“Zelensky isn’t an idiot to say ‘give us Crimea back’ to Putin”

Political experts on the advantage and context of the first talk of the presidents of Ukraine and Russia

The Ukrainian leader is earning political points for his election campaign, which explains his initiative of talks with Russia, experts think. It is noteworthy that the talk of the presidents of both countries was interpreted in different ways. It was said in the Ukrainian press that Volodymyr Zelensky agreed with Vladimir Putin on the release of the sailors arrested in the Kerch Strait and other citizens of his country. The Moscow Kremlin claimed they talked about the regulation of the situation in Donbass and return of the people kept by both sides. More is in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

Two Vladimirstalk

The first talk of the presidents of Russia and Ukraine took place last Thursday by phone and was initiated by the Ukrainian side. According to the Kremlin, the leaders of the countries discussed “the regulation of southeast Ukraine and the joint work to return the people kept by both sides”. Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to continue the work at the level of experts. There was also discussed a possibility of continuing the talks in the Normandy format — in the group of the four countries’ leaders (Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) to regulate the situation in the east of Ukraine (Editor’s Note: Normandy Four).

It is interesting that Zelensky’s press service provided a slightly different report on the talk of both leaders. It says that “the release of captive military sailors was the key issue” as well as the return of “other Ukrainian citizens who are kept on the territory of the Russian Federation”.

Talks of the presidents of Russia and Ukraine might go on in Minsk with the USA, Germany, Great Britain and France as intermediaries. In any case, Zelensky had made such an offer, while Putin supported him noting that Moscow was ready for talks in any format and this could be interesting.

“Emotional connotations hardly need to be discussed now”

The next day the Kremlin commented on talks of both countries’ leaders. The Russian president’s press secretary says that Vladimir Putin was satisfied with the first talk with Volodymyr Zelensky. Journalists asked about the tone of the talk.

“Emotional connotations and tones hardly need to be discussed now, it wasn’t the goal of the talk. The very fact of talk of Russia and Ukraine is very important,” the country’s leader’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stressed.

Putin’s official representative also said that the talk was introductory and pragmatic. According to him, communication between the countries’ leaders is approved quite quickly: “If only there were an initiative. There is no problem with the technical agreement”.

“The topic of Crimea wasn’t mentioned in the talks of Putin and Zelensky”

Political expert, head of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group Yevgeny Minchenko claimed as early as April that the Kremlin would be talking with Zelensky from a perspective of power. Minchenko has recently written on his Facebook that “the resignation of Sevastopol Governor Ovsyannikov and Putin’s first talk with Zelensky on the same day aren't a sheer coincidence”:

“The Russian side thinks that the answer to one of the questions Zelensky asked in his famous speech with the slogan “Do we need to talk? We need” was convincing.

It is an answer to the question whose Crimea is. The one who can change the governor of Sevastopol has Crimea.”

“That’s to say, ‘hit yours so that others will be afraid?” political expert Abbas Gallyamov asked Minchenko again.

In a talk with Realnoe Vremya, the post’s author excluded the possibility that both presidents might have discussed Crimea by phone:

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“No, they haven’t talked about it because it isn’t a topic for discussion for Russia. I am more than convinced that the topic of Crimea wasn’t mentioned in the talks of Putin and Zelensky. Zelensky isn’t an idiot, he wouldn’t say “give us Crimea back” to Putin,” Yevgeny Minchenko believes.

“Zelensky made a risky bet”

In the expert’s opinion, the fact of this talk is ambivalent for Zelensky. Minchenko reminded that when the Ukrainian leader was asked about the first thing he would say to Putin he replied: “Thank you for giving us Crimea back”. “It is clear that Zelensky didn’t say anything like that in the talk with Putin.”

Nevertheless, political experts stress that it was extremely important for the president of Ukraine to keep his pre-election promise to get the Ukrainian sailors arrested in Kerch back home.

“And then the question is what they are exchanged for and how. The arrest of one of the DPR’s residents by Ukrainian special services precisely during Zelensky’s presidency is another aggravating factor,” Minchenko pointed out.

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“Of course, they discussed fence-mending, and Putin’s position is clear here. We should wait for the election to the Supreme Rada to establish new relations with Zelensky and his government full-fledged. At the moment, it is humanitarian issues that give more advantage to Zelensky because in his pre-election situation he has to demonstrate an initiative, and he is raising the topic of the return of the sailors, captives kept in Russia. This is very beneficial for him now, this is why the call is to a certain degree Putin’s help to Zelensky,” journalist, political expert Maksim Shevchenko expressed his opinion about the two leaders’ talk to Realnoe Vremya.

According to him, a positive solution of the issue of liberation of the Ukrainian sailors would benefit both sides.

Generally speaking, in Yevgeny Minchenko’s opinion, it is so far impossible to evaluate the meaning of Zelensky’s first call to Putin without being aware of a wider context of their talk. “We will know during the year what it will bring to, how the relations of Ukraine and Russia will develop further. At the moment, Zelensky made a risky bet, while we don’t know how it will work out for him, including during the election to the Supreme Rada. We will see it in practical outcomes,” the newspaper’s interlocutor concluded.

By Vasilya Shirshova