June 08, 2018 13:45 GMT
The maneuver left Russia with a stranglehold on Crimea that seems unlikely to be broken for decades, if ever, and with a measure of influence on Ukraine through the armed separatists it backs in the eastern region known as the Donbas.
But that is far short of what Putin seemed at one point to covet — control over Ukraine, or at least a huge southern swath that he took for a while to calling Novorossia: New Russia.
Putin’s moves also brought successive rounds of Western sanctions on Russia, turned Moscow into a common enemy for many citizens and political factions in Ukraine, and helped start a war that — now in its fifth year — has killed more than 10,300 people.
A fresh bid for elusive progress in winding down that war is scheduled for June 11 in Berlin, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet with his counterparts from Ukraine, France, and Germany — the mediators of a 2015 Minsk peace deal that decreased fighting but failed to end it and set out a political-settlement plan that has gone largely unfulfilled.
There have been few signs pointing to a breakthrough, however, and despite his promise that Russia “will do everything we can to resolve [the conflict] within the framework of the Minsk process,” Putin’s remarks on Ukraine during the Direct Line show seem unlikely to increase the chances of progress.
He accused the Ukrainian governnent of “robbing its people” and warned that — answering a question from a Russian writer who is an adviser to the separatists’ leader in Donetsk — warned that if Kyiv’s forces mount an offensive in eastern Ukraine while Russia is hosting the June 14-July 15 soccer World Cup, “it will have very serious consequences for Ukrainian statehood.”
Hosting the World Cup will thrust Russia into the global spotlight and seems certain to improve Putin’s standing — at least temporarily — if it goes well.
Worries About Kim-Trump Summit
Meanwhile, though, Russia is scrambling to stay onstage amid preparations for an event that has greater geopolitical ramifications — a June 12 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that would be the first such meeting since the Korean War.
Lavrov met with Kim in North Korea on May 31 and passed along an invitation for him to visit Russia, but no date has been set and it is not clear whether Kim has agreed to make the trip.
In an interview with a Chinese state broadcaster aired on June 6, Putin welcomed plans for the talks and praised Trump for the “courageous and mature” decision to meet with Kim.
But beneath the show of support, Russia may have mixed feelings about the meeting — at best.
The Kremlin fears “the prospect of a solution of the North Korea missile and nuclear issue in a strictly bilateral format” between the United States and North Korea, or the two together with South Korea, Moscow-based foreign policy analyst Vladimir Frolov wrote in an article for Republic.ru.
“This would threaten not only to clearly devalue…the narrative of the international role of Russia as a global great power, which is very important to the Kremlin, but also to create new and not very Russia-friendly…formats for the provision of security in East Asia, in which the United States and American security guarantees would play the key role,” he wrote.