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“Doves” vs. “hawks”:  Moscow’s ambivalent policy towards Donbass continues

Victoria Nuland and Vladislav Surkov

I think everyone has noticed how active are the speakers and negotiators of Russia and Ukraine this month – meetings of the Contact Group, Gryzlov’s visit to Kiev, Surkov-Nuland talks, Surkov’s visit to Donbass and others.

Perhaps, the only more or less distinct treatment of the reasons behind such intensified talks came from journalist Alexander Chalenko, who refers to his source in Surkov’s delegation. However, Chalenko’s treatment is biased, as he a priori considers Surkov’s policy as a benefit and implementation of that very “cunning plan.” If Chalenko is right about the project of “the negotiated autonomy of Donbass” (Surkov offered it in Kaliningrad), there is something to worry about.

I think if the sides really implement the Minsk Agreements, the adversary will gain from it, while we will be in a losing situation. First, I don’t believe that U.S. really seeks to force Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements and Kiev really seeks to agree with Russia and settle the conflict by political means. Second, our historical experience shows what the talks on the terms of the adversary (U.S. is actually an adversary in the given case) result in and what our politicians’ trust in the negotiability of the “Western partners” leads to (in case there is no plot between the Russian and Western elites).

As for the January negotiations and Chalenko’s interpretations, they were really about Donbass’ reintegration into Ukraine. The “cunning plan” was about de jure Ukrainian and de facto Russian Donbass (i.e. with Russia’s full control over the region). 

I’d like to say that the negotiations are held behind the closed doors and it is very difficult to get any details.  After the negotiations in Kaliningrad and Surkov’s visit to Donbass, I had been waiting for any details from some people for a week and learnt nearly nothing eventually. Only today I have learnt the following from a person linked to our Foreign Ministry. Nuland and Surkov discussed Donbass’ transfer to Ukraine on Ukraine’s terms. However, at the meeting of the Security Council in Moscow when that plan was discussed, the stand of the “hawks” prevailed.

Actually, the situation is left unchanged so far and both the Minsk process and the project of “negotiated autonomy” remain under question. Like last year, “Surkov’s party of doves” is trying to agree with Ukrainians on their terms and achieve softening and lifting of the Western sanctions (note that after Kaliningrad, Kerry has already ‘showed the carrot’ saying that the sanctions against Russia may be lifted this year). Meantime, “hawks” know that it is a game with marked cards and they will not forgive Russia for Crimea, and that the concessions to Ukrainians will end not in a triumph of the “cunning plan,” but in Srpska Krajina tragedy. Therefore, they support the negotiations from the position of the strength and on our terms and continue preparing for war.

The bad news is that despite the continuing artillery shelling, armed provocations and deployment of Ukraine’s troops in Donbass that continue in the new year, the ambivalence and inconsistency (even schizophrenia) of the Russian policy in Ukraine continues as well.  Like before, there is no single center of decision making and a strictly developed strategy of actions concerning Donbass – issues are settled not through implementation of the tasks set by the Russian leadership, but through confrontation and fragile agreements of at least two groups (conditionally ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’) or ‘the Kremlin towers’ as they used to say.  The political and diplomatic process is still in the hands of the people who do not care for the interests of Russia and the Russians in Donbass.  In addition, they demonstrate Surkov’s almost crucial role in the negotiations (though the negotiations with its participation could be behind the scenes as before).

The good news is that the role of these people in deciding the future of Donbass and Ukraine (the future of entire Ukraine depends on Russia only) is not crucial. The domestic affairs of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LDPR), including the social-economic affairs (let alone the military ones), have been regulated by the “hawks” for a long time already.  The two republics consider the scenario of armed conflict with Ukraine as prior.  Therefore, the measures the security services take are connected with the anticipated pressure of Ukraine’s Armed Forces from at least three directions and certain countermeasures that will rule out the future concentration of Ukraine’s troops near the populated areas in LDPR.

Alexander Zhuchkovsky, Russian volunteer

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