The Lavrov-Kerry Meeting

We do not have anywhere near complete information about what happened at the Lavrov Kerry meeting on Sunday.  That in itself is a good sign.  It almost certainly means that with the Crimean issue out of the way (and with the western powers having tacitly admitted that the Crimea is now part of Russia) real negotiations have begun.  Lavrov described the talks he had with Kerry as “very constructive” and a Russian diplomatic source has said that for the first time since the start of the Ukrainian crisis there was straightforward talking.  That suggests serious negotiations and that we have at last got past the point of grandstanding and positioning.
A few points:
1. We know what the Russian demands are: (1) federalisation (2) official status for the Russian language and (3) a binding treaty securing the Ukraine’s neutrality.
2. It is completely unclear what US demands are.  Obama has spoken about Russia withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine’s eastern borders.  These concentrations of troops do not exist and Obama has anyway admitted that Russia has the right to deploy its own troops on its own territory.  There are also references to the OSCE mission and to Russian troops in the Crimea returning to their bases.  These are holdovers from an earlier stage in the crisis when it was primarily about the Crimea.  The OSCE mission is now in place and does not include the Crimea whilst the demand that Russian troops in the Crimea return to their bases is now redundant.
3. We also know that the Lavrov Kerry talks began following a telephone conversation between Obama and Putin and that Obama in that conversation asked that Russia put its proposals in writing.  That together with the absence of any demands or proposals from the US side suggests that it is the Russian demands/proposals that are the basis of discussion.
Though the US has not made its demands clear there can be no doubt about what is the predominant wish of its European allies: an end to the crisis and the Ukraine’s stabilisation.  It has become utterly clear over the last few weeks that the Europeans have no wish to be drawn into a prolonged confrontation with Russia that would seriously harm their economies.  If only for that reason the pressure will be on to achieve a settlement that will bring this crisis to an end.  Given that the Germans have already made know that they are sympathetic to the Russians’ proposals that means that the pressure is on the US to compromise.

The important thing is that the US is not rejecting the Russian proposals.  Obviously it is saying that it is the Ukrainians who must ultimately decide questions of federalisation etc.  The Russians are saying that too.  No one wants to appear to be imposing a diktat.  However “Ukrainians” as everyone by now knows includes east Ukrainians who favour these proposals.
There also seem to be some glimmers of possible compromise coming out of Kiev.  Amongst Ukrainian politicians Yatsenyuk has already spoken strongly of the need for what he calls decentralisation whilst Poroshenko today is reported as saying that he is prepared to compromise with the Russians about everything except the Crimea (which is not coming back) or European integration (which is not on offer and which Barroso again ruled out). Lukashenko’s meeting with Turchinov may have been intended to open a line of contact between Moscow and Kiev (Lukashenko is due to meet Putin in Minsk soon) whilst the threatened crackdown by Kiev on the radicals including Right Sector whilst largely driven by internal factors nonetheless meets a Russian demand.
This is not going to be an easy negotiation and it is going to take time.  There is no certainty about its outcome and there is a real risk that the negotiations could fail and that things could go seriously wrong.  The hardliners in Washington (Nuland etc) and in Kiev (Tyagnibok etc and probably Tymoshenko) will resist compromise every inch of the way.  We are at a start of what is probably a long and difficult process.  It is most unlikely anything will be resolved before the Presidential election in May.  However at least the Americans are finally talking to the Russians whilst the Russians have some strong cards to play in that without their help the stabilisation of the Ukraine’s economy is probably impossible at any remotely acceptable cost.  Given that this is so and given the pressure to find a settlement from Europe it is more likely than not that some sort of deal involving the setting up of a contact group that will then present Kiev with “proposals” for constitutional reform which Kiev will have to accept in return for economic help will at some point come to pass.

Comments

  1. mutantsushi says:

    My take on the Russian demands:
    Language: I believe they are talking about full official status at a federal level, not just regional. This makes sense if Russian speakers are to feel that Ukraine as a whole is their country. Obviously this conflicts with the social-engineering nationalists trying to impose the Galician identity on the whole country, but I feel like this is the Russian position here. Clearly Russia doesn’t really care if Russia is being imposed on Galicia, so this very well may result in a change of what “official federal language” actually means, it could very well leave each Oblast lee-way in how it deals with language issues, while leaving both languages as equals for federal level purposes.

    NATO/Federalism: I think these are linked, because NATO promises ultimately can’t be trusted. Having a constitutional set up where there is an effective regional veto on international treaties, and on military matters (the putshists are currently pushing for NATO excercises on Ukraine territory without actually being a member), as well as on constitutional changes in general, would provide actual backing to prevent any NATO scenario. A ban on ANY foreign troops or military cooperation outside of UN would seem a sustainable scenario. How the Ukrainian military is dealt with is an open question, especially after lustration, morale officers, and National Guard… leaving it under federal control (with regional consent required for legal changes and oversight) might still work, or devolving that to the regions to some extent. Autonomous finances seems a basic part of the proposition, I’m not sure how central having separate trade relations (tariffs) is, that seems like something that could be left tto the federal level with effective vetos for the regions (or equivalent via supermajority requirement), on the other hand autonomous trade relations lets everybody get exactly what they want for themselves and is thus the most long term stable.
    The NATO media loves to freak out over Crimea, yet ignores that Russia’s position was peacefully conveyed from the beginning, just to be recieved by deaf ears in the West who were enjoying their triumphalist moment in Kiev. Russia clearly demonstrated willingness to participate in 3-way talks with EU requested by Yanukoych (turned down by EU at the time), and if the EU will now face reality, I don’t think Russia will have a problem negotiating some “in between” trade status for Ukraine as a whole.

    One unclear thing is political developments in the SE in particular. Much of Party of Regions has capitulated to the Maidan coup regime, along with affiliated oligarchs… A federal structure is removing the impetus for pan-Ukraine majorities, and thus changes the need for SE Ukraine to have one major party to represent it. Communists may gain, but I feel that is somewhat limited, so new parties seem likely.

  2. The future of Ukraine will depend on whether the South and East view the coming elections in May as legitimate and participate widely. That will partly depend on if Dobkin, the Party of Region candidate, gets let out of prison to run a full campaign. Other factors will be the disarming of the militants that Kiev legislated for today. There are currently 2 or 3 pro-Russian candidates: Dobkin and Tsarov, with a possible nod to Tihipko. Tsarov is openly advocating full reunion with Russia, and Dobkin supports the Customs Union, while Tihipko I’m pretty sure is a status quo guy (despite my personal preferences, that’s probably the best for Ukraine at the present time).

    Whatever the case, I think we will see a more organized Russo-Ukrainian Union party in Ukraine from here on out, especially if Federalization occurs. Right now, it appears that might be the Party of Regions, but we will have to wait and see how events play out in Ukraine.

  3. donnyess says:

    “There is no certainty about its outcome and there is a real risk that the negotiations could fail and that things could go seriously wrong.”

    I’m predicting nuclear war actually…the semites and NATO…they never back down…they don’t flake out…they will never quit until Putin and Gazprom are dead…dead…dead.

    “This is not going to be an easy negotiation and it is going to take time.”

    Russia could give them until high noon (US ET) Saturday to decide. The basketball game starts at 6:09pm ET same day.

    http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/schedule?date=20140405

  4. donnyess says:

    Medvedev is long overdue for replacement.

    http://en.ria.ru/russia/20140402/188994513/Russia-Seeks-Full-Fledged-Economic-Ties-with-EU-US–PM.html

    I have a recommendation:

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