As soon as February 17, foreign ministers of the Normandy format nations (Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia) may meet on the margins of the Munich Security Conference to discuss the situation with the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. And by the way, just two days before, on February 15, the capital of Belarus hosted another meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on Conflict Resolution in the Donbas (the meeting was still going on at the time of this issue going to press).
And there is more to it. New US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet in Bonn on February 16. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin is currently in the US, busy with organizing the coming visit of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to that country.
And now to the most important news story: the White House made a very important statement in Washington on February 14, unprecedented in its content. “President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer. The Kremlin, however, was prompt to respond by saying “We do not give back our own territory. Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation.” This was stated by spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova.
As you can see, statements about the Kremlin-occupied Ukrainian territories are multiplying, as are various high-level meetings which discuss, among other matters, the Russian aggression against Ukraine. After Trump’s victory in the US, the geopolitical stakes have clearly increased. Due to it, experts fail to offer clear forecasts for further developments.
According to Chairman of the Munich International Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger, the international security sphere is now perhaps in the most unstable condition since the World War Two. On February 13, the Munich Security Conference Foundation, which organizes the international forum of the same name, published its annual report (Munich Security Report 2017), which deals with the main issues of international security. The authors express particular concern about the likely reduction of sanctions against Russia, because they state, citing Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, that the conflict in the Donbas is “far from freezing.”
So, what will the world politics look like? What will happen around the war in Ukraine? Should we really expect redivision of international spheres of influence between the US and Russia at the expense of Ukrainian interests?
“I would call the statement by the White House press secretary a positive development, marking the moment when the state machinery of the US is gradually getting back to furthering national interests and moving away from situational sensations or ill-considered steps,” Americanist, Professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Oleksandr Tsvietkov told The Day. “Little by little, the current administration is making clear its strategic objectives, including an understanding that Russia is an adversary of the US.”
“Trump has already understood that he would have to take into account a lot of factors when making foreign-policy decisions, particularly about relations with Russia,” Ukraine’s ex-foreign minister Volodymyr Ohryzko commented to The Day. “No public official in the US, including the president, can say whatever comes to his mind. It is not Russia. It is a democracy, not a despotic state, with certain checks and balances. What we can see now shows that the system will strongly influence the new administration’s foreign-policy course.”
As for expectations from the meeting of foreign ministers in Munich, our experts remain pessimistic. “The Normandy process will be paralyzed before the elections in France,” Oleksandr Tsvietkov believes. “Nobody wants to risk making any decisions.” “I expect nothing special from the next meeting of the Normandy Four ministers. We are used to seeing them meet and speak about something without an apparent result,” says Ohryzko.
“The continuing escalation in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s deployment of medium-range missiles in contravention of the existing agreement are creating a negative background for the US-Russia relations,” Tsvietkov says. “I don’t think there will be any serious challenges now because the Trump administration still wishes to make a deal on curbing the strategic armaments race, but Russia’s position always tends to thwart a moderate approach. In all probability, the US and Russia will be aggravating their relations, which will be particularly evident somewhere in the middle of this year.”
“The Russian military have again begun provocations against the US air force and navy. Similar provocations are also underway against other NATO members,” Ohryzko adds. “This means there will be no pause on which Moscow pinned its hopes and which was expected to help Russia and the US reach a new mutual understanding. Therefore, we are again in for a period when Russia will begin to test the West, first of all the US, and grope for the ‘red line’ up to which the Americans will be retreating. In other words, we are getting back to a ‘lukewarm’ war, perhaps with elements of aggravation, when the two sides will be approaching the abovementioned ‘red lines.’ But, as the West may switch to containing Russia, they are very well aware that she must be put to her proper place – by other than military, means. And Trump may be so unpredictably positive from this angle that Russia will feel it very clearly in the immediate future.”
What is Ukrainian diplomacy supposed to do? “The White House’s statement is a positive piece of news for us, but this does not mean that everything has been done and we can gaze into the sky and count the clouds,” Ohryzko says. “We must take a very serious approach to the preparation of the Ukrainian president’s visit to the US so that the new US administration becomes more aware of Russia’s role in fueling the conflicts that really pose a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to the US. This should be an axiom.”