Why the 'Normandy Four' Summit Is a Big Deal for Ukraine

It is in everyone's interest, including Russia's and the Donbas region's republics', to see that the Minsk II ceasefire agreement is held up.

The announcement that the “Normandy Four” summit on Ukraine will be held in Paris on October 2, 2015 gives the best possible evidence that the four leaders not only have issues to discuss, but that decisions will be made during these meetings: Russian diplomacy is a consistent successor of Soviet diplomacy with its “no summits without meaningful decisions” principle. More proof of this is the “Normandy Four” foreign-ministers meeting in Berlin on September 12—the ministers are working on decisions to be made by the leaders in Paris. And their preparatory work will continue on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in late September.

The nature of the “Normandy Four” format is very mysterious. Since the Ukraine crisis is a highly emotional topic for the public in Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the United States, it is no wonder that the leaders prefer to discuss the current situation, their positions, and agreements behind closed doors. It is better for their countries’ respective domestic politics. Despite the enigmatic nature of the “Normandy Four” talks, we can still evaluate the current state of the Ukraine conflict and the various options available.

First, we must acknowledge that the aforementioned emotional feelings of the public and aspiration of both media and “experts” to sensationalize the issue to garner public attention make understanding of Ukraine conflict very difficult. We ought to remember how intense the war buildup was in the media at the end of August 2015. Several times a day, reporters and “experts” promised the renewal of hostilities. One could read daily about tens of thousands of troops on both sides, about their strategies and tactics. It seemed that everybody knew the “secret” plans of offense and reported “unprecedented” movement of the troops.

...Yet, nothing happened.

The reason for this is simple: In reality, nobody is interested in a renewal of hostilities. Neither Ukraine nor Donetsk and Lugansk can win militarily, or even significantly improve their positions. To find an assessment of the state of Ukrainian forces, we can simply cite President Poroshenko. During his recent interview on Ukrainian TV, he explained why Europeans and Americans refused to provide weapons to the Ukrainian army citing three reasons. The first: “you [Ukraine] do not have an army”; the second and third were connected to the presence of Russian agents in Ukraine and Ukraine’s corruption. Obviously, it is hard to fight without an army.

Furthermore, it is difficult to see how Ukraine can get efficient military forces quickly. Since the beginning of the conflict, there have been six waves of mobilization in Ukraine. The pure fact that there were six of them means that first five were not enough. The result of the sixth wave was not impressive: even according to the Ukrainian General Staff, the mobilization brought only a maximum of 60 percent of the necessary personnel.

But to create an army, even from these recruits, Ukraine needs money. And here the situation becomes even more difficult. Currently, Ukraine is spending about 5 percent of its GDP on defense; the military budget for the next year is $4 billion, a $1.6-billion increase from this year. And this budget is being passed while Ukraine continues to ask for bailouts from foreign creditors, and there is not even enough money in the budget to cover the costs of vaccination needs during a critical time when polio has resurfaced in Ukraine.

The chances are even smaller that an offensive campaign will come from the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics. What would be goals for these campaigns? Would it be to defeat the fifty to seventy-five thousand Ukrainian forces? Or, to take Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Odessa? Kiev? One can argue that these goals are reachable, but nobody can prove it will be easy.

Even this brief analysis shows that the renewal of hostilities is the last thing on Kiev’s, Lugansk’s and Donetsk’s agendas. But this does not mean that both sides will find ways to reconcile. With each day, the conflict resembles the Cold War—a competition between a pro-Western government in Kiev and the leaders in Lugansk and Donetsk, who pledged their allegiance to the “Russian World.” Of course this competition is not about the amount of weapons and sophistication and attractiveness of ideology, but about how those conflicting sides present their populations with at least minimally functioning state.