New Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on the world stage. The first meetings with the leading leaders of Western countries — macron, Merkel, now Trudeau, and there is still a meeting with the President of the United States Donald trump, probably the most important in this list of new contacts of the Ukrainian President. In the Studio of Radio Liberty – Deputy Director of the Center “New Europe” Catherine Zarembo, in touch from Paris journalist Alla Lazareva. First, the story about the essence of the event.Correspondent: the foreign Policy steps of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky show that he continues the policy of his predecessor Petro Poroshenko in key areas. However, as stated in Kyiv, the new head of state responds poorly to emerging challenges in the international arena. In June Zelensky visited Brussels, Paris, and Berlin, and now he is on a visit to Canada. Priority partners for Kyiv in the European Union remain France and Germany, not only because of its influence in the EU but also, above all, as direct guarantors of the implementation of the Minsk agreements on the settlement of the armed conflict in the Donbas. Since Zelensky’s victory in the presidential elections, the situation in Eastern Ukraine has worsened. Skirmishes continue on the line of contact, the military is still dying: since mid-may, 9 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed, and almost 50 others have been wounded. In Paris and Berlin, the Ukrainian President stressed that the only way to peace in the Donbas – diplomatic and sanctions pressure on Russia. During a joint press conference with the French President Zelensky corrected the incorrect translation of the words of Emmanuel Macron, specifying that Kyiv is not going to have a direct dialogue with the separatists. One of the main results of Zelensky’s European visits is the agreement to hold a meeting of foreign policy advisers of Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia – participants of the Normandy format in Donbas on July 12.
The Ukrainian President, however, failed to convince Macron and Merkel that Russia should not be restored to rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. PACE deprived the Russian delegation, including the right to vote in the Assembly in 2014 due to the annexation of Crimea and the military conflict unleashed with the participation of Moscow in the East of Ukraine. On June 26, the Council of Europe finally confirmed the powers of the Russian delegation, without fulfilling the requirements of the international community. The main lobbyists of such a decision are France and Germany, which are in favor of maintaining a dialogue with the Kremlin. The demarche was answered by Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine: the delegations of these countries left the PACE session ahead of schedule and intend to consult with their parliaments and governments on further actions. Some Ukrainian politicians and experts called Russia’s return to PACE the result of the failure of Zelensky’s foreign policy. The head of state himself reacted to the events in Strasbourg with some delay, noting that he was disappointed with the decision to approve the powers of the Russian delegation without restrictions.
The first serious diplomatic blow to Ukraine in the last five years called the decision of the Council of Europe, former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko
Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko called the decision of the Council of Europe the first serious diplomatic blow to Ukraine in the last five years. “Having returned Russia to PACE, the Council of Europe has forgotten about human rights and abandoned its own principles,” – said the special representative of the Us state Department for Ukraine Kurt Volker. The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine said that the PACE resolution on Russia is an unacceptable concession to Moscow, which continues to grossly violate the principles of international law, and such a step of the Assembly, according to Kyiv, can lead to a serious crisis of the Council of Europe. Press Secretary of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine Ekaterina Zelenko: “in Fact, we have seen that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe capitulated to the blackmail of the Council of Europe – first political and then financial.”
The Ukrainian authorities have withdrawn the invitation for PACE observers to the upcoming early parliamentary elections in the country. Meanwhile, the European Union, in light of Russia’s return to PACE, expects Moscow to demonstrate its commitment to the principles and rules of the Council of Europe and immediately release all Ukrainian prisoners.
Vitaly Portnikov: When Vladimir Zelensky spoke with Emmanuel Macron in Paris, we do not know, of course, what happened during the meeting itself, but at the press conference it was obvious that there was a discrepancy in positions. Emmanuel macron said that he would like the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he cited his arguments that it is necessary to maintain a dialogue with Russia, it is necessary that the Russians retain access to the European court of human rights. Vladimir Zelensky disagreed with this position. But then we saw that it was not just the position of Emmanuel Macron, but already an agreed decision at the level of parliaments of leading Western countries. We saw the vote in Strasbourg. And it turned out that Vladimir Zelensky can talk with his Western counterparts, but it is now very difficult for him to influence them.
Ekaterina Zarembo: the Russian delegation was allowed to return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the sanctions against Russia were de facto lifted. The Regulatory Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly challenged this decision, asked the Venice Commission to consider whether there are deputies among the Russian delegation who represent the illegally annexed Crimea: in this case, there should be a replacement of these deputies. Both France and Germany were United. Ukrainian deputies say that such pressure, as this time, was not in all five years of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. I think this decision was made before Vladimir Zelensky’s visit to Paris. The new President expressed his position, but could not influence.
Vitaly Portnikov: I would Like to understand what happened not even with Zelensky (he is just starting his career as President of Ukraine, taking the first steps), but with Macron. After all, until recently Emmanuel macron was quite tough in relation to the actions of the Kremlin.
Alla Lazareva: Indeed, the macron over the two years of stay in power has demonstrated a rather strong position towards Russia. He, for example, did not let Russia Today and Sputnik to his press conferences in the Elysee Palace, calling them propagandists, not journalists. I was at the press conference of Zelensky and Macron in Paris and I can say that Yes, Macron’s position was absolutely precisely prepared. Zelensky really sounded that version of events which is defended by the Ukrainian diplomacy in recent years, but he didn’t manage to influence anything. The fact that the decision of France, obviously agreed with Germany, was made before Zelensky’s arrival, was read by all indicators, even by the tone of Macron. The French delegation voted unanimously for him in the Council of Europe. I have been to the Council of Europe since 1994, I have been there dozens of times, I have recorded interviews with hundreds of deputies, and I do not remember a single vote where the French would vote fully for some decision that does not concern France: it is obvious that this is a concerted action. While it is difficult to understand what exactly and how it affected.
Vitaly Portnikov: Can we say that this is a new world in which Ukraine finds itself? And how ready is the new President of this new world?
Ekaterina Zarembo: let Me remind you of the cause-and-effect relationship. Just these days over two years, when Russia did not pay dues to the Council of Europe in the framework of the move against the sanctions. I think there is financial leverage here. In the Council of Europe, many countries, including Germany and France, feared that Russia would withdraw from the Council of Europe. I think the desire to keep Russia and its money played a very important role here. Is Ukraine ready for this? President Zelensky said what he had to say in Paris and Berlin. It is very good that the parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place just after the PACE meeting because if the deputies went there in the new composition, it would be a very big blow to the position of Ukraine. Now I don’t see that the President, his team, his administration, and the Ukrainian deputies worked as a united front. The President’s reaction could have been more confident, perhaps more aggressive.
Vitaly Portnikov: Maybe the President does not want to aggravate relations with his Western partners and allies.
Now I don’t see that the President, his team, his administration, and the Ukrainian deputies worked as a United front
Ekaterina Zarembo: Yes, he wants to be liked — that’s understandable. He may not feel that key yet. He said he was disappointed. Maybe he thinks that if Western partners talk about disappointment, then this is a metaphor that should be used. Without unity in the Ukrainian institutions of power, it is impossible to win any battle in the international arena. I hope that those deputies who will represent Ukraine at international venues, entering the new Supreme Council after the elections, will be sufficiently trained professionally, and even if they do not have the experience, they will learn quickly enough, because it is a question of Ukraine’s survival.
Vitaly Portnikov: Alla, in your opinion, is money really so important? Still, what comes first — the chicken or the egg, money or politics?
Alla Lazareva: Money is partly important, of course, but still, I think, not only them. Now in three years, 30 million and even 100 million is a lot of money for some structure, but not a lot of money on the scale of the continent. Obviously, we can talk about economic projects, which we will hear later: maybe it is the “Nord stream-2”, maybe some other investments, perhaps it is something more significant than just the payment of membership fees and the existence of PACE, which becomes a structure that works for itself, feeding its officials, entertaining its deputies and does not affect anything. Obviously, the question is still wider.
Vitaly Portnikov: we Can say that Vladimir Zelensky Is much more comfortable in Canada than in France or Germany: there are no disagreements, there is support and understanding. But on the other hand, what can Canada influence when it comes to some tangible issues of the Ukrainian future? It can help, put up arms, give moral support, but even for Europeans, it can not have a significant impact.
Katerina Zarembo: Canada is a country that maintains a friendly attitude to Ukraine. Of course, at such large international venues as the UN, for example, Canada can speak and support Ukraine. But now we see that even with regard to Europe and the States, there are a lot of disagreements, including with regard to sanctions against Russia. I do not think that Zelensky was uncomfortable even in Paris and Berlin, he was received there in a friendly way — he is a new leader, in relations with whom every leader of another state sees a prospect for the development of those issues that have troubled him so far. For Germany and France, it is the settlement of the conflict with Russia, for Poland and Hungary — the settlement of bilateral issues. Therefore, it is now accepted with such credit of trust and open hands. I think the first visits, partly significant, and on the other hand, symbolic, are more or less pleasant for Vladimir Zelensky.
Vitaly Portnikov: Alla, I want to ask you about the phrase I have been reading in Russian media for the past two years: “Europe is tired of Ukraine.” This is repeated in different ways. Maybe Russian colleagues are not so wrong when they talk about fatigue?
Alla Lazareva: I think they are rather tired of the situation in which they are obliged, based on the declared principles, to support Ukraine and in their interests to develop their own business and the desire to continue economic relations with Russia, that is, they are tired of their obligations more than from Ukraine. Probably tired of the Ukrainian resistance. Perhaps they are even somewhere in the heart of shame, and they do not recognize it, but they would like everything to be decided by itself, Ukraine again smoothly entered the zone of influence of Russia and no one would quarrel with anyone. This can be understood even by the vocabulary: the phrase “separatist zone” is constantly used. But the war in Ukraine did not arise by itself — it is still Russian aggression. The separatist zone is, for example, Catalonia. But there is no such clear, clear, supported by its culture, language or history of identity of Donbas, which would require separation into a separate state.
Again, the blurring of terminology suggests that in the interests of France there is hope to return to the previous positions, so that everyone would turn a blind eye to what happened in Crimea, get used to this, as, say, the situation in Transnistria, Karabakh or Ossetia: frozen conflict. Bad mostly to those who live nearby, and Europe is almost no concern. Macron, when Zelensky came to visit him, very much hoped that the inexperienced young Ukrainian leader would not be very persistent, it would be possible to agree with him that Ukraine would not cling to every kilometer of its land, as it was done before, and gradually, gently slip into the usual zone of influence of Russia.
Vitaly Portnikov: Maybe, on the contrary, such events as Russia’s return to PACE will become a catalyst for Ukrainian resistance to this new reality?
Ekaterina Zarembo: I think Europe is tired of the European integration project, not just Ukraine. We see this both in the European Union and in the Council of Europe. Center of the rocking movement of the European Union. In principle, we interpret the results of the elections to the European Parliament rather positively for Ukraine, but still, Europe is clearly tired of conflicts, of the need to constantly seek consensus with great difficulties. Accordingly, it is a rebound in Ukraine. In fact, Russia’s return to the Parliamentary Assembly is a step away from the opposite: the sanctions imposed were ineffective, let’s try another way. Well, let’s try another way and see whether it will really lead to some changes, both in the human rights situation in Russia itself (namely, this is what the supporters of Russia’s return to PACE appeal to: that Russia comply with the instructions of the European court of human rights), and in matters of territorial integrity, sovereignty of Ukraine. In my opinion, such a decision absolutely cannot lead to this: how can appeasement of the aggressor lead to the fact that the aggressor stopped committing aggressive actions? If the Europeans are convinced of the futility of such attempts, it will be good for Ukraine. But I’m afraid there’s money here, and big money, big projects.
Vitaly Portnikov: Alla, I want to ask you about the situation in France in connection with all these stories. Maybe Ukraine is just part of the context change? After all, the story of the book “Kremlin networks in France” is also the story of just a month when one of the claims brought against the author of this book was partially satisfied. The very symbolic fact that it is possible to satisfy the claim when you say that a person is somehow connected with Russia, with the Kremlin, with Russian propaganda, and the court says that you slander him, discredit his reputation, is also a kind of new social situation.
Alla Lazareva: It is not even new since until this trial there was another lawsuit filed against the journalist and the translator of Anna Chekanovskii in the case of Fields Moreira and film “Ukraine. Masks of revolution”. There it was much more difficult to fight for Anna’s right to see the situation because the case was sued in the first, second and third instances. It was about the fact that the famous, well-known French journalist simply can not be the mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s ideas, although it was absolutely obvious: the film is manipulative. My colleague is now turning to the European court of human rights to exercise her right to her own vision. That process didn’t become so noticeable, but it was the first sign, said that it is possible to be involved in any bad Kremlin forces, having popularity, communications and opportunities in France, being the representative of establishment and the known journalist, and it is enough that justice appeared on your party.
Vitaly Portnikov: Angela Merkel on the tone of public statements was with Vladimir Zelensky much softer and more cautious than Emmanuel macron, and even supported the view of the situation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said: “not at any cost.” However, the German deputies in the PACE voted as the French, even the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany publicly made the statement (and French politicians do not do), has approved Russia’s return to PACE. Here the question arises: is this a “game of good and evil investigator” in the European arena? What are these people doing?
Ekaterina Zarembo: In my opinion, Angela Merkel now feels the weakening of her power in all dimensions, and even her health problems, which were noticed by journalists, matter here. She is now neither physically nor politically in a position to push anything hard. In Germany’s policy, this approach is a bit surprising: on the one hand, it absolutely supports all projects that are completely contrary to the interests of Ukraine (Nord stream 2, the situation in PACE), and on the other hand, there is some verbal empathy that we saw at the press conference. In Germany, it somehow gets along, and in fact not only in Germany but also in Italy, France – in different proportions, but it sounds like we are with you, but we are for our interests. This time it was, of course, very difficult to talk to the German deputies.
Vitaly Portnikov: do you Think that what is happening in the European direction is the result of not only the correction of European foreign policy but also changes in Ukraine? So writes the European press: Vladimir Zelensky — a man who wants peace, we must help Ukraine to establish peace. This means that we need to be softer towards Russia: maybe it will be more constructive towards Ukraine. It not we are — it is the Ukrainian people, it so voted.
Alla Lazareva: you can see that these expectations exist. Indeed, they are connected with the personality of Vladimir Zelensky, with his inexperience, with ignorance of the political field in which he will have to work. Of course, everyone promotes their own interests. I think that many countries saw in this temporary or permanent weakness of the Ukrainian foreign policy line, in this new situation, the opportunity to further promote their own interests. This affects the position of Western countries, the rhetoric, the style of negotiations and, of course, the goals. It is clear that in same France it would be easier if the war in Ukraine stopped, and it is absolutely not important if it was at the expense of infringement of only Ukrainian interests.
According to public opinion polls, most of all, in addition to socio-economic issues, Ukrainians are concerned about war, conflict resolution
Ekaterina Zarembo: According to public opinion polls, which were often conducted before the presidential elections, Ukrainians are most concerned about the war and the resolution of the conflict, in addition to socio-economic issues. For Europeans, this is also an exciting issue, but the solution itself will be different for Ukrainians and for Europeans. From 10 to 20% of Ukrainians for the solution of the conflict by military means, when we take up arms and somehow withdraw from there the Russian army, up to the refusal of the territories: we do not need them. I think that for the countries of the European Union and, in particular, the countries that represent the Normandy format, the freezing of the conflict will be an acceptable option. If there is no shooting, no casualties, this can already be considered a significant progress for Germany and France, while it will be possible to solve humanitarian issues slowly.
Vladimir Zelensky earned points by talking about the humanitarian aspect of the conflict, improving the living conditions of people in the territories that are around the contact line, some ways of delivering messages, the rhetoric of the Ukrainian government in the occupied territory: all this is honey for the ears of our international partners. They prefer to talk about human rights than about the resumption of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.