's proposition to hold a full-fledged Normandy Four meeting in China. The reason for the refusal was the recent events in Crimea, when Moscow accused Kyiv of planning and organizing terror attacks on the peninsula. Putin even used the incident to discredit the Normandy Four format, saying that Ukraine's ‘terror tactics' made the future talks in China ‘pointless'.
Eventually, the Kremlin announced the Russian President would have two bilateral meetings with Merkel and Hollande, insisting they would not be a part of the Normandy process. Moscow said Ukraine would still top the agenda of the negotiations.
According to Ukrainian political expert Oleh Belokolos, Putin will use Poroshenko's absence to force Russian interests into the talks.
‘I believe that Putin would like to keep pressure on Ukraine and the other parties of the so-called Normandy format, to encourage them to go back to the discussion table, based on the Russian agenda – elections, decentralization, necessary changes to Ukrainian Constitution', Belokolos said.
The Kremlin also signaled that there would be an informal meeting between Putin and US President Barack Obama. Oleh Belokolos stated he would expect a standoff between the two leaders, where Putin will try to regain his positions as a dominant figure in the world affairs, using Ukraine and Syria as a leverage.
Washington, in turn, has always stressed the necessity to leave diplomatic channels with Russia open, even despite Moscow's isolation due to its aggression in Ukraine.
‘Russia has always tried to conduct a multilayer strategy, including blackmail, for example, the threats of the full-scale intervention in Ukraine, and there is even a plan in the West to combat this possible intervention. At the same time, Russia is saying, if you cooperate with us, we will cooperate with you in specific spheres like Syria or the IS', Belokolos stated.
The expert also shared his thoughts on what Putin's possible endgame would be. According to him, the Russian President would be satisfied with an ‘informal' recognition of Russian Crimea, which essentially could lead to the removal of the sanctions and ‘business as usual'.
Although Russia keeps claiming that economic restrictions haven't been all that impactful on its economy, the reality is the opposite. Belokolos stressed, some sanctions were very painful, especially in the sphere of finance and technology.
It remains to be seen how the West will react to Putin's combined tactics, however, it's extremely unlikely that Europe and the US will let up their support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity.
September 5th marks the second anniversary of the Minsk agreements. For two years the participants of the negotiations have criticized the slow implementation of the deal, but said there were nor real alternative to the peace talks.
Oleh Belokolos is a former Ukrainian diplomat, now director of the bilateral relations department of NGO 'Maidan of Foreign Affairs'. Click here to learn more about his analysis on different topics.