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Is Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky Ready for the Multi-Faceted Negotiations?

I’m the President of Ukraine, I’m based here, and I think I know the details deeper than any other President…I just deeply understand what is going on in my country.

President Volodymyr Zelensky (VZ), 2022, CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

You (European Union) should tell Ukrainians what you want Ukrainians to do, step-by-step, to become members of the EU. Ukraine should receive a specific list of steps, then it will be clear what needs to be done and how much time is needed for Ukraine's European integration…So that everyone understands what we need now – both Ukraine and Europe. It seems to me that we just need to make a country that Europe really wants. And the decision should be up to Ukraine….Spoke VZ

But Crimea is our territory, we will return it….Declared VZ

President Volodymyr Zelensky (VZ) has a challenging series of negotiations. Is he up for the multi-faceted negotiations?

- How does he negotiate with a dictator, aka long-time President Vladimir Putin?

- How does he negotiate with the super power United States and the newly-elected President Joe Biden?

- How does he negotiate Ukraine’s way into the European Union (EU)?

- How does he negotiate with NATO? Membership?

- How does he negotiate with Germany and France who believe they are the bedrock of Europe?

- Finally, how does he negotiate with the Ukrainian people (voters)?

VZ needs to realize that Russia surely has the capabilities of invading Ukraine but Putin’s actual intentions are unknown, maybe even to him. Surely Putin’s overall goal is to weaken Ukraine and to destabilize the West. This potential invasion may be a means to an end. Each of the above negotiations are different. VZ needs to be a nimble, flexible negotiator. He needs to be tough with dictator Putin and yet accommodating to Presidents Biden and Macron.

About Volodymyr Zelensky According to Wikipedia:

Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky is a Ukrainian politician, actor and comedian who is the 6th and current president of Ukraine, serving since May 2019. Prior to his acting career, Zelensky obtained a degree in law from Kyiv National Economic University.

“Born in the central city of Kryvyi Rih to Jewish parents, Volodymyr Zelensky graduated from Kyiv National Economic University with a law degree. However, it was comedy that turned out to be his calling.

As a young man, he regularly participated in a competitive team comedy show on Russian TV. In 2003, he co-founded a successful TV production company named after his comedy team, Kvartal 95.

The company produced shows for Ukraine's 1+1 network, whose controversial billionaire owner, Ihor Kolomoisky, would later back Mr Zelenskyy's presidential bid.

Until the mid-2010s, though, his career in TV and films such as Love in the Big City (2009) and Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon (2012) was his main focus.

The stage for Mr. Zelensky's unlikely political rise was set by the turbulent events of 2014, when Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after months of protests. Russia then seized Crimea from Ukraine and backed separatists who took control of large areas of the east, prompting war with the Ukrainian military which continues to this day.

A year later, in October 2015, the political party Servant of the People premiered on 1+1. The satirical series cast Mr. Zelensky as an accidental president and inspired the founding of a political party with the same name.

With the party's backing, Mr. Zelensky turned fantasy into reality by declaring his candidacy for the presidential election in 2019.”

He won in a landslide by 73%, April, 2019.

“I still don’t feel comfortable here,' says Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, as he walks briskly into an opulent presidential meeting room. A former comedian in a hit tv series, “Servant of the People,” that tells the story of a humble schoolteacher who accidentally becomes president, he is still, it seems, more used to a studio than a palace.

But two years ago his chutzpah, and the failures of his predecessors, won him nearly 75% of the vote in the runoff round of a presidential election. In a country where politics has long been dominated by oligarchs and treated as a means for personal gain, the victory of a man whose only asset was his popularity seemed a miracle. 'People saw a Cinderella story and identified themselves with the life behind the screen….'"

How to Negotiate with the Ukrainian Parliament and People

The Ukrainian Parliament has signaled that they do not want a Russian-controlled state with Ukraine. Even VZ’s own party, Servant of the People, might refuse to back any agreement seen as giving in to Russia. They want no compromise that would harm Ukraine’s sovereignty. These stands leave very little space for negotiating.

The “Minsk” Peace Accord may not provide a road map for this situation. This accord was brokered between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militants in two breakaway regions in the east of Ukraine. Minsk is the capital of Belarus. Under this accord, Ukraine is to give these two regions more autonomy. Russia loves this agreement but Ukrainians hate it.

How Does VZ Negotiate with President Biden and the United States?

VZ expressed his dissatisfaction with Biden’s use of the term “minor incursion.” He was also disturbed by the US pulling out Americans and U.S. diplomats so early. He has expressed the concern that the West, including the U.S., is exaggerating the potential of a Russian attack. This dissension could be “a gift” to Russia. VZ’s rebuking Biden in public seems also unwise.

The goals may vary a bit. Biden needs to keep all of the West together and ready to act so that is why the U.S. was using the term “imminent.” VZ needs to avoid financial and social panic in his country. VZ is looking out for Ukraine’s economic stability. Both have varying interests.

Also of note is that 79 year old Biden is a veteran politician; whereas VZ is a novice, winning the presidency by standing up to the establishment. VZ has been irritated with Biden’s withdrawal of sanctions on Nord Stream 2. VZ also noted that Biden met with Putin before meeting with VA.

VZ must negotiate and work with the West, including the U.S., so there is a consistent message.

The U.S. has already agreed to stop using the inciteful term “imminent,” but instead would say “it could happen at any time.” Most would agree that especially in tense times, words matter, as do actions. All involved should be careful with terminology. Early on February 14th, VZ declared that the invasion would occur on Wednesday. Hours later he took those words back. This is not effective wording. He finally called Wednesday “A Day of Unity."

VZ needs to persuade Biden and the United States that Ukraine is vital to both NATO and the U.S. Some say this situation is reminiscent of 1938 when Germany, led by dictator Adolph Hitler, decided to invade Czechoslavakia. Still burning from WWI, the United Kingdom struggled to see the relevance of the invasion to them.

According to Wikipedia:

"Peace for our time" was a declaration made by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his September 30 1938 remarks in London concerning the Munich Agreement and the subsequent Anglo-German Declaration.

VZ also needs to pay attention to the White House “Tiger Team” which is gaming the situation and planning for any action from cyber warfare to a total invasion. “The Tiger Team” is a term referring to a diverse group of experts from energy to military, applied to a specific situation. This seems like a wise model.

This is a bit different because of NATO. The U.S. is across the ocean but very present in NATO.

How to Negotiate with European Allies Including the European Union.

VZ should realize that Putin’s goals are two-fold:

- First, he wants to de-stabilize Ukraine and their economy. He wants to pull Ukraine closer to Russia and away from the West.

- Second, he wants to fracture the West including the EU and NATO.

Ironically, Russia’s present threat to invade Ukraine may have re-unified both NATO and the EU, which had been somewhat fractionized during the former US President Trump’s four years.

France: For VZ, each European country has a separate challenge. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is the one to watch and with whom to negotiate. He wants France to be viewed as the bedrock of Europe. He had been convinced that he could use his “charm” to woo both past U.S. president Donald Trump and present Russian president V. Putin. Seemingly this has not worked. Macron’s words matter. He is now using the term “European security order.”

France now holds the European Union Presidency. Macron wants to ensure that Europe has a commanding voice in the Ukraine-Russia situation. Macron has revived the so -called “Normandy format” that includes a four-party discussion among Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and France. They used this format to discuss the Donbas conflict.

(Wikipedia: The Donbas or Donbass is a historical, cultural, and economic region in south-eastern Ukraine, some of whose territory is occupied by two unrecognized separatist states, the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's.

The crisis began on November 21, 2013 when then-president Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union. The decision sparked mass protests from proponents of the agreement.

The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine started in 2014. It has since killed over 14,000 people. The war pits Ukrainian government forces against Russia-backed separatists for control over much of the two heavily industrialized regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, also known as Donbas.)

Macron claims to be the first leader to call Russia “a force of disequilibrium” and to warn Russia of “serious consequences” if they invade Ukraine.

If VZ is wise in his negotiations, he will build up Macron, allowing France to play a major role in the negotiations. So far, Macron has met with Putin more times than any other European leader.

VZ also needs to recognize that Macron has done an excellent job in reframing the conflict from a bi-lateral one between the U.S. and Russia to a multi-lateral one involving most of Europe.

(VZ should also pay attention to the situation in Mali which initially seems irrelevant, but it is another example of great tension between France and Russia. France is expected to pull out their 4,000 anti-terrorism troops in light of the recently arrived Russian mercenaries which France calls Russian troops and Russia calls ”private security.”)

Germany: Germany is less clear in terms of the negotiation approach with Angela Merkel sidelined and their new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, first new and second, not so assertive? The oil pipeline from Russia to Germany plays a major role.

Negotiating with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Putin calls the potential of Ukraine becoming a NATO Member “an urgent” situation. He says this in a threatening way.

Most of the West recognize Ukraine’s sovereign right to decide whether to join NATO or not. Russia does not recognize this right. Russia’s invasion threat and the ongoing war since 2014 has persuaded Ukrainians that they now favor NATO; whereas, before 2014 Crimea invasion, Ukrainians did not. Presently, there is no Ukrainian NATO application to the thirty member union. Most do not believe Ukraine meets the NATO conditions. For VK, the decision to join or not join NATO needs to be focused on what is good for Ukraine, not Russia or NATO.

In 2008, urged by then President George W. Bush, NATO issued a declaration stating that Ukraine and Georgia should be allowed to join if they wanted, but there exists no clear path. U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in June, 2021, declared the U.S. would back a Ukraine NATO application. He reminded all that NATO has always had an open door policy.

NATO membership demand a commitment to democracy, individual liberty, and support for the rule of law. Some European countries doubt the stated Ukrainian commitment. They cite the recent report of Transparency International which rated Ukraine as 117 of 180 in terms of corruptness. NATO membership is by unanimous consent.

NATO’s approach to the Ukraine/Russia situation is to be firm, not provocative.

There are some who believe NATO is an association representing the past-the era right after World War II and during the Cold War. It was designed to contain the USSR.

Nonetheless, partially due to Russia’s aggressiveness, the majority (62%) of Ukraine now want to join NATO whereas, in the past, NATO support was not in the majority. Maybe Russia has not planned well?

Washington Post Commentator David Von Drehle wrote an article entitled, Putin and Xi might be unwittingly saving the West. He writes that NATO was a Godsend post-WWII and that lately the alliance has been “sleepy,” but now re-awakened by the Putin and XI alliance.

How to Negotiate with Russian Dictator V. Putin.

VZ needs to realize that Putin is a product of the USSR and WWII. Putin emphasizes security from the West. In his mind this is a real concern, since 22 million Russians were killed during WWII.

Putin has stated many times that the greatest loss in world history was the dismantling of the USSR. If he had his dream, he would re-create the USSR in some fashion with Ukraine being part of it. He is firm in his belief that Ukraine is really part of Russia.

VZ needs to listen to other international negotiators who claim that Russia has a habit of saying one thing and doing another, so trust is a major issue.

Putin loves attention so VZ should give him such.

VZ needs to check if this Ukraine invasion threat is a diversion from Russian economic issues.

Putin wants Russia to be a major international player. They are not economically, but are military wise especially having nuclear capabilities.

Russia Parliament (from the Moscow Times):

Russia’s State Duma on Tuesday backed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donbas People’s Republics, raising tensions between Russia and Ukraine another notch, even as Russian troops began a partial withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.

The Russian parliament’s motion calls for President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. No other country currently recognizes the republics as sovereign states.

Thus, VZ should:

- Be Prepared

- Know and study Putin

- Use one’s expertise

- Manage emotions

- Expect aggressiveness

- Be prepared to walk away

- Build and nurture allies


Most likely, Zelensky needs to prepare for the so-called “gray area” of prolonged conflict involving cyber attacks, information war, disinformation, and economic issues. The way to fight this is for Zelensky to build on the Western alliance to stabilize Ukraine doing his best to eradicate corruption, increase commitment to democracy and human rights, and to become economically strong.

As a result of Russia’s recent invasion threats, Ukrainians may be more united than before. VZ needs to find ways to further align with the European Union and NATO, even if membership is not being considered. The North Atlantic Council last June 12 recognized Ukraine as an “Enhanced Opportunities Partner.” This is an excellent step on which VZ can build. VZ can also build on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU.

Zelenski, the United States, and the West need to realize that economic sanctions are always a deterrent but they may not have the impact on Russia today, unlike ten years ago. Russia is economically more stable today. They have dramatically reduced their debt. Oil and gas are important parts of the Russian economy, but only about ten percent. Most important Russia has an economic alternative and that is China.

At home in Ukraine, VZ’s “anti-oligarch legislation” may be promising in reducing the power of oligarchs if it is enforced fairly and is de-politicized. This will provide transparency and may reduce corruption.

Washington Post Contributor David Ignatius probably has it right about Putin in his article entitled, A strong opening but weak endgame in Ukraine. So brazen Putin is confronting a resolute Biden with the West more organized and allied than before this “wake-up call.”


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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