At the Sinegor residence in the Carpathians, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the assembled Western diplomats and journalists about his new foreign policy initiatives around the war in Donbass. In short, Zelensky’s team has developed a 10-step plan to involve the United States in negotiations with Russia – any kind of involvement, it can be in the “Normandy format”, it can be in trilateral negotiations with the Russian Federation, or simply as a mediator. These “10 steps”, according to Zelensky, were sent out not only to the United States, but also to Germany, France and Russia.
Simultaneously with journalists in Kiev, the head of the ruling faction of the Servant of the People party David Arahamia spoke. His words about “10 steps” can be reduced to two theses: firstly, “we still need to do something,” and secondly, the ruling party has set clear “internal” deadlines for the next diplomatic offensive – these 10 steps should come to concrete preliminary results at the end of the first quarter of 2022. After April, obviously, another ten or fifteen steps will follow. [Zelensky]
The United States, according to Zelensky, has not yet decided on its participation in various formats around Donbass, but the Ukrainian government is still trying. “We are preparing various proposals so that we are not reproached for not wanting to end the war!” – literally said Vladimir Zelensky.
In Kiev, the entire event with barbecue and diplomats at the Sinegor residence is inclined to be interpreted as a cover action – it was here in November that Volodymyr Zelenskyy arranged the birthday of his friend, the head of the unofficial Office of President Andriy Yermak. The four-day holidays then were served by two helicopters of the State Emergency Situations Service and an unidentified private charter – journalists unearthed everything, it turned out inconveniently, but resourceful Vladimir Zelensky immediately explained the fuss around Sinegora by preparing for an important rally of diplomats in December.
More broadly, the current “10 Steps Together with the United States” looks like a kind of trolling in Moscow. In essence, official Kiev seeks direct negotiations with Moscow mediated by Washington – almost a mirror response to Russia’s many years of attempts to mediate in direct negotiations between Ukraine and the authorities of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass.
In Donetsk and Lugansk, they are more attentive to the rather much less noticeable signals – from the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) in Minsk. Here the questions are more specific – whether or not there will be a truce for the New Year holidays this year, and is a small exchange of prisoners possible for Christmas?
People associated with the negotiations in the TCG talked about the already traditional festive New Year truce and the upcoming small exchange of prisoners according to the strange formula “6 by 6”. These are very weak, but signals for some de-escalation.
What is happening on the contact line now? The usual unhurried combat work without any discounts for the whole two existing “indefinite” ceasefire regimes – from February 2015 and July 2020. “Everything is calm in the army, all restrictions have been lifted by the new command,” birds “and consumables are necessary for everyone again – local battles are underway, reconnoitered targets are being worked out, strengthening positions, no extra nerves,” one of the Ukrainian volunteers associated with delivery of small drones to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Such an unrestricted work of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not exist even under Petro Poroshenko. The combat units of the self-proclaimed republics respond with the work of snipers, the release of the DRG to mine enemy positions, and sometimes with mortars and cannons.
In Donetsk, at the same time, no special cannonade is heard, the city is decorated with New Year’s illumination (everyone notes that it is richer than last year), and on December 24, the grand opening of the main New Year tree on Lenin Square is planned. There, for more than a year, the flag of Russia has been flying on the flagpole above the monument to Ilyich, without any presence of DNR flowers.
War is not particularly expected here, despite even the stories about blacks with chemical weapons in nearby Avdiivka from the Russian Defense Minister. These warnings from Moscow are treated as an ordinary combat background – here so many times, by winter and summer, they promised a big war and another exacerbation that the people have adapted to this prohibitively.
And so everyone is calmly preparing for the holidays.
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