Monday,
23 October 2017
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OpinionEurope's forgotten wound

The world never stops moving. We have to admit that the attention of the world community is focused on the most terrible hotspot at a certain moment in time. Now all eyes are on Syria and on the search for a solution to this Syrian puzzle, which is nowhere close to be seen. Meanwhile, protracted conflicts of lower intensity go to the background. And no matter how the Ukrainians ache when each morning they see news on more casualties along the Donbas contact line, this is not top news on a planetary scale at the moment.

The first visit of Rex Tillerson to Moscow in his new position of the U.S. Secretary of State expectedly drew great attention. His powers and responsibilities now differ radically from the time he managed ExxonMobil and received the Russian Order of Friendship, which the Kremlin doesn’t hesitate too long giving.

The use of chemical weapons in Syria and the subsequent cruise missile attack by the U.S. on an airbase of Russia's friend Assad - these events predetermined the agenda of the Russian-American talks.

The United States and the West in general will never officially recognize the seizure of the Ukrainian territories, but they also fail to anything about the very fact, confronted with the Kremlin’s "this is all our Russian land."

Skimpy bits of information on the Ukrainian issue in the reports on the U.S.-Russia talks suggests that the conflict in Donbas and the issue of occupied Crimea are being left behind the brackets, fixing a new status quo. This does not mean that there will be some "big deal" and Ukraine will be exchanged for something or someone, for example, for letting Bashar al Assad flee to uptown Moscow.

It is clear that the United States and the West in general will never officially recognize the seizure of the Ukrainian territories, but they also fail to anything about the very fact, confronted with the Kremlin’s "this is all our Russian land." There are two options: to deploy own tanks against the Russian ones (which was not done even in the midst of the worst fighting) or leave it as it is.

The agreement reached by the heads of the foreign ministries of Russia and the United States on the restoration of a communication channel on the situation on the ground in Donbas will change nothing. The only difference is that Russian president’s aide Surkov, who oversees the captured parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Kremlin will meet some other high-ranking U.S. diplomat rather than Victoria Nuland. And maybe those ridiculous assumptions about U.S. fuelling and feeding the Maidan in Ukraine will finally go down in history. Negotiations with Russia on Donbas regardless of the format, whether it’s the Normandy Four or the U.S.-Russian dialogue, have long turned into a useless ritual.

Another thing is important. Despite various statements during the U.S. election campaign, the new administration is perfectly aware of who attacked whom, and they will not be fooled with stories about separatist miners and tractor drivers who suddenly dug up high tech arms and learned how to operate sophisticated military equipment. Tillerson explicitly stated that until the Russian Federation complies with the Minsk agreements - that is, until it withdraws from Donbas - Ukraine will remain an obstacle on the path of improving relations between the U.S. and Russia.

In the short term, especially at the height of the Syrian campaign, there will most likely be a lull on the eastern front, but there is practically no chance for a lasting peace.

The Kremlin doesn’t seem to be giving up on Donbas now. On the contrary, it continues to move it closer to itself, trying to make it fit. As a result, anti-Russian sanctions will be maintained at all levels. Although even the most "loyal" Russian lobbyists in the EU are not talking about their lifting anymore.

There is an impression that the position of the West has been reduced to the only fundamental demand to Russia- not to carry out new large-scale attacks against Ukraine. In the short term, especially at the height of the Syrian campaign, there will most likely be a lull on the eastern front, but there is practically no chance for a lasting peace.

It is not by chance that the Kremlin is now complaining about "violent Ukrainization in Ukraine" and asks "to neutralize the revanchist sentiments of the Ukrainian "war party".

The closer the 2018 elections in Russia, the more outbreaks of popular protest there will be. And obviously, the more leverage the Kremlin will need to have on the electorate as well as the means to raise their political rating. The war with the external enemy is a bingo solution for Moscow: it distracts people from internal problems, especially economic ones, and creates an image of a winner nation. So the "hatred for Ukraine" mode can be switched on at any time. And Ukrainians must learn to live in the conditions of constant conflict.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

Tags: Ukraine, Russia, Syria, regionalconflicts, globalagenda, Donbas, Crimea, statusquo

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