As Washington and the Europeans – and especially the UK – continue to decry Russian military aggression, the US and Russians have quietly entered into intense negotiations on a compromise for resolving their dispute over Ukraine, debkafile’s Washington and Moscow sources report.
Moscow insists on keeping in place the military forces which took control of Crimea over the weekend, but is ready to discuss terms for restraining the Russian army from advancing into the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
The exchanges between the two powers are going through Berlin. The German government is making every effort to dispel the winds of war coming in from the east. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin conferred Sunday night by phone and decided to talk again about ways of promoting the negotiations.
Our sources were unable to confirm that Merkel ever said to President Barack Obama when she reported on the conversation in reference to Putin that “she was not sure he was in touch with reality. He lives in another world.”
Senior official sources reported instead that the chancellor had proposed to Putin that Russian troops be withdrawn in stages from Crimea and their place taken by European Union observers.
She also suggested that the interim government provide guarantees to refrain from occupying the regions vacated by the Russian army or harming the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine.
In effect, Chancellor Merkel added her voice to a formulation taking shape in consultations Sunday at EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels, which called for “an inclusive political process in Ukraine based on democratic values, respect for human rights, minorities and the rule of law, which fulfills the democratic aspirations of the entire Ukrainian people.”
Monday, EU foreign ministers began considering how these lofty principles could be applied in practice. One idea gaining ground was for European contact groups to circulate Ukraine and discuss arrangements based on these principles with local authorities.
However, according to our US and Russian sources, Putin is after hard, practical strategic gains, principally, a demilitarized Crimea that would not threaten Russia from its western doorstep.
In fact, the Russian president has couched his demands for further negotiations under four headings:
1. The Kiev government whichever form it takes must sign an obligation to abstain from any ties with NATO.
2. Neither the US, NATO or any other power will deploy X-Band or BX-1 radar stations on Ukraine territory whether on land, sea or air. This guarantee would additionally cover elements of an anti-missile missile shield and ballistic missiles placing Russia in their sights.
3. Restrictions will govern the types of weapons allowed the Ukrainian army.
4. Local military bodies will be established to protect the Russian-speaking and ethnic Russian regions of Ukraine.
Putin emphasized in his conversation with Merkel that, until those four conditions are met, Russian forces would remain where they are in Crimea and if this was deemed necesssary, advance into other parts of Ukraine.
This list of demands was at the back of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s assertion Monday that Russian troops were needed in Ukraine “to protect Russian interests and citizens – until the normalization of the political situation.” Russia, he said, was defending human rights against “ultranationalist threats.”
It was evident from these words and deeds that Moscow finds the interim government in Kiev unacceptable Moscow and will make every effort to remove it.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to pay a visit to Kiev Tuesday, March 4. He follows British Secretary of State William Hague who paid homage to the former protesters in the Ukraine Monday. “Russia has created a tens and dangerous situation, Hague said, calling it “the biggest European crisis in the 21st century.”
Such declarations are unlikely to put Putin off his course, but there is little more that the West can do to turn the clock back to a more advantageous moment in the Kiev fracas.