President Barack Obama has sold out Ukraine in order to get Vladimir Putin’s support for a nuclear deal with Iran, according to Andrey Illarionov. Other commentators, including at least one Ukrainian one, disagree. But almost all expect that Putin will expect gratitude from the US and fear that he may get it.
In a commentary on Kasparov.ru, Illarionov says that the deal he has warned against for the last 16 months has occurred: the US has sacrificed Ukraine in order to get Putin’s support in talks with Iran and Syria, and it has made this deal “without the participation of Ukraine and at Ukraine’s expense.”
This sell-out began, the Russian commentator says, during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi when he did not mention Crimea and effectively created together with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “’the Sochi-Munich format’ of negotiations in the shape of the Nuland-Karasin talks without the participation of Ukraine.”
That in itself achieved one of Putin’s major aims: eliminating Ukraine as a discussant of its own fate and elevating Russia to the level of the United States as a center of decision making about other countries. Then, Illarionov traces the way in which this new “format” worked in the intervening period.
This culminated on July 14, he continues, when Obama told the New York Times the following: ‘Asked if President Vladimir Putin of Russia was a help or a hindrance in concluding this deal, Mr. Obama said: “Russia was a help on this. I’ll be honest with you. I was not sure given the strong differences we are having with Russia right now around Ukraine, whether this would sustain itself. Putin and the Russian government compartmentalized on this in a way that surprised me, and we would have not achieved this agreement had it not been for Russia’s willingness to stick with us and the other P5-Plus members in insisting on a strong deal.”
The American president continued: “I was encouraged by the fact that Mr. Putin called me a couple of weeks ago and initiated the call to talk about Syria. I think they get a sense that the Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory inside of Syria [to Sunni jihadist militias] and that the prospects for a [Sunni jihadist] takeover or rout of the Syrian regime is not imminent but becomes a greater and greater threat by the day. That offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.”
The very next day, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland arrived in Kyiv. “The main goal of [her] visit,” Illarionov says, was “to force [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko to change the draft Constitution of Ukraine by including in it references to ‘the special regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts,” where pro-Moscow forces control much of the territory.
That is exactly what Poroshenko did, and a number of deputies in Ukraine’s parliament issued a statement about what they believe is “an act of betrayal,” one that denies Ukraine the right of self-determination by legitimizing Russian forces on the territory of Ukraine.
That international legitimation of the presence of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory taken without any involvement of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian people, the members of the Verkhovna Rada say, is “the end not only of European prospects for Ukraine” but also represents “the success of the Kremlin’s plan and the end of the Ukrainian state.”
Having quoted that declaration in full, Illarionov observes that Poroshenko has “fulfilled the first point of Putin’s demands on Ukraine” by changing that country’s constitution and that in his effort to do so, the Moscow leader has enjoyed the support of Obama.
Now, the question is, will Kyiv meet all the rest of Putin’s demands? And will Obama help with that as well?
These other demands, the Russian analyst says, include a Ukrainian amnesty for all those who fought for Moscow in eastern Ukraine, the implementation of the law on special status for the Donbas and the holding of elections, the adoption by Ukraine of a law on local administration, and the lifting of the Ukrainian economic blockade from these territories.
Illarionov says in conclusion that “there is no doubt that these demands from Putin will be fulfilled.”
Not everyone in Moscow, Washington, or Kyiv agrees with this analysis, of course, and one of the most pointed critiques of it has been provided by Petro Oleshchuk, a political scientist at Shevchenko State University in Kyiv.
He argues that “everything is not so simple” as Illarionov supposes and that the suggestion of a simple deal of the kind the Russian analyst does is “too primitive and one-dimensional.”
What does it mean that Obama has “thanked” Putin for his support on the Iranian deal? According to Oleshchuk, only that “the administration of the US president still views Putin as a partner, a difficult one but a partner nonetheless who is needed for the resolution of certain problems.” It doesn’t necessarily signal a deal on anything else.
“Having trapped himself in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian political scientist say, “Putin has made an expensive gift to the American White House.” On the one hand, having condemned himself to international isolation, he has little room for maneuver. And on the other, he has opened the way for sanctions that the West can employ for more than just Ukraine.
Indeed, in Oleshchuk’s view, “having tied himself hand and foot, Putin cannot simply leave, cannot move forward, but cannot be forced either. He now is completely in the hands of the US which has received as a result yet another bonus in the form of the rebirth of NATO as a factor in world politics.”
Oleshchuk’s conclusion: “As long as Putin is ‘in Ukraine,’ he is dependent on others. [And] this dependence can be used. The clearest example is the Iranian issue.” For the US, he continues, there are benefits from ensuring that neither Ukraine nor Russia achieve any advantages” and that the conflict continues.
“Any attempts by Russia to go further will be stopped, because both a victory and a defeat of the Russian Federation would not be “profitable” for the United States. A Russian “victory would mean an imperial passionate explosive and the prospects for a new expansion. Defeat would be the end of the Putin regime and the collapse of the largest country in the world.”
But regardless of whether Illarionov or Oleshchuk is correct, it is certain, Lilia Shevtsova writes, that Putin “will expect gratitude” from Obama for his “assistance” in allowing the US president to achieve his “dream.” And she suggests that such gratitude could take a variety of forms.
Among them are such issues as missile defense in Europe, a possible international tribunal on the downing of the Malaysian jetliner, and “finally on the war in Ukraine.” Consequently, “we shall see [in the near future] whether interests or principles predominate in American policy.”
Shevtsova does not say, but one could add the ancient observation that gratitude is often not a powerful motivating force but the expectation of gratitude is – and if Putin believes he has a right to that, he may act in ways now that he would not have before Obama gave his interview to the New York Times.