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23 September 2017
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OpinionRussia will soon ask to be friends with Ukraine

Putin's live communication with his people is always a major event for the Russian Federation. Preparations to Q&A resemble those to a space mission or seasonal harvesting. Talking heads on TV show countdown to the start of the show, provide information on the number of received questions as the Soviet media used to present statistics on, say, produced dairy. Russian propaganda is getting to a whole new level: here you have dozens of live broadcasts from all across Russia, as well as from the Russian-occupied territories, dollies set at the barns farms for better quality shooting. Everything is top notch.

The Ukrainian topic, of course, remains on the Russian agenda. Two years ago, Putin dreamed of some mythical Novorossiya, invented by his spin doctors, half of Ukraine’s size – that is how much land the Russian army was planning to seize after rebranding their "little green men" in Crimea (they have become "miners and tractor drivers" in Donbas). A year later, in 2015, he started linking the future of "Novorossiya" with "flexibility and political wisdom of the Kyiv leadership." This year, the Russian president has chosen not to mention the three-letter abbreviations [so-called “DPR” and “LPR”] of Russian-made terrorist organizations in Donbas.

Putin's statements on consent to deployment on the contact line between the Russian and Ukrainian military positions of armed OSCE personnel is evident of the Kremlin's will to freeze the conflict completely. That is if proposing a tacit formula that "what we, Russia, have seized, it’s ours now, and now let's start with a clean slate."

After all, had Russia really wanted to find a solution to the conflict, armed OSCE personnel should have been placed someplace else – in the uncontrolled area of the Ukrainian-Russian border. That would be the only way to counter the flow of Russian tanks, guns, ammunition and troops “on vacation.” And if there are no such type of troops involved in the conflict, as the Kremlin has repeatedly stated, then it would be the best way to get rid of all charges in the invasion of Donbas.

Russian foreign policy reflects, first of all, in the Kremlin’s rhetoric: definitions and words said to opponents. For the first time in many years, confrontational vocabulary in relation to Ukraine has not been used. Moreover, Ukraine is clearly going down in the list of Russia’s public enemies, while Turkey remains in the top part.

Actually, the Russian president, for the first time after disgraced Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, declared his readiness – veiled though – to cooperate with the new Ukrainian Government. However, Putin went on to say that the new Cabinet should get rid of "phobias," and "international instructions," and work a lot in general so that Russia could have a "reliable partner."

But most importantly, Putin has once again started to compare the situation in the Ukrainian economy with that in Russia – first time in many years. The Russians were told that complaining is not worth it, as things are not as bad as in Ukraine where the inflation hit 48% (with only 12% in Russia). The Russian president has not resorted to such moves for quite a while. This is not surprising, because in the past two years, the Russian propaganda on a daily basis prophesied collapse, default, hunger, destruction and other ills of Ukraine. None of this happened. Indeed, standards of living in Ukraine have fallen significantly, as a result of the capture of part of the country’s territory by Russia, the war, the loss of the Russian market, and – in all fairness – own stupidity. But Ukraine has survived and proved viable without Russia. Apparently, therefore, the rhetoric has changed. From “Banderite junta" and "cradle of fascism in the middle of Europe," Ukraine has become a regular "neighbor" once again? It seems that Russia can even consider cooperating…

But one small problem remains. After the occupation of 7% of Ukraine’s territory – Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, after thousands of killed soldiers and civilians, Kyiv cannot and does not wish to just start the dialogue over as if nothing ever happened.

With its policy in Donbas, the Kremlin puts Ukraine in a situation where compromise is impossible. Any agreement with Moscow will look like a concession, and there’s nowhere Ukraine can retreat. A field for political maneuvers is limited with the actual trenches of the Ukrainian soldiers. And this policy of the Kremlin has made Ukraine stronger.

Oddly enough, Ukraine has witnessed something like this before. Several years ago, the Kremlin tried to strangle Ukraine with gas prices and draw it to the Customs Union. Now the Russian government is thinking about how not to lose the Ukrainian market for its gas.

A similar effect is in the economy, politics and security. After all, when you're cornered, all means are good to survive.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

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