July 19, 2017

Could the West and Russia Reach a Compromise at the Expense of Ukraine?

Ivan Sichen, Military and Political Expert

One of the main factors influencing the development of the situation around Ukraine, as well as its interests is the position over the “Ukrainian issue” of such a leading player in the world political arena as the United States. In this connection, illustrative was the meeting of US President D. Trump and Russian President V. Putin on 7 July 2017 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. As was to be expected, contrary to the hopes of the Russian leadership for the possibility of achieving at least minimal compromises with the United States on the main problems in their relations, the meeting ended to no result. The parties managed to just formally agree on a truce in southwestern Syria and on establishing a communication channel between the USA and Russia over Ukraine.

Therefore, the details of the US-Russian negotiations at the highest level were actually not reported in the media. It should be noted that on the eve of the meeting in Hamburg, D. Trump clearly and unambiguously demonstrated a negative attitude to the Putin regime. Thus, during the “Three Seas Initiative” summit on July 6, 2017 in Warsaw, the US President for the first time sharply criticized Russia's foreign policy, urging it to stop destabilizing Ukraine and supporting hostile regimes, including those in Syria and Iran. Besides, D. Trump stressed that the USA will fulfill its obligations to NATO, including to protect the security of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from the East direction.

This confirmed the principled nature of the United States' priorities for restraining Russia but not for renewing cooperation with it. The reason is the opposite interests of the parties in most key spheres of international relations, as well as Russia's having no strategically important arguments which could change the USA's attitude to it.

Firstly, it concerns the parties' different approaches to the organization of the world law and order. For example, the USA's main goal is to preserve its domination in the world, with which D. Trump fully agrees and what is determined by the main direction of his international policy. In its turn, Russia is trying to restore a multipolar world, including its division into new spheres of influence. Proceeding from this, the United States will never agree to Russia's establishing control over Ukraine, including in the “exchange” for Syria, as this would redistribute the balance of power in favor of the Russian Federation.

Secondly, the USA does not need to restore full-fledged economic ties with Russia, as these countries have absolutely disparate potentials. In particular, the volume of Russian GDP is two times less than the gross domestic product of one American state of California, which does not give Russia any opportunities to influence the American economy. Moreover, today the USA and Russia are direct competitors in the energy market of Europe.

Therefore, the USA is more interested in weakening Russia, than in economic cooperation with it. In this regard, it is the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukrainian and Syrian issues that are one of the USA's main instruments to undermine the Russian economy.

Thirdly, the fact that the USA is striving to eradicate international terrorism does not mean that Washington is ready to cooperate with Moscow on this issue on any, let alone Russian conditions. The United States will never give up the leading role in solving the problem of terrorism at the world level. Besides, the USA has already described the Kremlin's methods of actions in Syria as a crime against humanity, which excludes the possibility of the USA's consent to close cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorism on Syrian territory.

Fourthly, Russia's hopes for cooperation with the United States in the sphere of nuclear arms control and their reduction are rather gloomy. As historical experience shows, even if appropriate agreements are reached, Russia will only simulate pressure on Iran and North Korea because of their nuclear missile programs, and will also try to achieve advantage over the USA within the framework of the new treaty on strategic offensive weapons. All this is fully realized by Washington, which, on the contrary, has turned to the policy of strengthening the nuclear potential of the United States of America.

Fifthly, Russia's playing on the possibility of creating a strategic alliance with the PRC on an anti-American basis is a blunt bluff. The basis of China's policy towards the United States is the construction of partner bilateral relations on the basis of deepening trade and economic ties. At this, China's trade with the United States is more than ten times higher than the volume of its trade with Russia, which in general excludes the possibility of Beijing's supporting Moscow in the latter's confrontation with Washington. Moreover, China already has access to Russia's natural resources of and its economy, and it does not need to back it up with any military and political obligations.

Moreover, even if D. Trump wants to restore relations between the USA and Russia, he will not be able to do this unilaterally because of the US Congress' position and the peculiarities of the American political system. Unlike the Russian President, the US President is obliged to observe the Constitution of the country and is responsible to the Parliament for all his actions. Evidence of this is the failure of the D. Trump's most scandalous initiatives, in particular, concerning the tightening of migration legislation that the Congress has blocked, as well as his attempts to establish relations with Russia.

 

These circumstances are quite obvious and are already widely commented on and assessed by international expert circles. Despite this, even after D. Trump's speech in Warsaw with sharp criticism of Russia's policy, including in undiplomatic form, V. Putin did not refuse to meet him as would have done the leader of a truly great power, respecting himself and his own country.

The reason for this may be the lack of understanding by the Russian leadership of the real state of Russian-American relations, and the catastrophically complicated situation in Russia due to Western sanctions, which forces V. Putin to actually openly demean himself before the United States.

Such inadequate assessments of the real situation are characteristic of the majority of ruling non-democratic regimes (and not only), due to their special services' preparing the desired for the leadership conclusions tailored for the opinion of the leader of the country. As a rule, this translates into negative consequences for the country, including catastrophic ones. An example is the defeat of the Red Army of the USSR at the initial stage of the Great Patriotic War, as well as L. Brezhnev's “adventure” in Afghanistan, when intelligence data were either ignored or inadequately perceived, based on pure personal or narrow party seeing of the situation.

Similarly wrong was the Putin regime's assessment of what was happening in Ukraine and in the world in early 2014, on the basis of which he decided to attack Ukraine. In particular, Moscow did not expect that the Ukrainian leadership could keep control over most of the eastern and southern regions of the country, quickly restore the combat capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and that the USA and the EU would impose sanctions against Russia. All this disrupted the Russian “blitzkrieg” in Ukraine, dragged the Russian Federation into a long-term confrontation with Ukraine and the West, and also significantly undermined the Russian economy.

According to independent experts, in particular the Center for Development of the Higher School of Economics of Russia, Putin's statements during the G20 on the “rapid growth of the Russian economy” are another bluff of the Russian leadership and have no real basis. In fact, the “explosive” growth in the most important indicators in May–June of this year is not the result of the country's getting over the crisis, but the consequence of the change in the methodology for their calculation and direct false reporting in order to please the ruling regime.

This is evidenced by the decrease in the output in a number of Russia's basic industries, while the Russian government keeps stating that they are growing. In particular, in January–May 2017 the volume of plastic production in Russia decreased by 100 thousand tons compared to the same period of 2016 (from 3.3 to 3.2 million tons). At the same time, in the Rosstat's official report there is an increase in production in this industry by 5.1 %. Similar inconsistencies are observed in other industries, including the production of buses, glass and clothing, etc.

A confirmation of the absence of positive changes in the Russian economy and even further worsening of its condition can be the decline in employment in industry that has been observed over the past four months, the continuing decline in the indicator of business activity (in June this year it reached its lowest level in the last 11 months), as well as the continued outflow of capital from Russia, which resumed in February this year (in total, 1.6 billion US dollars were withdrawn). In addition, in June of this year, once again increased purchasing prices in the manufacturing industries of Russian industry, which was the continuation of the price inflation that began in 2009.

In connection with the above-mentioned, the RF leadership's decision to reduce military spending from 3.5 % to 2.7–2.5 % of GDP is quite revealing because of the lack of funds in the state budget. At the same time they are going to conduct (restore) the conversion of enterprises of the military-industrial complex with their transfer to the production of civilian products. According to Russian President V. Putin's speech at the opening ceremony of the international industrial exhibition “Innoprom-2017”, resolving this issue is “the main task of the defense industry”. He tried to substantiate this innovation with the actual “...the completion of the program of large-scale re-equipment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation with new types of weapons and military equipment”.

The bad economic situation in Russia also affects the moods of the Russian society. Thus, according to sociological researches, more than 30 % of Russian citizens are dissatisfied with their financial situation, about 50 % of households can cover only the priority current expenses, and 85 % of the population expects further price increases. In turn, this is becoming a source of increasing social and political instability in Russia, including the massive protests that have been observed in the country recently.

Besides, a significant problem for Russia, which is also “masked” by the leadership of the Russian Federation, is the country's growing dependence on China, which already controls a large part of the Russian economy. In turn, this gives Beijing powerful leverage over Moscow's policies, including within the SCO, BRICS, and also the EAEC. In fact, Russia has already lost some of its sovereignty and is forced to act in the mainstream of Chinese interests. At this, the confrontation with the USA and the EU has deprived Russia of the ability to balance between the West and the PRC.

 

In general, these circumstances create critical threats for Russia and demand from it to immediately restore relations with the West. This is the reason for Putin's unwanted and even demeaning attempts to ask for a meeting with the leaders of the Western countries, despite their frankly negative, verging on disdain, attitude. In particular, besides D. Trump, this attitude has been demonstrated by the new French President E. Macron during his meeting with V. Putin in May this year.

All this makes Russia gradually change its positions with a view to finding opportunities for compromises with the United States and Europe, as well as Ukraine in important issues for them. In this regard, interesting are the Russian experts' assessment about the possible subject of “bargaining” between the USA and Russia, which sounded before the meeting of D. Trump and V. Putin in Hamburg. Thus, along with the possibility of “exchanging” the Crimea for the Donbas or Ukraine for Syria, for the first time they suggested that Russia could agree to Ukraine's accession to NATO in exchange for recognition of the Crimea's being Russian, and of the sovereignty of the “DPR” and “LPR”.

In fact, in this way, Russia is trying to probe the perception of this issue by both Western countries and international organizations, and by the leadership and society of Ukraine. At the same time, the Russian experts' views about the possibility of Ukraine's membership in NATO, published in well-known Russian media, already show a certain change in Moscow's attitude to this perspective, which was previously considered absolutely unacceptable for it.

A certain indication of this is Russia's reaction to the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission on July 10, 2017. Thus, the Press Secretary of the RF President D. Peskov, in his official statement expressed only “concern” (not even “inadmissibility”) about Ukraine's possible membership in NATO. At this, he said, “...the question of the neighboring country's membership in the North Atlantic Alliance does not concern Russia directly”.

 

In general, these trends confirm the effectiveness of the West's political and economic sanctions against Russia, which opens up positive prospects for Ukraine. At the same time, possible changes in the policy of the Russian leadership do not mean that it will abandon the realization of its geopolitical goals for the revival of “great Russia”, including to establish control over Ukraine. In turn, this demands from Ukraine to resolutely and consistently increase its efforts to defend its positions in front of Russia and the West on the basis of strengthening Ukrainian statehood and practical filling of activities for its Euro-Atlantic and European integration.