In Background, Ukraine

By Alexander Mercouris, senior correspondent, Russia Insider, June 9, 2015

Obama’s comments and the summit communique does not represent a hardening of the Western position. They simply repeat the standard clichés.

People are overreacting to the G7 summit, just as they overreacted to the Putin-Kerry meeting last month.

(L to R), President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

(L to R), President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

The Putin-Kerry meeting was not a breakthrough in U.S.-Russia relations (see Kerry in Sochi: Better Relations Between Moscow and Washington – No Peace in Ukraine, Russia Insider, 18th May 2015). At most, it was an understanding by the realists on both sides that the U.S. had failed in its larger geopolitical objectives in Ukraine and that the conflict there should be put to one side so that the U.S. and Russia could work together on other matters.

However, even the realists in the U.S. continue to see Russia as an adversary. Nothing that happened at the G7 summit changes that picture.

There was a commitment to continue the sanctions but no-one – certainly not the Russians – seriously imagined they would be lifted (see G7 and Sanctions: Doubling Down on a Failed Policy, Russia Insider, 9th June 2015).

Obama made his usual over-the-top comments about Putin “wrecking the Russian economy”, “leading Russia into isolation” and “wanting to restore the Soviet empire”. As my colleague Danielle Ryan rightly says, it is impossible Obama really believes this nonsense (see The Lights Are on in Washington, but Nobody’s Home, Russia Insider, 9th June 2015).

At the end of the day, however, these are words intended for domestic consumption – to show the folks back home how tough Obama is. They were followed up with no action.

The G7’s communiqué contains a threat to increase the sanctions if Russia doesn’t behave itself.  Merkel, however, admitted that no new sanctions were discussed. That particular sentence in the communiqué – like the rest of the communiqué – was almost certainly agreed weeks ago.

There were the usual bromides about supporting Ukraine.  However, no money was actually offered, which is what in its present condition Ukraine actually needs.

Someone – possibly the Canadians or the British – brought up the idea again of arming the Ukrainians. That idea was, however, rejected, as it was before, with the Europeans adamantly opposed to it. Apparently, the discussion of this subject was perfunctory, lasting just a few minutes.

Most of the summit’s communique was not about Russia or Ukraine at all, but was the usual airy talk on a diverse medley of subjects – prepared months in advance – packed with the usual grandiose commitments for example on climate change no one expects will ever be fulfilled.

So far as relations with Russia are concerned the G7 summit was a non-event. The best indicator of that is the stolid reaction to the summit of Russia’s financial markets. After the communique was published the rouble actually strengthened and Russia’s stock markets rose.

Financial markets are febrile beasts and not always reliable, but this time we should take a lesson from their calm.

*****

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