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22 May, 2019 16:17

From joker to peacemaker? Zelensky needs to follow his words with actions to end Ukraine’s conflict

 From joker to peacemaker? Zelensky needs to follow his words with actions to end Ukraine’s conflict

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenksy said at his inauguration ceremony this week that his first priority would be ending the nearly five-year war in the Donbass region. The value of his words will be seen soon enough.

For the past five years, the mainly Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine have had to endure bombardments and sniper attack from military forces loyal to the regime that seized power in Kiev in February 2014. The self-declared independent republics of Donetsk and Lugansk refused to recognize the Kiev authorities, due to the latter’s affiliation with Neo-Nazi ideology and rabid Russophobia.

The landslide election of Zelensky in April was a stunning repudiation by Ukrainians of the “war party” that has dominated Kiev’s politics since 2014. The former president, Petro Poroshenko, came to be despised for his relentless warmongering and hostility towards the Russian-speaking east of the country, as well as his constant belligerence towards neighboring Russia.

Zelensky, who had no political experience and who owed his public profile to being a comedian in a hit fictional TV show, tapped into the popular disgust with war, and the endemic corruption associated with the Poroshenko administration.

His first act upon inauguration was to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) in Kiev and call for snap elections. He also prompted the sackings or resignations of top officials in the security and military apparatus who were seen as Poroshenko loyalists.

This could bode well for a genuine new beginning under Zelensky. One in which the Ukrainian armed forces and various paramilitary auxiliaries under Kiev’s command begin to retreat from the front line with the separatist regions in Donbass.

We did not start this war, but we are going to finish it,” declared Zelensky before parliament this week.

That’s not true. The Kiev regime that seized power in 2014, largely with US and European Union support, against an elected Russian-friendly government, was the party which went on a war footing against Donbass under the Orwellian slogan of an “Anti-Terror Operation”. The offensive was fully backed by the then CIA chief John Brennan who visited Kiev only weeks before the military attack on the southeastern populations.

Nevertheless, at least Zelensky is talking about ending the hostilities.

He also spoke during his inauguration speech partly in the Russian language and offered a hand of friendship to Donbass as compatriots. Such a gesture is groundbreaking compared with the rhetoric from Poroshenko and his cohorts who relished in the sick vindictiveness of collective punishment against civilians and the barbarous thought of “while our children go to school, theirs sit in basements”.

Konstantin Kosachev, a senior Russian lawmaker, said this week that Zelensky has the chance to make history by making peace in Ukraine. As commander-in-chief, it would be easy for the Ukrainian president to give the orders to de-escalate the conflict, said Kosachev.

If Zelensky is serious about ending the violence, and the frozen conflict, then the measure of his avowed good intentions will be seen within days. The guns will fall silent and artillery should back off from the front line.

Such a move is, after all, a bare minimum compliance with the Minsk peace accords that were signed in 2015 by the Kiev regime and the separatist leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk. That accord was facilitated by Russia, Germany and France. It framed the conflict as an internal Ukrainian problem and called for political autonomy to be assigned to the Donbass region.

Subsequently, however, the Kiev regime never implemented the agreement, violated it constantly with low-intensity military offensives, and continued to paint Russia as an aggressor and a party to the conflict on the ground. That narrative was echoed by the United States which fueled Kiev’s paranoia with massive arms supplies and several rounds of sanctions against Moscow for interference in Ukraine.

Also on rt.com Putin will laud Zelensky if he ends war & mends ties with Russia – Kremlin

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin held phone talks with German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in light of the new Ukrainian administration. All of them reportedly agreed that the Minsk accord is the only way forward to resolve the Ukrainian conflict.

The Kremlin has said Putin will extend his congratulations to President Zelensky whenever he achieves the restoration of peace in southeastern Ukraine and begins a normalization of relations with Russia. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Zelensky must abide by the Minsk deal and resolve the conflict in his country.

Kiev has, since the signing of Minsk, been in dereliction of its implementation. That is the main reason why the conflict has festered. Zelensky’s recent call for more Western sanctions on Russia would indicate he lacks an understanding of the Minsk obligations, and is still stuck in anti-Russia thinking.

The ball is now in President Zelensky’s court. He promised Ukrainian voters an end to war in their country and was resoundingly elected on that platform. Now he needs to deliver.

READ MORE: Poroshenko out, Zelensky in: West backed the wrong man in Ukraine & now it’s payback time

Despite the positive-sounding words on peace, the trouble is that Zelensky’s policy program is conspicuously absent of details. Cynics may say that was part of his election strategy, relying on the public projecting their endearment of his TV persona onto Zelensky the politician. He said in his inauguration speech he will do his best to ensure that Ukrainians “don’t cry” over his presidency. He also said he was prepared to lose his post if he doesn’t bring peace to his country. That’s all very noble. But where is the detail for implementing a resolution?

Also on rt.com Zelensky calls for ceasefire in Donbass and return of ‘lost territories’ in inauguration speech

On the downside, Zelensky has said that he expects “territories to be returned” including  Crimea. Russia has said that the status of Crimea is non-negotiable.

Those views from Zelensky may change over time when he understands the historical realities, but for now such misconceptions are not auspicious for a genuine peace settlement. For such views betray an underlying prejudice not too different from Poroshenko and his ilk that somehow Russia is the cause of Ukraine’s problems.

The reality is that Ukrainian politicians allowed their country to become a geopolitical plaything for the US, the EU and NATO in order to antagonize Russia. That set off the ongoing internal problems in Ukraine. The problem needs to be addressed as an internal one. Continuing to blame Russia is a dead-end mentality of denying reality. Can Zelensky overcome that mindset? We will see.

If he can’t then Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president will be no laughing matter. Indeed, he will turn out to be a sick joke for the hard-pressed nation who voted for him in a desperate call for relief, peace and real change.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.