After Leonid Kuchma resigned from the Tripartite Contact Group, Leonid Kravchuk was the only candidate to replace him with an "equal status". At the same time, he was only equal to his predecessor – not to the Russian envoy. But haven't we already got used to inequality? We also have the Yermak-Kozak group (whose future is now at limbo) where the two officials have different "official" statuses.
Let's look closer at the issue. Ukraine's first president entering the negotiation process has a number of advantages as well as shortcomings. I'll start with the good news.
Despite the existing issues with the personnel policy in the Ukrainian government, they had enough wisdom not to appoint a senior incumbent official. This would automatically increase the binding nature of decisions passed in the TCG format. Besides, Ukraine has already raised the level of representation in the TCG to such an extent that there's not much room left – we already have ministers, and deputy ministers, and chairmen of Rada committees on board.
But Moscow isn't offering any giveaways. They are not interested in bringing the war to a halt – the only thing they care about is moving the negotiations to the Ukraine-"LPR/DPR" format
A few months ago, the government made a not too wise of a decision, having raised the level of our representation to the level of Cabinet officials. That was presumably done in the hope that Russia would take a mirror step. But Moscow isn't offering any giveaways. They are not interested in bringing the war to a halt – the only thing they care about is moving the negotiations to the Ukraine-"LPR/DPR" format. After all, who else attends the TCG talks boasting of ministerial posts (albeit self-styled)? That's right, the so-called "foreign ministers" of the self-proclaimed "republics". So who are we negotiating with here?
Russian envoy, ex-head of the State Duma Borys Gryzlov, should be fully satisfied with the appointment of Ukraine's ex-president of Ukraine to the helm of Ukraine's delegation to the TCG. Gryzlov might often skip TCG meetings only to release statements with some dubious suggestions or Russia's traditional narratives. But it's better to have him represent Russia than some, relatively speaking, postgrad student whom the Kremlin could well have sent to replace him.
Now, the downside to the "new face" in the TCG is specifically about Kravchuk's political image. First of all, he's always been a conformist, keen to adapt to any political change throughout his long career. Therefore, any independence or resistance to what he'll be told in the President's Office can hardly be expected. I doubt that Kuchma had much space for maneuver either, while he did have an opportunity to make use of the new administration's lack of experience.
Secondly, Kravchuk is just a bit too eager to be jump onto this train. Publicity has long become his major addiction. That is, he won't be slamming doors and walking off if he doesn't like something in the policies pursued by government.
The third negative point is his ties with Vladimir Putin's crony Viktor Medvedchuk. This is the case where the public would always be looking for some treasonous undertones in any decisions made by our delegation to the TCG and its head Kravchuk. And when people look for anything definite, they often find at least something to fit their assumptions – or think they did. And it doesn't matter whether the two politicians are even in contact nowadays. It's the "trail" effect that does.
In practice though, Kravchuk will have little to no influence in settlement talks. He's purely a front face.
Therefore the conclusion is simple, Kravchuk at the post in Ukraine's delegation to the TCG completely satisfies the Russian party and Ukrainian President's Office. At the same time, the Ukrainian public is far from okay with it. Therefore, no matter the decisions further made in Minsk, their legitimacy will a priori be questioned here in Ukraine.
Bohdan Petrenko is a Deputy Chief of Ukrainian Institute for Extremism Research