US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have developed a template for “de-escalating” international crises in a way that avoids US military intervention. The formula was first unveiled in the pact they concluded in September 2013 for disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons. Two months after this, the duo went into action again for the interim nuclear accord for Iran.
Kerry believes that the same recipe will work eventually for an Israeli-Palestinian final accord. It is a dish with three main ingredients: a slick-sounding compromise that the US and Russian can more or less live with; a gloss over the real elements at issue between them; and a deal that goes over the heads of the prime movers involved in the conflict. By the time the dish they cook up goes sour, the two diplomats have moved on to the next crisis.
This dynamic was repeated in Geneva Thursday April 17 for the three-point formula hammered out by the US, Russia, the EU and the Ukraine for assuaging the Ukraine crisis. Its key stipulation required all protesters to vacate the buildings they have illegally occupied and lay down their arms.
No sooner was the deal in the bag, than it faced insuperable impediments.
One of the pro-Russian separatist leaders Denis Pushkin called a news conference in Donetsk Friday to announce that Russia “did not sign anything for us.”
If illegally occupied buildings are to be relinquished, he said, then the “illegitimate government” should vacate the presidential administration building in Kiev. Pushkin also pointed out that the central government had not pulled military forces back from Slavyansk, one of the 10 cities in which pro-Russian separatists had seized public buildings.
The provisional Ukraine government has seized on the Geneva document to transform the humiliating outcome of its armed operation against the pro-Russian militias last week into a political gain. Although most of the soldiers of the Ukraine special force defected to the opposition or turned tail, government spokesmen were saying Friday that they would give the protesters a few days to remove themselves from the buildings they seized.
The warning was hollow. For one thing, the Kiev authorities don’t command the strength to force their will on the regions of East and South Ukraine and, for another, the separatists will stay put until the “illegitimate” government evacuates central Kiev, if that is what Moscow tells them to do.
Washington and the European Union responded to this impasse by calling on Moscow for steps to “de-escalate” the situation. The Russians believe they have taken the first step already by making sure that by Friday morning no armored personnel carriers and armed militiamen were to be seen.
This does not mean that the weapons are not hidden away nearby ready for use.
In any case, the West wants Russia to make the running and is threatening “more costs” if it does not comply.
President Barack Obama commented Thursday: “My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think – given past performance – that we can count on that.”
President Vladimir Putin, during his Q&A session from the Kremlin, stressed Russia’s right to use military force in Ukraine if deemed necessary.
Russian troop concentrations have not moved back from the Ukraine border.
Russia and the West are therefore as far apart on a consensual solution for the Ukraine crisis after the carefully worded Geneva accord as they were before.
DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources say that the West is again misreading Putin and his motives. The Russian president feels that in the past two years, he has gone more than halfway in meeting Obama on two issues of vital importance to the US president: Iran and Syria.
He agreed to work with the Obama administration to achieve détente with Tehran and a negotiated accord for Iran’s nuclear program. Washington presents this as an American breakthrough. Putin believes that these goals would have been unattainable without Russia’s quiet intercession withTehran to smooth the way.
Although their understanding was kept under close wraps, Putin is convinced that it was the key to Washington’s approval of Iran’s right to enrich uranium, a US concession adamantly withheld from the Islamic Republic by all of Obama’s predecessors in the White House
This understanding also meant that both powers overlooked the door they had opened to possible Israel military action for curbing Iran’s nuclear program, given the international latitude Tehran won to move its nuclear plans forward.
The Russian leader also considers that by permitting Lavrov to join Kerry for a Syrian chemical disarmament pact last year, he gave the US president a much-needed ladder for climbing down from his commitment to deploy military force against Bashar Assad. Obama in return let Assad stay in power. The outcome of this trade-off was the strengthening of the radical Iran-Syria-Hizballah alliance.
That Kerry-Lavrov pact has not held water either. In the last few weeks, our sources reveal that Iran has begun sending the Syrian army new types of chemical substances that are not covered by that pact.
For Putin, the Iranian and Syrian arenas are poles apart from Ukraine in the sense that the former are far from Russia’s borders, while Ukraine is its back yard and of immediate concern to its national security. On this , Putin will make no concessions.
He is now looking past the angry rhetoric emanating from Washington and Europe and waiting to see if the Obama administration acts to make the government in Kiev offer real concessions for the sake of the broad national dialogue stipulated in the Geneva accord to work.
So far, there is no sign of flexibility in Kiev. And so the pro-Russian militias in Donetsk and the rest of eastern Ukraine will hold their ground – even in the face of the US threat to exact more “costs” from Moscow.
With the strategic Crimean peninsula in his pocket and no visible Western gains in Kiev, Putin feels he can afford to persist in a posture of confrontation.