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What’s behind latest voyages by US diplomats to Moscow?

May 19, 2015, 17:20 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

MOSCOW, May 19. /TASS/. The latest visits by US diplomatic envoys to Moscow after a long lull are a sure sign the United States has realized that the tactic of ignoring Russia is hopeless, Russian experts have told TASS. At the same time no fundamental improvement in bilateral relations is on the agenda yet, they believe. Washington is pursuing very pragmatic aims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 12 and the visit to Moscow Kerry’s deputy, Victoria Nuland, paid just a week later for talks with deputy foreign ministers Sergey Ryabkov and Grigory Karasin have sparked a wide response and a great variety of comments. In particular, analysts point out the two visits were very different in style.

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said after Putin’s talks with Kerry there were "manifestations of the first signs of the understanding the two great powers should get back to normal cooperation in the end." On the contrary, the two senior diplomats who had talks with Nuland several days later made it clear that the negotiations were very tough and, contrary to general expectations, brought about no rapprochement. Ryabkov described the situation in bilateral relations as disappointing. Nevertheless, Nuland declared the United States’ intention to furnish support for compliance with the Minsk accords and to back the parties to the negotiations - Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.

"For the Obama Administration it is very clear that the policy of ignoring Russia is rather senseless," the Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press) portal quotes political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov as saying. "Moreover, it is rather risky. The experience of the Cold War is a good lesson showing that in a situation where major military powers are at odds it is very risky not to have permanent channels of communication."

As for the stylistic dissimilarity between Kerry’s and Nuland’s visits, in the opinion senior research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Sergey Mikhailov, "the Department of State plays the well-familiar bad cop/good cop game."

"Nuland is notorious as Russia’s harsh critic. Her part is that of the bad cop," Mikhailov told TASS. "Next to her Kerry looks the dove of peace. That’s a well-considered diplomatic trick."

The analyst recalled that Obama was under never-ending fire of criticism from the Republicans for his foreign policy, which looks to them too mild, even spineless.

"Nuland’s visit was most probably an attempt to ease the negative impression in the United States which Kerry’s visit might have produced at home," Mikhailov believes.

He attributes the United States’ wish to be more active in settling the Ukrainian crisis mostly to the intention to make Russia more cooperative over Syria. Some US Administration officials stated that quite unequivocally.

"But if the Middle East motives prevail, this does not mean that Washington is indifferent about the Ukrainian crisis as such. In the meantime, its Ukrainian project seems to have gone all wrong. In case of its eventual collapse, if Washington’s undertaking ends in failure, the blow on the US prestige would be really hard. This explains why Washington has decided the situation should be settled somehow."

As for the general state of Russian-US relations, Mikhailov sees them as follows: "In the past the United States was putting psychological pressures on Russia, hoping that the sanctions would trigger internal problems and Moscow would give in. When it realized that nothing of the kind happened, the tactic was changed. "That’s sheer arithmetic. No attempts at resetting relations. Just business."

"Kerry and Nuland pursued different objectives," the leading research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Security Problems, xey Fenenko, told TASS. "Kerry’s visit was a sheer gesture heralding the restoration of contacts at the US initiative. Nuland was lobbying for Kiev’s interests."

As far as Washington’s wish to have a say in the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, it largely stems from certain worries the Normandy format has begun to work, Fenenko said. The United States had hoped France and Germany would be safeguarding its interests, but Russia and Germany have developed working contacts, while the Americans have found themselves on the sidelines of real settlement efforts."

"Washington has realized that a head-on offensive is fruitless and that some bypass routes are to be looked for," Fenenko said.

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