MOSCOW, August 21. /TASS/. The initiative to expand the Normandy Quartet, put forward by former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko and promoted by the country’s new President Vladimir Zelensky, has been rejected for good, Head of the Russian Center for Current Politics Alexei Chesnakov said, commenting on a recent meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France.
"I think the meeting did produce specific results. The parties emphasized the importance of the Normandy talks on resolving the Ukrainian conflict with Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. It means that an initiative to expand the group, promoted by Poroshenko and Zelensky, has been rejected for good. The group won’t be expanded and consequently, the Minsk Agreements won’t be revised," the expert said in an interview with the "Aktualnye Kommentarii" (or Relevant Comments) online newspaper.
Chesnakov did not rule out that the next Normandy Four summit might take place in the near future if a number of conditions were met.
"A summit will take place only if the parties agree decisions in advance," he explained. "At the same time, decisions made at previous summits need to be implemented. Russia demands that the so-called ‘Steinmeier formula’ be agreed on and the disengagement process near Stanitsa Luganskaya, Zolotoye and Petrovskoye be completed. In addition, progress in the humanitarian field is also possible," the expert said.
French President Emmanuel Macron noted at a joint press conference with Putin on Monday that Zelensky’s steps indicated "a change in the Ukrainian leader’s attitude" towards finding a peaceful solution to the Donbass conflict.
Kiev-Donbass relations following the completion of the Minsk Agreement
Completing the Minsk process means "granting an actual comprehensive special status for Donbass," Alexei Chesnakov said in response to a question on how Russian Presidential Advisor Vladislav Surkov sees the outcome of the Minsk Agreements.
"Donbass should coexist with Ukraine similar to Hong Kong and China [relations] — one nation, two systems. Only not just for 50 years, but without a time limit," the expert told the newspaper.
He also does not rule out an option when "Ukraine can receive the so-called symbolic sovereignty over Donbass." "Something similar to what the United Kingdom [has] over Canada or Australia, where the British Queen is nominally declared the head of state, but has no real power. This will be a good decision. If Donbass and Ukraine can forget the blood and insults at some point, they will get closer. If they can’t, they will drift further apart," Chesnakov explained.
"When Ukraine finally comes to its senses, it would be possible to make Donbass a sphere of common interests of Russia and Ukraine, so that Donbass is not a cause of conflict, but rather a platform for cooperation and collaboration, while two currencies — ruble and hryvnia — could be used equally, joint ventures could operate as well," the expert stressed.
The newspaper’s interviewer was surprised by these words, and then Chesnakov reminded him that Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron at their meeting that whatever seems impossible today can become inevitable tomorrow. "Remember, a few years ago the experts who clearly saw the processes taking place in Ukraine were saying that it is a civil war, it was branded as the Kremlin’s propaganda. While today, many Ukrainian politicians recognize this fact," he said.
Chesnakov also clarified that the Minsk Agreements feature a provision on introducing a special economic status, but it is not outlined what this status is. "But it is written down that Kiev and Donbass can have agreements on all social and economic issues, the contents of these agreements can be whatever the sides agree on. Therefore, the Minsk Package of Measures opens up a broad field for creativity. The bi-currency zone and many other things can be agreed on, should there be a desire," the expert believes. "Now young, open-minded and creative people are making up the leadership in Kiev. They need to have a broad outlook on things instead of copying Poroshenko," he concluded.
As for the current contacts, Russia and Ukraine continue bilateral consultations, according to Chesnakov, who is close to the negotiation process.
"Bilateral consultations between Russia and Ukraine have resumed indeed," he told the Aktualnye Kommentarii online edition. "They are not quite formal yet. Previously, under Poroshenko [former Ukrainian president — TASS] they were held too from time to time, both between the presidential administrations and on certain economic and even military issues."
According to Chesnakov, the resumption of such consultations is a positive sign. "We need to talk. What these talks will result in is difficult to say so far," he added.
Russia and Ukraine may soon carry out a detainee exchange, which could involve Ukrainian sailors, Alexei Chesnakov told the "Aktualniye Kommentarii" (or Relevant Comments) online newspaper.
"I won’t be surprised if a detainee exchange takes place in the coming weeks," he said, adding that the process might involve Ukrainian sailors arrested in the wake of the Kerch Strait incident.
The expert added that the issue was between Russia and Ukraine and did not fall within the Normandy Quartet’s purview.
Normandy format talks
The Normandy Quartet was established in 2014 to hold negotiations on the Ukrainian crisis. During the celebrations of the 70th D-Day anniversary in Normandy, the leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine for the first time discussed ways of settling the Ukrainian conflict. Since then, there have been a number of telephone conversations and meetings involving the four countries’ leaders and foreign ministers.
Kerch Strait incident
On November 25, 2018, three Ukrainian naval ships illegally crossed Russia’s border and tried to carry out some unlawful actions in Russian territorial waters. They ignored legitimate demands to stop issued by vessels belonging to the FSB Border Service and the Black Sea Fleet, and continued maneuvering dangerously. In order to stop the Ukrainian ships, weapons had to be used. The three vessels were detained in Russian territorial waters.
A criminal investigation was opened into the border incident. The Ukrainian ships’ crew were put into custody. They are charged with violating the Russian border under Article 322.3 of the Russian Criminal Code and may face up to six years in prison if found guilty.