Ukraine: Learning to Live With a Frozen Conflict…

3 June 2015

On 12 May 2015 Secretary Kerry had eight hours of talks with President Putin and Minister Lavrov in Sochi.

During the joint press conference held after the meetings Mr. Lavrov stated that the state of bilateral relations was also discussed, including specific irritators that have been in place recently. “But” he said, “we fully understand that it is absolutely necessary to avoid any steps that could further detriment relations between Russia and U.S. We believe that it is necessary to continue the cooperation between our countries, especially given the fact that resolution of many international problems really depends on our joint efforts – on the joint efforts of Russia and the U.S. – and I believe this is one of the main ideas about today’s negotiations, one of the main conclusions and outcomes of today.”

Mr. Kerry referred to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons as an example of US-Russian cooperation. He said that it was the confidence in the two countries’ ability to be able to make a difference on some important issues that brought them together in Sochi.

I share the view that the US and Russia can indeed make a difference but it seems that this is not going to happen with the Ukraine conflict. And, unless they reach a clear understanding that they would compartmentalize issues, disagreements over Ukraine will continue to hinder cooperation elsewhere.

News from Ukraine and Ukraine-related developments are not encouraging. The Minsk cease-fire remains fragile. Political and economic difficulties facing Ukraine show no sign of abating. The Government does not appear to be strong and determined enough. There has been no progress on the level of autonomy to be recognized to the separatist regions. Conflict between “federalization” and “decentralization” continues. Ukraine troops are now being trained by American officers. Russia’s naval deployments and air activity are becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Cold War. NATO is holding joint exercises in Poland, Lithuania; US in Georgia. The Treaty on Alliance and Integration between Russia and South Ossetia has been submitted to the State Duma for ratification. The flow of immigrants and asylum seekers from Ukraine into EU countries is on the rise. President Putin denounces FIFA indictments as a blatant attempt by the US to extend its jurisdiction to other countries. Russia has “angered” Europe by imposing imposed an entry ban on 89 European politicians and military leaders just as the West had “angered” Russia by blacklisting some of President Putin’s close collaborators. The West continues to see Mr. Putin as an unpredictable leader determined not to allow Ukraine chart its future. He says that he wants as close interaction as possible with the US based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other. Both the West and Russia seemingly desire to put the Ukraine conflict behind and move forward but words and deeds do not match.

On 1 June 2015 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published its tenth report on the human rights situation in Ukraine from 16 February to 15 May 2015. According to the report, since the beginning of hostilities in mid-April 2014 until 15 May 2015, at least 6,362 people were documented as killed and 15,775 as wounded in the conflict area of eastern Ukraine. Many people remain missing. More than 1.2 million people internally displaced since the beginning of the conflict suffer from impeded access to healthcare, housing and employment.

None of the foregoing reflects anything new. But President Poroshenko’s appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region constitutes a surprise. Apparently Mr. Saakashvili has served as an adviser to Mr. Poroshenko since his election just over a year ago. Mr. Saakashvili is the person who as President of Georgia got his country into an avoidable conflict with Russia resulting in the loss of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. He and Mr. Poroshenko may be friends; they may mourn their losses together but none of that makes him eligible as an advisor to the President of Ukraine.

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