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Prospects of the Normandy Format as a key mechanism of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict regulation

in EUROPE by

For already seven years, the Ukrainian issue has been one of the cornerstones in the aggravation of relations between the West and Russia. The conflict situation in the Eastern European region, unprecedented from the times when the USSR collapsed, has been marked with different dynamics during seven years of a war and may soon remain without platforms for negotiations. Although they are not enough efficient, but one should consider that the Minsk and Normandy formats are of political importance conditionally restraining the rapid escalation in eastern Ukraine. From Russia’s point of view, the Minsk and Normandy formats of negotiations were diplomatic environments where the Kremlin tried to put pressure on Ukraine and impose its geopolitical interests not only on Kyiv, but also on Paris and Berlin. However, consistent and firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Germany and France have urged Russia to find ways out of the diplomatic imbroglio. It seems that by slamming the door in front of his colleagues, Putin will try to achieve his goals in other ways.

By their very nature, the Minsk and Normandy formats are stillborn, as the demands the Kremlin has been advancing are unacceptable to Ukraine by definition. The thing is their implementation is a direct threat to statehood that Kyiv will not allow. Periodically reduced tensions, decreased artillery attacks and partially resolved humanitarian issues are only sporadic results. By the look of things, the unresolvedness of this conflict on a parity basis, if such a wording may be tolerated, stems from the point that Moscow will not be satisfied with Ukraine out of its control. Therefore, the Kremlin seeks to keep Ukraine close to itself through the so-called LDPR, given that Russia’s influence on the decision-making process in Kyiv is bottlenecked like never before.

Difficult not to notice that such a narrative is clearly traced in demands that Russia has been directing to Ukraine through these formats. The official position of the Kremlin is that there is an “internal conflict” in Ukraine, and the occupied separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are Ukrainian territory that should be reintegrated into Ukraine. In addition to this, Russia demands the reintegration through amendments to the Constitution on the basis of broad autonomy for LDPR. To all appearances, Russia seeks to impose on a unitary state a form of government that meets Moscow’s interests – federalization. By the way, this is how Lavrov has recently misspoken. Moreover, Moscow has been actively claiming the inclusion of the so-called Steinmeier formula into the Ukrainian Constitution. This includes an amnesty for the militants, holding elections to occupied regions without first disarming the local separatists, restoring Ukraine’s control over the border after the elections, and consolidating the special status of self-government over these territories. It is obvious that in such conditions Russia will have a tool to influence state decision-making processes, and Ukraine will become a puppet of the Kremlin, as it was before 2013.

The instrumentalization of the LDPR as a Trojan horse is confirmed by a careful review of Russia’s actions in the Donbas in the political, economic, cultural, ideological, and informational aspects. For example, Russia not only politically supports the LDPR, but also tries to shape their subjectivity by encouraging Ukraine to engage in a direct dialogue with them. The narrative that the Ukrainian authority should have the direct communication with the LDPR is key to legitimization of these entities and removing Russia`s position from the status of the party to the conflict to a neutral mediator. However, any attempt by the Kremlin to deplete its role as a participant in the conflict has not been successful during these seven years. Apparently, attempts to tie the uncontrolled Ukrainian territories with Russia in the political sphere is being performed through rapid passportization of the population there. According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 600,000 Russian passports have been issued to Ukrainian citizens. And there is no another option to construe it as a gross violation of the Minsk agreements and de facto devaluing their political component. With the passportization, the Kremlin cements its presence in the Donbas and, at any given time, can use it as a casus belli for an armed invasion to distract the Ukrainian authority from a decision that is unfavorable to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin forges ties between Donbass and Russia in an economical sphere as well. On November 15, Putin issued a decree according to which the movement of goods from the LDPR can be carried out on the same terms as goods of Russian origin, and the Ukrainian enterprises, appropriated after the occupation of these regions, will be able to participate in state tender procedures in Russia. This decision is a proof of the contiguous violation of the Minsk agreements by Russia due to paragraph 8 of the Minsk agreements in which full restoration of socio-economic ties between Ukraine and occupied territories anticipated. However, with this decree, the Kremlin integrates so-called ORDLO into the Russian economic space, destroying any preconditions for implementation of paragraph 8. It is noteworthy that the text of the decree does not mention the naming “Luhansk People Republic” or “Donetsk People Republic”. By this, Russia has been attempting to covertly legalize these pseudo-state entities, but not recognizing them in direct. Evidently, this has been doing, again, to preserve preconditions for returning occupied territories to Ukraine.

It also seems obvious that the Kremlin is cleaning up its Ukrainian identity by banning Ukrainian language and literature, state symbols, and instilling a pro-Russian interpretation of history through injections of ideologues and mythologists from the times of the Russian Empire and the USSR. In other words, Russia is building a piece of the “the Russian world” that should be part of Ukraine and countervail the right wing that emerged in Ukrainian society and politics after the annexation of Crimea and the external separation of Donbass.

What comes to an information absorption, the Kremlin is doing the same thing in LDPR as within its own country, namely spreading propaganda and misinformation. Long before 2014, Russian-controlled territories began to turn into information ghettos. At the moment, Russian propaganda is flourishing in LDPR, active demonization of Ukraine is going on and the usual exploitation of the antithesis “Ukrainian officials – fascism, Russian ones – anti-fascism”, by analogy with the period in World War II after 1941, has been actively operated. In recent months, there has been an increase in rhetoric among Russian officials. It seems that Russian propaganda has fallen on military rails, which strangely coincides with the augmentation of a 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders and obstructionism in the Normandy and Minsk formats.

In view of the above, the conclusion is that the Kremlin is openly cunning when it accuses official Kyiv of malicious non-compliance with the Minsk agreements. Russian diplomacy, led by Putin, has failed to convince its French and German counterparts of its neutrality in the war in eastern Ukraine. And the Kremlin’s actions against Donbass indicate a systematic failure to fulfill its obligations to Minsk, so any attempt by Kyiv to politically and diplomatically regain territory is doomed. Russia’s profanation of Minsk is further supported by the fact that Moscow has refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE observation mission at the Russian checkpoints “Gukovo” and “Donetsk” on the border with Ukraine after September 30. Moreover, in mid-October, it physically blocked staff members of the OSCE mission through DPR proxies. This is further evidence that Russia is slowly moving away from international formats for resolving the conflict.

A similar situation one could observe in Russia’s position in the Normandy format. The reason for the disruption of the meeting of the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, which was to take place in November this year, was the Kremlin’s position. Being aware beforehand that no one could accept that, the Kremlin has put forward obviously unacceptable preconditions for the parties to meet and has proposed a draft final statement with such phrasing as “internal conflict”, “decisions coordination with the authorities of LDPR” etc. Mainly, Moscow blames Ukraine for the failure, because the latter, according to Putin and Lavrov, has not fulfilled liabilities according to the Minsk agreements. Lavrov has also explicitly stated that Russia will consider the meeting as expedient, only if Kyiv fulfills previous agreements. It is quite obvious that the Kremlin is aware of the impossibility of such concessions from Ukrainian part; therefore, it sees the futility in promotion of its own interests within the the Normandy Quartet. The Kremlin emphasized this with an eloquent gesture when it published the diplomatic correspondence of Russian, German and French ministers on the Russian Foreign Ministry website. In the international community, such action is considered as blatant violation of diplomatic protocol and confirmation of Russia`s disinterest in this format as well.

To conclude,  Russia is trying to move out of the international formats established to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Despite direct statements that ORDLO is Ukrainian territory, Russia is doing everything to cement its influence there. The West’s consolidated position on the Ukrainian issue in international platforms makes it impossible for Russia to impose its interests through them. This diplomatic impasse encourages the Kremlin to seek other ways, and one such a way could result in flaming the World War III.

Russian destructive impact on the economy of Ukraine

in ENERGY/EUROPE by

Starting from the date of Ukrainian-Russian conflict it is not secret for anyone, that the Russian Federation leverages every opportunity to wage its trade and economic war against Ukraine. Russia continues to use financial pressure, energy blackmail, transit and transport blockade, ousting Ukrainian producers from traditional markets, discrediting our companies on international markets, investment penetration into Ukrainian markets via front firms. There is data that the Russian Federation has developed a “register” of Ukraine’s so-called “pressure points”, the main purpose of which is to inflict the greatest possible damage to the economy of our country. The central place in the lists is occupied by the flagships of domestic industry, Ukrainian ports and transport infrastructure, fuel and energy companies, the defense industry. Continue reading “Russian destructive impact on the economy of Ukraine” »

Beirut, 100 morti e mille feriti per esplosione

in MIDLE EAST by

Una esplosione devastante nella zona del porto di Beirut ieri nel tardo pomeriggio ha distrutto una vasta area della capitale.


Ad esplodere sarebbe sttonun magazzino dove era posto sotto sequestro un ingente quantitativo di Nitrato sequestrato dalle autorità libanesi.

Il ministro degli interni Mohammed Fahmi ha riferito che da una prima ricostruzione il nitrato di ammonio sarebbe stato posizionato nel magazzino dopo esser stato sequestrato da una nave mercantile nel 2014.

Nei video disponibili in rete si vede molto bene che l’esplosione ha provocato una grande nuvola arancione tipica del rilscio di un gas tossico e nel Paese e’ forte la preoccupazione anche per le tossine presenti ora nell’aria.

Il ministro della salute libanese Hamad Hasan ha consigliato a chiunque possa di andare via da Beirut.

Nell’esplosione sono stati coinvolti anche alcuni militari italiani della missione UNIFIL

Un militare italiano del contingente ha riportato lievi ferite.

È stato lo stesso militare a informare direttamente i familiari sul suo stato di salute.

Sul posto, in stretto coordinamento con le forze di sicurezza libanesi, sono intervenuti i soccorsi del Sector West di Unifil che stanno provvedendo all’evacuazione del personale.

100 i morti provocati dalle esplosioni Lo ha reso noto la Croce Rossa libanese. I feriti sono oltre 4.000. Ma è purtroppo ancora un bilancio provvisorio. Media locali parlano anche di centinaia di dispersi sotto le macerie.

Russia in Crimea: Current Risks and New Challenges

in EUROPE by

By Prof. Borys Babin.  

Attempt of annexation and ongoing occupation of Crimean peninsula by Russian Federation (RF) caused not the crisis of modern international law and relations systemonly. It started also the system of negative processes in areas of militarisation, nuclearisation, international criminal traffic, navigation and aviation safety, connected with Crimea. Systematic violation of religious, linguistic and cultural rights of Crimeans, also as the racial discrimination of the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in region, brutal violation of personal human rights are sustainable factor for all six years of Russian occupation the peninsula. Continue reading “Russia in Crimea: Current Risks and New Challenges” »

PS752 downing: Ukraine releases intercepted tower communications proving Iran was aware of missile launch all along

in EUROPE by

The record proves that the Iranians saw the missile from the moment it was launched and to the very moment it hit the Ukrainian plane.

In breaking news from Ukraine, intercepted communications were released by TSN.Tyzhden between Tehran Airport tower and second pilot of Iran’s Aseman Airlines flight at the time of the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752. The Iranian civilian plane’s pilot saw both the missile launch and the blast, audio recordings, TSN says were received from intelligence services, prove.

Continue reading “PS752 downing: Ukraine releases intercepted tower communications proving Iran was aware of missile launch all along” »

PROJECTING POWER: THE SAUDI DESIGNS ON AFRICA

in AFRICA/MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Usually, when people talk about Saudi Arabia and its hegemonic policies, we tend to relate to the well-known rivalry between the monarchy and Iran, two capillary actors in the Middle East, who compete for the leadership in the region. Continue reading “PROJECTING POWER: THE SAUDI DESIGNS ON AFRICA” »

Pompeo’s tour in the Middle East

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS/USA by

 

On Tuesday 8th January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opens his tour in the Middle East visiting Jordan. The tour originally scheduled nine stops, including Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. However, due to family reasons, Pompeo had to cancel the final leg in Kuwait.

This tour comes at a time when the US is changing his policy toward Middle Eastern issues and his allies are questioning the new approach.

After the President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the nuclear deal signed with Iran and other Western countries during Obama’s administration, on 19th December the US President announced with a video on Twitter that he was pulling US forces out of Syria “now”.

Pompeo’s tour in the Arab countries can, therefore, be seen as an opportunity and means to clarify US position regarding Syria but also more broadly to define US policy in the Middle East.

Here the main points on the table.

–    US withdrawal from Syria does not mean that the US is withdrawing from the fight against the Islamic State, which is still a top priority for the White House. US partnership with the Arab countries, indeed, is essential to achieve some shared objectives in the region: defeating Daesh, countering Islamic terrorism, protecting global energy resources and countering Iran’s aggressive behaviour.

–    Unity among the GCC(Gulf Cooperation Council) is vital to achieving security and stability in the region. As Pompeo stressed, the internal dispute among the Gulf monarchies has gone far too long. Since June 2017, indeed, the Arab Quartet (UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) cut the diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the country of funding terrorist groups and fostering instability in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, this situation hampers the efforts of the GCC to achieve common goals in the region. The GCC is a capillary institution in the Middle East: hence, its internal cohesion is an essential factor for the stability, prosperity, security and peace in the area.

–    The US strongly promotes the institution of a Middle East Strategic Alliance, also nicknamed Arab NATO. This organisation would join the GCC militaries with the militaries of other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. This alliance would mainly counter Iran’s aggressive behaviour and protect the stability and security of the Arab countries.

–    US-Saudi relation is crucial for the stability in the region. In the Khashoggi issue –not clear if and how much Pompeo and the Saudi leader discussed it- President Trump stood by Saudi Arabia and this event –though clarification is still needed- has no hampered the relationship between the two countries. Saudi Arabia is a key actor in the anti-Iranian coalition. Moreover, the value of the arms purchases from Saudi Arabia is still a relevant fact for the US to consider.

–    Last but not least, Pompeo reiterates the need for peace in Yemen and call to boost effort in order to stop the bloody civil war that has been devastating the country for more than 3 years.

 

Trump administration approach in the Middle East has clearly moved away from Obama’s path in the past years, with the president not even trying to hide the criticism toward his predecessor. Indeed, Trump has repeatedly blamed Obama’s administration for his approach in the region, accusing of underestimating threats such as Daesh or Hezbollah.

In the past few months, Trump has withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran and announced the imminent withdrawal from Syria; however, this does not mean a less presence or US interest in the regional issues, but it is a signal of a different posture. If Obama opted for engagement rather than confrontation with a country like Iran, Trump is taking the opposite path.

Note to mention that Iran, however, is not the kind of player that stays still and watches. By contrast, Teheran is strengthening its position in the region, supporting groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. Moreover, it can count on some strategic allies, such as Syria, Russia and Turkey.

The risk is that the US might get engaged in a more complex and dangerous conflict that it could seem at first glance. Moreover, thought the US is working to align the Arab countries on the same path and join the effort toward the same goal -stability and security- there is still an important factor to consider. The Middle East is still sharply fragmented -ethnic division, religious schism, political rivalry, etc- and those countries that do not follow the US ideal of Middle East Strategic Alliance , like Iran, Syria, even Turkey or Yemen, play a peculiar role in the game, as their actions or the developments in their territories may considerably affect Washington’s project.

Hence, eyes on Trump and the Arab countries, as the withdrawal from Syria might not be the last twist of Trump’s policy in the Middle East. Moreover, the White House’s decisions may also trigger unexpected reactions of other players, as could be yesterday’s suicide bombing in Syria, the first one after Trump’s announcement, easy to relate to latest developments.

 

Paola Fratantoni

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Paola Fratantoni
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