In fact, the talks between the former American diplomat and interlocutors from Russia but also from other countries started on this topic on the previous evening, January 24. Which means – bearing in mind the time zone difference between the Western coast of the US and Russia – the day after J. Kerry’s statement at Davos (January 22) on the possibility of lifting the sanctions on Russia in a few months’ time, under the reserve of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement. He warned “Putin fans” that “Kremlin policy changing. Your tweets will soon not be in line with new policy.” After several cautious answers and one-liners the likes of “what a good morning joke” or “are you interested in anything other than Putin”, he received a serious and at the same time sarcastic answer toward Russian “trolls”: “world order is changing, чувак))) You will soon not be in line with new policy.” (https://mobile.twitter.com/McFaul/status/691494857676730369?p=v).
Moreover, as a sign of appreciation for the former American ambassador to Moscow, the respondents, who suspect each other of being Kremlin’s trolls, do not hesitate to inform the professor: “Michael, we, the fans of Putin, /use/ a simple tactic, if you do not know the current general line we send your opponent fuck!”
Still, suspecting the direction toward which their interlocutor from across the ocean is trying to guide the discussion, some are already raising their own “walls,” refusing to consider the pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine as “separatist” or adopting the slogan “Crimea is Russia’s forever.”
Here is one of the answers, which proves that the essence of the discussion was clear for all – a possible major change of foreign policy at the Kremlin: “My bet ‘What separatists? We know of no so-called separatist republics. Now give us access to capital.’”
What is interesting is the fact that these twitter exchanges between the US and Russia – we make this mention naturally in the wide sense of the events taking place – were taking place concomitantly with things of great importance that were unfolding in the Syrian space and that concerned these two large global actors. For instance, on the same day, a tweet of a renowned expert on the Syrian space (US Washington Institute’s Andrew Tabler), noted that “US, Russia said to near compromise to unlock Syria peace talks,” referring to a credible press report, and several hours later wondered: “Russia and US to close for comfort in NE Syria? What do American-Russian air bases in Qamishlo mean for Syrian Kurds?”, using the same procedure of referring to the source of the information, namely a public source. And the source invoked wrote about the said American and Russian bases located close to northeast Syria: “Both of these world powers have an interest in having bases in that end of Syria. Americans to bolster their allies and for the Russians it gives them a foothold in the northeast of the country. Russian presence in that area may well deter any Turkish attempts to intervene in Northern Syria against the Kurds.” (See more: http://rudaw.net/mobile/english/analysis/24012016#sthash.f7rfXVwo.tEWGEsF9.dpuf).
These developments are taking place against the backdrop in which the summit attended by the sides involved in the Syrian conflict was scheduled to start at the end of January, in order to detail the UN peace roadmap (the opposition had already announced it would not attend, which nevertheless did not hamper the process that is under American-Russian management).
Returning to Michael McFaul’s dialogue with his Russian interlocutors, it is worth mentioning the former American diplomat’s interventions. Thus, he points out that “Russian economy in real trouble,” precisely in order to show Kremlin’s motivation for changing its stance in Eastern Ukraine and does not hesitate to fully present his own position: “I also support 100% the lifting of those sanctions put in place after Russia annexed Crimea (once Russia gives back Crimea).” (January 24, 9.25 p.m.).
The answers to this position showed that Russian interlocutors do not accept at all the return of Crimea (“Russia will never give back Crimea” becomes almost a refrain of the respondents). In order to persuade the respondents that something is taking place, he warns them in Russian – “Why did Nuland meet Surkov? Let’s not be naïve,” but also that “Then West should never lift sanctions put in place in response to annexation of Crimea” (https://mobile.twitter.com/McFaul/status/691672300756709376?p=v).
Just as interesting in the already very heated discussion –accusations are levied by the Russian side in what concerns United States’ 19th Century actions against the Native Americans or the annexation of Texas – is that the American diplomat insists that a change of policy will take place, even though it will not be a “reset”: “Will you LOL again when Putin soon tells you that US is attacking ISIS? Its coming soon.” The answer to this prediction comes along the already known Moscow line regarding the origin of ISIS: “the US is helping ISIS. The US let Turkey buy ISIS oil and arm them.” The next day, January 25, McFaul points out that there are two categories of sanctions against Russia: “There are 2 sets of sanctions – one for Crimea and another for Donbass. Latter would be lifted.” The respondents dispute that, while some go along with the scenario proposed by the American, imagining a negotiable “package” – Donbass in exchange for the Syrian opposition: “Though I refer to linking Ukraine-Syria not to this specific scenario giving up Donbass for giving up Syrian Opposition,” one of them writes. McFaul tends to render flexible the refractory position of his respondents, especially in what concerns Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, who maintain the already official position that the US should “reset” its relations with the rest of the world, not with Russia (see Lavrov’s communiqué we already quoted).
Whether the former diplomat notes that negotiations are taking place – “Kremlin engaging in discussion with all, including Americans (Nuland-Surkov). But still a long ways to go” – or whether he points out that he cannot guess the way events will unfold: “I’ve read no tea leaves which suggest Putin considering giving up Crimea. But West must still press for.” He answers “agree” to a Swiss correspondent that writes “appeasement towards Russia is the wrong approach.”
We have reconstituted, in its essential points, this twitter discussion between an American connoisseur of Russia’s foreign policy and his respondents precisely in order to point out that it took place on the eve of some very important developments in Moscow’s relations with NATO. On one hand, ever since January 14, Moscow officially rejected as “unscrupulous speculation” the Western media information that NATO is being labelled as a “threat” in Russia’s new national security strategy, arguing to the contrary that the document points out “expressly that the Russian Federation is ready for the development of relations with NATO on the basis of equal rights for the purpose of strengthening universal security in Europe and the Atlantic.” (http://rbth.com/news/2016/01/14/russias-updated-national-security-strategy-doesnt-call-nato-threat_559461)
On the other hand, referring to a letter that arrived in Moscow from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on the resumption of Russia-NATO Council meetings, suspended in the spring of 2014, Russia’s Federation Council Deputy Speaker Ilyas Umakhanov stated, on January 28, that “we are welcoming it” and that “we have never disavowed this”. (http://rbth.com/news/2016/01/28/russia-welcomes-stoltenbergs-initiative-to-hold-russia-nato-council_563117)
Could this be a “reset,” or could it be “reconciliation”? Both terms were explicitly rejected by McFaul in his talks with his respondents several days before. Then, what kind of agreements are in the pipeline or have already been reached? Because the resumption of Russia-NATO Council meetings is a powerful signal pointing to a positive course of relations between Moscow and Washington in the issues currently under dispute.