What will Happen after the “Norman” Meeting

Key Challenges and Risks in the Field of Security and Defense in the First Half of November 2019 " - analysis by Valentyn Badrak, Director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS), member of the Board of USSI.
Фото: cacds.org.ua

This area of the second half of November in Ukraine was mainly subordinated to the preparation for

the “Norman” summit. And, among other things, preparing the company for the start of effective negotiations on December 9.

By the way, there are no special reasons to expect positive results. And here the obstacle is not only the naivety and self-confidence of Zelensky’s team, but also the lack of prerequisites. In particular, it is difficult to expect results during the screaming crisis in the Euro-Atlantic camp, the deepening of internal problems in NATO and the United States, the lack of clear prospects for rapprochement with the United States, and, finally, the lack of a” fundamental rear ” in Ukraine itself – in the form of a rapid restructuring of the defense potential.

In fact, at this time, President Zelensky is repeating a key mistake of his predecessor, focusing on peace talks and diplomatic and political levers – without interest in building a powerful army as an argument in negotiations with a hostile country. This remains one of the most significant challenges for Ukraine at the present stage.

At the same time, some politicians and experts, as well as some of the society strongly opposed to hostile Russia, assume the possibility of unacceptable compromises during the the “Norman” meeting. The same as the inertia of this internal resistance, together with the accumulated negative from the project “Creating a Land Market” and the activities of individual deputies of the ruling party, Zelensky himself lost a significant part of the rating – from 72% in September it fell to 52% at the end of November (28 November, KIIS survey). Of course, the political forces that openly switched to the opposition also played a role here, but, one way or another, new additional risks appeared.

It seems that the assessments provided by the Russian Center for Political Conjuncture (CPC), a specific private company, on the eve of the negotiations, are not unfounded, it tries to formulate alternative warnings for the Russian authorities. “Zelensky’s positions inside the country do not look so strong that we can consider him as a negotiator who is ready to guarantee the implementation of all external agreements. … If the Ukrainian President can’t fulfill his duties however, referring to problems within the country or demanding changes in the terms of the agreement, for Russia it ceases to be a valuable partner in the dialogue. … The President’s high ratings do not reflect the real state of affairs in the country.” – These are the key messages of CPC that you should pay attention to.

By the way, for many observers in Ukraine, the negotiation process also looks like this, which will give rise to very dubious results. The probability of achieving the peace at any cost (what was demonstrated in the second half of November, when the withdrawal took place without a cease-fire from the Russian-terrorist group) is extremely low, and can, in the case of “peace on the terms of the Kremlin (that is, with large concessions) lead to civil war. This is what Moscow is trying to achieve. On the other hand, the zero result of the “Norman” negotiations and the refusal to conclude any document automatically generates a continuation of the war, and more intense and “hot”. And then the most interesting thing begins: is Ukraine ready for such a development?!

One has only to recall the statement of the chief of the General staff Ruslan Khomchak (November 25, UKRINFORM) that “military aggression from Russia is not a priority threat”. “In the discussions that are held on various television shows, our society for some reason grabs the worst option, that Russia can carry out a broad aggression, and begins to think that is the end – tomorrow this aggression will begin. On my own opinion and based on what the General Staff analyzes, we have come to the conclusion that the open military aggression from Russia is not among the first threats, but it is in the list of “extreme” options, although the most remote” – the Chief of the General Staff said, adding that “the Eastern neighbor did not refuse the fact that Ukraine should be its sphere of influence.”

Technically, that’s right. A large-scale war will not start by surprise, suddenly. This, of course, will not recall June 22, 1941. But the problem is not displayed by the expert environment and is not with such contours. We are talking about the fact that Ukraine will not be able to respond to the gradual build-up of pressure with the help of the Russian military lever at some stage. Except, of course, the lives of soldiers and officers.

This risk is directly related to the Kremlin’s systemic loosening of Ukrainian society, its civil institutions – the decisive sector that will begin to demand specifics from the Government. Which it is impossible to get right away. And in general, if look at the crazy numbers of unused funds in 2019, which were allocated for the construction of the Army, it is possible confidently say that the year for Army development is lost. Unfortunately…

Reintegration Vicissitudes. What will Happen after the “Norman” Meeting

The death of the brigade commander Yevgen Korostelyov during the withdrawal of troops was the most resonant event in a long chain of human losses, injuries, and injuries of the JFO soldiers on the front line. All of them (dead and wounded) are direct evidence of Kremlin Kiev’s readiness testing to make concessions. At the same time, the Kremlin’s task is to extract more concessions, and if it decides to freeze the “volcano” in the Donbas, it will get exceptional opportunities to influence this territory at any time.

“Council of National Security and Defense has five scenarios in which way we should implement the reintegration of Donbass,” – said the NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danylov in the last days of November, noting among the priorities the return of prisoners and a ceasefire along the entire front line, as well as the return of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border under the control of Ukraine. Further, he indicate the elections performing under Ukrainian law in the temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, it is interesting that the Russian side is unlikely to agree with this sequence.

On the contrary, analysts of the Russian Federation (the already mentioned CPC) are trying to encourage the Russian Government to make even more stringent decisions (and upon publication, the Kremlin uses the CPC to probe public opinion and measure reactions from various foreign structures). The main thing is that there are no compromises on the part of the Russian Federation. “In 2020, Russia will have to take into account the unstable position of the Ukrainian President. … What would be the results of the upcoming “Norman” summit in Paris, Russia’s approach to possible compromises and prospects for a medium-term settlement of the conflict in the Donbas should be extremely cautious, especially in view of the instability of President Zelensky’s positions inside Ukraine.” The same should be expected after the “Norman” summit a new, more active phase of undermining Ukrainian society will begin, in the process of which various levers of influence will be integrated.

In the Russian Federation, they express doubt that Zelensky’s team has a common vision of the basic algorithm for peaceful settlement in relation to Donbass. At the same time, many observers in the Russian Federation insist that official Kiev will be forced to declare an amnesty and hold elections (probably with the introduction of a special status of regions), and after that they will promise “steps towards”, such as restoring control and withdrawing their own troops.

It is symptomatic that certain political forces (three fractions of VRU) have already taken care of the inability of President Zelensky’s team to make decisions that can be regarded as capitulation. They are called “red lines” in a series of possible concessions. In particular, the President must defend a position that will be known and understandable to the Ukrainian people, and he must not hide the negotiating position from the Ukrainians.” As you know, representatives of “Evropeyska Solidarnist”, “Batkivshchyna” and “Golos” are critical of the negotiating position of the President’s team due to the lack of specifics and clear points of the action plan. According to representative of fraction “Eurosolidarnist” General Mykhaylo Zabrodsky, the President should not discuss issues of gas contracts and perform direct negotiations with the so-called “L/DPR”, he should not agree to the “Steinmeier Formula” in the form that Moscow offers – “firstly elections, then borders”. The President is also advised to refrain from promising the amnesty for militants, and in “Batkivshchyna” believe that it is possible to discuss the amnesty for representatives of “L/DPR” only after the end of the war and the return of the occupied territories. If we compare positions on the eve of negotiations on December 9, we can immediately see that in case of compliance with pre-settings, the result should be zero. Or one of the parties should resort to compromises.

Risks for Ukraine in the International Arena

It is worth noting that the crisis in NATO is deepening, and it can only be stopped by the impeachment of the US President and the emergence of a new leader who can consolidate the members of the military-political bloc with careful and systematic steps. The fact that French President Emmanuel Macron on November 28 noted that NATO is experiencing “brain death” (not even a disease!), is a confirmation of the “terrible diagnosis” and evidence of the unprecedented weakness of the Western world. Macron added that members of the Alliance no longer cooperate strategically on a number of key issues.

By the way, Moscow is trying to attack in its traditional way. This Russian strategy can be called “persistent steps to win back of small Islands”. For example, the international Institute for strategic studies (IISS) recently called the illegally annexed by Russia Ukrainian Sevastopol the territory of the Russian Federation. And earlier it was reported that the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on security and anti-corruption Vasil Piskaryov has achieved from Apple company the changes to geolocation on their devices and, among other things, to designate Crimea illegally annexed by Russia as”Russian territory”. These steps can also be interpreted as a struggle for consciousness in issues of promoting Pro-Russian positions in the world.

Unpleasant news for Ukrainians was the “discovery” of a real attitude to Ukraine by the American President Trump. In particular, through an employee of the US Embassy in Kiev, David Holmes, it became known that Kiev is interesting for Mr. Trump exclusively in the context of a possible investigation regarding a competitor of Joe Biden. “I was the one who asked Sondland, is it really that the President doesn’t give a shit … to Ukraine. The Ambassador agreed that the President doesn’t give a shit … to Ukraine, ” the media quoted the American diplomat like this. In addition, it became known that the order to freeze military aid to Ukraine in November was given directly by US President Trump. This, in particular, was reported by Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale during testimony to Congressional Committees. Thus, in view of the lack of an appropriate level of President Trump’s own culture and training as a statesman, an act of humiliation of Ukraine in the international arena took place – another evidence that the world recognizes only force and is ready to reckon only with force.

Despite the internal political weakening, on November 19, the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) announced its intention to recognize the space as its new operational sphere. This is another obvious symptom for Kiev – a de facto space power (in the first years of independence, it was one of the world’s five), which does not even have its own military satellite.