KIEV, December 1. /TASS/. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has shown his wish and readiness for talks with Russia on the Donbass conflict, but an agenda for such a bilateral meeting is extremely difficult to formulate at the moment. The situation may change no earlier than next spring, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, Ruslan Bortnik, told TASS on Wednesday.
"Today’s statement by Vladimir Zelensky [in his message to the Verkhovna Rada] indicates his readiness and wish to hold talks in Moscow regarding the Donbass conflict. They will take place sooner or later, but in the near future such negotiations will be hardly probable," he believes.
In his opinion the main reason is that Russia does not see Ukraine as a trustworthy and capable partner.
"A meeting between the heads of state (Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky - TASS] would be the final phase of backstage talks being conducted by their teams. Before holding any negotiations in public, the heads of state are to be certain that they will be effective, that they will manage to agree on something significant or that the negotiations are needed for discussing some matters of importance in private. At the moment, though, it is very hard to agree an agenda. For this reason, such negotiations are unlikely in the near future," Bortnik believes. He stressed that there was another problem that made an agenda so hard to shape. "It will be very difficult for Zelensky to conduct talks without touching upon the issue of Crimea, for instance, while for Russia Crimea is a taboo. This subject is closed," he said.
Chances of a meeting do exist
At the same time Bortnik speculates that the Russian and Ukrainian presidents would eventually meet at some future date. "The chances of their meeting will grow after Putin’s talks with US President Joe Biden at the end of this winter or next spring," he forecasts. For now, Bortnik speculates, Kiev and Moscow might hold a meeting at the head of government level.
"An inter-governmental meeting might focus on economic problems alone and to pave the way for a face-to-face meeting between the presidents," Bortnik believes.
The expert stressed that for the sake of negotiations with Moscow Zelensky had in fact showed his readiness to compromise. For instance, he declared the intention to revoke from parliament a bill on a transitional period for Donbass of which Russia was strongly critical. At the same time, Bortnik remarked that the Donbass problem was already being settled without Ukraine. "In general, Ukraine has lost control of the Donbass conflict, and this issue is being handled on international platforms without Kiev taking part," he recalled.
Bortnik believes that although Zelensky has said more than once that he is unable to terminate the Donbass conflict without negotiations with Moscow, in reality he does have a leverage to influence the situation in the east of the country. "For tackling the conflict Zelensky might promote the implementation of the Steinmeier formula (envisaging a special status for Donbass - TASS), because his party has a majority in parliament," Bortnik said.
In his opinion, such a step would provide Ukraine with an argument in favor of a meeting of the Normandy Quartet (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France). "Or he might have put the implementation of the Minsk Accords to the vote in a referendum in order to obtain society’s mandate to use a certain tactic; also, he might take the issue of implementing the peace agreements on Ukraine to the UN Security Council or employ a format similar to the Budapest Memorandum," Bortnik speculated.
On the whole, he believes that while the Normandy Quartet format is fading away, the Donbass talks might be transferred to other platforms, for instance, converted to a trilateral Russia-US-Ukraine format.
Zelensky said earlier on Wednesday that he would be unable to end the armed conflict in Donbass without direct talks with Russia.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday pointed out that only intra-Ukrainian talks would be able to put an end to the civil war in Donbass, stressing once again that Russia was not a party the conflict. He recalled that Russia was exerting all conceivable efforts for the sake of helping Ukraine to settle the Donbass conflict and remained committed to the Normandy format and the Minsk Accords.
Last May, Zelensky said that he was prepared for a dialogue with Putin, adding that his office had begun negotiations on the issue of organizing such a meeting. Peskov later confirmed that contacts between the two countries were underway, but the process was "tough-going." The Russian president on April 22 said in reply to Zelensky’s proposal for a personal meeting that if the problems of Donbass were to be discussed, the Ukrainian leadership should meet with the leaders of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics in the first place. Putin believes this should be the first step to be taken towards a settlement in Donbass, while discussions on these issues with any third parties, including Russia might follow only afterwards. He stressed that he would be prepared to receive Zelensky in Moscow at any convenient moment, if the development of bilateral relations was to be considered.