Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved a major goal with plans for a summit between him and U.S. President Donald Trump in Europe sometime in July now going forward. That meeting effectively ends the international isolation the Kremlin leader has experienced since he invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
Mr. Putin goes into the meeting, according to analyst Liliya Shevtsova, with great expectations given the willingness of many European leaders to come to him, their anger at Mr. Trump over trade and the Iran agreement, and the apparently increasing fatigue many in the West feel about the current hard line against Russian aggression (svoboda.org/a/29308048.html).
That has led to hopes among Mr. Putin and his supporters for some kind of “grand bargain” or “big deal” with Mr. Trump that will involve forcing Ukraine to accept Russian conditions and ending Western sanctions on Russia – steps that, not surprisingly, many in Ukraine and in the West clearly fear, the Russian analyst continues.
But both these hopes and these fears are almost certainly misplaced, Ms. Shevtsova says. “The readiness of the West for dialogue with Moscow does not mean retreat.” Some governments, like those of Hungary and the Czech Republic, have cozied up to Mr. Putin, but “nonetheless, they continue to observe the sanctions regime against Russia.”
“Trump can call as often as he likes for the return of Russia to the [Group of] Seven and call Crimea Russian because they speak Russian there(!),” Ms. Shevtsova argues, “but his administration is creating around Russia a cordon sanitaire. More than that, the American elite has consolidated on an anti-Russian basis, largely because it has not found any other basis for doing so.”
European leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may trade “compliments” with Mr. Putin, “but both reaffirm for those who may not understand: Europe will not lift the sanctions on Russia until there is progress on fulfilling the Minsk agreements on Ukraine.” And the G-7 has even agreed to create a rapid-reaction force to be able to counter Moscow.
At the same time, Ms. Shevtsova says, it is the height of naïveté to think that Mr. Trump will make a final break with Europe and seek friendship only with Russia. That isn’t going to happen: the trans-Atlantic “family” has had many disputes, but the community “has survived all the storms.” It is implausible to think that will change, however unpredictable Mr. Trump likes to be.
And the U.S. president, who prides himself on being a dealmaker, would have to be offered something tangible to agree to any major change on his part. Mr. Putin has little to offer, and while some might be satisfied with promises of future action, as was the case after Mr. Trump’s Singapore meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, that won’t cut it in this case, she continues.
“In a word,” Ms. Shevtsova says, “the Ukrainian issue remains for the West a kind of ‘red line’ ” that isn’t going to be crossed. This isn’t because of Western sympathy for Ukraine but because “the surrender of Ukraine would be a recognition by Europe of its own powerlessness” and its leaders won’t allow “the American leviathan to do so either.”
“By attempting to keep Ukraine from flight to Europe,” she continues, “Russia has buried the European vector of its development. How could one be a European country if one tried to keep one’s neighbor from making a European choice?” That is the underlying reality; and no one summit is going to change it, the analyst observes.
Ms. Shevtsova continues: “However much the Kremlin wants to force the world to forget about Ukraine, that isn’t going to happen because the West isn’t going to give anyone the right to break windows in its neighborhood, because the Kremlin constantly talks about Ukraine and makes it a domestic factor, and because restraining Russia has become not only a key element of Ukrainian identity but a key principle of European security.”
Mr. Putin thought that by using force against Ukraine to prevent it from realizing its European choice, he could restore Russia’s greatness and “imperial power.” But by “a bitter irony” for him, his efforts to “preserve this Great Power quality” have brought and will continue to bring “crushing” consequences – including at the upcoming summit, Ms. Shevtsova concludes.