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January 23, 2022

Ukraine: A Russian- American deal? (II)

What do we notice after the episode of the visits to Russia by John Kerry and V. Nuland, at the half of May 2015, according to Russian analysts?

First of all, that the discussions of “intimates” of the Ukraine file started using the topic Kremlin abandoning the concept of “Novorussiya”. Based on a few mentions made by the so-called officials of the self-proclaimed republics of Eastern Ukraine (May 19 – 20), who have stated that the project has no future in interviews published on their own websites, the news appeared on international social media. According to our knowledge, the first Twitter discussion, by example, was caused by a question of former US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, addressed to his correspondents on May 24: “Putin no longer uses the phrase, Новороссия (Novorossiya). So should we consider those that do use this phrase Putin critics? Curious”. The replies appeared in an instant. Correspondent Jeff Abot writes a few dozen minutes after the question was launched: “I just used it in novel coming out next year, should I cut it? hmmm.”.Then others, such as:  Veli-Pekka Kivimaki: “Any idea why he dropped it? Scaling back & focusing on legitimizing DNR/LNR?” ( McFaul replies: “Annexation too costly.”); Antoine Sans: “Do you think Moscow ever planned to annex eastern Ukraine? It seems to have always been only a mean of pressure on Kiev”; Patrick H. O’Neil:”that he should have gone this far already seemed irrational…Putin gave up his chance to play peacemaker”; “I think most would have accepted fiction if it meant peace. Putin seems weak on strategy”. ;Steven Pifer: “Putin more tactician than strategist. If current situation = result of strategy, clearly not a good one.”; Gherson Haimovici: “he’s not a good tactician. he’s just got too much resources at his disposal and it provides a wide range of possible actions”.

Therefore, the Twitter conversation presented above reveals an agreement on two things: one is that “Novorossiya” has disappeared from Kremlin’s speech concepts, so that people should not expect a continuation of Russian aggressions in Eastern Ukraine – perhaps Mariupol -, as numerous analysts had taken into account; the second is that Novorossiya was not intended as a strategic target of Kremlin, but more like means of pressure on Kiev, and, at the same time, as an “exchange currency” (giving up the concept in order to play the role of peacemaker). The most likely version is that, after Russia dropped aggression in Ukraine, a fact unremarked by the Twitter debate that has just begun, is that they must have received something in return, but it is not easy to identify what the offer made by the US / West consisted in. The “equivalent” is not clearly mentioned in the analyses published by Piontkovsky and Kolesnikov, although both of them discuss the possible existence of a Russian – American deal. Does such deal exist though?

A support for solving the mystery in this case is represented by an article published by the same Fyodor Lukianov, editor-in-chief of the prestigious publication of experts “Russia in Global Affairs”, in a succession of three editions. First of all, on May 20, 2015, in the Russian language publication “Rossiskaia gazeta”, in the preamble of which he writes “The visit to Russia by US Secretary John Kerry and Assistant Victoria Nuland made commenters speak again about the relations of Russia and Washington, a concern that seems to have disappeared in previous months. Might it be an unfreeze?” On May 22, the same article is published in English in the publication “Russia beyond the headlines”, and its preamble presents an editorial change to the original: “Observers are talking about a possible revival of U.S.-Russian relations following the recent visits to Russia by both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland. But can this really be seen as a turning point? Political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov asks whether a genuine thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington is likely and why the approaching departure of U.S. President Barack Obama matters.” Finally, on May 24, the article is published in English on the website of “Valdai Club” in Russia,  a club close to V. Putin, and the mentioned preamble says:  “In the wake of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi and Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland’s recent trip to Moscow, observers have once again started talking about U.S.-Russian relations, which they had previously all but given up on. But does this really represent a turning point in the strained relationship between Moscow and Washington?” Therefore, it is slightly unchanged to the initial Russian original.

The hypothesis launched by F.  Lukianov is that the USA have failed in the politics they have conducted so far towards  Russia, which is to determine its change of attitude by suspending bilateral communication and measures destined to facilitate success (economical sanctions, an advance of the NATO military apparatus in Eastern Europe). Similarly, Russia cannot continue its action in Ukraine against the will or attendance of the USA. Therefore, he concludes “a full-scale Cold War is out of question: There are still ‘common challenges’ and they are here to stay. For instance, Russia and the U.S. may have different views on the origins of the events that are unfolding in the Middle East, but they still agree that ISIS is a menace both for Russians and Americans.” Moreover, for the Russian expert, the historical legacy by President Barack Obama is highly important in the calculations of the White House referring to the situation in Ukraine. Having reached the end of his two terms, with few foreign policy successes that could embellish his historical legacy – that will be certainly conserved as the recoil of American global power, outlined by military withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan (2011 and 2014) – President Obama has made a few calculations that also included Ukraine. In Lukianov’s analysis, such calculations refer to the list of priorities of foreign politics files of administration and their chances of being solutioned in the almost two years left at the White House. For Obama – Lukianov pointed out – “it is all the more important /…/ to focus on those areas in which history can be made”, and these files are “mostly Iran , and probably Cuba”. And the Russian evaluation concludes: “The completion of the Iranian saga will necessitate hard work on all fronts – the consensus about to be achieved will be fragile, so maximum cooperation is needed from all sides – including Russia.”. Another important file is the one that refers to the Mid East, where the American President will undoubtedly not want to leave// in its current chaotic state and  for that he will also need cooperation , or at least non-interference  from Russia. Under these circumstances, “Ukraine, on the contrary, does not bode well for his legacy, and Obama understands there will be no rapid advances there.” In other words, both capitals (and administrations) made their calculations that the Ukraine file will remain a topic for the presidential campaign in the US, and a progress in this file cannot be achieved in the next two years.  The end of the Lukianov analysis entitles him to look forward to the manner of developing Russian – American relations until 2017, when a new administration will overtake the White House. The Lukianov perspective probably represents the way Kremlin “sees” bilateral relations during the presidential campaign in USA, when strong positions opposing Russia are to be looked forward to. Under the obvious sign of probability, Lukianov considers that “The parties will establish communication between officials charged with political and military security, to minimize the risk of accidental collisions; they will also exchange views on the situation in the Middle East and elaborate possible common steps. There will be no consensus, but there will also be no explicit confrontation. In Iran, the countries may even work together, and they will not take any drastic measures in Syria. The competing stances on Ukraine will remain the same, but it’s highly likely the parties will try to avoid escalation.” Showing that such perspective is one that also involves very harsh rhetoric,  that may lead to wrong conclusions observers less used to the route of bilateral relations inherited in the Cold War (where the predictability of relations was conferred by the constant mutual communication, despite of a language and rhetorics that are frequently heated), Lukianov considers that this could be the evolution of Russian – American relations until 2017. And after this date, bilateral relations will be based on numerous other factors, “not least of all on the relations of both countries with China.”


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