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Recent conflict escalation in Donbass was man-made, Russia’s deputy chief of staff says

It has its own reasons - both domestic political and foreign political ones, Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, said
Russian Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak Yekaterina Shtukina/POOL/TASS
Russian Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak
© Yekaterina Shtukina/POOL/TASS

MOSCOW, June 2. /TASS/. This year’s escalation in Donbass was artificial and related to Ukraine’s attempts to link political issues to ceasefire, Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, said in a televised interview on Rossiya-24 channel on Wednesday.

"Ukraine is trying to link political issues to ceasefire. And that escalation in January, February and March was evidently man-made. It has its own reasons - both domestic political and foreign political ones," he said.

"Today, according to the observations we have, it is quite obvious that those incidents of shelling were initiated from Kiev-controlled areas. Therefore, it is a man-made story," Kozak stressed.

Kozak pointed out that there was an agreement "to stop any unfriendly actions" in Donbass, but that never happened, and Ukraine started talking about the need to transform the Normandy Four group (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) for resolving the Ukraine crisis.

"In February, they might have decided to aggravate the situation so as to lure the United States and Britain into the Normandy format. And now the entire European Union, according to [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky’s statement," he noted.

Kozak, who also leads the Russian delegation at the Donbass talks at the level of advisors to leaders of the Normandy Four group, added that the ruling party’s popularity plummeted in Ukraine at that time.

"Then, the ruling political party and Zelensky himself saw a dramatic drop in their ratings. Since the peace pledges had not been fulfilled, it was necessary to consolidate Ukrainian voters, Ukrainian citizens. Thus, this escalation began," Kozak emphasized.

Germany and France

Kozak, chief Russian delegate to negotiations by the Normandy Quartet’s political advisors, has expressed regret over the stance of his German and French counterparts, who over the past six years of talks, he said, have been unable to make up their mind who in their opinion are the parties to the conflict in Donbass, although this is stated very clearly in the Minsk Accords.

In an interview to the Rossiya-24 round-the-clock television news channel Kozak cited a reply to a direct question on this issue he heard from his Western counterparts at the latest round of contacts. They argue: "We are unable to give an answer. It is a complicated political issue. A summit meeting of the Normandy Quartet’s head of state and government is to be convened to make a decision."

"Just imagine, this happens in the sixth year following the conclusion of the Minsk deal, after all the statements and at least three summits of the heads of state," Kozak lamented. "The UN Security Council approved all those measures (the agreements achieved in Minsk - TASS). Everybody vows allegiance to the Minsk Accords. And in the sixth year there comes the statement ‘No, we are unable to do this.’ The political advisors, the representatives of foreign ministries are unable to provide an answer to a simple and clear question, although the answer is described in detail in the Minsk Accords and in the latest agreement on truce that was achieved in July last year."

Kozak stressed once again that the Minsk Accords did not say a word about Russia as a party to the conflict.

"There is only one mention of the Russian-Ukrainian border, and only in one context - after the elections (Russia is to put the border in Donbass under Kiev’s control after the elections)," Kozak said.

"Kiev’s refusal to cooperate with Donbass"

"Kiev seems dissatisfied with one thing - they have to cooperate with Donbass representatives. It is the main problem that we try to resolve at the Contact Group [which seeks peace for Donbass]. Because of that, all the issues are mothballed. Both ceasefire issues and the implementation of the mechanism (additional ceasefire control measures have been effective in Donbass since July 27, 2020 after being approved by the Contact Group - TASS) that safeguards this ceasefire, along with political, humanitarian and economic issues, are at an impasse," he said adding, "It is the fundamental reason why we have been deadlocked for six years."

According to Kozak, "counterparts from Ukraine and the Contact Group, as well as from the Normandy [Four] format (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France), are trying to salvage the issue of conflicting parties."

"Ukraine attempted to salvage the issue of the parties and exclude Donbass from all the agreements that have been adopted, to write down a blurry phrase [in response] to a direct question whether you want to say that it is Russia - yes, we want to say that it is Russia," he said.

The deputy chief of staff pointed out that under the Minsk accords and additional ceasefire control measures, "the parties to the ceasefire are Ukraine and separate areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions"

"Nevertheless, Ukraine believes now that Russia is such a party," Kozak said adding that Russia abides by the Minsk agreements in the issue.

Russia seeks maximum openness of Donbass talks

Russia seeks to ensure that the negotiations on the settlement in eastern Ukraine are as open as possible both at the Contact Group and in the Normandy Four format, Kozak said.

"We have long been trying to ensure that both the talks in the Contact Group and in the Normandy Four format had maximum openness so that the public, first and foremost Ukrainians, who are the main beneficiaries of these talks, alongside the people of Russia, Germany and France, who are also interested in having this issue resolved, are direct participants, that they are aware of the stances of all the countries," Kozak said. "We have not been able to break through this position yet."

Kozak pointed out that the closeness of the negotiating process is harmful.

"Diplomatic negotiations are such an old diplomatic tradition. But they are harmful to the talks, since they do not stimulate discipline, nor the mandatory implementation of those agreements. The verbalization of all the talks, lack of a written procedure, of negotiating, of submitting proposals, and lack of publicity do not allow the evaluation of what exactly we have been talking about for six years since the Minsk agreements were signed and for seven years since the Normandy format was established, what we talk about there but have no practical results," Kozak explained.

"Ukraine sticks to a position akin to a well-known disease - a split personality. On the one hand, ‘we are for strict confidentiality,’ but as soon as the door is closed, they go out the door to tell everyone, regardless of the results of the talks, that ‘today we both in the Contact Group and in the Normandy format, today we together with our German and French counterparts and alongside the OSCE, confronted Russia’s unconstructive position, we have done such heroic deeds," he said.

"And they give out their interpretation and spill it over onto the heads of unfortunate Ukrainian citizens who are in the dark about what actually happened, what it was and who was talking about what," he added.

The Minsk agreements, signed by the Contact Group on February 12, 2015, are the cornerstone of peace in Donbass. Not only does the Package of Measures, known as Minsk-2, envisage a ceasefire, the weapons withdrawal, amnesty, the restoration of economic ties, but the deal also lays out a roadmap for constitutional reform in Ukraine. The reform aims at decentralization, taking into account the special status of certain areas in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions along with elections in that region.

The first talks of the Normandy Four group took place in France in June 2014 amid commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the landing of allied troops in Normandy. Then the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany held first talks looking for a solution to the conflict in Donbass. Since then, there have been a number of phone calls and summit meetings, as well as contacts between foreign ministers.