Russia’s Lavrov compliments Obama

M.K. Bhadrakumar March 25, 2015 1:45 AM (UTC+8)
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Russia has chosen to sidestep the provocative resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of 348 to 48 by the US Congress on Monday urging President Barack Obama to send lethal weapons to Ukraine. Of course, Obama himself would ignore it.

However, the Russian assessment rests on more fundamental considerations. In a television interview in Moscow last week, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was optimistic that Obama is unlikely to decide on supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. This is what he said:

“So far, the administration of US President Barack Obama has opposed supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. They are proceeding from considerations rooted in their overwhelming desire for a political solution, and also from purely pragmatic reasons. They are aware that this could lead to a grave military situation. And the most important thing is the European Union doesn’t want it either. It is not taking its cues from a small, aggressive and noisy group of its member countries that couldn’t care less and are eager to endlessly blame Russia for all the sins in the world, to preserve the sanctions against our country, and so on. As things stand now, a change in the EU position seems entirely unlikely to me.” [Emphasis added.]

The friendly tenor of Lavrov remarks — as friendly toward Obama as circumstances would permit a Russian foreign minister at the moment — would suggest that there might have been Russian-American cogitations on this topic and Lavrov would have spoken in the light of recent exchanges with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Most certainly, an overall lowering of the US’ anti-Russia rhetoric on Ukraine is palpable in the recent week or two.

Indeed, things look more hopeful for the implementation of the Minsk agreement. First of all, the OSCE observer mission has been significantly enhanced and so indeed its wherewithal to be effective and reactive in real time. Russia is robustly pushing the case for an effective OSCE role on the ground and this improves the climate of trust and working relationship among and betwixt the protagonists within the ‘Normandy Four’ (Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine).

Second, Russia, Germany and France seem to be on the same page as regards the imperative need for Kiev to undertake constitutional reforms regarding the status of the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that meet the expectations of the separatists. The ‘troika’ is unlikely to accept Kiev’s recent reform legislation that falls short of the stipulations under the Minsk accord. They seem aware that a flashpoint can arise if the reforms do not go ahead as promised.

Third, there is growing opinion in Europe that the Ukraine crisis is an internal European matter and it is not to be mixed up with the US’ relations with Russia – that is to say, Europe has specific interests to safeguard. Put differently, Washington’s capacity to create mischief and derail the Minsk agreement is getting reduced.

Meanwhile, the power dynamic in Kiev is shifting. These are early days, but the simmering rift between President Petro Poroshenko and the prominent oligarch Igor Kolomoisky has surged and it will have far-reaching impact on the ground. Kolomoisky’s private militia has been a key protagonist in the fight against the pro-Russia separatist forces and a law unto itself. Its ‘withdrawal’ from the frontline at this juncture would further tilt the balance of forces on the ground against the ‘war party’.

Suffice it to say, if in this titanic struggle, Poroshenko emerges on top and goes on to consolidate his authority in Kiev, Moscow will be quietly pleased.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar
MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for the Asia Times since 2001.
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