Brian Whitmore is the most insightful Russia watcher at RFE/RL, this article is among his best.
This should be mandatory reading for anyone associated with strategic negotiations remotely touching Russia and Ukraine. Russia is demanding a lot and offering nothing in return except a knife in the back to Ukraine.
This cannot stand.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
It is pretty damn clear what Russia wants to get out of a grand bargain with the West.
It wants the end of sanctions and Moscow’s international isolation.
It wants explicit recognition of the annexation of Crimea.
It wants implicit recognition of Russia’s imperial dominance over its neighbors — first and foremost, Ukraine.
It wants a new world order based on spheres of influence.
And it wants to be recognized as a global superpower.
But a much harder question to answer is: What exactly does the West get in return?
Cooperation against Islamic State? Well, isn’t it in Russia’s interest to do that anyway?
A new nuclear arms pact? Aren’t those usually negotiated on their own merits and without linkage?
A Kremlin commitment to cease its political shenanigans in Europe?
Well, perhaps that’s it.
But in that case, the West would be giving up a lot and getting nothing in return.
It would be compromising its values by selling out its allies and ratifying the first forceful seizure of territory in Europe since World War II.
And it would be damaging its interests by condoning the de facto establishment of a new Russian empire on Europe’s doorstep.
And in return, the West would get what? A pledge that Moscow would stop hacking it, stop supporting fringe xenophobic parties, stop the fake news dumps, and stop interfering in its domestic politics.
Now, that wouldn’t be a grand bargain at all. It would be giving in to the extortion of an international protection racket.
And submitting to extortion only invites more extortion.