Rus­sia’s Putin shut out from G-7 meet­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY JULIE PACE

Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin won’t be on the guest list when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and other world lead­ers as­sem­ble in Ger­many next week, as part of the pun­ish­ment for al­leged Krem­lin-sup­ported ag­gres­sion in Ukraine.

Yet the Rus­sian pres­i­dent re­mains a cen­tral player in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, in­clud­ing the U.S.led nu­clear talks with Iran, even with the pledge by West­ern lead­ers to try to iso­late Putin while the cri­sis in Ukraine per­sists.

Just this month, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was in Moscow for talks with Putin and Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry went to Sochi to con­fer with him. Putin and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron spoke by tele­phone in re­cent days and agreed to re­sume talks aimed at end­ing Syria’s civil war, where Putin’s co­op­er­a­tion also is cru­cial.

U.S. of­fi­cials say the en­gage­ment is limited to ar­eas where Moscow and the West have shared in­ter­ests. Out­reach to Putin on such mat­ters, of­fi­cials ar­gue, should not be seen as a sign that the West has ac­cepted the sta­tus quo in Ukraine, where pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists con­tinue to stoke in­sta­bil­ity.

“It makes sense to co­op­er­ate where there is a clear mu­tual in­ter­est as long as you’re not be­ing asked to back off mat­ters of prin­ci­ple that mat­ter to the se­cu­rity and well-be­ing of your coun­try and your al­lies and your friends,” Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said Wed­nes­day.

Some an­a­lysts say risks send­ing mixed the West sig­nals to Ukraine, where the gov­ern­ment has been push­ing for more sup­port. Matthew Ro­jan­sky, a Wil­son Cen­ter ex­pert on the for­mer Soviet states, said there is “grow­ing dis­ap­point­ment” in Ukraine about what of­fi­cials there see as the West’s “pale com­mit­ment” to pro­tect­ing its sovereignty.

“They are all deeply wor­ried that the United States will throw them un­der the bus to make a grand bar­gain with Putin,” Ro­jan­sky wrote in an email from Kiev, where he was meet­ing with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and civil so­ci­ety groups.

The con­flict be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine es­ca­lated last year when the Krem­lin- backed pres­i­dent in Kiev fled amid protests. ProRus­sian sep­a­ratists moved to take over the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant Crimean Penin­sula, which Rus­sia later an­nexed.

The West doesn’t rec­og­nize that move. But the U.S. and Europe largely have given up on Rus­sia’s re­turn­ing the area to Ukraine. In­stead, the West has fo­cused on Moscow’s threat­en­ing moves in eastern Ukraine, the site of months of clashes be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and rebels that Kiev says are backed by Moscow. A frag­ile cease-fire agreed to in Fe­bru­ary has been vi­o­lated re­peat­edly.

The West wielded the threat of diplo­matic iso­la­tion as a pun­ish­ment for Rus­sia based in part on the be­lief that Putin val­ues be­ing seen as a big global player. He has tried to use the West’s ac­tions to bol­ster Rus­sian na­tion­al­ism and his own pop­u­lar­ity at home.

On Thurs­day, Putin sug­gested that the U.S. cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion into soc­cer’s gov­ern­ing body was part of an at­tempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from Rus­sia. He also ac­cused the U.S. of seek­ing to “il­le­gally per­se­cute” peo­ple.

The West’s clear­est pres­sure point is the Rus­sian econ­omy. The ru­ble has sta­bi­lized af­ter a dra­matic freefall last year that was at­trib­uted to both fall­ing oil prices and the West’s eco­nomic penal­ties. Still, Rus­sia’s econ­omy re­mains shaky.

It ap­pears un­likely, how­ever, that the U.S. and Europe will toughen sanc­tions with­out a ma­jor in­crease in Rus­sian ag­gres­sion. Euro­pean na­tions with strong fi­nan­cial ties with Rus­sia fear the sanc­tions could dam­age their own economies.

When Obama meets with Euro­pean lead­ers at next week’s Group of Seven sum­mit in Ger­many, he is ex­pected to press them to re­new sanc­tions set to ex­pire this sum­mer. Rus­sia was in­vited to join the G-7, a bloc of lead­ing industrial na­tions, in 1998 and re­mained a mem­ber of what was then called the G-8 un­til last year when the orig­i­nal mem­bers suspended its par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­tal­i­a­tion for its ac­tions in Ukraine.

Heather Con­ley, a Europe ex­pert at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said that one of the risks for the West in deep­en­ing en­gage­ment with Putin while the cri­sis in Ukraine con­tin­ues is that the Rus­sian leader may start to think he can sim­ply wait out the U.S. and Europe’s at­ten­tion span.

“We’re re­ally stuck,” she said. “Mr. Putin is not go­ing to come to his senses. This is a long-term chal­lenge.”

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