Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed by Oleksiy Matsuka, the chief editor of News of Donbas information agency. The views and opinions expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.
The 56th Security Conference ended in Munich on February 16.
This year saw in attendance German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and others.
On Saturday, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a speech at the conference, accompanied by Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Security Service head Ivan Bakanov and the new head of the President's Office, Andriy Yermak.
And as the Ukrainian leader and his team were traveling to Munich, on February 14, the first day of the conference brought a diplomatic embarrassment related to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict.
The Munich Security Conference is used by politicians and expert communities as a platform to spread their ideas and worldviews.
The tone for the discussion is set by a conference report that the organizers publish prior and which takes a snapshot of the current situation in the world.
The sections of this year's paper have titles that refer to the major issues discussed by the leaders.
The chapter on the United States is called "Divided We Stand?”. The chapter on Europe – “Eurovision Contest”. The chapter on Russia is “Putemkin's State”. The document states that the cunning tactician Vladimir Putin occasionally creates "Potemkin facades" of victories.
But already on the first day of the conference, another document appeared on the site next to the official report – "Twelve Steps Toward Greater Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region".
For those unfamiliar with the rules of the conference, the publication of this sort on the official site may seem the position of delegates and countries. Some media outlets (especially those vulnerable to political advertisements of their owners), failed to dig into the matter (or intentionally?) considered this text as such.
In fact, it was the organizers of the Munich Conference who created the confusion by posting the document on their website. And the fact that it was signed by the conference organizer Wolfgang Ischinger helped the statement assume importance.
Other signatories include experts from the European Leadership Network, the Russian International Affairs Council, and the American Nuclear Threat Initiative. Retired diplomats Oleksandr Chaly, Oleksii Semenii, and Vasyl Filipchuk took part in the preparation of the proposals from the Ukrainian side. Among others are the former Deputy Head of the OSCE SMM Alexander Hug and Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov.
The document looked like the official position of the Munich Security Conference.
The first publication of the twelve-step plan in the press appeared on the morning of February 14 in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Ukrainian media did not notice the document until the afternoon that day.
Suddenly, a few hours later, the document disappeared from the conference site. As it turned out "because of a large number of inquiries to it." But on the evening of February 15, the document returned to the conference website in the “Statements” section with the headline “Controversial debate about proposals towards advancing the solution of the Ukraine crisis.”
Now, along with the plan, a critical note from a group of U.S. diplomats and experts had been published on the conference website. The Atlantic Council said on their website that some of the steps proposed in the plan resonate with the ideas put forward by the Russian side.
This statement has already been signed by Ian Brzezinski, Michael Carpenter, Edward Lucas, diplomats John Herbst, Steven Pifer, William Taylor Jr., Marie Yovanovitch, ex-Deputy Secretary General of NATO Alexander Vershbow.
The authors of the "pro-Russian" (as it was called on the sidelines as early as February 14) plan proposed the following steps to resolve the conflict: to restore the work of the Joint Center on Control and Coordination of issues related to the ceasefire regime and the stabilization of the situation (JCCC); create a military dialogue group within the Normandy format; develop new confidence and security measures for the population in the area of entry-exit checkpoints; solve the problem of missing persons and start the process of mine clearance.
In addition, the proposals include the development of a plan for the reconstruction of the Donbas with the participation of the European Union and Russia, the preparation of proposals for the simultaneous implementation of free trade norms with Russia and the EU by Ukraine, the development of a mechanism to change sanctions against Russia depending on the progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, work on the deactivation of sources of radiological contamination in the Donbas.
Political steps include a new dialogue between Euro-Atlantic countries on mutual security, identifying priority areas for Russia-EU cooperation, launching an inclusive national dialogue in Ukraine, with thought leaders and internationally recognized experts.
According to the authors of the proposal, the dialogue should address history, language, identity, and minorities.
“Most of the twelve recommendations from the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group – if faithfully implemented by all parties – are constructive and could both serve as trust-building measures and alleviate the difficulties and suffering endured by the population in or near the occupied Donbas. Several are problematic; two in particular echo Kremlin negotiating proposals or disinformation themes,” reads a statement released on the Atlantic Council website.
It states that the 12-Step document describes a solution to the problem in "Kremlin-friendly terms, perhaps in order to persuade members of the Russian elite to sign."
"The signers identify the problem in their very first sentence: ‘the conflict in and around Ukraine’. That description obscures the problem’s origins and makes it impossible to find an appropriate solution. 'The conflict in and around Ukraine' began when Russian troops, in Russian uniforms but operating without identifying insignias, seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and Moscow ‘annexed’ it," U.S. diplomats and experts stress.
"Without Kremlin leadership, financing, weapons (including heavy arms), ammunition, and – in some cases – regular units of the Russian Army, there would be no ‘conflict in and around Ukraine’," the post reads.
“In short, the problem to fix is Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine – by restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, starting with the Donbas. More broadly, the problem is to persuade Moscow that it does not have the right to dictate the policies of its neighbors,” the statement follows.
“Recommendation twelve, which calls for a ‘new national dialogue about identity’, is a dubious meddle in Ukraine’s internal affairs. This reflects Moscow’s meme about a divided Ukraine that led to the ‘civil war’ in the Donbas... It is astonishing in its disrespect for the nation Russia has invaded,” the document reads.
The following response to the plan, signed by the organizer of the Munich Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, came from the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
"Theses (of the document – ed.) do not correspond with the official position of Ukraine... This is a private initiative of a group of politicians and experts who are not indifferent to issues of international security and the security situation in Ukraine, in particular, the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against our state."
And it was only the following day, February 15, that President Zelenskyy spoke:
"I have always been a little offended, despite the amount of help provided to us by certain countries in this situation, both economically and in reforming the country, whenever they start talking about Ukraine, trying to settle the issue somewhere behind our back. It's like with this plan you mentioned. Munich has found a new plan for the settlement of the war in eastern Ukraine. What about us? We are the ones experiencing the war. I just want to remind you that you can ask us."
Zelenskyy spoke at a conference during a panel discussion in the presence of Wolfgang Ischinger, who attended all events related to Ukraine on February 15.
"He feels guilty," one of the Ukrainian journalists on the sidelines described the behavior of the conference organizer.
This story sparked a public outcry within Ukraine.
Former President Petro Poroshenko and his PR team who were present at the conference used this occasion to convey to their constituents the idea that "only their party is capable of protecting the Ukrainian interest in geopolitical clashes."
In Munich, Poroshenko was accompanied by several television cameras of his own channels, whom he favored in communication.
Viktor Medvedchuk’s political group adopted the same tactics. The TV channels controlled by them had "exclusive" rights to broadcast the opinion of the MP from the Donbas, Nataliya Korolevska, who provided her own assessment of the situation, standing next to the conference logo.
The reaction of the Ukrainian authorities to the events was not as prompt.
This is due to the reshuffle that Zelenskyy had in his Office on the eve of his trip to Munich. To the last, it was unknown whether the visit of the President of Ukraine to Bavaria would go ahead, since during a staff shake-up and the shuffling of people in key positions it is possible that reactions slow down in all areas.
Which is what happened in Germany that weekend. But this is in no way a manifestation of the "Munich conspiracy" or the another "betrayal."