Merk and Put
© DawnThe story is written on her face.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used his press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make some of his harshest comments for some time about the situation in Ukraine, and to pronounce the Minsk process which is supposed to lead to a Ukrainian peace settlement all but dead. He also came close to blaming Merkel for its failure.

In doing so President Putin, whilst continuing to give lip-service to the Minsk Agreement, all but admitted that the chance of it ever being implemented has gone
"I am absolutely convinced that the current Kiev authorities quite possibly missed the chance to implement the Minsk Agreements at a moment when they had significant domestic political opportunities. Now there are fewer - the opportunities at the highest levels of government are much more limited now due to a whole range of circumstances, including the economic and domestic political situation."
Note Putin's use in this paragraph of the expression "current Kiev authorities" to refer to the present Ukrainian government. This expression not only calls into question the Ukrainian government's legitimacy. It also casts doubt on whether it will be in power for very long. As it happens at no point in the entire press conference did Putin use the expression "Ukrainian government" or refer to President Poroshenko whether by name or by the title of "President of Ukraine".

That Putin questions the legitimacy of the present Ukrainian government is unsurprising given what he had to say in the news conference about its origins in what he called an "unconstitutional coup", which he blamed as the ultimate source of the conflict in eastern Ukraine
"......regarding the events in southeastern Ukraine - this is the result of a coup, an unconstitutional change of power in Kiev."
Putin also spoke harshly of the actions of the Ukrainian authorities. Here for example is what he had to say about the 2014 Odessa massacre
"As you may recall - and I am compelled to mention this - three years ago today, a horrible tragedy took place in Odessa, when Ukrainian nationalists forced helpless people into the Trade Union House and burned them alive. To this day, the guilty have not been prosecuted and punished. The global community does not have the right either to forget about it, or to allow similar barbaric crimes to happen in the future."
However, more relevantly in terms of the current situation in Ukraine, Putin expressly endorsed the recent steps the authorities in the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics have been taking, whose effect is to separate these republics increasingly from Kiev. Moreover Putin explicitly blamed this on the actions of the Ukrainian authorities, whilst implicitly blaming the Western powers - first and foremost Angela Merkel herself, who was standing just next to him - for allowing this to happen
" one has separated these territories; they are being separated by the Ukrainian authorities themselves, which set up all kinds of blockades. I draw your attention to the fact that Russia is still supplying a significant amount of goods, including energy, and coking coal for the Ukrainian metallurgical industry.

However, the Ukrainian authorities are the ones responsible for the blockade of these territories. No one introduced the ruble as an alternative currency. It is that the Kiev authorities have essentially withdrawn the national currency of Ukraine - the hryvnia - from circulation, and people in these republics, these territories, had no other choice but to introduce alternatives.

They announced that almost all currencies, including the Russian ruble, can circulate there, but given the special economic links, the ruble certainly dominates the currency market there.

Now, with regard to privatisation, or rather the nationalisation of enterprises, the seizure of enterprises. No one seized these enterprises from their legitimate owners. But since these enterprises, which are located on the territory of the unrecognised republics, have been denied the ability - and I want to emphasise this - to obtain raw materials from Ukrainian territory, or ship products to Ukrainian territory, people who work at these enterprises - so as not to be left without the means to survive - had no choice but to introduce temporary management. I want your readers, viewers and listeners to know about this. No one took anything away from anyone.

Finally, how can these enterprises exist if they are completely deprived of the opportunity to receive at least something for their economic activities, since the Kiev authorities have cut off all financial ties with this territory? Banks do not operate there, and the Ukrainian financial system does not operate there on the initiative of the current Kiev authorities.

Our partners in Europe said some time ago that they are ready to help the Ukrainian authorities to ensure the normal functioning of financial institutions, at least temporary ones. Unfortunately, our partners in Kiev have done everything possible to prevent these wishes and plans of our European partners from being implemented. Therefore, everything happening there is forced measures.

I agree with the Federal Chancellor that we cannot and should not come up with any alternative to the Normandy format and the Minsk Agreements, because new plans cannot be devised until basic results have been achieved on what we mapped out in past years."
The message to Merkel in the last two paragraphs of these comments - that the failure of the Minsk process is largely down to her - is clear enough, even though with Merkel standing right beside him Putin was careful to veil his comments.

The veil was however the very thinnest one, and it seems from Merkel's much more defensive comments during the press conference that in their private talks Putin expressed himself with utter clarity.

Western commentary about the meeting between Putin and Merkel has tended to emphasise the strength of the message Merkel supposedly gave Putin. On the contrary it was Putin's message to Merkel which was the strong one, and this was clearly so not just during their private meeting with each other but during their joint news conference.

As for the future, though the Russians are still going through the motions of working within the framework of the Minsk Agreement and of the Normandy Four format, in reality they have given up on them both, and understand that the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics have to all intents and purposes seceded from Ukraine, and are not going back.

Putin also clearly signalled that he no longer believes that a political settlement of the Ukrainian conflict in any form is possible whilst the present Maidan based regime remains in power.

As for the issue of the sanctions upon which Merkel seems to have rested so many hopes, Putin throughout the whole press conference never mentioned them once.