Two days have passed since the longest presidential negotiations in the newest world history were over. I will try to sum up the expert analysis of the Minsk arrangements (provided they are carried out).
Advantage for Ukraine:
– ceasefire meaning probable end to killing Ukrainian citizens.
Advantages for Russia:
– probable slackening and elimination of sanctions;
– it has not been recognized as a party to the conflict;
– it has not assumed any obligations;
– the world community "has forgotten" about the Crimea.
Disadvantages for Ukraine:
– it shall maintain Ukrainian territories controlled by Russia and, consequently, fighters in these territories;
– terrorists shall be forgiven and amnestied;
– fighters and their activity shall be legalized as a local authority and cooperated with;
– it shall consult Russia on all trade issues of the European integration of Ukraine.
Disadvantages for Russia:
– it did not manage to seize Ukraine through a military blitzkrieg.
When I was reading the published complete texts of the Minsk documents already in Kiev, I had a deja vu feeling as if they were dubbed in a familiar voice in my head… Certainly!
Minsk, Palace of Independence, 3 a.m. on February 12. In the room for diplomatic delegations, Sergey Lavrov is sitting in a leather sofa in a haughty manner, smoking a sixth cigarette in a day. Sergey Brilev is leaning over him in a respectful pose, he is presenter of the Saturday News program and Deputy Director of the Russia TV channel, a junior colleague of Dmitry Kisilev who presents the closing Sunday news. Unintentionally, I became witness to a curious private talk.
The journalist was asking the minister how the negotiations were going and what the aims were. Lavrov said that Russia was there of its own will, because it supports peace in the world. The main thing was to make Poroshenko negotiate directly with "citizen soldiers" because if the Norman four drafted an unfavourable document, they might not accept it, and the negotiations would be a failure then. And the requirements of the "citizen soldiers" are "logical and simple". And the Foreign Minister started enumerating almost verbatim the points that later appeared as a result of the Minsk meeting.
All of a sudden, the statesman got off the point and said thoughtfully, "It would be interesting to watch a live broadcast from Debaltsevo and see whose it is…"
I also remembered a colonel in marine uniform with a nuclear case. The military man kept close to Putin, and when the Russian leader went to negotiations, he was deliberately walking to and fro across the banquet hall. I understand that, according to the rules, a person like this must accompany the leader of a nuclear state in all trips, but, for comparison, France also has nuclear weapons, but Hollande did not consider it appropriate to demonstrate the nuclear case during peace talks.
It was not clear until the very endwhether the talks will be held in Minsk on Wednesday and what the format will be. But Alexander Lukashenko,who promised Vladimir Putinon Sunday in front of camerasthat everything will be organized at the highest level, kept his word.
The fact that the event will be held at the Palace of Independence was announced to the press only a few hours before the start"for security reasons". The Palace of Independence is a building with an area of five thousand meters in the centre of Minskconstructed a couple of years ago; it is where the Belarusian president works now. The local media reported that the budget amounted to several hundred million dollars. Judging by the best sorts of marble on the floor and walls on all storeys and by the amount of gilding, the journalists were not wrongin their calculations. However, for example, unlike "Mezhyhirya" (similar level), all construction and finishing work are high-qualityin Minsk, they are designed in the same style, there are no Chinese counterfeits in the interior, it means that nothing was stolen during construction and everything was made to last. Besides, the Belarusian Palace has been designed to maintain the image; I think that European diplomats will remember Lukashenko’s luxurious mansions for long.
One of the Ukrainian presidents told me that once he tried to help Lukashenko to establish contactsfor the European integration. For this purpose, he arranged a casual meeting with the Polish President Lech Kaczynskifor him. But instead of taking a diplomatic approach to the conversation, Kaczynski started harshly with asking Lukashenko when exactly he would release political prisoners... In general, the attempt at European integration failed then.
However, this time, though the reason for the meeting was not the most pleasant, Alexander Grigoryevich obviously did not want to miss the opportunity to appear to the best advantage before the European leaders.
Local security officers worked in a well-coordinated and intelligent manner, they did not insult the journalists. When Alexander Lukashenko went out to meet Petro Poroshenko who arrived the first, Pavel Zarubin, a correspondent of Russia 1 TV channel cried out loudly, "Mister Poroshenko, why do your troops bomb civilians?" Poroshenko pretended not to hear him, and security officers immediately removed the provoker from the event. However, it was apparently the editorial mission because at least three journalists had accreditation from this TV channel.
Another scandalous episode was caused by Alexander Yunashev, a reporter of another Russian pro-Kremlin mass media "LifeNews". Imagine the situation: Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko, and Lukashenko gathered in a guest meeting room. There are a couple of hundreds of international diplomats and journalists right behind the door. It is five minutes before Putin's arrival. Protocol service and security are nervous and alert, and suddenly there is a loud "Vow!" in the hall. The LifeNews reporter could not check himself and barked in response to the remark of the "1+1" journalist Olga Koshelenko that he was not right when he said that the Ukrainian journalists looked inappropriate because they came to the Palace of Independence in clothes with national symbols. Nevertheless, the security staff allowed him to remain at the event. Probably, he represented all the "LifeNews" at the negotiations. But the young man became an Internet "star" right away: the video with his barking was viewed about 300 thousand times for two days on our editorial YouTube-channel.
The negotiations that were scheduled for 6 p.m. Minsk time were brought forward to 5 p.m. and did not start even at 7 p.m. as a result. Heads of the states were late, Putin was the last to arrive. According to the protocol, Lukashenko welcomed the high-ranking guests in turn, bringing them together in the guest room on the first floor. After that, the high-ranking delegation was supposed to come to the press for them to take photographs and then to walk upstairs on the second floor to the big hall of negotiations where each state leader could take eight people from their delegations.
But the leaders got stuck in the guest room on the first floor. The guards already opened the doors where the protocol service and interpreters looked in shyly, whereas heads of states were standing near the exit were heaving heated discussion without noticing anybody. These spontaneous negotiations lasted more than an hour.
When leaders finally moved to the big hall of negotiations with their delegations, a tough verbal fight broke out between Poroshenko and Putin.
As one of the meeting participants from the Ukrainian party said, "Our president is set very rigidly, and Putin, too. He is very angry. In my long-lasting diplomatic career, I have never seen presidents fighting literally for every comma. The progress is very slow. Putin holds the ground. Merkel assumed the role of moderator, she conducts the meeting and tries to make proposals. If there is no compromise on any point, she puts it in the brackets to return to it later, and passes to the following point. Hollande sits absentmindedly and does not interfere with anything, he only smokes one cigarette after another. They have just discussed the issue of prisoners. Putin insists that the words "in Ukraine" should be added, that is all those who are in Ukraine shall be released. And Poroshenko wants the words "in Russia" to be added there, but the Russian president laughed crookedly, "Then let us put both "in France", and "in Germany"!.."
Then "the Norman four" asked their delegations to leave and they even asked out their interpreters. Lukashenko was not invited to the narrow format. One Belarusian diplomat who has known him for a long time noticed, "Of course, he took offense, but did not give a sign."
Official delegations were in different moods. Russians were shining with confidence, they laughed and cracked jokes.
Vladislav Surkov, now Vladimir Putin's assistant, previously Deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration and former Vice-Prime Minister of Russia was sitting at the door of the hall of negotiations in a complacent mood though, as the Ukrainian diplomats told me, he behaved extremely aggressively on Tuesday during the meeting of the contact group (including Leonid Kuchma, Mikhail Zurabov, OSCE representatives and representatives of fighters) and even dared raise his voice at the participants from the Kiev party.
The Belarusian Business Channel was on in the room for the rest of official delegations. It was showed a story, in which a NATO general said that the Russian army was fighting in the east of Ukraine. Despite the late hour, one of the heads of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia was attentively watching the news, and burst out laughing at the statement of the NATO official. The ambassador of Russia in Belarus who was sitting near him supported him with a sad smile.
Ukrainians were in a different mood this night. Everybody was tired but nervous. None of my interlocutors did not expect a miracle or believe that Ukraine will reach favorable arrangements and that the Russian side will carry them out then.
Belarusians sympathized with the Ukrainian neighbors during personal meeting, saying that they see and understand everything, but what can they do? One high-ranking official told me in an informal conversation that shortly before the summit, Lukashenko talked to Putin concerning Ukraine in the following terms, "How long will you do it! Leave it alone at last, the sanctions have already had a strangle on you!" Putin answered that he could possibly retreat, but he had gone so far that there was no way back.
At daybreak, the journalists divided into two camps: those who sat as cocoons right on the marble floor near the walls of the negotiations hall, and those who jumped up at any opening of the doors and cried, "They are going out! They are going out!" Sergey Lavrov was also deceived by such shouts several times, he jumped out of his shelter and, making his way through TV cameras and journalists, stopped suddenly, realizing that it was false alarm.
Finally, the painful 17 hours that state leaders spent together were over. Merkel and Hollande hurriedly left the Palace of Independence, leaving behind the puzzled and disappointed media representatives.
Poroshenko came to the press, said some words, he was about to drop with fatigue, he looked depressed, he embraced Lukashenko before parting and left.
The most memorable were Putin's words he addressed to the Kremlin mass media pool. He smiled, "It was not the best night in my life, but, in my opinion, the morning is good".
Kiev – Minsk – Kiev