Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 31.10.2019
Losing everything, Ukrainian land and Ukrainian people slip away from the homeland into the grey zone, and from the grey zone into Russian occupation. This is the result of Zelenskyy’s capitulation to the Russian invaders in Donbas.
Over the past five and a half years of war, precious Ukrainian settlements have been liberated from the grasp of the foreign invaders from Muscovy. Now, without being defeated in battle, the Ukrainian army is being forced to give them up to “uncontrolled” status by the Zelenskyy government.
President Zelenskyy claims that he signed the Lavrov Formula (also known as the Steinmeier Formula) to bring about Normandy Four format talks. But what’s the point of that? Putin is setting ever greater conditions for Normandy Four, and he will continue to demand Ukraine meet preconditions for such talks to be held. If Normandy Four format talks happen, Putin will use them to seek further delay. He will sign nothing. There will be no peace agreement because aggressor Russia does not want peace.
There is no path to peace through the Minsk Agreements, the Lavrov Formula, or the Normandy Four format talks. These are all mechanisms to consolidate and expand the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine. Even if giving ground to the Russian invaders at Zolote leads to Normandy Four format talks this is a pointless goal because it cannot possibly help Ukraine.
What should be Ukraine’s goal at Zolote is opening a long-delayed civilian “safe crossing” for vehicles.
The only civilian “safe crossing” in Luhansk oblast is at Stanytsia Luhanska. The route between the Russian-occupied zone and free Ukraine goes across a bridge spanning the Siverskyi Donets River that was partly destroyed by Russian invasion troops in 2014. The Stanytsia Luhanska crossing is for foot traffic only – it is impossible for vehicles to pass.
A civilian “safe crossing” for vehicles at Zolote was designated in 2015 by the Tripartite Contact Group. The Ukrainian side did de-mining and built a checkpoint. The Russian side did nothing. Tired of waiting for the obdurate Russians, the Ukrainians opened their side of the Zolote crossing in October 2017. The Zolote crossing could have started functioning at any time in the past two years. Only the Russian Federation maintaining a war posture has kept it closed.
But there is no need for Zolote to be a “disengagement zone” for it to function as a civilian crossing for vehicles. Mayorsk in Donetsk region, north-west of Russian-occupied Horlivka, functions perfectly well as such a checkpoint because it is controlled by Ukrainian forces, not in spite of it.
Under President Poroshenko, the Ukrainian army liberated Katerynivka, Zolote-4 (Rodina), and the Vil’nyi farmstead. These are all places near where the Zolote crossing is supposed to be. Under President Zelenskyy, these Ukrainian settlements are no longer securely a part of Ukraine and are threatened to be consumed into the Russian occupation zone.
Ukrainian policy must be the liberation of Donbas and Crimea from Russian occupation. In the short-term, the policy with respect to Zolote should be the opening of the civilian crossing. No Ukrainian policy goal is met by Zelenskyy’s capitulation.
Russian policy is the destruction of Ukraine as an independent state. In the short-term, the Russian Federation’s war strategy at Zolote is to weaken the Ukrainian line of defence and allow Russian invasion-occupation forces to win the Battle of the Bakhmut Road.
There no way in which withdrawal of Ukrainian defenders from Zolote can lead to peace. Withdrawal of the Ukrainian army from Zolote is capitulation to the aggressor. What Zelenskyy has done ensures that Putin’s War in Ukraine will last longer and get worse.