Russia is a peculiar country. Overwhelmed by the Kremlin propaganda boogeyman stories about the threat of ruthless Banderites, some may as well cheerfully welcome Russian invaders in their neighborhoods. But when the Kremlin with its fire and sword actually establishes control over the seized areas, people finally see an undisguised Russian reality. It is simply impossible to a pre-war life. There are two ways out. The first is to flee, and so did at least two million Ukrainians who left their homes in the now-occupied areas of Donbas. Another way is to wait and hope for the arrival of the Ukrainian army - it is the only force that can heal the region from the "Russian world" and expel the invaders.

Meanwhile, on the international scene, for the fourth consecutive year, the Kremlin and its adepts, looking straight into the eyes of their counterparts, swear that Russia is a "guarantor", not an occupier, and is in fact "ready" for peace. Such a formula had already been used by Nazi Germany ahead of World War 2. Berlin claimed that "Germany wants peace, only on its own terms.” As part of this approach, Moscow is ready to show flexibility on Donbas. That is, the Russians will discuss any version of "settlement" that will retain their physical and political control over the seized parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Everything is possible, even the UN mission, but only one that will not resolve or change anything on the ground. The Kremlin does not hesitate to state that neither the Normandy Four nor Washington will shift the balance of forces in the region.

The goal of this ostentatious "flexibility" is quite simple. It’s to convince Western partners that it is Ukraine that does not want the war to end. To this end, the Kremlin has held and will keep holding various public events in Russia and European countries, only to pursue the idea of proving to themselves and others that it is necessary - and advantageous - to accept the new status quo, lift Russia sanctions, and return to "business as usual". To this end, all kinds of international platforms are being used, even including the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Ukraine had “attacked” Donbas and claimed that no deal could be reached with Germany and France. More and more of "representations" of the Kremlin’s gangster pseudo-republics will open across the EU. At the same time, panel shows on Russian TV will pretend that there has been a worldwide "recognition" of the occupied territories of the Ukrainian Donbas. The Box will continue to impose onto Russians the idea that Putin has once again outplayed everyone, and that, allegedly, the Ukrainian soil lays in the core of true Russian happiness.

The goal of this ostentatious "flexibility" is quite simple. It’s to convince Western partners that it is Ukraine that does not want the war to end

In practice, Putin's position remains unchanged and has turned into a kind of fetish – that is, to keep tormenting Ukraine, while retaining control over the seized Donbas for future bargaining. Meanwhile, on the line of contact, there will be a "hot" freezing of the conflict. Hostilities of varying intensity will continue, with no political changes to come.

Actually, we can assume that the first stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war is over. Obelisk of Russian hatred toward the Ukrainians has already been erected both in a literal and figurative sense. The Kremlin established control over Crimea and parts of Donbas, while Ukraine got rid of centuries-old illusions.

The Minsk agreements have died, although all the negotiators - in Moscow, Kyiv, European capitals, and Washington - will continue to reiterate that there is no alternative to this deal. Everyone is waiting for their opponent to give them some slack. Moscow is expecting that Europe will blink first.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow