Wednesday, December 31, 2014

US National Security Comprehensive Review of Policy Against Russia: "Easy with Lavrov, guys!"

Bloomberg published an article based on interviews with the insiders in the Obama administration concerning Russia. The material is significant because it is also a guarded attempt by the administration to present some of the recent decisions and estimates made when, "this month, Obama's National Security Council finished an extensive and comprehensive review of U.S policy toward Russia that included dozens of meetings and input from the State Department, Defense Department and several other agencies, according to three senior administration officials."

The Bloomberg insider material confirms some of the points and observations I've been laboriously making over the course of the several last months.

One of the more immediate and practical decisions is the White House's sense that the US needs to use more cautiously the channel hooked up to Lavrov, which was in many ways special: "[Kerry's] close relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represents the last remaining functional diplomatic channel between Washington and Moscow. They meet often, often without any staff members present, and talk on the phone regularly." Washington officials now see (perhaps in the view of some of the questions and concerns) that the Kerry-Lavrov channel might be, if not a liability, then no longer safe or even now "dooming [the] outcome": "Also, some experts feel, placing the diplomacy in the Kerry-Lavrov channel dooms its outcome, because the Russians know that Kerry himself has no power to make major decisions and Lavrov has to be careful not to be seen as cozying up to the U.S. The more Kerry creates a perception he has a special relationship with Lavrov, the more he puts Lavrov in a difficult position with officials in his own capital, starting with Putin,” said Simes."

The article also confirms the hitherto U.S. "negotiating" (or rather ultimatum-based) position, which it dubs as "secret outreach." It was an "offer" or essentially an "offer" of capitulation in Donbass: "[A]n offer to Russia that would pave the way for a partial release of some of the most onerous economic sanctions. Kerry’s conditions included Russia adhering to September's Minsk agreement and ceasing direct military support for the Ukrainian separatists. The issue of Crimea would be set aside for the time being, and some of the initial sanctions that were put in place after Crimea’s annexation would be kept in place. “We are willing to isolate the issues of Donetsk and Luhansk from the issue of Crimea,” another senior administration official told me, naming two regions in Eastern Ukraine under separatist control. “If there was a settlement on Donetsk and Luhansk, there could be a removal of some sanctions while maintaining sanctions with regard to Crimea. That represents a way forward for Putin.”"

The US was thus offering Russia this "deal": surrender Novorossiya/Donbass to Kiev (and its junta) for a partial lifting of sanctions, which can be resumed, reintroduced, or increased at any time with Crimea being "set aside" for more sanctions and ultimatums. And this ultimatum was presented to Russia "as a way forward for Putin." The US would be thus giving nothing in exchange for Russia's real and immediate abandoning of her national security interests and the Russians in Donbass with all the inevitable consequences. Moreover, the offer, which insisted on "adhering to the Minsk Agreements"--by Russia only--also shows and confirms who was the real author and inventor of the Minsk Agreements. It was the US. The claimed credit and partial ownership of what was signed in Minsk by Putin served as one of its selling points and a form of "buying in." Once one can persuade oneself that he or she made it one's own, it is then much easier to persuade oneself of its wisdom and of the need to accept it. What can be wrong with accepting "one's own" idea and proposition?

The article then indicates that this White House's brilliant plan has, however, been lately rejected. This also meant that Kerry's planned trip to Moscow has been cancelled (for now): "This fall, Kerry even proposed going to Moscow and meeting with Putin directly. The negotiations over Kerry’s trip got to the point of scheduling, but ultimately were scuttled because there was little prospect of demonstrable progress."

So what was the basic bottom line, new strategic readjustment of the US Drang nach Osten as a result of the "comprehensive review" of the US strategy towards Russia? The take-home message has been framed as follows: "We might as well test out what the [Russians] are actually willing to [accept and] do,” a senior administration official told me. “Our theory of this all along has been, let's see what’s there. Regardless of the likelihood of success.”

The US is playing a geopolitical chess game. But, faithful to its animus, it is mixing it also with a lethal and dangerous poker played for very high stakes.

PS: Should I wait for the midnight and raise a glass to 2015?

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