There are mixed signals aplenty between the United States and Russia, but it appears that various Western European leaders are doing their part to bring President Obama and President Vladimir Putin together and to avoid, at least, the worst possible outcome in the Ukraine crisis. Perhaps the best hope for finally ending the crisis will come when Putin realizes that his overreaching on Ukraine has had the unfortunate byproduct of strengthening and reinvigorating NATO, giving the United States new ammunition to demand that the Europeans increase their military spending. President Obama’s new talk of putting additional NATO troops in Eastern Europe—already rejected by Slovakia and the Czech Republic—and creating a $1 billion fund for military reinforcement in the region, is not a good sign for Europe and for future US-Russian relations.
Still, despite ongoing, Russian-inspired violence in eastern Ukraine, there are many hopeful signs. By and large, both the United States and Europe have resigned themselves to Russia’s land grab in Crimea, which is pretty much a done deal—and therefore, mostly, off the table as a point of contention. Putin, despite grumbles, has pretty much acknowledged that Petro Poroshenko will be Ukraine’s new leader, and by and large he’s accepted the results of the election that put Poroshenko into power, agreeing to send a top envoy to Poroshenko’s inauguration. In addition, the Russians have withdrawn some, but not all, of the forces they’d arrayed along Ukraine’s borders, easing tensions. And, not only did Poroshenko and Putin meet on the sidelines of the Normandy anniversary events, but Obama and Putin managed a short interchange, too, despite Obama’s rather churlish refusal to meet Putin formally. (Putin did, of course, have formal meetings with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany.)
Russia’s RT, a Putin propaganda outlet, reported on the Putin-Poroshenko meeting:
Both leaders “have spoken for a prompt end to bloodshed in southeast Ukraine as well as for an end to military actions from both sides—from the side of the Ukrainian armed forces and the supporters of federalization of Ukraine,” said Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.
And Peskov also gave this account of the brief meeting between Obama and Putin:
Despite that there was no separate meeting [scheduled], the leaders of the two states had an opportunity to share their views on the situation in Ukraine as well as on crisis in the east of the country. Putin and Obama have spoken for the necessity to reduce violence and military actions.
The Washington Post, which has its own propaganda value but which is closer to actual journalism than RT, reported that “the United States, Russia and Ukraine took small steps to ease tensions.” Earlier, before Obama and Putin talked briefly, the Post reported on the G-7 meeting by saying in its lead that “President Obama and other leaders meeting here offered an olive branch to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” and adding, “It was clear that the international big chill imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine is starting to thaw.” But is it? Despite recent, apparently conciliatory actions by Putin, very, very serious problems remain.