Russia and Ukraine are in talks about expanding the Normandy Format to resolve the conflict in Donbass. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried will visit Moscow and Kyiv before consulting U.S. allies and partners in Brussels. Columnist Maxim Yusin contemplated whether Washington joining the Minsk Protocol and the Normandy Format is beneficial for Russia.
For a long while, the talks under the Minsk Protocol and the Normandy Format continued without the United States. The United States was present in spirit, of course, since everybody knows about the influence America exerts on Kyiv. Formally, however, the Normandy Format has remained unchanged for more than seven years, and includes Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
It seems that now the situation has begun to change. After the virtual meeting between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, the U.S., to the surprise of many, is determined to join the discussions on Donbass. Donfried’s visit to Moscow has become the most obvious, but not the only display of the United States’ intentions.
In official statements from the White House regarding Biden’s phone call to his Ukrainian colleague, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, we hear increasingly more forceful remarks about the Minsk Protocol, despite the fact that, over the past few years, Americans have rarely and reluctantly mentioned the protocol that essentially supports Kyiv’s position on revising the document.
So what has changed? One might venture to suggest that Putin and Biden discussed certain matters during their virtual summit that have not yet been made public but that significantly changed the tone of American pronouncements.
Zelenskiy’s evolution is also quite indicative. In his interview with the 1+1 TV channel shortly after his talks with Biden, Zelenskiy said several things we haven’t heard from him before. For instance, he mentioned the possibility of a referendum on Donbass, stated that the world doesn’t revolve around Ukraine and that dozens of countries have their own interests to mind, including business with Moscow.
Finally, about putting the brakes on Ukraine’s effort to join NATO, something NATO members are not anxious to lift regardless of what Ukraine says and how outraged it is. It’s possible that Zelenskiy is thinking soberly after his talk with Biden, a talk that was probably not as lighthearted as the Ukrainian president’s office is trying to suggest.
As for Moscow, the news about the U.S. joining the Ukraine talks are more of a good sign.
The previous format has found itself at a dead end. That became apparent after the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published correspondence between Sergei Lavrov and his colleagues from France and Germany. Moscow confirmed that Paris and Berlin can’t (or don’t want to) influence Kyiv. That means the Normandy Format in its current form has been rendered largely useless. The U.S., however, is more than capable of influencing Ukraine. Whether it wants to do so is a different question. This is what we expect to find out during upcoming talks.
If Washington really wants to push Ukraine into following the Minsk Protocol or convince Ukraine to make certain compromises, it will be extremely difficult for Ukraine to resist the pressure. Evidently, what is unfolding before us is something Ukraine vehement denies; that the U.S. is talking about Ukraine behind its back. Yes, this is unpleasant, but in life, in real politics, it is often the case. Great powers decide the fates of their satellites and simply put them on the spot later.