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Poroshenko Did Not Offer to Hand the Donbass Over to Russia

The Russian edition of Forbes claims that Putin told industrialists that during the Minsk 2 negotiations Ukraine’s Poroshenko offered to hand over the Donbass to Russia.

Alexander Mercouris

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An article has recently appeared in the Russian edition of Forbes which claims that Putin told a meeting of industrialists on 19th March 2016 that during the negotiations in Minsk in February 2015 Ukraine’s President Poroshenko offered to hand over the Donbass to Russia.

Supposedly Putin refused this offer and responding by telling Poroshenko he was “out of his mind” and that Russia did not want the Donbass and that if Ukraine did not want it either then Poroshenko and his government should simply recognise its independence.

Is there any truth to this story?

Putin’s comments to the industrialists were private and the account of them given to Forbes was provided by a source who wished to remain anonymous. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Alexander Shokhin, the chair of the Russian Union of Industrialists, have however confirmed that Putin did provide the industrialists with an account of what happened during the negotiations in Minsk in February 2015.

Both Peskov and Shokhin however say that the source who leaked the story to Forbes is distorting Putin’s comments. In effect that means that they are saying that Putin did not speak of an offer by Poroshenko to hand over the Donbass to Russia.

For once the Ukrainians agree. They too deny Poroshenko offered to hand over the Donbass to Russia. Yevhen Perebyinis, the spokesman of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, is even saying there was simply a misunderstanding caused by the fact that Poroshenko was speaking Ukrainian so that Putin would not have understood him. It is in fact inconceivable that Poroshenko ever made any such offer or that Putin ever thought he did. European sources have in the past confirmed that when Putin and Poroshenko meet they talk to each other in Russian. Whilst this is a fact Poroshenko might not want Ukrainians to know, it rules the theory of a misunderstanding out.

If Poroshenko did not offer to hand over the Donbass to Russia, and if there was no misunderstanding, is Putin simply making the story up? That is very unlikely. Putin is usually very careful to give accurate accounts of his meetings. He would also know that a made-up story which included a claim that Poroshenko offered to hand over the Donbass would be bound to be made public even if it was given confidentially to a private meeting such as the one he had with the industrialists on 19th March 2016. Putin would also know that if the story ever became public the German and French leaders who were also present in Minsk would be able to refute it if it was not true.

So what did actually happen in Minsk?

We actually possess a very detailed account of what happened in Minsk provided the German magazine Der Spiegel based on information provided by Angela Merkel’s Chancellery. I have discussed Der Spiegel’s account of the Minsk negotiations in detail here. The description Der Spiegel has given of Poroshenko during the negotiations in Minsk is of a man intransigent to the point of delusion.

He refused to countenance any reference in the final document to autonomy for the Donbass or federalisation for Ukraine. He refused to meet – even informally – with the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. To the exasperation of the German and French leaders he even refused to recognise that his troops in the Debaltsevo pocket had been encircled. He categorically refused their urgings to order them either to surrender or retreat. When they did eventually retreat, shortly after the Minsk meeting had ended, suffering heavy loss of life, Poroshenko preposterously declared they had won a great victory.

A man who behaves in this way is hardly the sort of man who would float a proposal to surrender the Donbass to Russia. Poroshenko and his government refuse to recognise Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and its union with Russia. On the contrary they not only dispute it but threaten with retaliatory action anyone who says they might recognise it.

It beggars belief that a Ukrainian President and government who refuse to recognise Crimea’s union with Russia would offer to hand over the Donbass to Russia.

What we know did happen in Minsk – and what seems to have been the genesis of the story in Forbes – is that Poroshenko also refused to resume social security payments to the people of the Donbass.

Putin pressed him on this issue pointing out that paying social security payments is an obligation Ukraine owes its citizens including the people of the Donbass. Poroshenko responded by telling Putin that Russia should pay the social security payments instead.

In what was by all accounts an angry exchange Putin replied that this was crazy and that if Ukraine was not prepared to discharge its basic responsibilities to its own citizens then it should accept their demand for independence.

Neither Putin nor Poroshenko spoke during this row of the Donbass becoming part of Russia and it has never previously been said that they did. An argument over security payments is being misrepresented to make it seem as if they did.

That it was this exchange that lies behind the story in Forbes is confirmed by the claim by Forbes’s source that Putin told the industrialists that Poroshenko asked him in Minsk to take financial responsibility for the Donbass. The source quotes Putin telling the industrialists that he told

Poroshenko that this would only be possible if the Donbass became part of Russia. Until then, and so long as the Donbass remained part of Ukraine, it was the Ukrainian authorities who were responsible for making the payments.

This of course is a garbled account of the row over social security payments that actually took place. The sequel to the row between Putin and Poroshenko in Minsk is that Poroshenko agrees that Ukraine would end its economic blockade of the Donbass. As with all the other things Poroshenko promised in Minsk, that never happened.

Putin has frequently described his row in Minsk with Poroshenko over the social security payments. It is one that clearly rankles with him. Obviously he did so again to the industrialists presumably in order to impress on them how difficult negotiating with the Ukrainians is.

The one question remaining is whether the source who spoke to Forbes deliberately distorted Putin’s words or whether there has simply been a mistake. Whilst it is impossible to know for sure, it is unfortunately highly likely that Putin’s words have been distorted intentionally.

Whilst Putin is supposed to have rejected Poroshenko’s offer, supposedly telling Poroshenko he was “out of his mind”, the story nonetheless conveys the impression of Putin as the puppet-master behind the events in the Donbass and makes him look untrustworthy and shifty, making claims about offers Poroshenko made to him which Poroshenko never in fact made.

Whether the truth of the motives behind this leak, it is a certainty the Russian authorities by now know who was the person responsible. Apparently 26 industrialists attended the meeting. The Russian authorities will have little difficulty tracing the source from such a small pool. Publicly misrepresenting words Putin said in private is something which is known to make him very angry.

The person responsible is no doubt going through a most uncomfortable time. As for the story itself, it should be treated as just another example in the seemingly endless succession of improbable or untrue things Putin is supposed to have said but never did.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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