Thursday, January 5, 2017

Putin Will Never Agree to Deal Thomas Graham Suggests He Wants, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 5 – Vladimir Putin has no interest in the deal Thomas Graham suggests he now wants, Vitaly Portnikov says; and consequently, if Washington pursues the course the former US diplomat and current Kissinger associate proposes, it will only embarrass itself but not achieve any of the goals he says the West wants.

            In an interview with the Voice of America that has attracted widespread attention, Graham argued that the outlines of a deal with Moscow over Ukraine and the Russian presence in the Donbass and Crimea are becoming clear (

            With regard to the Donbass, the former diplomat says, Washington should approach Moscow with a plan to cut back its sanctions “in exchange for concrete steps” by the Russian side, an approach that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed some time ago.

            According to Graham, “at present, Moscow would find such an approach attractive.” Moreover, it “would be a signal to Kyiv that Ukraine cannot use” its problems with Russia as an excuse “not to take domestic decisions needed for the development of security and the economy” of that country.”

            Today, Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov argues that Graham’s “main mistake” is thinking that the Kremlin has any interest in agreeing to such an approach, given that it argues Russia “does not have any relationship to the ‘civil conflict’ in the Donbass (

                “Putin simply doesn’t need the approval of the West,” he continues. “And when Graham says that one must not simply cut back sanctions but do this in exchange for specific actions,” he fails to recognize that there are compelling reasons why the Kremlin can’t take the kind of “specific actions” he apparently would like to see.

            According to Portnikov, “in the Kremlin they perfectly well understand that any concession on the Donbass – and the Minsk accords presuppose among everything else the withdrawal of Russian forces from the occupied territories and return of control over the borders would be the end of Russian influence in the region.”

            Putin will thus never implement even if he says he agrees to any “’step by step’ fulfillment of the Minsk accords in exchange for the step by step reduction of sanctions,” the Ukrainian analyst says.

            But Graham shows himself “even more naïve” about Russian plans when he talks about Crimea.  The Kissinger associate considers, Portnikov says, that “Moscow is interested in the legitimation of its control over Crimea. But Putin says, ‘Crimea is ours and we will not discuss this issue.’”

            But instead of challenging Russian aggression and its Anschluss of Ukrainian territory, Graham talks about how the West might arrange with Moscow to “legitimize” Russian control, possibly by means of “the payment of compensation to the Ukrainian side or the conduct of a second referendum considering doubts about the legitimacy of the first.”

            The American analyst makes a serious error when he considers that “Russia is interested in ‘legitimation’” of its action, Portnikov says. “From Putin’s point of view, everything has been legitimated long ago, and neither Graham nor trump can force the Russian president to change the Constitution, in which the Crimean Republic and Sevastopol are mentioned.”

            “Putin will never agree to a second referendum or to ‘monetary compensation,’” the Ukrainian analyst says.  “Still more comic” are Graham’s words about Moscow’s supposed interest in “the development of the economy of Crimea,” as if he “doesn’t know who the economy in Russia is developed and what the investment climate in that country is like.”

            Neither Graham nor Kissinger nor many others who “would like to see the normalization of relations with Russia are dilettantes.” Instead, they are people who are prepared to “close their eyes to the war in the Donbass and the occupation of the Crimea on behalf of cooperation with Russia.”

            All that they need, Portnikov says, are “guarantees that the Kremlin will not move further and then they are ready to agree to a ‘neutral status’ for Ukraine. And they also need that Putin give them the chance to save face” about what they are surrendering to him.  Unfortunately for them but fortunately for Ukraine, Putin isn’t going to do that.

            “Putin will not give them the chance to save face simply because he cannot withdraw,” Portnikov says. “For him, withdrawal is the end of his regime. And Putin will move further simply because his power rests on this imperial movement and on opposition to the West.”

            Putin, the Ukrainian analyst points out, “is fighting with America and not with Ukraine. And his victory over America will consider not in ‘the neutrality’ of Ukraine. Prior to 2013, Ukraine was already a state outside of any bloc. [Instead, Putin seeks] the restoration of the Russian Empire and its zone of influence in Soviet borders at the least.”

            Therefore, no one should expect “compromises from Putin.” Plans that suggest otherwise like the ones Graham offers should be assessed, Portnikov concludes, “not from the point of view of morality” as some may be inclined to do. “They should be evaluated in terms of how realistic they are” or in fact are not.

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