Donbas conflict can be settled in 1 year if Package of Measures implemented consistently - Russian expert
MOSCOW. April 8 (Interfax) - The participants of an expert meeting of the joint project of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and Interfax titled 'Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation', which took place on Thursday, April 8 in the form of an online event, addressed the latest escalation of tensions in Donbas. The meeting's participants discussed the role of the Normandy Format and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in settling the conflict. The meeting focused on Washington's approach to Ukraine, Donbas, and relations with Russia, as well as the domestic political dynamics in Ukraine.
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak was a special guest at the meeting.
Other participants included IMEMO Director and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Feodor Voitolovsky, IMEMO Post-Soviet Studies Center head Eduard Solovyev, and head of the Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Department of the IMEMO International Security Center Andrei Zagorsky.
IMEMO President and Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Dynkin moderated the event.
The conflict in Donbas can be settled in one year if the Minsk Agreements are implemented, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy chief of staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office, said at the session.
If the agreements are not implemented, the conflict will be frozen, Kozak said.
"I believe the conflict can be settled in one year if consistent actions are taken, if the agreements reached earlier are implemented. If there is endless separation, like what Ukraine is doing, I'm afraid it will lead to a freezing of the conflict," Kozak said.
Russia tried to help Ukraine settle the conflict, following the Minsk Agreements, he added.
"But it turned out that help can only be given to someone who wants it," Kozak said.
Ukraine has enough voters who are skeptical about the policies of the country's administration, and there are economic problems that will need to be solved immediately after the reintegration of Donbas in Ukraine, he said.
"Apparently, this is why Ukraine has taken this precise position: exhausting, endless demagogic talks without a result. And unfortunately, our partners in the Normandy format are moving in the same direction as Ukraine," Kozak said.
IMEMO Director Fyodor Voitolovsky said, commenting on Kozak's statements on the possibility of settling the conflict over a period of one year, that he sees no reasons to believe that Washington is interested in this process.
"To the United States, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is, so to speak, an instrument to put pressure on Russia. It was and is a reason to keep in place some of the sanctions imposed on Russia and to introduce new ones, if need be," he said.
To Washington, the Ukrainian conflict is also "a way of putting pressure on the European allies, mobilizing them, alarming them in the face of hypothetical Russian aggression," Voitolovsky said.
"And it is also a very serious and important instrument to cause division and maintain this division on a high level between Russia and the European Union," Voitolovsky said.
This gives the U.S. instruments to "get involved in political processes associated with the Ukrainian crisis to some degree, to have some dividends from that, but not to invest its political capital and not create risks to its security in the event of any development of this situation," he said.
"In this regard, Kyiv's expectations that the U.S. will provide to it much bigger military assistance than they are providing are absolutely illusionary," Voitolovsky said.
Kyiv's actions in Donbas are a publicity stunt, and Ukraine is unlikely to have any real intentions to start hostilities, Dmitry Kozak said.
"Most likely, this is a publicity stunt accompanied by an imitation of a military threat. Most likely, there are no actual intentions to unleash all-out war," Kozak said on Thursday.
The behavior of the current government in Kyiv is under the serious influence of the domestic political crisis, he said.
"The new political team ended up in a difficult internal-political situation: catastrophic falling ratings, the collapse of the faction of the Servant of the People party, business and the political elite being torn by contradictions. Plus, the pandemic, and a host of other political problems can be solved through the consistent, painstaking, routine work of normalizing of the domestic situation," Kozak said.
"Team Quarter 95 decided to stage a show titled Military Threat," he said.
"Because they have no major political experience, colleagues might get carried away. I am not hiding it, I have always said that they are kids with matches. And when they'll have something accidentally catch fire is also hard to predict," Kozak said.
Eduard Solovyov, head of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the current escalation was "'geared up' for domestic audiences in order to increase the populist nationalist potential."
"On the other hand, no less important is the fact that Zelensky very much depends on legitimization from outside. Following the victory of [President Joe] Biden he was, of course, eager to demonstrate his efficiency, his significance for the United States. And he probably thinks that he did: Biden called him," Solovyov said at the session.
"What we are seeing is a transformation of Zelensky's populist image, a kind of transformation from, say, a populist peacemaker into a populist nationalist, which may even be somewhat unexpected for us in light of how he began his political career, but which manifests absolutely obviously in those of his steps and policies, in the strategy for the de-occupation and integration of the 'temporarily occupied' Crimea, not just Donbas," Solovyov said.
In his view, trying to mix Donbas and Crimea would have a negative effect on the tendencies towards the conflict settlement in eastern Ukraine in general.
Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of the Russian Presidential Executive Office, has called for declassifying the contents of the ongoing negotiations on settling the conflict in Donbas, warning that no agreements on stabilizing the situation can possibly be achieved otherwise.
"If we don't declassify our negotiations, we'll never reach agreement on anything. It's Ukraine that chiefly favors that the negotiations be confidential and closed, and Germany and France steadily follow this call," Kozak said at the session.
"Ukraine fears exposure of its inconsistence. Just look what Ukrainian media and politicians are saying about these negotiations: they're telling the public that the Minsk Agreements are like a noose on Ukraine's neck and obstruct settlement in Donbas, while Mr. Kravchuk [Leonid Kravchuk, Kyiv's envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group talks] and Mr. Zelensky [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] are saying they'd quit them [the Minsk Agreements], but they're necessary to keep the sanctions on Russia. Where's the logic?" Kozak said.
Moreover, "they say at the negotiations that they're committed to the Minsk Agreements from A to Z," he said.
"They're afraid to say this in public, they've assumed a secretive position," Kozak said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Donbas is unlikely to lead to an aggravation of the situation in the region, Dmitry Kozak said.
"I don't think his visit to Donbas will be associated with an aggravation [of the situation in the region]," he said on Thursday.
"They may be carried away with this game. The fact that he paid a visit is already an element of that game," Kozak said.
At the same time, Kozak said he sees nothing unusual in the Ukrainian president's visit. "He has the right to travel on the entire territory of Ukraine. He may even visit Donbas. No problem, they will give him a warm welcome there," he said.
Zelensky is trying to demonstrate his resolve as commander-in-chief, Kozak said. "Any regional agenda is an element of an information campaign, a PR campaign, of the PR activities that all politicians are conducing. And also military hysteria, in which he is the main character," he said.
Russian citizens in Donbas
Russia will have to stand up to defend its citizens in Donbas if the situation there develops along the Srebrenica scenario, Dmitry Kozak said.
"Everything depends now on the scale of the fire. If, as our president says, another Srebrenica occurs there, we will apparently have to stand up in defense," he said on Thursday.
The armed formations of the self-proclaimed Donbas republics "are battle-hardened enough and can hold an attack," he said.
"But everything depends on the other side," Kozak said.
No point discussing change of venue
There is no need to discuss a change of the venue for the talks on Donbas from Minsk, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak said.
"We don't even want to discuss these issues. These secondary, technical issues don't need to be discussed. The talks in Minsk have no relation to the content of the talks, to the problems faced by Ukraine," Kozak said at the session, commenting on the possibility of changing the venue of the talks, which are conducted in Minsk.
"There's no point. I don't understand the logic of this statement. This issue isn't topical," he said.
"I said a long time ago, let's take turns, in Moscow, in Kyiv, in Paris, in Berlin, anywhere. There is no [accord] in the Normandy format now. From a logistical viewpoint, Minsk is a convenient venue," Kozak said.
"If they put the issue like this, we will decide. A consensus," Kozak said.
The start of military action in Donbas would mean the beginning of the end of Ukraine as a state, Dmitry Kozak said on Thursday.
Joining NATO will lead to Ukraine's disintegration, Kozak said.
"I support the opinions that also exist inside Ukraine that the start of military action would mean the beginning of Ukraine's end. It's a self-shot, a shot not in their own leg but in the head," Kozak said at the session.
The implementation of Kyiv's plans to join NATO will become "the beginning of Ukraine's disintegration," he said.
"Where is NATO, where is the conflict in Ukraine, where is logic?" Kozak said.
Talks on April 19
The next talks of the political advisors of the Normandy Four countries are scheduled for mid-April, Dmitry Kozak said.
"Talks have already been initiated. We will have Normandy format [talks] on April 19. Let's see how the situation changes after this exchange of views at the top level," Kozak said at the session.
'Russia and the World: A Professional Conversation' is a new joint project of IMEMO and Interfax. A series of expert meetings dedicated to the most important events in global politics and economics take part within the project's framework. Scientists, public figures, and officials hold discussions in both online and offline formats which are broadcast on YouTube.
The previous expert meetings as part of this project addressed the following topics:
Energy Transition and the Post-Covid World (December 21)
'Russian Think Tanks in Global Dimension' (February 1)