Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Putin Parried Obama's Overtures on Crimea - WSJ

How Putin Parried Obama's Overtures on Crimea

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Updated March 18, 2014 8:36 p.m. ET
Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a Kremlin hall on Tuesday to sign a treaty for Crimea to join Russia. AFP/Getty Images
LONDON—U.S. officials negotiating with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the future of Ukraine were surprised last week after the experienced diplomat excused himself to phone PresidentVladimir Putin in Moscow.
His making such a call wasn't unusual: Mr. Lavrov often sought instructions from the Kremlin leader. The Americans were stunned, however, when Mr. Lavrov reported that Mr. Putin had refused to take his call.
Coming during the final U.S. attempts to preserve the modern borders of Europe, the episode with Mr. Lavrov here last week underscored the Obama administration's inability to penetrate the Kremlin and its struggles to comprehend Mr. Putin's calculations five years after President Barack Obama decided to reset Washington's ties with Moscow.
Brookings Institution fellow Fiona Hill argues Russian President Vladimir Putin is a composite of six identities: Statist, Survivalist, History Man, Outsider, Case Officer and Free Marketeer. Photo: Associated Press.
Russia's rapid move this week to absorb Crimea came despite breakneck U.S. diplomatic efforts, showing the limits of that approach with Moscow and marking a renewed chill with an expansionist-minded partner still seen as vital to core American interests around the world.
The Obama administration is now left crafting a more confrontational policy toward Mr. Putin, but it remains unclear how far it will go. The inner workings of the Obama administration's diplomatic push, including Mr. Lavrov's phone call, were described by several senior U.S., European and Russian officials who were familiar with the recent negotiations.
Since the crisis over Ukraine erupted last month, the White House gave Secretary of State John Kerrythe task of aggressively engaging Mr. Lavrov. But the administration soon concluded that the Soviet-trained bureaucrat wasn't empowered to cut deals on the Kremlin's plans to annex Ukraine's Crimean region.
The White House, sensing its isolation from Mr. Putin, desperately set about to find alternate channels to influence Russia's strongman and to step up Mr. Obama's outreach to him, according to senior U.S. officials.
The moves included establishing back channels with Moscow-friendly foreign leaders. Mr. Obama phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel multiple times, as well as British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande, and reached out to Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's ruler, the White House said. Mr. Kerry has met with Israel's Russian-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, at least once, U.S. and Israeli officials said. The efforts didn't seem to have much impact. (Mr. Nazarbayev recognized the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea on Tuesday.)
Mr. Obama in four phone calls with Mr. Putin over the past month totaling 4½ hours also failed to make headway with a leader he had cultivated as a crucial ally in trying to roll back the spread of nuclear weapons and international terrorism.
This dynamic created a growing unease in Washington that Mr. Putin was simply using diplomacy—and Mr. Lavrov—as political cover for moving his forces into Crimea and possibly greater Ukraine. Mr. Lavrov repeatedly assured Mr. Kerry that Russia planned to respect Ukraine's borders.
Kremlin officials have said Russia's diplomatic efforts were genuine. Mr. Lavrov couldn't be reached for comment.

Mr. Obama in recent years has treated the Kremlin as a top U.S. diplomatic partner in addressing national-security challenges despite evidence Mr. Putin was working at cross purposes to U.S. ambitions in many parts of the world.
On Syria, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov formulated diplomatic tracks aimed at disarming President Bashar al-Assad of his chemical-weapons arsenal and ending the civil war. But two years after the diplomacy started, Mr. Assad has solidified his position in Damascus while Moscow has intensified its arms shipments to the Syrian military, U.S. and Arab officials have said.
On Iran and North Korea, the White House made Russia a central player in its efforts to prevent Tehran and Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the diplomacy has done little to halt the countries' progress. Now, the Obama administration has publicly voiced alarm that Moscow could torpedo current talks with Tehran by agreeing to build new reactors for Iran in a barter exchange for Iranian oil.
Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said on Tuesday that Mr. Putin's play for Ukraine shouldn't have surprised the White House, given his track record on such issues as Syria and Iran. He called on Mr. Obama to escalate sanctions and consider military support to Ukraine. "It is past time we reassess our entire strategy towards a nation that poses an increasing threat to international peace and security," he said.
Obama aides said his outreach to Russia over the past five years has been worth it. "It wasn't a failure, because the reset was premised on two things: first, that there were areas where out of mutual self-interest it made sense to cooperate with Russia," said Tony Blinken, Mr. Obama's deputy national security adviser, in an interview. "But, second, there would be areas where we would not cooperate because our differences were too stark, like the issue of spheres of influence, which we reject."
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed both Parliaments in a speech in which he talked about the "historical importance" of Russia's relationship with Crimea and said there will be three equal state languages in the region. Photo: Getty Images
With Russia's declared plan to annex Crimea, the Obama administration has signaled a more confrontational stance toward the Kremlin, including sanctioning some of Mr. Putin's aides and senior officials. The White House also indicated it could move to impose broad financial sanctions, targeting Russian arms and resource companies, if Moscow moves to carve out larger sections of Ukraine.
Still, the White House and State Department have shown a reluctance to give up diplomacy with the Russians. Mr. Kerry continues to talk with Mr. Lavrov almost daily, U.S. officials said, and hasn't ruled out having direct talks with Mr. Putin. Mr. Obama said on Monday that he still sees a diplomatic resolution to the crisis "in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and Ukraine," a stance echoed by Germany and other U.S. allies.
The U.S. position is feeding growing fears in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region that Washington and the European Union eventually will adapt to a Russian absorption of Crimea, if not Ukraine as a whole.
The U.S. embraced a more aggressive diplomatic role in the Ukraine crisis on Feb. 22. The Obama administration and EU were stunned when former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, a close Kremlin ally, fled Kiev following massive street protests.
U.S. officials welcomed the expected Westward tilt of a new Ukrainian government. But the administration refrained from publicly championing Mr. Yanukovych's overthrow as a Cold War-style victory, fearing it could rattle Mr. Putin, U.S. officials said.
The Obama administration's initial reaction focused on using Ukraine's political transition as an opportunity for cooperation with Moscow. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew met in Australia with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov, a day after Mr. Yanukovych's overthrow and sought to jointly develop an economic-aid package for Ukraine. Mr. Kerry held one of his more-than-a-dozen phone calls with Mr. Lavrov since the Ukraine crisis erupted, seeking common ground on political reforms for Kiev and the protection of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
"We don't see the world in zero sum terms," said Mr. Blinken, the deputy national-security adviser, "and in the case of Ukraine for example, a successful, integrated Ukraine is not only good for Ukraine, it's actually good for Russia."
As the Kremlin prepared in February to deploy troops across Crimea, Messrs. Obama and Kerry intensified their efforts to walk back Russia from a confrontation.
Mr. Obama's 90-minute phone conversation with Mr. Putin on March 1 was longer than any call he has had with a foreign leader except Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said a senior administration official.
The presidents have become blunt in their exchanges. In the March 1 call, they spent most of the time disagreeing over the facts on the ground in Ukraine, U.S. officials said. Mr. Putin insisted that ethnic Russians were in danger in the former Soviet state, while Mr. Obama said: "That's just not true."
During their discussion, Mr. Obama made clear he was serious about sanctions and presented Mr. Putin with a version of a resolution he had been discussing with Ms. Merkel and others. Mr. Putin indicated he heard the message but didn't show his hand, the senior administration official said.
The White House and State Department have sought out U.S. allies who have more-cordial relations with Mr. Putin. On March 4, Mr. Obama talked to Ms. Merkel for nearly an hour by phone, going over the outlines of a potential resolution to the crisis. He has spoken with her at least twice since then, U.S. officials said, including on Tuesday.
Mr. Kerry's close working relationship with Mr. Lavrov has dominated the diplomacy. They are an unlikely pair: a Vietnam War veteran who sailboards and a chain-smoking Soviet-schooled bureaucrat known for sharp suits and wry humor.
Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to discuss the Ukraine crisis with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, far right, in London on March 14. Reuters
Mr. Kerry, after a four-hour stop in Kiev on March 5, flew to Paris and Rome for meetings with Mr. Lavrov. Mr. Kerry brought with him Ukraine's interim foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, in hopes of brokering a direct meeting with Mr. Lavrov. The Russian refused, saying the Kremlin didn't recognize Ukraine's new government.
Mr. Kerry passed to Mr. Lavrov in Rome a one-page document outlining a resolution on Ukraine that the U.S. wanted to be presented to Mr. Putin. Moscow responded by inviting Mr. Kerry to meet with Mr. Putin in Sochi. The White House and State Department demurred, wanting to see if Mr. Putin responded substantively to the proposals. Mr. Kerry then sent Mr. Lavrov a more detailed document, U.S. officials said.
But the Kremlin used the exchange to paint the U.S. as not serious about negotiations. During a break from the Sochi Paralympic Games, Mr. Putin met Mr. Lavrov on March 10 before state-television cameras. When Mr. Putin requested an update on the negotiations, Mr. Lavrov said Mr. Kerry had scheduled and then canceled his trip.
"He gave preliminary approval, but then on Saturday, he called me back and said he'd like to put off the trip, as he put it, because in Washington another piece of paper had appeared," Mr. Lavrov said disdainfully. "But we're not just passively receiving proposals from our colleagues."
Mr. Kerry tried one more time on March 14 to get the Kremlin to back off Crimea in six hours of talks with Mr. Lavrov in London. U.S. officials who took part said the Russian diplomat wasn't prepared to discuss concessions. It was during those meetings that he reported to the U.S. side that he called Mr. Putin but ended up speaking with Mr. Putin's chief of staff instead.
Mr. Obama held one more phone call with Mr. Putin on Sunday before the Russian leader declared his plan to annex Crimea. Mr. Obama told Mr. Putin that sanctions and travel bans would be slapped on his aides the following day and that financial sanctions could intensify.
In recent days, senior U.S. officials have begun outlining a confrontational strategy that marks a policy U-turn. Some U.S. officials have described an attempt to freeze Russian banks and companies out of the Western financial system.
Russian officials mocked the impact of the U.S. sanctions, and Mr. Lavrov threatened on Tuesday to retaliate.
—Gregory L. White and Ian Talley contributed to this article.
Write to Jay Solomon at and Carol E. Lee at
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John Kerry says Russian President Putin's speech doesn't "jibe with reality" - YouTube

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Published on Mar 18, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State says implications of Russia's behavior are dangerous. Rough Cut (No Reporter Narration)

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Ukraine Helplessly Watches Russia Annex Crimea

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Global leaders respond to Putin's signing of treaty

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Published on Mar 18, 2014
The speed of President Vladsamir Putin's actions took the international community by surprise The international community has reacted to the signing of the treaty by threatening Russia with economic and political isolation. Al Jazeera's Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

Putin’s Brave New Russia 

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Trouble, even when expected, can come at unexpected times. For many months, Russians have expected that authorities would begin to block Internet sites that publish opinions from opposition leaders, activists and supporters.

Demonstrations Continue Over Ukraine 

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Two protesters in front of Kazan Cathedral on Mar. 15 address what they see as an information war being raged over Ukraine.The police allowed a protest against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on Mar. 15 despite City Hall’s refusal to authorize the gathering. Held near the Kazan Cathedral on the eve of the Crimean referendum on joining Russia, the protest drew between 500 and 600 people.

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Putin’s Olympics End In Shadow of Crimea 

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Triumphant in the midst of global condemnation, President Vladimir Putin clinked his champagne flute with sports leaders, toasting the success of his pet project in Sochi.

Putin Signs Treaty Making Crimean Peninsula Part of Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make Ukraine's Crimea part of Russia, angering the United States and European Union.Mr. Putin Tuesday signed the document with the prime minister of Crimea's regional government , the speaker of its parliament, and the mayor of the city of Sevastopol , where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. Earlier, Mr. Putin told the Russian parliament that Crimea has always been an "inalienable" part of Russia. He said...

Russia’s Most Wanted Man Reported Dead 

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A Chechen jihadist website appeared to confirm months of rumors on Tuesday that Doku Umarov, the feared Islamist warlord who threatened the Sochi Olympics last year, was dead.
Years of similar reports of the death of Russia’s most wanted man have been met with skepticism. But this report is being treated as more reliable because it comes from his sympathizers at the Kavkaz Center, which the Wall Street Journal called “the de facto mouthpiece for Islamist rebels fighting in Russia.”
The report did not elaborate on how, or when, Umarov died but it corresponded with the release of a YouTube video posted by a man calling himself Ali Abu Muhammed, who claimed to be his replacement. In the report, Umarov was labeled a “martyr” who had “given 20 years of his life to the Jihad.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov also announced the same report on his well known Instagram feed. If Umarov’s death is confirmed by Russian security services, this would be a major success for Russian President Vladimir Putin as he continues to stamp out the Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus.
The former Chechen rebel had aimed to establish a caliphate, and united several militant groups in Dagestan, Chechnya and other Caucasus provinces under his leadership. Caucasus Emirate has claimed responsibility for a string of deadly attacks over the last few years, including a bombing at a Moscow airport in 2010 and one on a city subway the following year.
He called on his followers last July to use “maximum force” to disrupt the Winter Olympics that were held in Sochi last month. No attacks took place during the Games, but Umarov’s group was widely believed to be behind two December blasts in the transportation hub of Volgograd, largely seen as a gateway to Sochi, which killed more than 30 people.

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