Press review: Kiev hatches plot to subvert Donbass talks and EU ties with Balkans in peril
Warning! This article contains Russian bullshit.
Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, May 8, prepared by TASS
Kommersant: Ukraine plotting to replace negotiators at Trilateral Contact Group
Kiev has decided to include ten Donbass internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Trilateral Contact Group for ironing out the crisis in eastern Ukraine. They are expected to replace the current negotiators from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics at the peace talks. Moscow and the unrecognized Donbass republics warn that in the end Kiev would hold talks only with itself, Kommersant business daily writes.
The representatives of Kiev, the DPR and LPR as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Russia have been parties to the Contact Group’s talks since 2014. However, on May 4, the Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff Andrei Yermak said that Ukraine would expand its delegation and bolster its status and would not hold contacts with the current Donbass representatives, namely the DPR and LPR top diplomats, Natalya Nikonorova and Vladislav Deinego. Instead, Kiev seeks to select ten Donbass IDPs to join the talks, the Novoye Vremya newspaper reported, citing its sources in Vladimir Zelensky’s office. The idea is to fill this group of Donbass representatives with individuals such as lawyers, journalists, businessmen, clergy and others, the source told the paper.
The unrecognized republics have lambasted Kiev’s plans to include alternative Donbass representatives in the group. LPR Foreign Minister Vladislav Deinego has branded this as Kiev’s scheme to replace the negotiators with “convenient persons.”
A Russian government source familiar with the talks with Ukraine believes that Kiev’s decision would “simply destroy the Contact Group.” “This will end in a situation where they will negotiate there only with each other, and without us and the Donbass representatives,” he warned.
However, Kiev’s plans to boost its delegation with ten new negotiators cannot be stopped, according to a source from the Russian delegation at the talks. The Trilateral Contact Group lacks such a regulation and therefore the delegations could include as many members as they like. Moscow earlier suggested drafting and adopting a special regulation of the Contact Group, but this proposal was not supported, he noted.
Izvestia: EU’s relations with Western Balkans hit a deadlock
The European Union has pledged to draw up a comprehensive investment plan for the Western Balkans by this fall. The Zagreb Declaration discussed at the May 6 video conference says that the EU’s support for the Balkans is larger than that of other partners. Brussels apparently sought to demonstrate its discontent over the growing influence of Russia and China in the region. Although Europe allocated some 3.3 bln euro to the Western Balkans to combat COVID-19, Russia and China had offered their helping hand earlier. Experts interviewed by Izvestia say that the EU’s sway in the region is slipping, therefore the prospect of joining the alliance for some countries after Brexit and the pandemic has become vague.
According to Head of the Center for Modern Balkan Crisis Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Elena Guskova, the Balkans is the region where the conflicting interests of Europe, Russia and the United States clashed and the struggle for influence in the region has been carrying on for many years. “The Balkan games” with the EU have been ongoing since Serbia chose to join Europe. However, the EU has repeatedly set such conditions as to end trade relations with Russia and recognize Kosovo’s independence, she noted. “Serbia constantly made concessions but every time the date of joining the EU was put off and 2025 when [its membership] is being promised is too far away and now Belgrade could change its mind,” the expert said.
Executive Director of the Progressive Politics Foundation Oleg Bondarenko told the paper that the coronavirus crisis has exposed the EU’s problems. Instead of providing support and solidarity, the EU shut down even the internal borders. “The EU has lost its influence in the region because the prospect of expanding it has become vague, especially after Brexit and the pandemic,” Stevan Gajic, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies in Belgrade, told the paper.
The Western partners’ criticism against Serbia is a reaction to its friendly ties with Russia and growing cooperation between Moscow and Belgrade. “Russia has always provided assistance to Serbia, without demanding anything in return, and that’s why this country has not imposed any sanctions against Russia, so therefore it has friction with the EU,” Guskova noted.