Volker-Surkov meeting in Belgrad

November 09, 2017

The meeting place cannot be changed (the name of a famous Soviet spy movie): on Monday, 13 November, in Belgrade (Serbia), Kurt Volker, the United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations and Vladislav Surkov, the Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation will meet again. After the previous two meetings, we have not heard a lot from the Russian side. Volker, instead, was rather active on media, giving interviews and comments that Moscow did not quite like. He has been rather public, unlike Victoria Nuland.

It is clear that negotiations with the Russian side take place in a closed format. But I do not think that Volker's media presence will make the Russian side block the negotiations. Western position and his public statements will guide Moscow's behaviour. On the other hand, what we have are not behind-the-scenes negotiations between nameless representatives of the two countries. Volker realizes the importance and responsibility of his mission, and his media presence is linked with it.

Today, Volker is using shuttle diplomacy to negotiate a possible concept for a peacekeeping mission in Donbas. After the second meeting with Surkov in Belgrade on 7 October, Volker stated that it is possible that a resolution on the "blue helmets" mission may be registered in the UN Security Council by the end of the year. In negotiations with Surkov, he tries to bring the positions of Ukraine, Western states and Russia closer together. Recently, Volker said that he would recommend the Ukrainian side not to submit an alternative resolution. This does not mean that there are some covert talks omitting Ukraine, and Kyiv will merely face the facts. Volker has been repeatedly stating his position, which corresponds to the position of Ukraine. Now he is trying to work out the conceptual foundations of a future resolution that would appease different sides. Of course, this task is extremely difficult and problematic for a number of reasons.

An alleged meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin during APEC summit in Vietnam will happen amid a major scandal involving Russian interference in US elections and Russian ties of his entourage. Therefore, Trump is expected to take a hard line in talks with Putin. On the other hand, due to upcoming presidential elections in Russia, it is hardly possible to speak of any compromises or concessions from the Russian side. By the way, Putin's speech at the meeting of the Valdai Club clearly reflects the overall position of the Russian Federation.

Volker's task is to try to bring positions closer on a conceptual basis. Today, this is one important channel of the negotiation process. The Normandy format was blocked due to a failure to form a new coalition government in Germany. Therefore, Volker is facing a tricky task of reaching a certain compromise on a peacekeeping mission in Donbas. That is, to formulate a common vision on what this mission and its mandate should be. This is a very difficult task and it cannot be solved in a short period or during the next meeting in Belgrade.

Mykhailo Pashkov

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes

Born in 1958 in Roslavl, Smolensk oblast, Russia


Smolensk Institute of Pedagogy, Faculty of the Russian Language and Literature (1979)

Moscow Institute of Youth, Faculty of Journalism (1986)

Kyiv Institute of Political Science and Public Administration (1991)

Ph. D. in Philosophy; the author of more than 50 publications

1979 – 1989 — worked at different positions in district, regional and republican newspapers in Russia and Moldova

1991 – 1994 — worked in scientific institutions of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1994 – 1998 — Diplomatic Service at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Russian Federation

Since December 1999 — Razumkov Centre's Leading Expert

Diplomatic Rank: First Secretary. Most recent position in state structures — Chief Consultant, Analytical Service of Ukraine's NSDC Staff

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