Normandy Summit and its significance for the Church

In his quest for peace, the President has one true ally – the Church. Photo: UOJ

The task of the President to achieve peace is hard but noble. Building a society without Ukies and seps, right and wrong citizens resonates with the Church position.

On December 9, 2019, a long-awaited meeting of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany took place. There were two topics for negotiations: peace in Donbas and a gas issue. No significant results were achieved on either topic. Was the summit of any importance? Can we hope for a change? And how will it affect the church situation in Ukraine? Let's try to make it out.

The meeting in the Norman Quartet was positioned as very important if not fateful. Ukrainian religious leaders blessed its participants on the very day of the talks, Pope Francis told "urbi et orbi" that he prays for the success of the meeting, Petro Poroshenko’s teammates drew the "red lines" to Vladimir Zelensky (which, by the way, he crossed himself at the last Normandy Summit), national radicals staged a rally near the Presidential Administration demanding not to agree to peace in Ukraine. In fact, the result of the meeting turned out to be quite unassuming.

The following was agreed on more or less specifically:

1. The next meeting in the Normandy format in four months.
2. Exchange of prisoners by the "all-for-all" formula by the end of the year.
3. Separation of forces in another three settlements of Donbas.
4. Extension of the OSCE mandate. While the employees of this organization could only monitor the situation in the daytime earlier, now they can do it around the clock, seven days a week. 

But even these arrangements in the final communiqué were often accompanied by vague phrases such as "the parties agreed to undertake all necessary steps to ..."

They agreed to implement the "Steinmeier formula" in Ukrainian legislation, as well as to contribute to the ceasefire in every possible way, which cannot be accomplished without the separation of troops along the whole line of contact, but this was exactly what they failed to agree on.

An achievement of the Norman Quartet, in the opinion of a number of political analysts, is that it did take place altogether. The achievement is wishy-washy, to be frank…

Screenshot of the broadcast of the press conference of Normandy Quartet, Russia 1

We can say that our President did not make a global breakthrough at the Summit. And it seems that he did not aspire to this at this meeting. At the talks in Paris, Vladimir Zelensky almost verbally stated the points being drawn by Poroshenko as "red lines". As a gray cardinal, who closely followed the position of the President, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was also staying in Paris. And in order for our President not to decide on any global political actions, a mini-Maidan gathered near his office in Bankova St. threatening to turn into an XXL-Maidan if something went wrong.

It is impossible to say with certainty whether all these factors influenced the course of the negotiations, but when he was proposed to separate forces along the entire line of contact, Vladimir Zelensky said he would not be able to secure this because of opposition from the national radicals.

Here it is necessary to stipulate that despite the unconditional victory of Zelensky himself and his team (one can speak only conventionally about the team, however) in the presidential and parliamentary elections, he has not yet succeeded in changing the internal and external political paradigm in which the previous government operated. He also failed to change the staffing of the government. The personalities changed sporadically, but the ideological orientation remained the same. Both the politics and the staff of the Ukrainian state were shaped by the United States of America in the days of then-President Barack Obama. The Normandy meeting showed that the main violin in Ukraine is still played by those forces that do not want peace being oriented towards nationalist ideology and ready to impose their point of view using violent methods.

Nevertheless, it can be said that in the conditions when V. Zelensky is surrounded on all sides by the war party and cannot objectively advance on the path to peace, he embarked on the only right tactics: the tactics of small steps. So far, this is the only way he can deliver on his election pledges. And despite the insignificance of the agreements reached in Paris, despite the obvious that it was not necessary to initiate these talks at the highest level, it can be stated that the vector of the development of the situation in Ukraine is directed to peace and not vice versa.

Troops are separated, not deployed, prisoners are released, not captured, negotiations continue, not wrapped up. These are small steps – but steps towards peace, not war. And here, in this commitment of V. Zelensky to peace in Ukraine, an organic ally for him is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It is the ally not in terms of any administrative or diplomatic capabilities but in terms of worldview.

We know that the most important calling and property of Christianity is to rise above our sins, over national, political and other differences, and to get united into a fundamentally new community as members of the Church of Christ, in which there are niether Hellenes nor Romans, Jews, Russians, Ukrainians. Many Christian denominations in Ukraine speak about it, but this ideology is professed (if you can put it this way) not in words but in actions only by the UOC. Only She protests against the division of the people of Ukraine into nationalists and separatists, patriots and vatniks. Only She alone provides pastoral guidance to Her faithful children on both sides of the Donbas conflict. All other confessions, directly or indirectly, have divided the Ukrainians into “ours” and “theirs”, right and wrong. Only the UOC urges everyone to rise above their passions, mutual hatred and desire to win only for their own side. Many forces in Ukraine, including organizations that call themselves Christian, cultivate exactly this ideology in society: we are good – they are bad; we are patriots – they are seps; we will win – they will be punished; peace only on our terms – otherwise it will be "unfair".

The task which V. Zelensky took on his own shoulders (at least stated it), the achievement of peace, is very difficult, but, no doubt, very noble. He declares his intention to build a new Ukrainian society. A society where there will be no division into clans and hostile communities, where there will be no enmity and hatred, where there will be no conventional Hellenes and Jews. To implement his plans, negotiations in the Normandy or any other format are not enough. We need to really unite the people. We need to rethink the paradigm of relationships in Ukrainian society.

It is necessary, as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does, to openly call the inhabitants of Donbas not the population of unrecognized republics but our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens. Only then will it be possible to build a real Ukraine, not nationalist or separatist-centered but truly Ukrainian. Whether Vladimir Zelensky will decide on such rethinking will be told by time. So far, he only dares to say that he has many friends from Donbas (from the press conference in Paris). So far he is practicing the policy of small steps ...

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How should the Church react to the protests in Belarus?
call for peace and condemn the provocation of conflicts
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