by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Shortly after the conclusion of the G7 summit Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose participation in the summit had been demonstratively banned by the G-7 leaders, made an official state visit to Italy (June 9th / 10th) which was conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cordiality.Part of his program was a visit to the Expo 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan as well meetings with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, State President Matarella and to the surprise of many a one hour meeting with Pope Francis.
Before his arrival inItaly Putin had givenan exclusive interview to the Italian Daily Corriere della Sera which had also been reprinted in other media.In the interview the Russian President presented his geostrategic views in a calm and self- confident wayreiterating his strong warning that there shouldn’t be any attempt made to split Russia away from Europe, i.e.“to create new border between Russia and Western Europe including Ukraine and Moldavia.”In the tradition of French General de Gaulle he urged the creation of “a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok”and underlined that the only way to bring about peace in Ukraine is “the implementation of the Minsk II agreements. (…) I consider the document agreed upon in Minsk II as the only possible way to solve the problem. We would never have agreed to this, if we would not have considered it as a correct, just and fair agreement”, Putin stated in the interview. “Of course we from our side will do everything thinkable which is our power to influence the administrations of the self- proclaimed Republics – Donezk and Lugansk. But not everything depends form us. (…) Today also our partners (Europe and US) must exert influence on the administrations in Kiev and demand the implementation of all agreements of Minsk.”
Putin further underlined that the “key for a political solution which is undoubtedly necessary, is above all the halt of war activities on the ground as well as withdrawal of heavy weapons, which in principle has occurred even if there is shooting and also victims, but there were not really any big military actions and that the parties are separated from each other. “We must begin to implement the Minsk agreements. Concretely this means that a constitutional reform is introduced which guarantees the autonomy rights of the areas of the non- recognized republics. There must also be a law passed which paves the way for communal elections as well as an amnesty law. And all this –as is noted in the agreements must be done in cooperation with the peoples republics of Donezk and Lugansk. The problem is however that the administration in Kiev doesn’t even want to sit down at the negotiating table with them. We have no influence on them – this only the Europeans and American partners have. There is no need to threaten us with further sanctions.We must begin an economic and social reconstruction in these areas where we see a humanitarian catastrophe,while all pretend as if nothing would happen there. He reiterated that “Russia is interested in a full and unconditional implementation of the Minsk agreements. Thereis no other way. I also want to remind you that one of the speakers of the self – proclaimed republics has publically declared that under certain conditions –including the fulfillment of Minsk, they are ready to consider seeing themselves as part of the Ukrainian state. I think this position can be seen as precondition for beginning a series of serious negotiations.”
Cordial reception in Italy
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had a joint press conference on June 10thin which the president emphasized the need for closer cooperation with Italy: “Italy is one of Russia’s biggest economic partners in Europe and is in third place in terms of trade volume (…) We know that Italian business people do not want to break off their mutually advantageous projects with Russia and that Italian business will be represented at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 18-20 particularly at the special seminar that we have planned: Russia and Italy – strengthening trade and investment ties at a time of geopolitical tension”, Putin said. He pointed out that Italy is the second largest buyer of Russian gas in Europe after Germany and that Italian companies are taking part inthe program tomodernize Russia’s power generation plants.Topics of discussion between the two statesmen were the Mideast,North Africa and Libya. Putin particularly expressed concern about Libya qualifying the collapse of the state of Libya as “result of the external military intervention that took place in 2011.”In respect to the crisis in Ukraine he stressed that both sides believe that a “peaceful settlement is the only possible solution there and I want to say that Russia, like Italy, wants to see full implementation of the Minsk agreements.(…) This document covers all key aspects for a settlement: political, military,socioeconomic and humanitarian. Unfortunately, however these provisions are not being implemented in full but only selectively.”
When he was asked about the G7 Putin replied that while at the moment Russia had no relation with the G7, there were alternatives and broader formats such as the G20. “We are working actively in the BRICS group, which unites Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa. We work in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization too, which alongside its current members will soon be joined by India and Pakistan. We are also very active in our work within the UN and its Security Council. If our partners wish, we are ready to develop active relations on a bilateral basis with any of the countries of the G7”.
The need to implement Minsk II was also in the center of discussion between Pope Francis and the Russian president. Officially not much was reported about the discussion.During the discussion which lasted for an hour and which was quite cordial (the Pope greeted Putin in German) Pope Francis expressed the concern that “big efforts must be made to reach peace and that an atmosphere of dialogue must be restored and that all sides must engage for Minsk II.”
Warning of heating up the “Transnistrian” conflict
In a background discussion which the author had with a well-informed Eastern Europe observer, it was stated that the Minsk II agreements were favorable to the Russian side; this includes direct negotiations between Ukraine and the “Novorossiya” – side (Donezk/Lugansk)in respect to military technical questions.
The observer emphasized that firstthere must be a law passed by the Ukrainian side that would give Donezk and Lugansk a quasi-federalstatus, followed by new communal elections in Donezk and Lugansk.So far the Ukraine hasn’t accepted the law.Heavy weapons are supposed to be withdrawn from the battle lines.It was pointed out that the Russian TV had reported that the Ukrainian militant right wing sector doesn’t feel bound by this agreement and has not withdrawn its weapons.In what concerns Russia and Ukraine interests in respect to Minsk II, the observer said that Russia may probably just have to wait.
“Putin just has to wait, so that he is not looked at as someone who breaks Minsk II which in turnwould provoke a stronger American interference. If however the Ukrainians were to start an offensive in the East or engage in attacks against Pridnestrovie(Transnistria), the presidentwould allow Donezk and Lugansk to start a counter offensive and with the help of Russian “tourist soldiers” cut away Ukraine’s access to the sea and create a direct line between Crimea and Pridnestrovie.”(Pridnestrovie or Transnistria emerged in the process of the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a secession of Moldavia, one of the so-called “frozen conflicts”) In such a case Russia would respond to what they consider a violation of international law.From Russia’s point of view the West violated this international law in the case of Kosovo resolution 1244 of the UN SC by splitting away Kosovo.They also consider the fact that the agreement which was concluded February 21 2014 between the Ukraine opposition and President Yanukovychin the presence of the three foreign ministers from Poland, Germany and France, as a clear violation, which was then followed with terror unleashed in Odessa and elsewhere without any consequences and the language law by which the Russian language got suppressed in the East. Given that a lot of this was done with the support from the West, Russia does not feel morally or politically bound, except by power politics.