In an interview with NewsOne, Ukrainian MP Nadiya Savchenko has once again offered to meet personally with LNR figurehead Igor Plotnitsky and DNR figurehead Alexander Zakharchenko, to negotiate peace. Savchenko made the following offer:
I’m offering to step away, to go to a neutral territory, and to have a talk. If you’re afraid, then I’m annoyed, I’m disappointed, that I have more courage than these guys. If you want peace in Donetsk and Lugansk, and I want peace in Ukraine, then let’s talk about peace. If you want to wriggle out, and do PR, I do not. If you like, I can travel to you, perform in front of the cameras however you like. The main thing, is to act, not to talk.
Furthermore, Savchenko stated:
Each time I come to the front, I wait for an answer, and each time, it’s not there. I’m annoyed if I’m mistaken about these people, and if it’s indeed not worth talking to them. Because it’s necessary to talk to the shepherd, and not to the sheep. I’m offering for the last time – I won’t do it again. I’m ready for the meeting. I’m waiting for your answer.
It’s necessary to remind ourselves that Russia’s DNR/LNR proxy organizations in Donbas have many levels of shepherds and sheep. Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko are limited in their ability to act independently, and certainly do not have the authority to negotiate peace; the timing of peace negotiations, ceasefires, or other major developments, is ultimately a decision that will be made by Vladmir Putin and Vladislav Surkov, and there’s currently no incentive for them to seek peace in Donbas. In fact, the continuing presence of Russia’s tanks on the frontline in Donbas, concurrent with numerous other violations, as well as Russia/LNR’s amphibious exercises, and threats of the advent of an LNR airforce (which implies the use of Russia’s airforce in the occupied territories), are a strong signal that in the short-term, in the absence of unexpected developments, Russia intends to at least maintain its current level of hostilities in East Ukraine; in the long-term, Russia is prepared for contingencies ranging from frozen conflict, in the realistic scenario which would be the best case for Ukraine, to large-scale open war in Donetsk, and beyond. In contrast, the government of Petro Poroshenko has failed to prepare Ukraine for a significant escalation in hostilities – doing so would require systemic reform of the country’s defense sector, which would limit opportunities for graft.
Savchenko has previously made numerous overtures to Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko, and has angered the Ukrainian public in doing so. Speaking recently of Plotnitsky and Zakharchenko, she stated,
[In Ukraine], we say: ‘Before you make a good friend, you should have a fight over a girl, beat each other’s faces in, share a bottle of vodka — and then you will become good friends.’ We have already fought for a girl — Ukraine. And we have already beaten each other’s faces in. So what we need to do is to share a bottle of vodka and become good friends. We are, however, still just beating each other’s faces in.
It may be the case that Savchenko’s calls for negotiations with the DNR and LNR figureheads are a sign of the political naivety to which she admits. However, if such talks were to transpire, they could be used by both Ukraine and the Kremlin for public relations purposes. A minority of the population of the Russia-occupied areas of Donbas identifies with, or supports, Russia’s DNR/LNR proxy organizations, and the residents of these areas have recently organized mass protests against the occupation forces, which they have denounced as illegitimate; much of the support that does exist for these organizations is due to the pervasiveness of Russian state propaganda and disinformation in these areas. If a meeting between Savchenko and the DNR/LNR figureheads can contribute to persuading the residents of Donbas who have been influenced by Russian propaganda, that Ukraine is not hostile to them, it would help to promote a climate of reconciliation in these areas.
Such a public relations effort, however, has the potential to backfire, from Ukraine’s perspective. It is established that Russia shells civilian areas in Donbas to convince the population of these areas that they are under attack by Ukraine’s military or volunteer battalions; the OSCE has confirmed that a “third party” (read: Russia) shells both Ukrainian forces, and the DNR to provoke hostilities, and Russian mercenaries operating in Donbas have spoken about Russia’s modus operandi of firing “two shots [in our direction], two shots [in Ukraine’s direction].” Any improvement in relations between the Ukrainian authorities, and the portion of the population of Donbas that’s been influenced by Russian propaganda, may result in an increase in such efforts, by Russia, to terrorize the Donbas population, for the purpose of further alienating them from Ukraine – this modus operandi owes is success to Russia’s control of the print and television media in Donbas, as well as to intrinsic prejudices of certain segments of the Donbas population, who are more willing to believe information, however dubious its quality, if it comes from Russia.
If Russia does agree to permit Plotnitsky or Zakharchenko to meet with Savchenko in the near-term, it will be for public relations purposes, and the figureheads will likely be handed down an agenda by Vladislav Surkov or his surrogates. The meeting will take place in a setting controlled by Russia, and the segments of the meeting that Russia will be willing to broadcast in Donbas or domestically, will be those parts which Russia perceives as conducive to its goals.