On January 15, Russian President’s aide Vladislav Surkov and Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, held consultations on the Minsk agreements for Ukraine settlement. The meeting took place in the Russian President’s Yantar state residence located in the town of Pionersky near the city of Kaliningrad. It lasted about six hours. «The consultations we had were detailed enough, fruitful and useful», Surkov said. «This was brainstorming of a kind to tap compromise solutions».
«Ideas were voiced on some extremely sensitive issues like the constitutional reform (in Ukraine), security and elections», he said. «They can now be discussed at the Contact Group (in charge of settling the armed civil conflict in eastern Ukraine) or in the Normandy format (Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine)». Nuland made no comments. According to US State Department Spokesman John Kirby, the Surkov-Nuland meeting was «constructive».
The Surkov-Nuland meeting was preceded by the visit to Kiev of Boris Gryzlov, the Russia’s recently assigned representative in the trilateral contact group on settling the situation in Donbass. His main interlocutor was Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, not Leonid Kuchma, the official representative of Ukraine in the trilateral group.
At the time of Gryzlov’s arrival the President of Ukraine demonstratively left the Ukraine’s capital for Ternopil to hand
to the so-called «heroes of anti-terrorist operations» the keys to their new apartments and attend a new school opening ceremony. Soon it became known that the Russian visitor met the incumbent and former presidents of Ukraine. Evidently, Gryzlov brought important information for the Ukraine’s President regarding the implementation of Minsk agreements and the situation in the Donbass. It became known that the Ukraine’s presidential administration staff and the President himself tried to keep the fact of the meeting away from public eye, at least for some time.
«Elections in the Donbas must be held under Ukrainian laws with the participation of Ukrainian political parties... We must return our heroes back home - Savchenko, Sentsov, all the prisoners, those held by militants, and those held in Russia... It's crucial that Russia's troops are withdrawn from Ukraine and the OSCE is granted access to all parts of the border... I'll talk to anyone to return hostages and ensure an absolute cease-fire», Poroshenko said, answering the question about the visit of Russian Federation envoy Boris Gryzlov at the press-conference on January 14. That’s all he said about the event. As one can see, he did not say much, at least nothing in substance. He added that no such thing as Minsk-3 agreement existed. According to him, it all boiled down to strictly defining the deadlines for certain items of the Minsk agreements. He underlined the importance of restoring control over the state border in the Donbass. «The key position has to be ceasing the occupation and controlling the border», he said. «I have no doubt that once Russian armies leave, once illegal formations have their arms removed, once we take control of the border, people will see that life has changed», he said. The President put this issue at the top of the agenda.
The Minsk agreement states clearly and unambiguously that the parties must «Restore control of the state border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone, which has to start on the first day after the local election and end after the full political regulation (local elections in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts based on the law of Ukraine and Constitutional reform) by the end of 2015, on the condition of fulfillment of Point 11 – in consultations and in agreement with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group».
It means constitutional changes must precede the transfer of border control, not vice versa. Now the Ukrainian leadership talks about the deadlines with border control preceding the constitutional changes.
It has become a stumbling block to stymie the implementation of the agreements in 2015. As a result, the situation in the Donbass may be exacerbated in the early 2016. Actually, that is something Ukraine had been preparing for while concentrating forces in the vicinity of the dividing line and testing the defenses of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. It has been moving block posts and seizing populated areas in the buffer zone. Since mid-October the people of republics went to sleep accompanied by the sounds of artillery salvos.
Arms brandishing has not been stopped until now. At the same time, some recent events have shown that it was not Kiev who really decides war and peace in Ukraine.
At first, the Minsk-2 Agreement on Ukraine were extended to 2016 by the «Normandy Quartet», initially at the level of foreign ministers, then by the heads of state.
At second, on December 26, 2015 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a resolution appointing permanent member of the Security Council Boris Gryzlov the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian Federation in the Contact Group on Settling the Situation in Ukraine. The Russian President’s Advisor Vladislav Surkov said the appointment brings higher the level of Russian representation in the Contact Group. It shows that the Russian government is keen on achieving progress and finally finding a solution to the problem.
At third, Boris Gryzlov brought a message for President Poroshenko. His aircraft had the white, blue, and red tricolor of Russia painted on its fuselage. It caused confusion in Borispol as the plane landed. They expected the plane to have no insignia to keep away public attention in the best traditions of conspiracy fiction.
At fourth, the Tripartite Group held a meeting in Minsk to confirm the prolongation of Minsk agreements for 2016. The Contact Group urged the sides in the Donbas conflict to establish immediate ceasefire as of 00:00 on January 14. An agreement on the «25 for 36» prisoner exchange was reached.
At fifth, the «brainstorm» launched by Surkov and Nuland finally proved that in reality «the issue of Ukraine» is being solved by two powers – the Russian Federation and the United States of America. It was the first time when those, who control the process, appeared together before public. They spent several hours to work out a plan of settlement. Probably, this plan will be a basis for the «Normandy Four» proceedings.
One can only guess what the plan offers. In Kiev the representatives of «war party» smell a rat.
The draft changes to Ukrainian constitution on the special status of separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be sent to the Ukrainian parliament by the end of January 2016. 300 ‘yes» votes are needed to push the legislation through. Only 290 MPs are ready to support it. The situation does not make the war mongers in parliament happy, though they say it’s impossible to gain the necessary support till the day of the vote. The President seems to lack a «B» plan in case the legislation fails to receive the needed support. That’s what makes the «war party» really worried. This scenario has not even been discussed.
It shows that the failure to get the approval of the legislation in the parliament does not meet the plans of the West. In its turn, it means that the separatist districts of the Donbass will receive a special status according to the formula: constitution first, border-second.
It’s worth to note, that the United States embassy in Ukraine reported that the US officials informed Ukraine about the results of the Surkov-Nuland meeting a day after the talks ended.
In the Donetsk, they were reticent in their comments on the Russia-US meeting. They did not ask why they were not invited.
Alexander Zakharchenko, the Donetsk Republic leader, said Kiev was not an independent party to the peace management process. «Whatever is discussed, Poroshenko has to leave the round table and make a phone call to talk things over with his sponsors in Washington», he said. «Under the circumstances, it would be better to talk directly with those who exercise control over Ukraine from the outside. In this sense, a bilateral Russia-US format could be an effective support of the «Normandy Four» efforts», Zakharchenko added.