The meeting of the top US and Russian diplomats in the Black Sea resort of Sochi signals a telling shift in global security realpolitik, even from a few days ago.
Moscow’s 70th WWII Victory celebration on May 9th was a show of strength and pride.
As key Western leaders skipped going, a gesture against the Kremlin’s behaviour concerning Ukraine over the last 18 months (their ambassadors attended), President Putin said international co-operation has been ignored more and more for decades.
As for defeating Hitler, he thanked “the people of Great Britain, France and the United States for their contribution”.
Two days later, in a corner of Europe where thousands have been killed in an armed conflict between separatist forces and the Ukrainian government, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic waved its own banner and Russia’s for the first anniversary of its referendum on self-rule.
Russia denies Western and Ukrainian accusations that it has been arming the separatists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in February: “Russia has engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I’ve seen since the very height of the Cold War. And they have been persisting in their misrepresentations – lies – whatever you want to call them.”
Moscow called its annexation of Crimea 14 months ago a reincorporation of territory. The West was cautious with its sanctions, wary of further consequences, promoting a de-escalation while condemning what it called “the clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by acts of aggression by the Russian armed forces.”
Although Russia was expelled from the G8, the G20 summit in Brisbane lacked the consensus to exclude Putin.
It was reported he was told, privately: “You need to get out of Ukraine,” and he said: “That’s impossible because we are not there.”
In contrast, Russia’s influence in the Syria conflict was undeniable and valued. Where first Moscow’s opposition to any outside military intervention against its ally Damascus had been criticised, Russia’s role was essential in mediating for safeguards against chemical weapons.
Russia’s leverage with Iran is also significant. Now the 5+1 deal is done with Tehran, to limit its nuclear programme, Moscow is consolidating ties before sanctions are lifted. Israel is also keen that Moscow help dampen regional tensions.
All in all, Russia seems to say, ‘don’t isolate us; we are a reliable partner.’