One of the aspects of the latest upsurge in US-Russian diplomatic exchanges about Ukraine that has not attracted much attention as it should but that may prove to be the most important at least as far as Vladimir Putin is concerned is this: Moscow is now talking about the Ukraine’s fate not in a format where Ukraine is a part but in one where it is not.
From Putin’s perspective, Minsk was always a problem. Putin was never been pleased to be treated as the head of a regional European power rather than as a counterpart to the United States. And he never really welcomed Ukraine’s participation in those talks. In his view, oft-expressed, the two great powers should decide and then impose their views on Kyiv.
Consequently, whatever comes of the expanded contacts between Moscow and Washington on Ukraine, Putin will see this burst of activity not as the defeat some are suggesting, a reflection of the weakened condition of his country given sanctions, but rather as a victory, because he has succeeded in getting the US to accept his vision of how the world works.
And that has consequences not only for what Putin will do in the future but also for the future of Ukraine, for US-European relations, and last but far from least Ukraine, especially if as some have suggested there is now “Ukraine fatigue” in both Washington and other Western capitals and the West may be increasingly willing to make concessions it shouldn’t.
It has long been a principle of the countries in between the core of the European Union and the Russian Federation that there should be “nothing about us without us,” that is, there should be no negotiations about them without their participation. And that is a principle Putin clearly does not like or accept.
Now, for the time being, the Kremlin leader has gotten his way. Minsk for all that was and is wrong with it at least maintained the principle that if Ukraine’s fate was going to be discussed, it should be present at the table. But now, Putin has found a way to change that, counting on the desire of the US for a breakthrough it can claim credit to help him out.