Real Moscow turning point or diversion? This is why we must not delude ourselves, for Putin it would be a defeat

Are we at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? What neutrality for Ukraine? Moscow's opening on EU accession, but it was precisely Kiev's approach to Brussels (and not to NATO, as the vulgate of our Putin-Versteher would like) the casus belli in 2013-2014

Well yes, the resistance that for some was useless, indeed even irresponsible, consisting in sending their army and the Ukrainian people towards a certain massacre, given the overwhelming Russian military superiority, is proving instead decisive in allowing Kiev to obtain in best case scenario, a real negotiation, which safeguards its sovereignty, at worst to catch your breath and crystallize positions on the ground that are certainly critical, but without any breakthroughs on the Russian side.

After the blitz on the capital to decapitate the Ukrainian political and military leaders, Moscow seems to have redirected its objectives at the moment. But the suspicion is that the negotiations may be a way to buy time, given the difficulties encountered, to reorganize and resume the large-scale offensive in the south-east of the country. In this hypothesis, we would not be facing the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. Only the first phase of the war would have ended, with the capture of Mariupol and the closure of a land corridor between Crimea and Russia, to concentrate in a second phase on the complete "liberation" of Donbass and the capture of Odessa (for the control of the entire Black Sea coast).

On the diplomatic level, for a couple of weeks the Ukrainian President Zelensky has hinted that he is ready to negotiate the neutrality of Kiev, renouncing NATO entry in exchange for security guarantees, so the news of yesterday's talks in Istanbul are you come from the Russian side.

Chief negotiator Medinsky announced Moscow's decision to "drastically reduce military activities in the direction of Kiev and Chernihiv", in order to "increase mutual trust in view of future negotiations to agree and sign a peace agreement with Ukraine. ". In reality, the Russian forces around Kiev and Chernihiv had been at a standstill for days, and indeed in retreat before the Ukrainian counter-offensives. "The threat to Kiev is not over", however, warns Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, "no one should be fooled". And US officials see the move only as a change of strategy.

The real surprise was the Russian openness to Ukraine's accession to the European Union: "The Russian Federation has received written proposals from Ukraine confirming its desire for a neutral and non-nuclear status," said Medinsky. . The renunciation of entry into NATO, of hosting foreign bases, of the production and deployment on its territory of any kind of weapons of mass destruction, he specified. "The Kiev proposals imply that, for its part, the Russian Federation has no objection to Ukraine's desire to join the European Union," added the Russian chief negotiator.

By "neutrality" Moscow would no longer also mean Kiev's non-membership of the EU. If confirmed at the highest levels, it would be a surprising turning point in the Russian position, considering that precisely the path towards the EU (and not NATO, as the vulgate of our Putin-Versteher would like) had been the casus belli of the 2013 crisis. -2014, of Euromaidan and the consequent first Russian invasion. We will come back to that later in this article.

Therefore, if this were the point of collapse of the negotiations, Ukraine will not be able to enter NATO, it will not have foreign bases and chemical or nuclear weapons on its territory, but in exchange it will be able to enter the EU. For its part, Moscow would renounce the so-called "denazification", which was none other than the overthrow of Zelensky and his replacement by a pro-Russian puppet government. More complicated to unravel the knot of the definitive status of Crimea and Donbass, already in fact in Russian hands, on which there is no progress. It is likely that separate negotiations will take place on these territories, as Moscow is guaranteed by a fait accompli.

But in exchange for renouncing NATO membership, the Ukrainians are also asking for a system of security guarantees. In fact, in Kiev they realize the trap that lies behind the apparently harmless principle of "neutrality" and that they need concrete guarantees against future attacks on sovereignty and integrity. A neutrality that was "guaranteed" only by Moscow, which had already broken his word, to the commitments signed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and with today's invasion, would not be true neutrality but constant threat, therefore submission.

For this reason, Kiev is asking third countries to guarantee its security, first and foremost the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey. With concrete commitments, more stringent than those envisaged in the aforementioned memorandum, which did not avoid Russian aggression. "The guaranteeing countries will have to provide us with armed forces, weapons and closed skies," the negotiators clarified yesterday. This is very different from the provisions of Article 5 NATO: these guarantees would in fact trigger only in defense of Ukraine, if attacked, while they would in no way imply the participation of Kiev alongside the guaranteeing countries in a possible conflict against Russia.

"We will continue our negotiations with Russia but we will also involve the guaranteeing countries," said Ukrainian chief negotiator Mikhaylo Podolyak. The problem now is to understand how far the guaranteeing countries will want to go with their commitments. Will they give credible guarantees, that is, such as to dissuade Moscow from new aggressions? And for its part, will Moscow want to deprive itself of the military threat against Kiev, knowing that this time it would go to war with the guaranteeing countries?

We are not yet at this stage, but when the countries called by Kiev to provide guarantees, the United States and some European countries, will respond, thus also entering into the negotiations, it is reasonable to assume that the Russian side will make a request to revoke or lighten sanctions, which Washington seems unwilling to do. How will the Biden administration respond? And the European allies?

On the Russian side in Istanbul "positive signs", commented President Zelensky on Telegram , but "of course we see all the risks and we see no reason to trust the words of some representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction. Ukrainians are not naive people. They have already understood, during these 34 days of invasion and in the last eight years of war in the Donbass, that only a concrete result can be trusted ”.

Skepticism even in Washington. "I would leave it to our Ukrainian partners to define whether there is real progress and whether Russia is making a significant commitment," said US Secretary of State Blinken, adding however: "I can say this: there is what the Russia says and what Russia does. We are focused on the second thing ”. And he does not see "signs that Russia is really getting serious in the negotiations." Blinken also speculated that they could be exploited by Moscow to regroup its military forces. "I cannot tell you if these statements reflect a reorientation on eastern and southern Ukraine, or if this is a means by which Russia is trying to deflect and deceive."

If the final outcome is a neutrality of Kiev that includes possible accession to the EU and the maintenance of its own army, and adequate guarantees at least from the US, for Putin it will be a defeat, which he will hardly be able to present to his followers as a victory by flaunting only the renunciation of entry into NATO, the Donbass and the Crimea (which in fact it already had), in the face of the extremely high costs suffered in economic terms.

To understand why we find it hard to believe that the Kremlin is willing to grant Ukraine accession to the EU, it is important to remember the events of 2013-2014, because it was not the prospect of Kiev's entry into the EU that triggered Euromaidan and the first Russian aggression. Born, but the EU-Ukraine association agreement, the first step towards EU membership. This is why we consider the NATO question a pretext.

In 2013 Putin was in control of the situation in Ukraine: the government in Kiev was a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who came out the winner of the 2010 presidential elections against Yulia Tymoschenko, thanks to the divisions between the "orange" parties and a profile more conciliatory than the ambitions of the western part of the country. In the parliamentary elections of October 2012, with Tymoschenko jailed, the president's party won a relative majority and managed to form a coalition government.

The prospect of NATO membership had already cooled after the Russian aggression on Georgia, but with Yanukovych in power it was out of the question. However, the pro-European perspective remained. The negotiations for the EU-Ukraine association agreement, including a "deep and comprehensive" free trade area (DCFTA), had already been concluded in 2012 (March and July), but the detention of Tymoschenko, leader of the opposition, it represented an obstacle for the EU leaders, who demanded progress in three areas: electoral, judicial and constitutional reforms. In February 2013, the Ukrainian Parliament approved by a large majority a resolution in which it undertakes to guarantee the implementation of the EU recommendations and President Yanukovych also reaffirms his commitment. Amid poisoning and the release of opponents, in September 2013 Yanukovych urged his majority to approve the required reforms and the Ukrainian government unanimously adopted the draft agreement.

Despite the general deterioration of Ukrainian democracy with Yanukovych, the continued detention of Tymoschenko and the delays in the reforms, the signing of the association agreement was expected at a summit in Vilnius on November 28-29, 2013. In short, that "eastern bridge -west ”, which Kissinger allegedly talked about in the much-cited (and little-read) article of 2014, was within reach. But a week earlier, on November 21, the Ukrainian government suspended the signature, in order to guarantee national security and in consideration of the consequences on trade with Russia and other CIS countries. On the same day Yanukovych declares that "there is no alternative" to the reforms and integration of Ukraine into the EU.

What happened? Putin had lowered his veto. On November 26, the Ukrainian government admitted that Russia had asked to delay the signing. The spokesman for the Kremlin Peskov had defined the Ukrainian decision as an internal and sovereign decision, but also that Moscow was ready to negotiate with Ukraine and the EU. Responding to criticism from EU leaders, Putin explained that the agreement was a "serious threat" to Russia's economic security.

It was common ground from the outset that the association agreement with the EU, providing for a free trade zone, was not compatible with the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow sought to impose on Kiev. On the one hand the European market, on the other Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: what would you have chosen?

At the Vilnius summit, Yanukovych made it clear that Ukraine still wanted to sign the association agreement, but that it needed help to offset the threatened response from Moscow, which had meanwhile put $ 15 billion on the plate to alleviate the financial problems of Moscow. Kiev, and put forward the proposal to start three EU-Ukraine-Russia negotiations. European Commission President Barroso replied that the EU could neither accept trilogue negotiations nor tolerate the substantial veto of a third country on the agreement. The European Council of 20 December confirmed in its conclusions that the EU remained available to sign the agreement as soon as Ukraine was ready.

From the stop of Yanukovych to the signing, under pressure from Moscow, the Euromaidan protests, in Kiev and other cities, and the harsh repression of the demonstrators. It is only at this point that the US support for the protests arrives, the visit of McCain, Victoria Nuland's "fuck the Eu" for the excessive European shyness, while Washington and Brussels worked on a joint aid plan to free Kiev from the blackmail of Putin. On February 22, 2014 the flight to Russia of Yanukovych, now isolated, in the same days the military occupation of Crimea by the Russian side, in March the annexation and in April the war in Donbass.

Deposition of Yanukovych, the association agreement with the EU was signed by the new Ukrainian government on 21 March 2014 (the political part) and by the new president Poroshenko on 27 June (the economic part).

Only at this point, after the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass, did Kiev turn to the West for defense as well. With the territories already occupied by the Russians or disputed, membership of NATO was even more impossible, but military assistance was still practicable. It is from that moment that aid begins to arrive and the exercises that are today cited as "provocations" to Russia begin to arrive, pretending to ignore that they were the response to the first Russian aggression.

What a Putin own goal. Yanukovych could represent a guarantee for Moscow: no to NATO, but association with the EU could be a point of balance. The same suggested by Kissinger in his article, which, however, the Russian president had just refused. In the decisive moment Putin pulled too hard, he tried the coup de hand, to take back Ukraine by trying to make Yanukovych a Lukaschenko, but ultimately losing him.

At the end of 2013 in the Ukrainian capital the presence of Russians and pro-Russians was undoubtedly prevalent, compared to the Americans. No one from the outside could have overthrown Yanukovych against the will of the Ukrainians and if Putin had not forced him not to sign the association agreement with the EU. This is why it would be surprising if the Kremlin today agreed not to oppose the Europeanization of Kiev, to avoid which it has invested eight years and two wars. It would mean that Moscow is really in serious trouble both on a military and economic level.

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