Expert: The Kremlin Puts Everyone on a False Track

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Sergiu CEBAN
Despite the “Istanbul breakthrough”, Moldova and other countries in the region, should not expect the imminent stand-down of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine
Yesterday, the regular round of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations ended in Istanbul, the results of which became almost a sensation. Because of this, the information background is now very diverse, however, one way or another, a number of signs indicate that a certain respite may come in the conflict. The day before, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held an open briefing, announcing that the task of inflicting maximum damage to the armed forces of Ukraine had been successfully completed. These circumstances, according to him, allow to focus on the “main goals” connected with the Donbass. As Shoigu stressed, military operations will continue until all the tasks that Moscow has set for itself are achieved. Meanwhile, for the last ten days, there has been a significant attenuation of fighting on most of the front line, without much penetration into the Ukrainian territory and without the capture of new regional centers or cities. The epicenter of the fierce clashes were the eastern regions and the city of Mariupol, where one of the largest and most combat-ready groups of the Ukrainian army was centered. All this suggests that the complex and hidden from the general public negotiations went on for two weeks and ended with an interim result, revealed to the public in Istanbul. Yesterday’s main result is the receipt of Kyiv’s official, clearly stated position. In short, the main meaning of the proposals, referred to as the basis for a future collective agreement, is the proclamation by Ukraine of permanent neutrality under international guarantees. In addition, Kyiv is ready to discuss the status of Crimea peacefully for 15 years, not to join any military alliances, to give up on deploying foreign bases on its territory, and to conduct military exercises in agreement with all parties to the agreement. Basically it looks like an attempt to develop the “Budapest Memorandum No. 2” with more enhanced guarantees and responsibilities. Kyiv wishes to achieve collective security on the part of about ten states – major international players. In the event of an attack, the guarantor countries hold consultations for three days and, if it is impossible to calm down the aggressor, they introduce troops, as well as establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. By and large, a set of measures akin to those provided for in Article 5 of the NATO Charter is to be involved. One of the most fundamental points raised by the Ukrainian delegation is that the entry into force of the agreement should be preceded by the procedure for its approval at an all-Ukrainian referendum, and then ratification both in the Parliament of Ukraine and in the parliaments of the guarantor countries. This obviously implies that the whole situation needs to be rewound to the state of February 23. Thus, in order to put these proposals into practice, hostilities must be ceased, Russian troops – withdrawn, and administrative control over territories where a referendum may subsequently be held – regained. There are doubts that Moscow will accept such a scenario without having clear guarantees of obtaining the desired result and implementing the agreements at the fastest possible pace. Recall that the presentation of Ukraine’s proposals exclusively took place yesterday, although repeated by Russian negotiators for the media they appeared as almost approved by the Kremlin, which is surely far from the case. There is no data about Russia’s current considerations, except for the well-known cliches about “demilitarization” and “denazification”. Therefore, to begin with, it is important to wait for exactly what the Kremlin will say, and whether Russian “counter-proposals” will leave at least some room for compromise. However, it is worth admitting that the Russian delegation members received Kyiv’s package proposals suspiciously warmly and said that they would be handed over personally to Vladimir Putin for careful study. Moreover, as a step forward, the cessation of offensive operations in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions, as well as the possibility of organizing a meeting of the presidents of the two states after the initialing of the draft agreement by the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Russia were announced. Many people yesterday, on the grounds of the Istanbul talks, began to confidently talk about the imminent completion of the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine. However, along with cautious optimism, there also appeared a lot of suspicions that the Kremlin is actually misleading everyone and preparing a trap for the leadership of Ukraine. There is a strong feeling that Moscow got deliberately involved in this complicated diplomatic game in order to make a tactical maneuver under the pretext of active negotiations and secure the north of the front line by transferring part of its forces to the south-eastern direction. This will allow us to achieve some advantage and defeat the Donbass grouping of Ukrainian troops as soon as possible. That is, by “de-escalation in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions”, the Kremlin has in fact wrapped a part of a strategic plan into a package of a concession. Judging by the first responses, even the very fact of the two delegations attempting to find the ground for a “constructive” dialogue is extremely acutely and negatively perceived by the patriotic public of both Ukraine and Russia. For this reason, if in the current context the parties fail to achieve political results consistent with the current military situation, then most likely Moscow will proceed with hostilities in Ukraine, perhaps even in more intensively, given the concentration of forces in some areas. Therefore, it is probably not worth counting on Russia to call off its “special operation” in the near future. Our leadership should also take under consideration, including carefully analyzing negotiating tactics of the Russian Federation in order to prevent Moldova from being drawn into shady scenarios in the future. Actions must be taken under formulated vision and proposals now. Because tomorrow may be too late, and we will have to accept what they decide for us. By the way, yesterday, with the participation of representatives of diplomatic missions to our country, the first meeting of the Council for Strategic Security Dialogue was held in the capital. Even though this event did not draw much attention, it is still a cautious, but significant step to start a broad socio-political discussion of the place, role and status of our country in the future regional and European security structure.