25 September 2014 — Indian Punchline
Considering the huge lift that the White House gave last week to the visit by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — ‘rare honor’ of addressing a joint session of the US Congress, et al — one would have thought the Barack Obama administration was getting into a heightened mood of belligerence vis-a-vis Russia. But a close reading of President Obama’s remarks after the bilateral meeting with Poroshenko last Thursday in Washington creates doubts in the mind.
Obama is a smart politician who can make a retreat appear a victory. He’s done it in Afghanistan. Is he doing it in Ukraine? Consider the following. Obama who poured scorn at the Minsk dialogue has now become its votary.
He is also advocating that Ukraine should have “good relations with all of its neighbors, both east and west,” and he recommends that Ukraine should continue its strong economic links and people-to-people relations with Russia. This is vintage Obama.
Are we seeing the signs of Obama all but counseling Poroshenko to sort out issues directly with Moscow? It seems so. On returning to Kiev, Poroshenko disclosed
today that US will only supply “non-lethal” military items to Ukraine, which of course falls far short of his wish list.
And, as for economic assistance, White House agreed to give the princely amount of $50 million to help Poroshenko see through the year 2015. It’s rather tragi-comic, coming at a time when according to the IMF, Ukraine needs around $19 billion next year, if the civil war continues, by way of financial assistance to survive through next year, on top of the global bailout program for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the IMF has revised its own estimate six months earlier and now says a staggering bailout of $55 billion is needed as external financing for Ukraine. Experts forecast
that this figure could eventually turn out to be somewhere closer to $100 billion than $55 billion. .
It’s a macabre joke — handing out a measly amount of $50 million after egging on Ukraine to go to war with Russia. Where is the remaining $18450 million to come from to see Ukraine through next year?
Well, from Europe, where else? And who will pay from Europe? Not Poland, not Lithuania, not Estonia. It has to come from ‘Old Europe’. In essence, Germany has to loosen the purse strings. Chancellor Angela Merkel must be hopping mad.
Contrary to earlier estimates, Ukraine’s economy’s contraction this year could turn out to be in double digits. All this may go a long way to explain certain intriguing developments relating to Ukraine in the recent weeks: a) European Union’s summary decision
to consign its hurriedly-signed Association Agreement with Ukraine in the freezer at least until end-2015; b) the robust EU backing for the Minsk accord
between Kiev and the separatists in southeastern Ukraine; c) the top secret meeting between the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia on the sidelines of the recent international conference in Paris regarding the Islamic State; d) NATO’s belated acknowledgment
that Russia has pulled troops back from Ukraine border; and, e) meeting between the foreign ministers
of Russia and US in New York later today.
Suffice to say, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be pulling off a major diplomatic victory in getting the West to recognize that Moscow has legitimate interests in Ukraine. The West has no option but to accept that Ukraine’s economy is connected to Moscow with an umbilical cord and without whole-hearted Russian cooperation, it cannot be salvaged.
In retrospect, Moscow did well to ignore the EU’s latest round of sanctions announced three weeks ago. The signs are already there that Poroshenko is eyeing Putin as, perhaps, his most consequential interlocutor.
Concurrently, Washington too should begin to realize that engaging Moscow is becoming a necessity for effectively mobilizing an international campaign against the Islamic State. It could be a sign of the way the wind is turning direction that the former British defence secretary and Conservative MP, Liam Fox today explicitly cautioned Europe and the US against making threats against Russia over Ukraine.
Fox said, “I think it’s very important not to pretend that you [West] can or will do things that you clearly won’t. Making false threats, I think, is a big problem. We have to look at different ways of dealing with the Ukrainian situation.” Bravo !
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if one of these days Putin comes to the aid of Obama once again in Syria. Russia can help Obama legitimize the international campaign against the islamic State by getting a UN Security Council mandate for it; Russia can be helpful in the US’ dealing (or the lack of it) with Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad. Make no mistake, Russia’s stance (here
) on the Islamic State threat is unequivocal and broadly supportive of the US-led international campaign.
Russia’s only caveat
is that the US operations in Syria should have the concurrence of the Syrian government and/or should have a UN mandate, but then, what stops Obama from seeking a UN mandate is also the apprehension that Moscow may not cooperate.
Quite possibly, the ice will be broken regarding Syria today at the meeting between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry in New York. The New Cold war, which started with a bang, might be ending with a whimper.