Links of the same chain

The title above was loaned from Russian newspaper “Moscovsky Konsomolets”, that wrote, after the visits to Russia by German Chancellor  Angela Merkel, on May 10, in Moscow, and by US State Secretary, John Kerry, on May 12, in Sochi, immediately after the Chancellor met Ukrainian President Petro Porosenko in Berlin (on May 13), that these high level meetings are “links of the same chains”. Moreover, in their succession, and according to discussed topic, especially considering the insistence related to the precise application of the Minsk 2 agreement, they show that “Without renouncing tough rhetoric and sanctions, the West is clearly trying to look for a new format in ties with Moscow, at least when it comes to problems related to international security”. Therefore, it might seem that we are in the preparing stage of the appearance of a new format of negotiating and solving the crisis in Ukraine, that could replace the existing one, known as the „Normandy format”. News circulated by the international media announced that the United States do not reject the idea of joining this format and new evolutions should be expected in this direction, in this tremendously complicated file of present security in Europe and all over the world.

On yesterday, May 18, 2015, a new link was added to this unusual “diplomatic chain” of last year – considering that the leaders of the two grand powers, Russia and the USA, had not met in over a year – and news in the press about a possible new format of negotiating Ukrainian crisis are circulated for approximately two weeks (more precisely, since the US Ambassador to Moscow granted an interview to the station “Echo Moskvy” in which he brought up the possibility of Washington joining the “Normandy format”, which, so far, was exclusively European. On May 18, an one day visit to Moscow was also paid by  Victoria Nuland, the assistant of the US Secretary for Europe, a well known personality, permanently present in the hot moments of the Ukrainian crisis on the European continent. After discussions in Moscow, Nuland even mentioned this unusual diplomatic “chain”, that shows we could be looking forward to major strategy changes concerning the Ukrainian file. She therefore declared in the press conference on Monday that “I’m completing the last leg on what has been an eight-day trip. I began with Secretary Kerry in Sochi for his meetings with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Then, I went on with him to the NATO ministerial in Antalya, Turkey; and then I spent two days in Kyiv consulting intensively with the Ukrainian government and civil society, and then here in Moscow.” According to her declarations, Nuland has had detailed discussions in Moscow with the deputy of the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Karazin, responsible of the diplomatic file of the Ukrainian crisis. And the agenda of the discussions was very complex, based on the principle agreed by the Heads of the two diplomatic teams, the Russian and the American ones, in Sochi, a few days ago, that the full completion of the stipulations of the Minsk agreement in February 2015 is essential for solving the crisis. Among these issues discussed and publicly declared by Victoria Nuland, there were the engagement to cease fire on the line of contact, first of all by allowing OSCE observers to enter Shrokyne – a small town almost completely abandoned by its inhabitants, located nearby Mariupol, where separatists can launch a decisive strike upon this city, essential for Russia’s connection to Crimea; the start of discussions in the four working groups established by the Minsk-2 agreement; providing needed conditions to organize elections in Donbas, according to the Ukrainian Constitution and OSCE norms; granting the presence of OSCE observers all along the borders between Ukraine and Russia (where Kyiv has lost control on a distance of approximately 400 kilometres). It must also be mentioned that V. Nuland’s visit to Moscow occurred in extraordinary circumstances, consisting in the capturing, on Ukrainian territory, of a few Russian military officers who had made confession which is, therefore, living proof of Russia’s direct interference in the focal point of conflict  with regular forces, an aspect the American diplomat did not skip the opportunity to comment on, during the press conference:  “Let me also take this opportunity with regard to the most recent news regarding the capture in Shchastya of Russian Captain Yerofeev and Russian Sergeant Alexandrov. I would just say that we welcome the Ukrainian government’s public statements that they are being well taken care of and that the ICRC – the International Committee for the Red Cross – will be allowed access to them in correspondence with the Geneva Convention. This is very, very important.” Overall, according to Victoria Nuland’s declarations, the purpose of the United States of America is to fully support the complete implementation of the stipulations of the Minsk-2 agreement, an action conducted “in lockstep with the Normandy powers, with our colleagues in the EU, with Germany and France”. She also mentioned that the members of the Normandy format would be announced of the things discussed in Moscow. Following a question by journalists who attended her press conference regarding US joining the “Normandy format”, V. Nuland replied: We want to see all parties in these working groups, all four parties in these working groups and all three parties in the Trilateral Contact Group – Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE – dig down deeply now and start really implementing the security, political, economic and humanitarian aspects of Minsk. We’ve talked about concrete steps to move each of those groups forward. We will continue to use our good offices with all parties, but we are not, as of now, direct participants.”

Therefore, at the end of the diplomatic “chain”, it was fully pointed out that the USA are not part of the “Normandy format”, which seemed to be a normal target of the intense diplomatic activity that took place in Washington, in the last ten days. Russian commenters – Sergey Karaganov – evaluated that this diplomatic action by the USA might show that there is a possibility “that Americans are starting to behave more realistically than was the case a year ago, when they were essentially trying to do battle with Moscow”. According to the Monday edition of the New York Times, the members of the “Normandy format” – Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine –  “previously made it clear that they did not necessarily welcome the Americans at the negotiating table as part of” the group created on the occasion of the reunion destined to celebrate the “Overlord” operation in June 2014. A reflex of Europe’s wish to show that it can solve its own crises on her own? Or merely the consumption of a link-period in the “diplomatic chain” developed in the second decade of May, in which the role of the USA in solving the crisis in Ukraine stands out prominently? The forthcoming days and weeks will give valid answers to these questions.


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