Why would Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy wanted to meet Putin and Trump?

How do you read Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s offer to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the format of negotiations with the participation of U.S. President Donald Trump? Do you think such format might be helpful? Read few comments.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Credit: https://www.president.gov.ua/

Orysia Lutsevych, Research Fellow and Manager, Ukraine Forum, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House

It was the first direct call to President Putin for a meeting. Interestingly, to date Putin practically ignored Zelensky. Russian leadership is reluctant to endorse him as a serious partner in negotiations, especially ahead of parliamentary elections, where the Kremlin is supporting the Opposition Platform – For Life.

Similarly, relations between Trump and Zelensky cooled down after the Ukraine was seen as uncooperative in possible investigation that could have benefited Trump politically. He did not respond so far to the call to join negotiations with Putin. With Muller’s investigation over, Trump has a free hand on Russia and is unlikely to stand by Ukraine’s national interests at the expense of hurting his relations with Putin.

The timing for Zelensky’s offer is more driven by the logic of local parliamentary campaign with elections due 21 July than by a diplomatic reality on the ground. It will likely vanish in the void of radical uncertainly of the current moment.

Robert Legvold, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Columbia University

It is always a good thing when national leaders engage directly with one another, and particularly so in relationships as troubled as that between Russia and Ukraine. So, I hope the two men agree to talk. But I cannot imagine that either the venue or likely course of the conversation will change much. To make progress the two presidents need to meet one-on-one, without leaders from outside present, argue out intensely and honestly their respective positions, and see whether either senses the prospect that steps forward, even if small, are possible. The Normandy + Trump format is only likely to reinforce existing positions on all sides, which remain as irreconcilable as before President Zelensky’s election.

Olga Oliker, Program Director, Europe and Central Asia, International Crisis Group 

My understanding is that the desire to have third parties present is to provide a sort of guarantee of what was agreed to and to also create a sense of responsibility among such third powers. Both Russians and Ukrainians have at times called for a larger US role in resolving the Ukraine conflict, so this is in line with past policy.

I am not sure that a US role, specifically, would be particularly helpful. I have been concerned that the Russians and Ukrainians both think that Washington has more influence over the other than it actually has, and they will be disappointed when the United States cannot “deliver” the other party.

Steven PiferNonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

The main question is whether Mr. Putin and the Kremlin are prepared to change Russian policy and seek a genuine settlement of the conflict in the Donbas.  That could open the path to progress.  The format for the negotiations is a secondary issue.

Gerard Toal (Gearóid Ó Tuathail), Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech

As you know, the Ukrainians have been trying to involve the Americans in the Normandie format negotiations for sometime. This is our new gambit in that game.

Can such a format be helpful? Yes, we can always hold out hope that the Russians will accept the inclusion of the Trump administration. However, most officials in the Trump administration are hardliners on Ukraine.  It would be very interesting but an unpredictable show if Trump personally where to insert himself into these negotiations, with the approval of Putin. I think there would be considerable skepticism amongst the Europeans about that (with good reasons).

Stephen BittnerProfessor of History, Sonoma State University

Obviously, this is a positive development. If I were Zelensky, I would be cautious only because Trump so often prefers to conduct foreign policy one-on-one, without the moderating effect of American foreign-policy experts in the NSC and State Department. Zelensky should hope that Trump brings with him to Minsk persons who know more about Russia / Ukraine than Ivanka and Jared.

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