A thin world is better than a good quarrel – perhaps this is how one can characterize the results of the online talks between the presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, held on Tuesday, the central theme of which was Ukraine. The virtual meeting, as expected, did not remove all disagreements and contradictions, but nevertheless made it clear that the opening of the “Ukrainian front”, with which the American and European media had been frightening the public for the last month, was canceled.
The Washington Post was one of the first to announce an allegedly impending large-scale Russian attack on Ukraine . Even the estimated date was named – January-February 2022.
The news was picked up by other American media outlets, various experts and political scientists. The comments of the representatives of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon were also enough alarmist sentiments, but on the whole their tone was a little more restrained: “we are extremely alarmed by the concentration of Russian armed forces in the Ukrainian border area”; “perhaps Russia is preparing to attack, but it is not yet known exactly”; “just in case, we are already preparing sanctions.”
The authorities in Kiev, which, apparently, forgot to warn, at first even tried to refute the reports about the impending war, but then they actively joined the discussion.
However, Europe was not at all eager to fight for Ukraine in the event of a hypothetical “attack” by Russia, and at first they did not believe in the very possibility of such a scenario. Washington had to carry out a lot of “explanatory work”, after which Europe finally started talking about the possibility of an armed conflict.
As the date of the talks between the leaders of Russia and the United States approached, the intensity of passions grew, the opening of the “Ukrainian front” from the category of highly likely became almost inevitable. On the eve of online talks with Putin, Biden held a telephone conversation with the leaders of Great Britain, Italy, France and Germany. They “discussed the general concern about the buildup of Russian military forces on the borders with Ukraine, as well as the increasingly harsh rhetoric of Russia” and called on Moscow to de-escalate. It sounded rather strange, considering that the NATO partners themselves were warming up this escalation.
Agreed to talk
There are serious reasons to believe that all this warm-up on the eve of the virtual meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States was undertaken, among other things, in order to announce after it: Biden took a tough and principled position, threatened Moscow with sanctions, after which it revised its aggressive plans against Ukraine. In any case, these assumptions are confirmed by the wording of the message released by the press service of the White House following the talks.
In fact, according to the aide to the Russian president, Yuri Ushakov, the possible sanctions were indeed “spoken about, but in a fairly acceptable form that is worthy of the presidential level.” In response, the Russian leader noted that sanctions are “not a new thing,” but not effective.
At the same time, Putin directly told Biden that Ukraine was sabotaging the implementation of the Minsk agreements, in particular with the draft law “On the State Policy of the Transition Period.” In response, the American side announced that the United States was ready to support the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Ultimately, the leaders of the two countries agreed to instruct their representatives to begin “substantive consultations on these sensitive issues” (meaning not only Ukrainian problems, but also issues of European security in general, including Russia’s desire to obtain reliable guarantees that NATO will end approach the borders of the Russian Federation).
After an online meeting with Putin, Biden spoke again by phone with the leaders of four European countries, who once again called on Russia to “reduce tensions” and spoke in favor of continuing diplomatic efforts within the Normandy format to implement the Minsk agreements on a settlement in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, he did not call [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelenskiy immediately after the talks, but the White House said that Biden would have a conversation with him on Thursday.
The need to continue the dialogue with a view to “a peaceful settlement of the conflict in accordance with the Minsk agreements” is also said in a statement issued by the UN press service after the talks between the presidents of Russia and the United States. Incidentally, it recalls that these agreements were supported by a UN Security Council resolution.
Hope for detente
Of course, no one expected that the conversation between the two presidents would eliminate all disagreements at once. So many problems have accumulated in Russian-American relations that, according to Ushakov, “they can be resolved for more than one month, and maybe even more than one year.” Still, the results of the talks give some hope for a reduction in tension, at least in the Ukrainian direction.
What you definitely shouldn’t hope for is a decrease in the degree of rhetoric. For example, Victoria Nuland, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, who immediately after the online meeting of the two presidents spoke at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate at a hearing on relations between Washington and Moscow, again began to vigorously promote the thesis of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine. “We do not know whether Russian President Putin has made the decision to attack Ukraine or topple its government, but we do know that he is building up the capacity to do so,” she said. Nuland said the attack, which could “potentially” occur in early 2022, could involve almost all of Russia’s “combat-ready ground forces based west of the Urals.”
The media did not refuse to publish “horror stories”. Particularly distinguished was the CNN television channel , which reported that the US administration was developing a plan for the evacuation of American citizens from Ukraine in the event of an emergency there against the background of a tense situation near the border with Russia. However, White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied this.
But the Ukrainian media, covering the results of the talks between the Russian and American presidents, drew attention to the fact that the press service of the White House does not mention the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, against which the Ukrainian authorities fought with such vigor. Moreover, on Tuesday evening it became known that American lawmakers removed the provision on the introduction of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and the sovereign Russian debt from the version of the country’s draft defense budget for the current fiscal year (which began on October 1), agreed by representatives of both chambers of the US Congress. And this fact outweighs many arguments about “punishing Russia”.
Apparently, the Ukrainian authorities also paid attention to this fact. Usually they respond with great enthusiasm to the words of support heard from Washington and European capitals, but this time they turned out to be somehow suspiciously restrained. So far, only Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has escaped with meager gratitude for “important US diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back to the negotiating table.”
Ready for negotiations
The most interesting thing is that there is no need to return Russia anywhere, it is always ready for negotiations. Another thing is that Moscow does not like the constant attempts to accuse it of non-fulfillment of the Minsk agreements. Although, if we approach it objectively, it should be admitted that making such reproaches against Russia is not only difficult, but simply impossible: the text of the agreements does not mention any obligations that the RF was supposed to fulfill. It’s easy to check – the text of the agreements is publicly available.
On the other hand, this document contains a lot of points that the Ukrainian side should have fulfilled a long time ago, but has not yet fulfilled. Among them there is also a demand to enter into direct dialogue with the authorities of the unrecognized republics, which Kiev categorically refuses to fulfill.
If the US countries and their European partners are truly committed to the Minsk agreements, then they should compel the Ukrainian authorities that depend on them to comply with these agreements. For this, it is not at all necessary to change the text of the document, which is insisted in Kiev, it is enough to provide the representatives of the unrecognized republics within the framework of the contact group.
But all this is possible only on the condition that Washington, Paris, Berlin are really set for a serious dialogue. Alas, so far only loud statements have been heard from their side, which have not been confirmed by deeds.