This week, the President of the United States Donald trump for the first time to personally meet with a senior representative of Russia, when the Minister of foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov will come to the White house after meeting with us Secretary of state Rex Tillerson (Rex Tillerson). The stakes are high: the only thing that Moscow and Washington now fully agree with each other, it’s the fact that relations between their countries had reached the lowest point since the height of the cold war.
Lavrov will try to convince trump that this cooling in relations was provoked not by Russia, because of “Russophobia” President Barack Obama and NATO enlargement, and that it was time to start a new reboot. He will offer the American President to put aside all differences, including differences over Ukraine, to end the economic sanctions and to unite in the fight against Islamic state (a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.).
It would be a huge mistake. The aggression of Russia against Ukraine — the illegal annexation of Crimea and an undeclared war in the East — it’s just impossible to ignore. Russia’s actions — the attack on the international order, which served as the basis for security and stability in Europe since the Second world war. If we go down this aggression from the hands of Russia, it will mean a return to a Europe divided into spheres of influence, where the major powers control over small and weak States. It will only encourage Russia to a new aggressive campaign and increase the risk of conflict in the future.
To put our relations with Moscow on a more solid footing, the President will first need to remove the main reason for a sharp cooling in relations, that is, to cope with the problem of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
This must be done as soon as possible. Despite the fact that two years ago was signed the Minsk agreement, Moscow failed to rein in separatists in the Donbass, in Eastern Ukraine. In the fighting that is still occasionally erupt, weekly continue to die dozens of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on both sides became unbearable. In April of this conflict for the first time killed a US citizen, when laid by the separatists exploded under the car of the delegation of the OSCE observers.
The diplomatic efforts of France and Germany, may have helped to prevent the deterioration of the situation, but they have already exhausted their potential. German Chancellor Angela Merkel ran into a brick wall when she tried to raise the issue of Ukraine during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on may 2. It is becoming increasingly clear that, by itself, Germany and France can’t force Russia to change course and withdraw its troops from Eastern Ukraine. A more active diplomatic intervention by the USA in cooperation with Kiev, Berlin and Paris can speed up the process of removing the occupation and to prevent the formation of yet another zone of frozen conflict.
So now, when President trump is preparing for a meeting with Lavrov and possible first summit with Putin, he must make a settlement of the conflict in Ukraine and a test of the main priority in relations with Moscow. He should appoint a senior diplomat to a special U.S. envoy who will conduct direct negotiations with Kremlin officials in control of the situation in the East of Ukraine. Any agreement should be based on the full implementation by Moscow and its agents of all claims of the Minsk agreement and on the restoration of the Kiev authorities in the Donbas, including the international border.
This requirement is quite reasonable. Its essence is to simply ask Putin to fulfill the promises that he made, but never fulfilled — starting with sustainable ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons. When the situation in the Donbass stabiliziruemost, United States and its Western partners will be able to obtain from President Petro Poroshenko the execution of his part of the agreement, including the granting of special status to the Donbass, Amnesty and fair and free elections under the supervision of international experts.
To achieve this, the parties may need to consider with the placement of international peacekeeping forces and civil administration during the transition period, which will last one or two years. International mechanism to ensure compliance, which is lacking in Minsk a document will force both parties to respect the ceasefire and withdraw heavy weapons from the contact line, and will force Russia to withdraw its troops and weapons from Ukrainian territory. International bodies could take control of the international border to end the smuggling of weapons to the separatists-held areas, and to create conditions for fair elections and unhindered return of refugees to their homes. At the end of the transition period Kiev will get control of the international border, when the international presence will fade away and will finally be able to control the entire territory of Ukraine.
The Crimea could turn into an extremely complex problem which will be very long because we can not — and should not — ratify the illegal actions of Russia on the Peninsula. However, the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over the Donbas will allow us to turn the page, including to mitigate or cancel some of the sanctions. This will significantly improve the quality of life of Russians and residents of Donbass, who have suffered the most. NATO and Russia will be able to begin restoring practical cooperation and to create such system of security in Europe and beyond, which will be based on the principles of cooperation.
If Putin rejects the initiative of the President of the United States, America and its allies will have no choice but to further increase pressure on Russia by tightening sanctions and increasing amounts of economic and military assistance to Ukraine, including starting to put the Ukrainians lethal weapons, to enable them to confront the new offensive of Russia.
Ukraine became the place in which the way the United States and Russia diverged in different directions, so that the restoration of relations should start with the Ukrainian question. Diplomatic interaction at the highest level and the establishment of international mechanisms ensure compliance can help Trump and Putin succeed where all previous attempts have failed, and to dissipate the cloud which hung over the Russian-American relations.
Alexander Vershbow — honored member of the Atlantic Council in Washington. He previously held the positions of Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Deputy Secretary of defense, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, U.S. Ambassador to Russia and South Korea.