Political columnist Andrei Buzarov told what to expect from a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, is there a connection between the aggravation in the Donbass and the World Cup in Russia and which countries will influence the elections in Ukraine.
– Putin and Trump should meet on July 16. Why is this summit so feared, more about risks, and not about prospects?
– A part of the world is afraid, a part of the world is waiting for it with a certain hope, therefore, I believe that it is not entirely correct to say that most of the world is afraid. It depends on who and what wants to achieve from this summit. I would not have any great hopes of meeting them. I do not think that they are generally able to agree on any issues, based on the situation that has now developed in the world. In many matters, Russia is geopolitically engaged in expansionist politics. The Americans apply the containment policy, which was developed after the Second World War, they simply apply it in a somewhat modernized form. Now we are actually in the phase of the Cold War. Therefore, I do not think that the normalization of relations between the two countries is generally possible in the coming years. Regardless of what Trump wants, part of the US political elite, which is concentrated in the American parliament, in Congress, is categorically against improving relations with Russia and just gravitates to a tougher stance towards Russia on many issues. This is not only Ukraine, but also Syria, Iran, Russian interference in the American elections and so on.
I think that there is already a specific agenda for the meeting, and most likely some issues have already been agreed. The main intrigue, on what issues they have already agreed and on which they will agree. In my opinion, they have clarity on the situation in Syria – to maintain the existing status quo. There is a certain understanding regarding North Korea, although Russia is not the main player here, China has a greater influence on North Korea, but Russia’s opinion on the North Korean issue is also taken into account. The United States took a tough stance on Iran. Russia is now unlikely to worsen its relations with Iran; it remains, in fact, a partner of the Iranians in the international arena. Therefore, I think that Americans and Russians can discuss the Iranian topic, the problem of Iran’s nuclear program, the situation in the Middle East as a whole, since Iran, Syria and Yemen are all elements of the global Middle East problem, these are all metastases of a large cancerous tumor in the Middle East. And Russia, as the main player in the Syrian web, is naturally important for the Americans, especially based on what the future of Syria will be.
Of course, the Ukrainian question will be the main one. Although many analysts believe that this meeting will in no way improve or worsen the situation in Ukraine, but I think they will definitely discuss it for a very long time. And there are at least two reasons why this topic will be important. Firstly, a complete stupor and a dead end in the issue of resolving the conflict in the Donbass. The Surkov-Walker format does not work, the “Norman format” does not work, the contact group in Minsk deals only with the issue of prisoner exchange. Effective negotiation platforms for the Donbass do not exist. Only America and Russia are capable of changing this situation. Therefore, I think that they can try to intensify and actualize the work of any site in the Donbass. And the second reason why they should seriously agree on or talk about something is the upcoming presidential election. In March there will be presidential elections in Ukraine – in America and Russia this cannot but be taken into account. I am often asked the question: will Russia somehow influence the presidential election in Ukraine? Will she try to influence the situation in Ukraine? Of course it will be. But not only Russia will influence the situation in Ukraine, there are other countries that will influence presidential candidates.
– Who? Beyond America.
– I think that the US and the EU are really interested in the fact that these elections were held as unbiased as possible, in accordance with all the requirements of the current legislation of Ukraine and international standards. If they go wrong, if one of the candidates wins the election illegally, then our western partners may not recognize this election. In this context, the upcoming meeting between Trump and Putin is very important so that these countries do not allow destabilization of the situation. In the Ukrainian political environment, there are different opinions about this meeting. Many politicians are generally silent and for some reason do not comment. For example, Verkhovna Rada speaker Andrei Paruby said that the United States will not change its position in Ukraine. I also adhere to this position. Most likely, the Americans will not fundamentally change, regardless of Trump’s statements that that he is ready to negotiate with Putin, to return Russia to the G8, I think this is more a bluff. Elena Zerkal, deputy foreign minister, says there will be a breakthrough in the exchange of political prisoners. I do not think that Trump and Putin will discuss this topic. The leader of the “Opposition bloc” Volodymyr Boyko said that this meeting is not entirely positive, since Ukraine is not there, and many issues can be solved behind the scenes without taking into account the views of Ukraine. Opinions are different. since Ukraine is not there, and many issues can be solved behind the scenes without taking into account the views of Ukraine. Opinions are different. since Ukraine is not there, and many issues can be solved behind the scenes without taking into account the views of Ukraine. Opinions are different.
– There is an opinion that Crimea may become a “bargaining chip.”
– I exclude this option. Trump is always very expert in making statements, not saying certain things. If we study the US position in the international arena, we know that when the Americans make some statements on Ukraine, they always tie it to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, the de-occupation of Crimea and so on. And when Trump talks about Russia’s returning to the G8, when the press talks about some bargaining chips, I think we need to discuss all this in the context of Russia’s actions in the Donbass and in Crimea. This is logical. I do not think that the United States will change its position on this issue. Yes, Trump probably would like to return Russia to the G8, but he knows that this cannot be done without mutual concessions, which Russia is clearly not ready to do now. And I do not see a tendency for Russia to be ready to make some kind of concession in the Donbass. Maybe it’s ready, but we don’t know about it. The most important conclusion, in my opinion, which we must draw on the eve of the meeting between Trump and Putin, is that if there are any agreements, they will not be officially announced. We learn about them after 3-6 months. Because if there are now any agreements on Ukraine, then they will not understand either Trump or Putin in their countries.
– Still, what can be expected from Trump’s high-profile statements?
– Trump behaves the way he behaved on the eve of his meeting with Kim Jong-un – he often insulted him. Kim Jong-un called Trump “an old man”, and Trump said that Kim Jong-un – rocket man (“man-rocket”). Then, after the trip of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, they made an appointment. And here we see a direct analogy with the current situation when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, flew to Moscow to arrange a meeting. Obviously, the agenda has been agreed upon, but I don’t think there will be the same landmark meeting as with Kim Jong-un when certain declarations and documents were signed. Here, perhaps, there will be a final communique, but it will be largely declarative, not the fact that Ukraine will be remembered there. But I think that Trump and Putin will talk in sufficient detail on the Ukrainian question. In my opinion, they are interested in discussing this topic. At least Putin is for sure.
– Before negotiations with Putin, Trump will visit the NATO summit. Can they give him any messages about the upcoming meeting?
– I do not think that today anyone can influence the United States for the future of NATO. This is a country that dictates many NATO issues. But the information that appeared in the press that they might want to withdraw troops from Germany suggests that there is a certain level of distrust between NATO members, obviously, NATO needs some reformatting or changing the system of financing costs. That’s what Trump constantly talked about. He said that we were tired of bearing all the costs ourselves, let Germany and other countries join in this. I do not think that there will be any tough messages in relation to the Russian Federation. Most likely, other NATO member countries will be very careful in their statements on the eve of the meeting between Putin and Trump.
In general, the schedule of Trump’s stay in Europe is very interesting. He must participate in the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12; after that, on the 13th, he will go to Britain, obviously to talk about Brexit and the relations between Britain and the USA. Then, on July 15th, there will be the final of the World Cup in which Putin will be, and Trump, of course, will not. Then, on the 16th, the epochal meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, on neutral territory. By the way, Finland was one of the countries that was predicted as a possible venue for the meeting between Trump and Putin for a long time.
– Why there?
– Austria and Finland are those countries that are traditionally regarded as neutral in many respects. Helsinki is balancing between NATO and Russia. Finland is not a member of NATO. This is a country that has a huge border, which at one time fought with the USSR, many Finns died. And they refused for many reasons to join NATO, but joined the EU. Finland is like a buffer between NATO countries and the Russian Federation.
– The current aggravation in the Donbass and the World Cup in Russia – do you see a parallel?
– Not. Since I see the trends of the last four years. On average, once a month, once a month and a half, an aggravation occurs in the Donbass, where, unfortunately, Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians die. This exacerbation is based on the fact that the Russian Federation sees the need for such a periodic exacerbation in order to maintain the conflict in a semi-frozen state. I think for everyone this is obvious and understandable. To draw a parallel between the current escalation in the Donbass and some World Cup, its beginning or its completion, I think, is not entirely correct, since this is not a global escalation, these are not the fighting that we saw in 2014. It does not go beyond the escalations that we have seen in the last three and a half years in the Donbass.
But it cannot be ruled out that after the end of the World Cup in football there will be some serious lull (in my opinion, a month or two), and further, closer to the presidential elections in Ukraine in March 2019, nothing can be ruled out. It is very difficult to predict what the situation will be in the Donbass, not only on the uncontrolled part, but also on the controlled part. It cannot be ruled out that someone in Ukraine benefits from provocation and a certain destabilization of the situation in the Donbass and in Ukraine in general. I am not talking only about Russia now. Perhaps in Ukraine there are forces that would like to provoke some kind of military operations. And I think that such forces can create a problem for all Ukrainians. I hope that law enforcement agencies will prevent such provocations in time.
– What did the Western press write and write about the World Cup in Russia? It is undeniable that sport is politicized today.
– The World Cup, unfortunately, is often politicized. People do not pay attention to the game, but pay more attention to politics. And politicians often try to attribute themselves to the merits and victories of teams. Now the team of the Russian national football team has some success. She won the Spanish playoffs and will now play with the Croats. The team itself plays professionally. And you need to separate the team of the Russian national football team from the leadership of the Russian Federation, because these are different realities. It seems to me that it is impossible to give opportunities for politics to interfere in sport, and sport to intervene in politics. The Western press on the eve of the World Cup was partly wary of the championship itself. They wanted their teams to play. Many politicians refused to travel, but part of the Swedish government went to play their team in the playoffs, because it was important for them to support the team in terms of sports. The king of Spain personally came to the game of the Spanish national team with the Russians. The Spaniards lost, and probably he regretted that he came, but this is a matter of sport.
Therefore, I do not think that during the World Cup some provocations are possible in the Donbass. Although we have a bad example when there was an Olympics in Sochi, and in fact this coincided with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of events in the Donbass. But, it seems to me, Putin is not interested in this right now, because he knows that the escalation of the situation in the Donbass will lead to an even tougher toughening of the West’s position, to an end to all negotiations with the Americans and Europeans. This will put Russia’s allies in the international arena in an uncomfortable position – China, Iran and other countries that are now also trying to somehow establish relations with the West. Therefore, I do not think that Putin wants to destabilize the situation in the Donbass now.