KYIV, March 14 – More than 5,000 of mostly army veterans rallied in front of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office on Saturday in protest of a plan by his administration to begin direct talks with Moscow-backed separatists.
The plan, which was first kept secret, had been later confirmed by Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff at Zelenskiy’s administration. It calls for the creation of a new Advisory Council that will include representatives of Ukraine and the separatist regions.
The plan was approved by Yermak during a meeting in Minsk on March 11, but is supposed to be officially signed on March 25. It comes in line with Russia’s narrative over the past six years that Moscow has nothing to do with the conflict, which is an internal matter of Ukraine.
The protest, which was dubbed the March of Patriots, sends a powerful warning to Zelenskiy that any attempt to make concessions to Moscow in the conflict will be met with strong domestic opposition.
The developments come days after a nationalist group confronted Zelenskiy’s security official after he had described the war in Donbas as an ‘internal conflict’ rather than a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Serhiy Syvokho, the deputy chief of the National Security and Defense Council, on Thursday was forced from the podium and his presentation paper was thrown away.
It is a common understanding between Ukraine’s Western allies that Russia is the aggressor and the driving force of the conflict in Donbas. But if Russia’s narrative is successful, Moscow can migrate into the group of observers of the conflict, in hope that potentially this may open door for lifting Western sanction imposed on Moscow.
In the plan, the stated aim of the new Advisory Council is to facilitate dialogue towards the political settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with an emphasis on preparing the ground for planned local elections.
“President Zelenskiy is desperately seeking to stop the steep decline in his, his government’s, and his parliament’s popularity,” Adrian Karatnycky, senior fellow at Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council, said. “He believes he needs a game-changer and thinks this concession will bring peace. It will not.”
“Recognition of the Russian-controlled quisling authorities in eastern Ukraine as legitimate negotiating partners, and of Russia as a guarantor of peace, serves to reduce pressure on Russia by suggesting it is not the aggressor,” Karatnycky said. “Moreover, this decision will only weaken and may ruin Ukraine’s chances in international courts, where it has pursued Russia as the aggressor and occupying force in the Donbas region.”
Olena Zerkal, a former deputy foreign minister, said the recognition of the separatist group as a legitimate negotiating party, would not solve the conflict.
“The history of other conflicts around the world demonstrates that this kind of transition cannot resolve the conflict,” Zerkal said. “What it can do is cement the Russian logic of “internal conflict” and, secondly, help the Russian Federation to avoid its liability for international wrongdoings and crimes committed on Ukrainian soil.” (om/ez)