Could economic sanctions against Russia be lifted soon? It’s what German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel suggested Tuesday. Gabriel made his comments during an interview with the German magazine “Focus.”
Not only did Gabriel say he thought sanctions should be gradually lifted but that the Minsk II agreement is an impossible barrier. Moreover, do a search on this subject and only Russian sympathetic news sources even mention it.
“In accordance with the decision of the European Union, the Minsk agreements must be fulfilled at 100 percent before sanctions can be completely lifted. I believe that is impossible to implement. It would be better to consistently lift the sanctions, indicating that we need to move towards peace,” Gabriel said. [emphasis mine]
This is the first hint of rationality and not virtue-signaling from either side on this issue in more than two years.
Since Minsk II was signed thoughtful commentators made the point that it would be used by both sides to accuse the other of not fulfilling its terms. It was an agreement meant to be disagreed with.
Kiev would never pull back from the contact line and has continually shelled the Donbass. That, in turn, provokes a response from the Donbass which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko uses to accuse them of provocation and bombs them with U.S. ordnance some more.
The U.S. and Germany back him up on this and things continue on. Every so often Senator John McCain gets up in front of the Senate to ask for more money from the ‘freedom fighters’ in Ukraine after Poroshenko wastes it in vain.
The cycle repeats itself every few months.
Meanwhile, Russia is blamed for extending this mess. The U.S. press calls a three-year stalemate a ‘crisis’ in every article referencing lifting sanctions to keep the narrative alive. And, economic hardship is meted upon the people of Europe, Ukraine and the Donbass who simply want to get back to living peaceful lives.
Breaking the Stalemate?
Gabriel’s admission that Minsk II cannot be implemented is the first sign of rationality by any major player in this theater of the absurd. It being a condition for talks has to be removed or talks will never occur. Russia can’t implement Minsk II.
It isn’t a signatory. Ukraine and the LPR/DPR are. Yes, Russia can influence the separatists, but it is not going to tell them to stand down completely and allow Poroshenko to overrun them as he has proved completely untrustworthy.
He’s not completely to blame. Ukrainian politics have his hands tied as much as the U.S. Deep State has Trump’s. If Poroshenko looks soft on the Donbass, he’ll be lynched by the Right Sector/Azov Battalion crazies. That will likely happen anyway.
I have to wonder if this statement by FM Gabriel comes now, knowing that relations between Germany and the U.S. are straining under Donald Trump and that opposition to Trump’s agenda is beginning to crumble with the illness to John McCain and ‘Russia-gate’ fatigue among the electorate.
The time is good for Merkel to signal this while not actually doing anything until after the election in September. It looks like she’s going to walk to re-election as SPD support has collapsed to just 18%.
From the U.S. side, when I see polls which have more than half of the responders think that the Democratic Party stands for nothing other than opposition to Trump, I know we’re reaching the end of this narrative. From Breitbart’s coverage of the latest WaPo/ABC Poll:
Fifty-two percent of respondents said they believe the party stands for nothing except opposing Trump, while 37 percent said they believed it stood for something more.
The survey, conducted July 10-13, was weighted in favor of Democrats, with 35 percent of respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, while just 23 percent identified as Republican. A further 35 percent identified as Independent.
Note the gross Democrat over-sample. Also note that this was a Washington Post/ABC poll. They clearly didn’t expect this result.
Russian to Detente?
But here it is. The successful meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the G-20 began the thaw. The U.S. Senate committed serious overreach with the now stalled sanctions bill that has German Chancellor Angela Merkel furious. It makes sense for her and Putin to put a brave face on Minsk II while sending out her Foreign Minister to begin signalling the change.
Add to this the surprise announcement by Alexander Zakharchenko of the Donetsk People’s Republic declaring the formation of Malorussia as an independent country, and we have the recipe for real change in the situation in Ukraine.
Putin was blind-sided by this, apparently. So was Merkel and the government in Kiev. And yet, it creates the right solution that washes the hands of all the outside actors in Ukraine of their complicity in the mess.
The reality is that Ukraine’s government will not survive unless the U.S. continues to support it. And it looks like Trump is not willing to. McCain was the chief proponent of our Ukraine policy.
He’s not likely in the picture anymore. Merkel isn’t going to fight for Poroshenko now that Nordstream-2 is a go. In order to get a real solution to a problem created by feckless politicians you have to give them an out that allows them to save face.
This, along with negotiating leverage, is why Merkel has not allowed sanctions to be lifted even though it’s in Germany’s best interest. Russian sanctions are too valuable to her to give up and they aren’t now costing her anything politically. So, until there was a path that didn’t involve her going back on her word with respect to Minsk II, nothing would change.
Now with Malorussia on the table and Ukraine her problem, there is enough of a shift that could see her begin real talks with Russia.