Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
I think that after the end of the meeting of the Presidents of Russia and the United States in Hamburg on the sidelines of the conference of the Big industrial twenty, we are unlikely to hear from their lips a message beyond the usual protocol of politeness. The need to preserve constructive dialogue is too big in order to break ties, even if the first contact will not appear to fully correspond to the expectations of the sides. The interests are too contradictory in order to be able to come to an agreement on a whole range of issues immediately.
I.e. most likely, some kind of agenda for subsequent negotiations will be agreed (at the level of diplomatic missions and special contact groups). We will learn only from the subsequent actions the extent to which it suits the sides and whose willingness to compromise was genuine, and whose is forced.
However, I think that we will not have to wait a very long time for clarification of the US’ position post-Hamburg. On 9th July, immediately after the conference, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going for a couple of hours in Kiev.
The time allotted for the visit does not allow for any long period of negotiations. The Secretary of State will not be able to even really delve into the internal political situation in Ukraine. For this it was necessary to hold 10-20 meetings with leading politicians and oligarchs who control the factions in the Rada. Tillerson simply won’t have enough time to fit everything needed for a serious assessment of the situation into the schedule of the meeting.
Therefore his trip is needed only to send Ukrainian elites a clear signal about how the US sees the near future of the client’s regime. And it is this signal, understandable not only by Ukrainian elites, that will indeed show us how Donald Trump and his environment evaluated the results of his meeting with Vladimir Putin and what strategy vis-a-vis Russia they intend to follow in the next few months.
The fact is that the United States on the eve of the conference in Hamburg sent to the Kremlin a crystal clear signal that they are ready to exchange Ukraine and half of Syria (to accept the continuation of Assad in power and the consolidation of those parts of Syria that have moved – and still move – under the control of government forces).
It is clear that the starting position of the US regarding what they wish to receive in return will be too large in order for the deal to take place in the voiced conditions. It is precisely in order to restrain the US’ ambitions that Putin and Xi Jinping elaborated on the eve of the G20 summit the common position of Russia and China.
However, as mentioned above, some conditions of a continuation of dialogue will be proposed to the Americans. If Washington decides that these conditions are acceptable for them, Tillerson will arrive to Ukraine to ensure the preparations of its pre-sale.
The problem posed by Kiev is the fact that Poroshenko’s government is highly unstable, his position inside the country is weak, he lasts only because his opponents still didn’t divide-up between them the positions in the post-Poroshenko government, and the motley political outlaws are not completely united under the leadership of a single recognized leader. The US can either temporarily stabilize the power of Poroshenko, or push the Ukrainian political elite to quick and radical decisions.
If Trump will come to the conclusion that it will be possible to come to an agreement with Russia in the foreseeable future on acceptable terms, then there will be a need to guard stability in Ukraine at all costs. There is a need to put back into the sphere of influence of Moscow even a rotten, but beautifully wrapped product. Then it will be for the Kremlin to decide whether they change Poroshenko, and if yes, then for who. The United States must formally hand over the whole country with formally legitimate authority.
In this case, Tillerson in the course of his visit will compliment Poroshenko, will emphasize Ukraine’s success in advancing towards democracy, will remember about the need to fulfill Minsk, and will dully recommend to improve relations with Russia (however, the last thesis he can avoid to voice publicly). And also he will be obliged to promise Poroshenko financial support.
The Ukrainian elite has long since learned to decode American signals. This signal will mean: “Poroshenko’s our guy. He cannot be touched. Whoever offends Petro will face the unbiased Western justice system, which even doesn’t need compensation — just allow them to confiscate the proceeds of corruption”. Such a signal is 2-3 billion dollars of IMF loans, which should allow Poroshenko to hold out until the end of the year. By that time, it will become clear how the US-Russian settlement is going, and it will become clear what to do next. Ideally Ukraine, up to the end of the year, in general must become not an American problem for Washington.
If Trump decides that Russia’s position is too rigid in order to hope for in the foreseeable future to achieve any progress, he will need to create for Moscow additional problems in order to shake the confidence of the Kremlin in their abilities and to persuade the Russian leadership to make concessions.
In this case, for the United States a destabilized Ukraine will be beneficial, the situation of which is deteriorating rapidly and acquires the features of an outright humanitarian catastrophe with millions of refugees in different directions. Such an explosion of the Ukrainian abscess will create serious problems for Russia and for the EU, will demand a concentration of resources in the Ukrainian direction, and will give the US a chance having tried to increase pressure on Russia’s other critical points (e.g. in Syria) to force Moscow to agree to the American terms of a truce or the closest to it option.
Respectively the tonality of the speech of Tillerson during his visit will be different. He will be obliged to sharply criticize the Ukrainian regime over the lack of reforms, corruption, stressing the personal responsibility of Poroshenko as President. The Secretary of State will be obliged to say that until the Ukrainian leadership changes its attitude according to priority domestic policy issues, the United States will not give Ukraine any aid. While Tillerson will have to emphasize the US’ support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the borders of 2013, and to emphasize that adequate leadership can count on the full support of Washington.
It will be a signal to the Ukrainian political elite: “We washed ours hands. Sort it out with Poroshenko however you want”.
Upon receiving such a signal Ukrainian politicians will immediately suspect each other of being a competitor who intends to be the first to dump Poroshenko and receive from US a shortcut to power. Accordingly, they will race each other to overthrow the incumbent President, and regardless of their success, the situation in Ukraine will be permanently destabilized. Clans will start an internecine conflict — a war for power.
However, a third format of the visit of Tillerson is possible, even if it’s unlikely — non-public. He arrived — they met — he left. He didn’t communicate with the press or he limited himself to common expressions. In this case, with high probability, the Secretary of State will discuss the intensification of the actions of Ukrainian troops in Donbass. This, again, will be proof of the deep disappointment of the US regarding the results of the meeting Putin-Trump. So deep that they will be ready to go (by the hands of Kiev) towards direct military provocations not only in Donbass but also on the Ukrainian-Russian border.
It is unlikely that Tillerson will cancel his visit to Kiev. But if this happens, it will be prove the fact that the proposals of Russia and China appeared to be so unexpected for the US and do not involve evading the direct answer – that Washington decided to take a step back and think about it.
In general, it’s not important if the litmus changes color or not. Anyway, it shows the nature of the environment in which it is submerged.
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