When it comes to the meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, sources from both sides differ in their explanations.
In Washington there is talk about the need to discuss a range of issues with Moscow, including the “normalization” of relations between Russia and the US. Similarly, observers differ considerably on why the meeting is even taking place. Some call this meeting a diplomatic victory for Russia. After all, it was Kerry who flew to Sochi, and not Lavrov to Washington. Others consider it a victory for the US, arguing that Americans were able to reach an important agreement on an agenda with the Russians for stabilizing the situation.
However, the meeting between Putin and Kerry is an obvious indication of which side has the ball in this visit. It is not really necessary to point out that from the perspective of the Russian president, who imagines himself the master of the universe, the only suitable partner for discussing the future would be the president of the United States.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama himself, who had maintained constant telephone contact with Putin during the Crimean crisis and even at the beginning of the Donetsk one, has actually minimized even the possibility of dialogue with his Russian counterpart after the “Boeing” matter (downing of Malaysia airline — Ed.). And in this situation of demonstrable neglect, Putin has agreed to meet with the US Secretary of State. It is clear that had such a meeting not been planned, Kerry simply would not have arrived in Sochi, leaving Lavrov to sunbathe alone.
This willingness to meet with an official whose rank, in Putin’s view, is inferior to his own greatness, demonstrates that contact with the United States is needed primarily by Moscow and only then by Washington. It also indicates that Putin is now seeking to stabilize rather than to aggravate the situation. Otherwise, there would have been no need to invite Kerry to Sochi only to announce that the confrontation would continue.
In addition, Kerry’s trip is part of a much larger string of consultations at the highest level. Only recently Putin met with French President François Hollande in Yerevan, and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a brief visit to the Russian capital. At the same time, after each of these meetings, it became clear that the Western leaders are not preparing to concede. On the contrary, there is information that the French are prepared to sink the Mistrals rather than give them to Russia. In Moscow, for the first time, there was mention about the “criminality” of the Crimean annexation.
This means that the West is not afraid of aggravating Putin. And Putin himself continues to maintain these contacts because he finds them necessary.
Despite our conviction that the Russian president does not fully realize the extent of the crisis in his country, I would not underestimate Putin’s awareness. Yes, today the consequences of Western sanctions and the decline in the price of oil are not yet really noticeable. But with each month the reserves of the Russian regime are decreasing, and Putin is looking for a way out of the situation that he has created for himself.
There are two ways out of this situation. The first is to go ahead with a major war. The second is to try to find ways to reach agreements with the West and to reject further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. Kerry’s visit shows that right now Putin is taking the second path. But whether he reaches the end will depend on the terms of the compromise — including those that are negotiated during the meeting in Sochi.