Outcomes of Normandy Four Summit: Interview
Dr. Maksym Yakovlyev, Director of the School for Policy at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy discussed Normandy Four Summit, which took place on Dec. 9.
Everyone is talking about what a good job President Zelensky did. Do you agree?
I think he did a great job of not doing the worst case scenario.
He did a good job of not doing a bad job?
Exactly, I am trying to rephrase this because it’s difficult to put it in English, but actually there are different expectations and also a number of warnings from the Ukrainian side. Some of the worst case scenarios, I mean, expectations that he would really betray Ukraine, agreeing to something that Putin really might push forward, things like that, that did not happen. Actually, he did a great job of talking to Putin face to face, as we are doing now here. I am glad that many of the warnings that were from many of my colleagues, Ukrainian civil society, they did not happen. I feel a bit relaxed, because everybody was really stressed during the negotiation process. We didn’t know what to expect, because there was, definitely, lack of communication from the Presidential Office, from their side, because at the very beginning they said that they did not want journalists to comment on what was going on. There is real difficulty in communicating, actually, talking to the public. Actually, the problem is that we didn’t know what to expect from Normandy Four meeting.
Three things are going to happen and there is going to be a meeting in another four months. Are these things that wouldn’t have happened if these talks wouldn’t have taken place?
I am glad that you put this question like that. We know that Putin really hates previous President Poroshenko. It was difficult to get any contact with them. So, I hope that the things, that they agreed upon, will also work the way they really want them to happen, because ceasefire is a good idea. But it is really difficult for our western colleagues to control the other side. I mean, the pro-Russian, Russian-backed separatists and rebels. I would not call them rebels, but basically those fighters from the other side, because it is really difficult to control them. But under these circumstances it is really easy to push on the Ukrainian side, to force us, to withdraw our troops. In many Ukrainian cities, that are very close to the ceasefire, like Mariupol, for example, like Kramatorsk, Severodonetsk, people are really worried that if Ukrainian troops are withdrawn far away from the ceasefire line, these separatists may come over this ceasefire line, because this fake so-called Republic, what they still say, is the whole territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is the territory of this fake Republics. And Ukrainian cities, if we listen to what they say, are occupied by Ukrainian government. This is, of course, nonsense. To answer the question briefly, it would be good if some of the things would be really implemented, like ceasefire line and no more shootings and shelling. And on the other hand if we really listen to what these Russian-backed puppets say, that they really see all these cities as their own territory. It does not really make a positive impression. It is difficult to answer.
It is a lot about listening what people have to say. And we do have something we’d like you to listen to. We have a soundbite of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.
Macron: “We managed to stress at the highest level that we are trying to reach peace and put an end to this conflict, which isn’t frozen and which has already resulted in the deaths of 13 thousand people. It’s an open wound on the European continent.”
Merkel: “There is still no truce, a lot of mines along the contact line. The disengagement of forces and equipment is necessary. Demining is planned. This process is not simple. Two more disengagement zones near Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote, and Petrivske need to be prepared by March 2020. In addition to this, we want to improve the monitoring of the observation of the ceasefire. The OSCE mandate needs to be extended. For the mission to conduct monitoring not for 12 hours, but all 24 hours.”
A lot of describing. What’s your take on their statements?
Well, actually, from the Ukrainian side we are really worried about Macron’s position. This is my personal assessment. But the last three presidents of the French Republic were rather weak or comparably weak. We do understand of Macron who seems like he wants to become some sort of a peacemaker who really provides a peace deal between the European Union and Russia, he really gets back Russia as an important player on geopolitical stage. But what Russia does — pursing this really aggressive imperialistic foreign policy, so for Macron it is important. When he speaks about Ukraine’s security, I really hope that he strongly believes in these values that security should become first before any kind of local elections in the occupied areas that can take place. From German Chancellor Angela Merkel we know that she is already tired, that she is very soon to step back from federal Chancellor position. But if she is really truly worried about Ukrainian security and things, what they might do for this is not to lift sanctions because sanction is something that helps Ukrainians. This is something that can weaken Russian economy because this is one of the ways in which Ukrainians can protect ourselves, with means of international sanctions. But I do hope that as they said they are truly worried about Ukrainian security and that is not just empty talk about nothing.
We just have a clip with four people, Nord Stream 2 and German connection with Putin. Macron reset with Putin and he is becoming closer to Russia. Let’s hear what Zelensky had to say.
Zelensky: “Today, I stressed the need for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from individual districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions many times. I emphasize that local elections in the individual districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions can only be held in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and OSCE standards.”
Sovereignty is really important to president Zelensky and obviously territorial integrity. I think this is going to be his main and pushing point, that these elections cannot take place until there are no Russian-backed troops in these areas.
It’s true. So we have to say that many things that Ukraine is doing are working on our internal policies. If we are talking about how we are going to reintegrate or bring these territories back into Ukrainian sovereign body of the state, we have to say that there are different types of reforms ongoing in Ukraine like decentralization reform that is one of good examples. The recently started reform of our Customs Service which is also very important. And then, taxation reform, because collecting taxes and changing administrative procedures how to collect taxes and Mr. Belanov, who is the Head of our Tax Office, they are also doing in reforms a great job by improving these internal mechanisms. I hope that really not so far in future we have something to offer them, to reintegrate them technically speaking. Because once we take control of the border, then the questions of the Customs and control are also very important. And taxation is always important for collecting taxes and sharing the public good with all Ukrainians, including those who are willing to be reintegrated. So this is an important thing that Ukraine does inside and we are proud of that what is going on in Ukraine. But, on the other hand, we can only offer all these things to a territory that is secured, free from guns, free from illegal firearms, free from various ‘rebels’. Actually terrorists who are shooting at Ukrainian side, who really poses a threat to the security of Ukrainian citizens in non-governmental control areas.
For us in the studio and other people in Ukraine, this is a very constant topic. I don’t know if you had a chance to actually watch the press conference – it was very late, and happened with a two-hour delay. One of the things that occurred to people that were observing how the media was acting is: some people focusing questions on what the actual Normandy format, the talks results were, but others were…
Like the pension reforms – there was a question about pension reforms.
And there were questions about the shooting in Berlin, and the Olympic athletes. Is the rest of the international community tired of this?
It is getting tired, I have to admit. Many of my colleagues from the school for policy analysis, including Anton Suslov, actually wrote a small post on Facebook saying that it is really indicative that the world’s getting tired of us. And that’s why I also stress the importance of internal reforms that Ukraine is putting forward. We are developing internal economy, administrative structures and things that are really important. I do understand that any situation like, the Ukrainian crisis — this is something that’s good for Putin, because… Once we, as Ukrainians, are losing time, we have now not a new generation, but with all this war ongoing, we have people who actually were born into these fake republics, and who went to universities, who actually managed to graduate from universities and get a lot of really strong doses of propaganda there. With time, we are losing these territories in terms of ideology, in terms of people’s minds, and the worst-case scenario is really a frozen conflict like Transnistria’s or something like that. And this indicates that, unfortunately, without the support of our western colleagues, we are moving to that direction.
Zelensky also surprised everyone by mentioning Crimea at the press conference. I don’t think that was on the table at all, but he decided to introduce this. Do you think this was a power play from him?
Yes, secondly, he is the President of Ukraine, he definitely should have mentioned, and actually, he mentioned the case of Crimea. Even though the other side presses, they say, as Lavrov, the representative of Russia says, that ‘Crimea is ours forever, we’re not going to discuss this issue!’ So it was a normal move, something that we all expected from Zelensky to show his dedication to the case of Ukraine, the country in which he’s a President, actually. It is a good move, and we expected that to happen, it’s great that he mentioned Crimea, because the world should not forget that this annexation is illegal. There’s a huge number of human rights violations going in Crimea, and this is something that should be voiced on the international arena, so that it is very good Zelensky mentioned the case of Crimea.
So, if Zelensky keeps up at the level that he’s been on yesterday and today, do you think people will keep referring to him as former comedian, or will they just refer to him as President Zelensky from now on?
Former comedian is the truth, there’s no lying in saying that this used to be his work.
We don’t call President Putin former KGB agent Putin.
Ok, but this is also truth. I think that it’s always important to be on the side of truth, and lying is always a bad thing, as we know from American politics and from Ukrainian as well. So, I think that, firstly, we actually don’t know what were the discussions behind the closed doors, and usually we need to wait some time, sometimes a couple of weeks, before the first information can really be available to the public, some of the information becomes available much later, and some — never, potentially. That we actually know how the conversation went between the presidents, and Angela Merkel, and all these people there. We have to wait. I think that it is always important to remain optimistic about the future, and I wish our current President Zelensky a bright political future, even though I am among those who are very skeptical about his potential as a politician. But he shows very good examples in terms of development, both as a politician and as a personality. So, I think he’s on the right track.