“Relations with Russia will not be able to normalize at all in the coming years”

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Political scientist and Eastern European expert Gwendolyn Sasse comments on the Ukraine conflict. © IMAGO / teutopress

A Ukrainian and a Russian delegation met today for further negotiations in Turkey. Eastern European expert Gwendolyn Sasse explains the obstacles to peace in Ukraine.

Berlin – In the Ukraine conflict, further negotiations took place between Ukrainian and Russian delegates today. The meeting took place in Istanbul. As you know, the talks led to concrete successes. Russia says it wants to massively reduce its military presence around the cities of Kiev and Chernihiv. In the words of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Fomin, this is happening “to strengthen confidence”. According to the German press agency, he said in the light of this decision that the preparation of an agreement on a neutral and non-nuclear status for Ukraine had reached practical steps.

Peace in Ukraine: Much depends on the concept of “neutrality”.

Prior to the negotiations, Eastern European expert Gwendolyn Sasse emphasized that many of the negotiations depended on the understanding of the concept of “neutrality”. In an interview with tagesschau.de said that the Ukrainian and Russian side have very different definitions of neutrality. Gwendolyn Sasse is a political scientist and Slavic scholar. She heads the Center for Eastern European and International Studies (ZOIS) in Potsdam and is also a professor of comparative politics at the University of Oxford.

“In Russia, neutrality has almost always been discussed in connection with demilitarization,” Sasse said in an interview. It is unclear what exactly this means, whether it means that Ukraine must not have its own army to defend the country. “Of course Ukraine would not agree to that,” Sasse said. Negotiations can be held on Ukraine’s non-accession to NATO, ie. The Ukrainian president had brought this up several times in advance. “In other areas of politics, it is difficult to imagine neutrality in Ukraine,” says the political scientist.

Peace in Ukraine: what about the Crimea and Donbass regions?

As for Crimea, annexed by Russia, and the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass, Sasse was more pessimistic. Here the requirements from both countries would be very different. The Eastern European expert does not assume that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy will accept the annexation of Crimea – the same applies to the independence of the eastern Ukrainian regions. Although that is Putin’s main demand, “Zelensky does not want to interfere at the moment”. Sasse considers it unlikely that the Russian troops will withdraw all the way to the territories occupied by the separatists.

Sasse can not assess whether the Ukrainian president has already given up the occupied territories. “It’s hard to say,” she said. Selensky’s rhetoric does not sound like that. However, it can be seen as an admission to Russia that the Ukrainian president apparently does not believe that the mentioned areas can be fully reintegrated into Ukraine.

Peace in Ukraine: would the people agree?

According to Sasse, “the big question” is whether the Ukrainian people would accept the loss of the territories. On a referendum, she said: “At the moment, I can not imagine that a neutral status, an alliance-free Ukraine, to which territorial losses would then be added, would be accepted by the people in a referendum.”

The political scientist assumes that the sanctions for Russia will continue after the end of the war. “Relations with Russia will not be able to normalize at all in the coming years,” Sasse said. “The logic of sanctions is that they can be lifted one day – but in the current situation and even after the end of the war, it is difficult to imagine that the sanctions will be withdrawn.” They are not linked to a specific peace agreement. (jb)

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