The ‘Normandy format’ meetings, held with the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia, have long been seen as a way for Ukraine to mediate an end to the conflict in the Donbas, which has resulted in over 1.6 million internally displaced people created following Russian invasion and occupation of several Ukrainian territories.
But these meetings have been few and far between, with the last being held in Berlin in 2019. Now, a new meeting has been scheduled for Paris, on December 9. According to the Delfi web portal, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, during a meeting with the Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, that he does not expect the meeting to end the war immediately.
Instead, he hopes to simply open a dialogue with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Nausėda, for his part, warned the Ukrainian leader against caving to Russian demands for concession, adding that only concessions from the Russian side could be called negotiation.
However, Ukraine may have less support for this position than it might want – some of its strongest allies, including France and the United States, have recently signaled that they’re seeking better relations with Russia.
The French foreign minister has recently called for a “reduction of distrust” between Russia and West, and the impeachment scandal in the United States has revealed that the U.S. President personally felt slighted by Ukraine due to what he perceived as attempts by a prior Ukrainian administration to smear him.
A reduction of distrust could be hard to swallow for Ukraine, which has seen concerted Russian disinformation efforts over the past five years that have tried to remove Russian responsibility for the Donbas war – while sending Russian troops and military equipment over the border, loosely disguised as "local separatists."
Zelenskyy, elected with a wide mandate of 73% in the prior presidential election – partially on promises of ending the war – faces a tough campaign both domestically and internationally in convincing both critics inside the country that he isn’t going to "capitulate" to Russia, and dealing with possibly unreliable allies and a duplicitous Russian government.
/By Romeo Kokriatski
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