This week in Moscow President Vladimir Putin made a major foreign policy statement, while speaking to a worldwide gathering of Russian ambassadors and permanent diplomatic representatives. According to Putin, the West did not give Moscow a choice, but to move to annex Crimea last March to defend Russians and Russian-speakers “that consider themselves part of the wider Russian world” (“Ruskiy Mir”). Putin insisted that NATO planned to swiftly move its forces into Sevastopol and radically change the balance of power in the region, depriving Russia of everything it had been fighting for since the times of Tsar Peter the Great.
According to Putin, the present crisis in Ukraine is a manifestation of the core Western policy of “deterring Russia” that continued despite the end of the Cold war. Putin announced Moscow would continue to defend the rights of Russian “compatriots” living abroad “using political, economic and self-defense humanitarian operations.” He declared that the time of U.S. world domination has ended and Russia will be reintegrating the Eurasian landmass [former USSR], while promoting better relations with Europe, “which is our natural partner.” The Russian foreign ministry was ordered to work on preparing “a joint space of economic and humanitarian cooperation from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” based on absolute noninterference in internal political matters and excluding the U.S. Putin accused Washington of blackmailing Paris to stop the delivery of the French-built Mistral helicopter-carrying assault ships to the Russian Navy (kremlin.ru, July 1). The first Mistral is planned for delivery this year and it could be stationed in Sevastopol (Rossyskaya Gazeta, June 25).
Putin’s speech was controversial: while accusing the West of ignoring international law and interfering in others’ affairs by promoting so called “democracy,” Putin strongly asserted Russia’s right to intervene in other nations internal affairs “to defend Russian compatriots abroad.” The Kremlin rejects the West ideologically, politically and militarily, but Putin’s speech did not spell out fully the practical part of the Russian foreign policy agenda (gazeta.ru, July1).
After Putin’s foreign policy statement, the deputy secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, Eugenie Lukyanov, Putin’s appointee from St. Petersburg, told RIA Novosti that “the time of U.S. world hegemony is over,” but Washington is not ready to accept this fact. According to Lukyanov, new international rules must be written together by major world powers that would take into account the interests of all key players. Possibly, a global conference to rewrite international law must be called, because today “there are no agreed rules and the world may become an increasingly unruly place” plagued with constant conflicts. Lukyanov accused Washington of directly promoting conflict and bloodshed in Ukraine and using the conflict to rally European nations against Russia. Russia, according to Lukyanov, could reply by cutting supplies of titanium to Boeing that could seriously hamper the production of passenger aircraft in America. Lukyanov ridiculed President Barack Obama’s administration: “They spent $5 billion to prepare and organize the Maidan protests in Kyiv, but the end result was that Crimea became part of Russia and Putin’s approval ratings are more than 80 percent. It turns out Obama’s advisers are our prime helpers.” Lukyanov accused Poland of harboring training centers of Ukrainian radical nationalists on its territory and expressed hope that attempts to use the Ukrainian crisis to consolidate the West and NATO shall fail eventually (RIA Novosti, July 2).
The Kremlin apparently believes the time is ripe for a decisive drive to undermine U.S. influence and power worldwide and hit at the transatlantic link to undermine NATO, while the White House is occupied by the Obama administration, seen by Moscow as ineffective and indecisive. The Ukrainian crisis may promote the emergence of a new world order that would sideline Western democratic nations and recognize Russia’s own sphere of undisputed influence in the post-Soviet Eurasian landmass. On the practical side, Putin promised the ambassadors gathered in Moscow, who have been tasked to make this happen, a fourfold pay hike for diplomatic staff (kremlin.ru, July 1).
This week the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko announced the termination of a 10-day unilateral ceasefire in fighting with pro-Russian separatists in Donbas. Poroshenko accused the separatists of constantly violating the ceasefire, of killing Ukrainian solders, of failing to liberate hostages and implement Poroshenko’s previously announced peace plan. Poroshenko promised “to liberate our land,” but implied the ceasefire could be resumed, if separatist fighters accept his conditions and that his peace plan was still on the table (Segodnya, July 1). Putin criticized Poroshenko for resuming the so-called anti-terrorist operation in Donbas, but also left open the possibility of a negotiated compromise (kremlin.ru, July 1). The Kremlin is at present concentrating its efforts on pressing for a prolonged ceasefire and “substantial negotiations” between the rebels and Kyiv—an arrangement that would give Putin leverage to keep Kyiv and the unruly Russian nationalist rebels under control, while containing Western influence in Ukraine and possibly inserting wedges into the transatlantic connection between the U.S. and EU. Moscow has been apparently influencing the rebels to scale down their demands and offering some tactical concessions to Poroshenko, while trying to sideline the U.S. and engage European powers as intermediaries (EDM, June 26).
Resumed fighting in Donbas this week seems to be marginal in nature—the Ukrainian forces are improving their positions and trying to secure the border with Russia, while not attempting to decisively defeat the rebels or take over any major rebel-held cities. A meeting in Berlin between the German, French, Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers on July 2 resulted in a joint press conference and a declaration calling for terms of a ceasefire to be finalized by July 5. Moscow has promised to allow Ukrainian border guards and OSCE observers into its posts on the Ukrainian border to verify that men and arms are not being smuggled into Ukraine. Hostages must be released and OSCE observers deployed to monitor any future ceasefire (Rossyskaya Gazeta, July 3). A pattern is emerging of possible intermittent fighting followed by ceasefire and negotiations. This pattern would seem to largely exclude the U.S. from the picture and be in line with Moscow’s announced overall foreign policy objectives.