May 16, 2022 6:13 pm

Putin and Zelensky launch conciliatory messages to reduce tension

Correspondent in Moscow



For the first time since the beginning of a crisis whose peak phase will soon enter its third month, conciliatory messages were heard on Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a telephone conversation with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, that a “de-escalation” is needed to ease the current tensions around Ukraine and “continue the dialogue.”

From Kiev, in a meeting with foreign journalists, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, called on the West and the press in particular to not raise “panic” assuming that Russia will invade your country. In another appearance before various media, including the Echo of Moscow radio, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, assured from the Russian capital that “if it is going to depend on Russia, there will be no war.”

The Russian foreign minister, however, brandished the possibility that the Kremlin could recognize as independent states to the self-proclaimed rebel republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (Donbass), in eastern Ukraine, as it did in 2008 with the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But he clarified that such a possibility “must be taken into account in the context of the line of firmness for the West to force Kiev to comply with the Minsk Agreements».

This mantra has been repeated by the Russian authorities since February 2015, when the second and final version of that pact was signed to stop the bleeding in Donbass. It was signed by Germany, France, Russia and the Ukraine, the so-called Normandy Quartet or Group because it was born in that region of northern France.

The Donbass Trap

Macron and Putin spoke about this on Friday and Putin insisted to his French colleague that “the Minsk package of measures establishes that a direct dialogue must be maintained with Donetsk and Lugansk and legalize a special autonomous status for Donbass», aspects in which the Ukrainian authorities see precisely the trap, since a dialogue without delimiting the powers that must be transferred condemns any agreement effort to failure. Attempts to satisfy the separatists can drag on without success.

But Putin considers that the meeting of emissaries of the Normandy Group held on Wednesday in Paris, according to the note distributed on Friday by the Kremlin, “confirmed a favorable mood for Russia and France to continue working on this format». It was agreed in the French capital that the priority now is full compliance with the truce.

But Macron wants to go further and repeat a meeting with the same representatives in Berlin in two weeks. The objective is to later convene a summit of leaders of the Normandy Quartet like the one held in Paris in December 2019, but more fruitful because in that only a partial prisoner exchange was agreed. The United States could also participate in it and the main problem to be dealt with would be the interpretation of the Minsk agreements. The Russian representative in the negotiations in Paris on Wednesday, Dmitri Kózak, acknowledged that “there are different interpretations.”

Lavrov also noted in his interview that Kiev “does not control a significant part of its armed units and someone’s nerves can fail, many are prone to militaristic psychosis. Therefore, I do not rule out that someone wants to provoke a war, but Russia does not want it. In addition, the Russian minister again accused the West of sending weapons to Ukraine and pushing it into a conflict.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, however, declared on Friday that “there are no events or actions of a military nature on the border with Russia.” During a control session in the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), Reznikov insisted that he does not see “significant differences in the military plan compared to the situation of last spring (…) the only one is the situation in Belarus», a country that has deployed forces on the border with Ukraine and threatens to intervene if a war breaks out.

Possible retaliation

Lavrov also referred to Zelensky’s constant desire to meet with Putin. “If the Ukrainian president wants to discuss how to normalize relations with Russia, come to Moscow, Saint Petersburg or Sochi», said the head of Russian diplomacy. But, in his words, «not to talk about Donbass, that is an internal problem of Ukraine. For that, it must go to the Trilateral Contact Group”, made up of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Referring to the response that Moscow received from Washington on Wednesday about the «security guarantees» that Russia demands from the West, Lavrov explained that his country is preparing proposals in case an agreement is not reached with the United States, whose Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, rejected that Moscow may have the right of veto to determine which countries can become part of the NATO and which ones are not.

“What will we do if the West does not listen to the voice of reason? The president has already spoken about it. If our attempts to agree fail mutually acceptable principles To ensure security in Europe, we will take retaliatory measures,” the Russian minister warned. Responding to a direct question about what such measures might be, Lavrov said: “They can be very different, and the decision will be made based on the proposals that our military put forward.”

Putin and Macron spoke about Russian security demands on Friday. Echoing what his foreign minister said on Thursday, the Kremlin chief told his French counterpart that “the US and NATO responses did not take into account Russia’s fundamental concerns.” “The key issue was ignored, namely how the US and its allies plan to implement the OSCE principle that no one should strengthen their security to the detriment of the security of other countries», according to the note released by the press service of the Russian Presidency.

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