The Guardian reports: The leaders of Germany and France abruptly announced a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday in response to overtures from the Kremlin, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the year-old Ukraine conflict.
The sudden and unusual decision by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the president, François Hollande, to travel to Moscow, with the French leader talking of decisions of war and peace, increased the stakes in the crisis while also raising suspicions that the Kremlin was seeking to split Europe and the US. Putin was said to have made “initiatives” to the European leaders in recent days.
Merkel and Hollande met the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev on Thursday evening but left without making any comment. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “steps so that the Minsk agreement can start working”. A ceasefire signed in Minsk in September froze the frontlines at their positions at the time, but never held.
Friday’s visit will be Merkel’s first trip to Russia since the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, which has now cost more than 5,000 lives. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met Poroshenko and other top officials in Kiev.
At a joint news conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry sounded lukewarm about Merkel and Hollande’s visit. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: In Kiev, John Kerry had a clear message for Russia and Vladimir Putin: the Kremlin should respect Ukraine’s territory, negotiate constructively and stop funnelling weapons and troops into the east of the country.
The problem is that it is the same message the US secretary of state and other western politicians have been delivering for more than half a year, to pretty much zero effect.
The issue for western negotiators has been how to force Russia to stop doing something that, even in private, it won’t admit it is doing. Washington is now grappling with whether it should back up its messages to Putin with an “or else” and seriously begin negotiations on supplying arms to Kiev.
In an editorial, The Guardian says: Europe does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. Russia may be a geopolitical giant but its GDP is no bigger than Italy’s. It is dependent on Europe’s financial structures. Yet next to the plunging oil price, the EU sanctions thus far have had a virtually symbolic impact. Cutting Russian banks and companies from the Belgium-based Swift international transaction system would, by contrast, impose a serious jolt. It could be done quickly, but then also rolled rapidly back. It has worked before, against Iran, which entered nuclear negotiations soon after being banned from Swift in 2012. Many businesses would balk at the costs. But these would surely be easier to bear than the enduring damage done by a widening war on the European continent.
Mr Putin regards the EU as a strategic midget. He will respect it only when Russia’s predatory oligarchy is confronted with some red lines. When Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande head for Moscow, they should put Swift on the table.