Ukraine President-elect Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a meeting Friday that Russia would send an envoy to Ukraine in to resolve points of conflict between the two nations. And Russia is sending its ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, to Poroshenko’s inauguration this weekend.
The U.S. welcomed the moves — along with Putin agreeing to meet Poroshenko at all — as a positive step that could potentially lead to de-escalation of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. A senior White House official said President Barack Obama was going home “more optimistic” about a resolution after hearing of the envoy and talking with Putin Friday. However, the administration also warned more steps need to be taken.
“We are encouraged that President Putin spoke with President-elect Poroshenko in Normandy today and that Russia is returning its Ambassador to Ukraine for the inauguration this weekend. But clearly much more needs to be done going forward,” Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy communications director, told Business Insider.
Analysts view Putin’s moves Friday as the latest savvy calculation by Putin that has no downside for him. Russia is attempting to placate the West while still maintaining as much influence as possible over Ukraine’s future. It buys time for Russia to avoid new sanctions without giving up any of its gains in Ukraine.
“Moscow is playing both sides,” Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email.
Bremmer described the Kremlin as “more than happy to show that they can negotiate, engage with the Ukrainian government, at the same time that Moscow-supported separatists continue to destabilize the country.”
According to Bremmer, “sending an envoy to Kiev makes it harder to coordinate tougher sanctions against Moscow, while not giving up any of the leverage Russia has been building up against Kiev.”
On the ground in eastern Ukraine, the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military continues to escalate, and civilian deaths were reported on Friday. Rebels attacked positions of Ukraine’s national guard near Slovyansk with mortar fire Friday.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, Putin has continued to attempt to extend Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine and prevent the country from developing close ties with the West. The leaders of the G-7 countries snubbed Putin and Russia this week in Europe, meeting without him and declaring conditions Russia must meet in order to de-escalate the crisis.
“We urge the Russian Federation to recognise the results of the election, complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence,” the G-7 leaders said in a declaration from their summit.
They added they were ready to impose further “costs” on Russia if it did not meet those requirements in the coming weeks.
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