During the annual Direct Line on June 30, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again mentioned the possibility of meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The gist of Putin’s statement was: the door is crack-open but it is not clear what the two leaders would talk about. Clearly, this statement sends two messages: first, the Kremlin is in no rush and there won’t be a meeting for the sake of a meeting. Putin can patiently wait for Kiev to get ready. Second, Moscow does care and wants Kiev to propose a serious practical agenda for the summit.
Indeed, Volodymyr Zelensky should finally make a move. His political time is running out while the goal of leading the country from war to peace and progress is getting farther rather than closer. A single meeting just to tick the box will not stop this degradation.
The Ukrainian President should create a situation in which he and the Russian President could start an extended and productive dialogue that would shape a completely new reality of the bilateral relations.
This requires changing the rhetoric and choosing the appropriate tone. Also, settling on the topic of the conversation. Cursing and throwing a bullet list of ultimatums is something that is better done from a distance. Vladimir Putin will definitely not listen to manifests that Russia must “get out,” “surrender,” “stand trial,” pay war reparations and so on.
It’s time Kiev proposed a feasible Zelensky peace plan for Donbass as an official document that would realistically consider a compromise with Russia’s interests. I am convinced that a discussion of this plan is worth a Russia — Ukraine summit. It may actually take more than one as building new reality will take years.
Kiev should stop being delusional about its ability to push unilateral terms, and choose sober pragmatism. This might mean that Zelensky will have to get rid of his inner circle of politicians who shout “It’s impossible!” about every realistic proposal.
By Sergei Stankevich, Political scientist, co-chairman of the Party of Growth