Meeting in Paris today with Secretary of State John Kerry, 64-year-old Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov came to bargaining table with unrealistic demands from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin wants the Ukraine’s constitution to declare that it’s officially non-aligned, neither beholden to Russia nor NATO. When Putin called President Barack Obama March 28 he wanted to find a way out the sanctions and isolation now faced by Moscow for its March 1 invasion of Crimea. U.S. and European Union officials have acquiesced to Putin’s annexation of Crimea as long as he agrees to stay out the rest of Ukraine. Ukraine’s front-running 48-year-old oligarch, billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko and 53-year-old former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko reject Moscow’s interference in Ukrainian state affairs, especially its future constitution.
U.S. and EU officials expressed concerns to Lavrov about the Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, hinting at Russia’s attempt to take more territory. “We have absolutely no intention, or interest in, crossing Ukrainian borders,” Lavrov told Kerry, insisting some 40,000 troops were engaged in only routine exercises, something doubted by Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government. Meeting at the residence in Paris of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kerry met with Lavrov to de-fuse the crisis that has watched Russia isolated from the EU. While Putin insists that he doesn’t need acceptance in the EU, he’s walking on thin ice when it comes to some $160 billion in yearly energy sales. More dissension in Ukraine could result in an EU boycott of all Russian energy products, estimated at around 38% of EU’s petroleum and 32% of natural gas purchases.
Lavrov came to Paris looking for a compromise but insisting that Ukraine not seek NATO membership. While a double-edged sword, NATO also doesn’t want to provide military security to Ukraine when it can’t get along with its Russian neighbor. If Lavrov gets his way, Ukraine won’t enjoy any true autonomy from Russia. Lavrov insists that only a federation can maintain Ukraine’s independence and neutrality, meaning that it stays clear of NATO or any pact with the U.S. “We can’t see any other way to ensure the stable development of Ukraine but to sign a federal agreement,” Lavrov told Kerry, dictating Ukraine’s future. Kerry’s can’t negotiate for Ukraine’s interim government or, for that matter, its new elected government slated for May. 25. Lavrov seeks assurances that Ukraine’s Russian enclaves would be given enough autonomy to affiliate closely with Moscow.
Kerry wants Russian militias in the Ukraine replaced with U.N. observers designed to maintain law-and-order. Meeting in the Hague March 26, Kerry and Lavrov couldn’t agree on a way forward, ending Russian-backed militias that evicted Ukrainian forces from military bases in Crimea. Putin has insisted without proof that Russian-speaking Ukrainians face harassment from the current anti-Russian government. Lavrov ripped Western officials for sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, insisting they’d eventually backfire. Whether admitted to or not, Russia doesn’t want to turn back the clock to the Soviet days when Russia’s economy floundered doing business within its own trading bloc. Since former Premier’s Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost, the Russian economy developed business relationships with the EU and other countries outside its trading bloc.
Whatever Kerry does in Paris to help stabilize the Ukrainian crisis, he can’t unilaterally negotiate for Ukraine’s interim government or the new one slated for free elections May 25. Lavrov called the West hypocritical for not accepting Crimea’s March 17 referendum electing to join the Russian Federation while, simultaneously, wholeheartedly accepting Ukraine’s new revolutionary government. “If they are willing to accept the first event as legitimate, the surely they are obliged to acknowledge the second,” Lavrov told Russia’s Channel One TV. Putin and Lavrov have stated emphatically that they consider the Feb. 22 revolution illegitimate. But now that Russian-backed Crimeans have spoken March 17 for independence, it’s time for the West to accept the referendum to leave Ukraine. Obama told Moscow the U.S. would not accept the results of the referendum.
Instead of rushing into an agreement in Paris, the U.S. and EU should let Moscow think about the repercussions to the Russian Federation of its exclusion to the G7 and other international bodies. Lavrov insisted the sanctions were a “dead end,” not admitting potential damage to the Russian economy. Trying to make up lost revenues with China, India or Iran, still doesn’t replace the legitimacy lent to Moscow from strong political and economic relationship to the EU. Putin’s move to annex Crimea signals a restart of the same Cold War politics let left a big gulf between East and West. Unlike Gorbachev and the late pro-capitalism Premier Boris Yeltsin, Putin prefers the old Soviet ways of oppressing the Russian press and economic partners. Telling Putin that he can keep Crimea as long as he doesn’t mess with what’s left of the Ukraine is exactly the wrong message.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.