After President Putin renounced the right to send Russian troops to Ukraine, Russia Direct discussed with experts the potential diplomatic impact of such a move and what to look for next.
Putin and Poroshenko held their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a D-Day anniversary event in France and discussed a possible ceasefire agreement in Ukraine. Photo: Reuters.
On Tuesday June 24th, Russian President Vladimir Putin requested the Russian Federation Council (FC) to revoke a decree authorizing the use of the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine. The FC issued the decree on March 1st, just after the Maidan activists declared their victory in Kiev and Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych fled the country. The direct consequence of the resolution was Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the civil war in Eastern Ukraine – a war in which Moscow officially declined to be involved.
This policy change, combined with the Ukrainian ceasefire which is set to expire at 10 a.m. on Friday, have already had an effect on the global image of Russia. The UK Ambassador cautiously welcomed Putin’s decision and Ukrainian president Petr Poroshenko called it the “first practical step of support for the peace plan.” In addition, this led to the rapid growth of Russia’s national assets: the ruble exchange rate returned to its January trading range while Russia’s stock market grew by 2.2-3.8 percent shortly after the request was announced.
However, it is not yet clear whether this might help to settle the situation in Eastern Ukraine over the long-term. The unease might continue if more steps are not made. The Russian president himself is waiting for Kiev to start talks on guaranteeing the rights of its Russian-speaking minority, a group which Moscow will continue to defend. “It is not enough to announce a ceasefire. A substantive discussion of the essence of the problems is essential,” Putin told journalists during his visit to Vienna.
Following from that, it is interesting to think about the possible implications of such a move. Does it mean that the civil war in the Eastern Ukraine is coming to an end? Or maybe it is not enough to end the conflict, thus, requiring all sides to make concessions of some kind? What does this mean for Russia and its relations with Europe? We asked Russian and foreign experts to share their opinions on the problem and assess the potential consequences of Putin’s political move for the future of Russia-West relations and the crisis in Ukraine.
Pavel Verkhniatskyi, Director of the Kiev-based Center for Operational Strategic Analysis (COSA)
Putin’s address to the Federation Council doesn’t seem to be something extraordinary and might be a kind of folding screen. It is clear that the decision about letting or not letting Russian forces enter Ukraine is made in the Kremlin but not in the Federation Council, so as soon as the necessity appears, the President might turn to the Federation Council again.
But meanwhile there is actually no need to use regular forces in Eastern Ukraine – they have already played their role, in the form of psychological pressure on Kiev. Now the situation in Luhansk and Donetsk regions is being destabilized by the separatist forces supported by a number of military advisors from Russia. And the number of these illegal armed forces has expanded critically.
So the “job is done” – Eastern Ukraine has become a new hot spot on the world map. And now it’s time to pronounce peacekeeping speeches. President Putin’s message to the FC doesn’t contribute to the peace process in Ukraine in any way. It is simply a continuation of the information policy line of the Kremlin that is supposed to persuade the West that the Russian government has nothing to do with inciting conflict in Ukraine. The hope that it might confuse some of the rebel forces and make them turn back is very weak as the conflict has gone way too far.
After the meeting in Normandy, it looked like there is hope for peaceful negotiations without shots being fired. But the latest news from Eastern Ukraine tells us the opposite. Officially, Moscow proceeds with assuring the world that it seeks peace in Ukraine, but meantime, everything remains as it is and the decision of the FC (positive or negative) will not bring any substantial change.
Sergey Oznobishchev, Director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, key expert of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, deputy chairman of the Russia-USA Association
Putin’s decision has at least two immediate meanings. Firstly, it aims to give a signal to Kiev that Russia is ready in practical terms to work for the de-escalation of the situation in Eastern Ukraine. This is very important in view of the consultations and negotiations that started between the representatives of the interested sides in Donetsk. It also means a very important acknowledgement on the part of Russia – of the legitimacy of the new governing power in Kiev with which political dialogue is now possible.
Secondly, Putin is giving a strong signal to Europe, especially before his first post-crisis visit to Europe, that Russia is ready to “return to business.” That is, Russia is ready to normalize relations with those in Europe who are ready to do this. And, as Putin hinted, those who will be the first to “return” may count on special bonuses in relations with Russia.
After the readiness for the “renaissance in relations” demonstrated on the part of Russia, one should not exclude the possibility of a certain breakthrough (especially after the sharp downturn in relations during the current political crisis) in the issues that came to a certain standstill before the Ukrainian events – the arms control process, for instance.
Simon Saradzhyan, Assistant Director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center
I think Vladimir Putin’s request only formalizes what has been known for a while: The Russian leader prefers to resolve the conflict in post-Crimea Ukraine at the negotiating table as long as he sees a reasonable chance that Russia’s vital national interests vis-à-vis Ukraine will be accommodated.
If you look at a) points in Petr Poroshenko’s peace plan and his record in trying to implement it; b) his consent to negotiate accommodation of Russia’s concerns with the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement; and c) his repeated assurances that Kiev lacks ambition to push for membership in NATO, then you’d realize that the Ukrainian leader has agreed to grant most of Russia’s wishes as formulated by Moscow back in March.
In fact, in spite of all the recent maneuvering of the Russian troops on the border, it became clear to me that Putin was ready to negotiate in earnest when the Kremlin – after some deliberations – announced that the Russian president would be, after all, attending the D-Day celebrations along with Western leaders. You don’t agree to meet leaders of other great powers – who have been urging you to exercise restraint vis-à-vis your neighbors or face harsher sanctions – if your intention is to invade that neighbor.
That said, however, I would not rule out the possibility of the use of force by Russia against Ukraine completely. The Kremlin doesn’t need the Federation Council’s permission to provide covert aid to separatists in Eastern Ukraine and many things can still go wrong in the peace talks. These talks, which involve multiple players and are vulnerable to diplomatic hijacking, can collapse. Should such a failure lead to resumption of fighting, and should separatists find themselves driven to the verge of defeat with casualties in Eastern Ukraine growing exponentially, then Putin might be forced to intervene militarily.
That, in turn, would destabilize Ukraine and prompt Western European powers to impose harsh sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy even though such punitive measures would backfire. Hopefully, the understanding that the alternative to the peaceful resolution is such a lose-lose-lose scenario will motivate the negotiating sides to reach a realistic and lasting resolution of the conflict.