On Dec. 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Moscow, after which they both talked with President Vladimir Putin. Then, on Dec. 17, Vladimir Putin held his traditional year-end press conference, during which he answered questions, many of which dealt with foreign policy issues.
John Kerry in Moscow
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow on Dec. 15. No communiqué detailing breakthrough decisions was released after his talks with Lavrov, but this does not mean that the negotiations were a failure.
First, John Kerry made it clear that the world would learn a little later about any specific agreements reached – and he was telling the truth.
On Dec. 17, the UN Security Council adopted a joint Russian-American sponsored UN resolution requiring all states to take measures to stop the sources of financing of terrorists, and in particular – to freeze assets, prohibit entry and transit, and prevent the direct or indirect supply of arms to and by persons and organizations that would be placed on the sanctions list of the UN Security Council.
Secondly, the U.S. Secretary of State came not only to find solutions, but also to seek compromises.
“The world needs that two important nations, the two leading powers, be able to find common ground and agree on the given issues,” said the head of the U.S. State Department.
Of course, he was referring to Syria and Ukraine – the two main topics of his talks with Putin and Lavrov, and his optimism was appropriate.
Theoretically, Moscow and Washington can find common ground on both issues. In Syria, both sides are interested in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), as well as in preventing the Syrian civil war from turning into a religious or even region-wide conflict.
On the Ukrainian issue, the Americans are not interested in a new spiral of civil war in the Donbas. Although the continued low-intensity conflict will hinder the development of Russian-European dialogue, it will not lead to a Russo-Ukrainian war that might drag in Washington. For these framework compromises to turn into specific arrangements, there are needed not one, not two, but many regular meetings at the highest level.
Lukashenko – a difficult partner
The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Moscow was scheduled to take place in late November, but was canceled due to the busy schedules of both presidents. This was the official version. However, there is reason to believe that the initiator of this postponement was the Belarusian President, and this became known just before the cancelled visit.
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The European idea, very popular on the right bank of the Dniester, is viewed less as a democratization project than as a tool to minimize Russian influence. And the Ukrainian crisis has done much to discredit it. This issue of whether Transnistria can actually become part of Europe needs to be considered when discussing the future of Transnistria. Despite these unanswered questions, and the economic and political complexities, the “breakaway” republic is approaching three decades of existence.
The main issue to be decided was the future of NATO, which had been established as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union. However, starting in 1991, the Soviet Union lost control over the events in Central and Eastern Europe. Communist governments fell, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and the West had no impetus to engage in any negotiations or agreements with Moscow.
Russian official documents emphasize that the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) is one side of the conflict, and not just a territory or “separatist enclave” whose interests must be respected and taken into account when finalizing a peace formula. The Ukrainian political crisis, as well as the change in the status of Crimea and Sevastopol, has reanimated the question of Transnistria. It is not hard to see why.
Certainly, the two are not on the same page in Syria and some other Middle Eastern matters; they have historically adversarial relations in the South Caucasus; and they have a conflicting modern record of Turkish support for Islamist and nationalist movements in the North Caucasus. But be it bilateral trade relations or pipeline geopolitics, instead of keeping in line with its NATO allies Turkey is more savvy in following its own national interests than many Western diplomats and analysts would like to think.