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MOSCOW, October 5. /TASS/. Last Friday’s summit of the Normandy Quartet in Paris, which brought together the leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine, was an important stride towards achieving a settlement in Ukraine, polled experts agree. There were mutual concessions and there was pressure by the West European countries on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Once unconditionally supportive of Kiev, they have been stepping up demands for compliance with the Minsk Accords not only towards Russia, but also towards Ukraine. Russia’s European partners have in fact agreed to extend the deadline for compliance with the Minsk deal, expiring at the end of this year. Some say Syria has pushed the Ukrainian crisis into the background, while others suspect that Europe is "bored" with Ukraine.
"The summit has reaffirmed that the Minsk Accords are a great compromise between Western Europe, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other," the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, told TASS. "It implies the right of either side to have its own zone of influence and proceeds from the understanding that Ukraine has its own specifics. There is no other country where political priorities are split as strongly along geographic lines: in one half of the country 95% vote one way, and in the other half, as many cast ballots for something entirely different. So a decision has been made to leave it in peace: we don’t have it, but you don’t have it, either. The country is so special that the moment someone starts pulling it either way, it shows signs of falling apart and creates problems. So may it remain somewhere in the middle." Zharikhin believes that the summit confirmed the compromise is still effective and the parties will be seeking a settlement.
In the current situation it is hard to imagine that all items of the Minsk Accords will be implemented to the letter, though. "It will not be a final reintegration of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics with Ukraine. Most probably the conflict will be frozen with only some of its aspects settled. It remains to be seen who will be blamed for incomplete implementation. I reckon this is the focal point of the current dispute," he said.
Leading research fellow Sergey Bespalov, of the presidential academy RANEPA, believes that European leaders "just forced President Poroshenko to take action to implement the Minsk Accords and real changes for the better began only after that." "They exerted pressures on Ukraine, and in a situation where the country is critically dependent on Western assistance the Ukrainian leadership could not afford to ignore such influence," Bespalov told TASS.
He believes that the Paris summit saw some mutual concessions made. "On the one hand, both the Donetsk and Luhansk republics dropped the intention to hold local elections in Donbas they themselves had called earlier. In the meantime Kiev will be obliged to maintain ceasefire and pull back armaments."
In Paris it was agreed that the autumn elections in both the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics will be held not on October 18 and November 1, contrary to the original intention, but later and in conformity with Ukrainian laws. President Poroshenko is to persuade the Ukrainian parliament members to vote for bills (both extremely unpopular among legislators) on the special status of "some districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, on the rules of elections in these territories, and on declaring amnesty."
"It goes without saying that the West is getting bored with Ukraine and the public opinion is gradually changing. Economic assistance to Ukraine is getting ever more burdensome," Bespalov believes. "In the meantime, the outlook for at least halting the economic recession in that country is ever more vague."
A frozen conflict looks the most realistic scenario, he predicts. "Even if the elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics are held on the basis of Ukrainian legislation, the forces that are by no means oriented towards Kiev are destined to emerge the winners, and no one will ever agree to dismantle the bodies of power that have taken shape there over the eighteen months of actual independence."
Professor Igor Kuznetsov, of the Moscow State University’s department of political sciences, agrees that the events in Syria did cause certain, albeit indirect, effects on the Paris summit. "Of course, the intensity of the conflict in Syria is far more noticeable and the attention is now focused on Syria first and foremost, although one cannot say that one conflict has taken another’s place," Kuznetsov told TASS.
The main result of the Normandy Quartet’s summit, he believes, is the armistice process is going on, while it is hard to tell what the process will eventually result in. "The summit has raised the hope for a real settlement of the conflict, but this hope is still a fragile one. The conflict is likely to be frozen, but what pattern it will follow - Bosnian, Kosovan or Trans-Dniestrian - remains an open question. Also, it should be remembered that a frozen conflict may be unfrozen again any moment." Kuznetsov believes that if Poroshenko begins to systematically implement the assumed commitments, the conflict between extreme and moderate nationalists in Ukraine may go into high gear and put him out of office.
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