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Russia

Minsk Or Normandy? Russia Prefers Impasse With Ukraine Instead

In order to circumvent French and German mediation, the Kremlin is leaking secrets to the press as a defacto policy of stalling in its seven-year-long conflict with Ukraine.

Guards on the premises of an entry exit checkpoint in Donbass
Guards on the premises of an entry exit checkpoint in Donbass
Alexander Demchenko

-Analysis-

KYIV — Due to their sensitive nature, international negotiations come with certain requirements: first, don't disclose their details; and secondly, what has not been signed and agreed upon is not fit for implementation.

The Russian newspaperKommersanthas published details of what should have been confidential communications among the so-called Normandy Format negotiating countries (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) regarding new approaches to finding a peaceful settlement of the contested region of Donbas.

Since its creation in 2014, the Normandy Format has managed to ink several deals on prisoner exchange, yet has repeatedly failed to end the war in the eastern Ukrainian territory between Kyiv and pro-Russian insurgents. Ceasefire agreements are constantly broken and there are weekly reports about injured or killed Ukrainian soldiers who remain on the borderline of the occupied territories.

While Germany and France are clearly in the role of mediators, and Ukraine as participant, Russia tries to present itself as a mediator, even while clearly representing the rebel military groups. Yet, neither Ukraine nor European countries acknowledge rebels as lawful representatives of Donbas.

At the same time, there is another forum for trying to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), dubbed the Minsk Protocol, after the capital of Belarus where the meetings between Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE were held.

Moscow doesn't need any progress on peace.

And while all sides continue to study the current written proposals of France and Germany, it looks increasingly as though the Normandy negotiations are frozen, with the center of conversation shifting to Minsk.

Still, for the past several months, there have been Normandy Four talks at the level of advisors to update the Minsk agreements and implement them in blocks. The Germans and French most likely intended to move contentious issues such as border control, elections, withdrawal of troops into a separate discussion, while trying to resolve other points around humanitarian and economic issues.

Kyiv has been trying to reverse some of the agreements that it had to accept at the time of catastrophic losses on the battlefield. According to the Ukrainian side, it was necessary to first solve the problem of the freeing of territories, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Donbas, and control over the common border with Russia; only after that does Kyiv believe they can move on to holding elections and temporarily introducing a special status of the territories. The Minsk agreements, on the other hand, are exactly the other way around.

At a meeting of the Normandy Four leaders in Paris in November 2019 — Photo: Eliot Blondet/Abaca via ZUMA Press

Here it is worth recalling that in 2016, after the summit of the leaders of the Normandy Format in Berlin, the parties signed a communiqué. There it was proposed to develop a road map for resolving the situation in Donbas, but Russia froze the process and no map was created.

On March 16, 2021, in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Dmitry Kozak, a Russian negotiator and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, blamed the "very strange confidentiality of the Normandy negotiations' for blocking progress.

"Ukraine is in favor of confidentiality. Germany and France support it in this with references to diplomatic traditions. We are in favor of abandoning this tradition, which is harmful in this case, and for full openness of the negotiations," Kozak said. "If it were possible to change this principle, then you, and through the media and all interested citizens and states, would be able to assess for yourselves whose "creative ideas," "proactive position" or "strong moves' are the real reason for the lack of any progress in resolving the conflict."

In other words, this major Russian power broker was issuing a public warning to all sides of the Normandy Four that Russia would leak information about the talks. Why? Because Moscow does not need any progress on peace. It prefers to constantly hold Ukraine by the gills. It actually likes neither negotiations at the level of the Normandy Format nor the Minsk agreements. That is why it is very likely that the documents that were leaked to Kommersant were sent directly from the Kremlin.

Now, Moscow is pushing Berlin and Paris to freeze the Normandy Format indefinitely. But Russia's attack is also aimed at Ukraine, where public opinion is not necessarily in favor of negotiations. This all makes a long-awaiting peace deal seem even more impossible than before.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

Keep reading...Show less

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