Sergey Markedonov, political analyst and professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, talks to Russia Direct about the conflict in Ukraine and the choices the country faces while struggling between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiment.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande (L) and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speak to media after their meeting in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, August 24, 2015. Photo: Reuters

The crisis resolution process for Ukraine has resumed once again. The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany met in Berlin on Sept. 12 in the format of the Normandy Four and agreed to step up talks between Kiev and the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov assessed the results of the talks quite positively. “We, first of all, expressed satisfaction that the ceasefire is observed more or less. Separate cases of violation of this regime are taking place, but in general we have a positive assessment of what is happening,” Lavrov told reporters in Berlin.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also expressed his enthusiasm about the recent summit and shared his willingness to further the settlement of the conflict. As he pointed out, “I will do everything I can to prepare the 'Normandy format' meeting to the best possible standard so that it can produce the first sprouts of stabilization we are witnessing today…”

The talks are expected to resume in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in late September. The meetings will be aimed at discussing the agenda and draft decisions of the upcoming Normandy Four summit scheduled to take place in Paris on Oct. 2.

Against this backdrop of possible progress in the Ukraine crisis, Russia Direct asked Sergey Markedonov of the Russian State University for the Humanities to share his opinion on whether Ukraine could reach a final settlement of the conflict and find a way out by balancing between Russia and the West.

Russia Direct: What would you say are the main obstacles that prevent a resolution to the Ukrainian crisis? What hampers the efforts of the Minsk Agreements?

Sergey Markedonov: Currently, most experts recognize that Minsk-1 and Minsk-2 have not given concrete results in terms of resolution of the conflict. I think we have many obstacles. First of all, Minsk-1 and Minsk-2 were not the result of compromises, but a result of the failure of different maximalist demands of all sides. For Russia, it’s receiving guarantees that Ukraine would be a non-NATO country, a neutral country.

For the Ukrainian side, it’s a kind of repetition of the Serbian Krajina scenario. I mean here the events of 1995 in Croatia when the non-recognized entity Serbian Krajina was destroyed completely by the Croatian security forces and military troops. It’s a kind of pattern for the Ukrainian side.

As for the West, they are eager to punish Russia because in terms of the American approach, Russia violated the rules of the game. It’s not a violation of the rules of the game in principle, but a violation of American dominance. This is why the West, especially the U.S., tries to punish Russia and to push it from Ukraine.

The sides didn’t realize their goals and as a result they try to make a deal. But at the same time, behind those failures, all sides engaged in the conflict are not interested in its resolution, meaning here reaching a compromise not victory or absolute defeat of one of the sides of the conflict.

This is why both Minsk agreements are very contradictory. One side could appeal to the territorial integrity of Ukraine while the other side – to negotiations between the sides of the conflict. For example, Russia can quote Article 11 of the Minsk-2 agreement, but the Ukrainian side supported by the West will appeal to the territorial integrity of the country. In addition, we have a lack of trust between Russia and the West.

Speaking about the crisis in general, I suppose we have two kinds of crisis at the moment: the Ukrainian crisis itself and the wider problem concerning the European security architecture. Maybe we can reach a point when the conflict will ‘freeze’ and become a frozen conflict, but the ‘unfreezing’ of it could be repeated from time to time, after Minsk-3 or Minsk-4, who knows. But we need to speak about the security architecture because after the end of the Cold War, some principles of this time were reproduced.

Many arguments of Russia concerning the enlargement of NATO, cooperation between NATO and the EU and countries representing Russia’s so-called Near Abroad were ignored. This way we need to speak about other principles of European security architecture, incorporating Russia in it and treating it as an equal partner. The problem is not only negotiation and membership of Russia in different structures but understanding its motivation and taking it seriously. That is why we have two crises: the war in eastern Ukraine and the crisis of the European security architecture.

RD: Is a scenario in which Kiev could become a bridge between Russia and the West possible?

SM: Recently, the National Democratic Institute, which is not part of Putin’s propaganda, published the results of a sociological poll, which demonstrated that about 40 percent of the Ukrainian population is in favor of NATO membership. They see the alliance as a guarantor of their territorial integrity and an obstacle for any Russian penetration. But about 30 percent of the country’s population doesn’t share those approaches and they see Russia not like an enemy and they are rather suspicious of NATO membership.

That is why we have a split in the country. The same citizens who maybe are critical of Russian policies are not in favor of NATO. That would be an ideal situation if Ukraine becomes a bridge between Russia and NATO, not an area of competitive interests and proxy war, but it’s too ideal.

Currently it’s problematic. In my opinion, it is the crucial mistake of many post-Soviet countries that follow the principle of choice  making a final choice between Russia and the West. Countries who prefer a complementary approach, like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan or Armenia, received more advantages.

In my opinion, in the Ukrainian situation, the choice between Russia and the West looks like the choice between mother and father. It’s a hard choice, sometimes people face this choice, but it’s not so pleasant. This is why we need to discuss the rules of the game because after the end of the Cold War, these rules didn’t integrate different actors. And the crisis in Ukraine and the war in Georgia in 2008 were the consequences of the lack of shared responsibility, shared rules of the game.

RD: So the best choice for Ukraine will be to balance between the interests of Russia and the West?

SM: It’s impossible to escape from geography: the West as well as Russia will always remain Ukraine’s neighbors. It’s better for the country to have normal balanced relations with its neighbors. Being an arena of clashing interests is not in the interests of the country.

RD: In regard to the government in Kiev, would you agree that it’s caught between two fires: on the one hand, it tries to accommodate to the interests of Europe, while on the other, to the mood of the public in Ukraine?

SM: Now no, because currently the authorities in Kiev are interested in being part of the West. If we look at the Concept of its National Security, Ukraine blames Russia as a potential threat to its security.

Watch RD Insight with Sergey Markedonov here.