Ukrainian interest. Kremlin-style swap, cynicism for Crimea and Donbas, and European attention to Ukraine
Vladimir Putin tried to take advantage of Nadia Savchenko release which was a result of international pressure. Russian officials remain cynical toward Crimea and Donbas. European politicians have shown interest in Ukraine.
The decision to release Nadia Savchenko was taken during the talks in Normandy format. By eerie coincidence, this very day has become the darkest for the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Donbas since year start – on May 23, seven Ukrainian troops were killed in militant attacks and another nine were wounded. However, given the fact that a Chechen court May 26 sentenced Ukrainian citizens Mykola Karpiuk and Stanyslav Klykh to 22.5 and 20 years of imprisonment respectively, we can get quite a clear picture of “sincerity” of Russia's intentions to seek ways to settle the Donbas conflict.
It is already clear that the Kremlin perceives the exchange of Nadia Savchenko for GRU officers Alexandrov and Yerofeyev as a special operation with the accented foreign policy vector, for the sake of which a small surge of discontent within the Russian borders can be tolerated. In any case, the Russian government controls media space too tightly to worry about any negative reaction to Savchenko’s release. Putin hopes to trade the release of the Ukrainian hostage for a visible improvement of relations with the West. This is evidenced not only by a massive trend of a variety of European politicians speaking out for the restoration of relations with the Kremlin, but also by the Russian president's visit to Greece, the country Moscow perceives as loyal Orthodox partner state. During the visit, Putin for the first time publicly voiced the Kremlin’s version of why he had actually pardoned Savchenko. Vladimir Putin said he had made a decision following a lacrimal request of the families of the Russian journalists killed in the summer of 2014 to grant such pardon to Nadia Savchenko, whom Russia wrongfully accused of complicity in the murder of these journalists.
It should be noted that the G7 leaders who gathered in Japan did not fall for the “humanitarian” move of the Russian president and linked the lifting of sanctions against Russia to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, from which Russia has been diligently distancing itself. However, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel made it clear that it was too soon to talk about any weakening of sanctions. Frank-Walter Steinmeier expects a difficult debate within the European Union concerning the extension of sanctions against Russia, and the Kremlin, for its part, will try to take advantage of this circumstance.
In the meantime, Russia continues to pay much attention to certain Ukrainian territories. For example, Dmitry Medvedev, who visited the Russian-occupied Crimea outraging the Ukrainian authorities, told the local senior citizens that the State had no money for the indexation of pensions, choosing instead to wish them well and telling them to get by. A video clip with Medvedev saying that ridiculously epic phrase went viral in hours inspiring a spiral of memes. It should be noted that without the easing of sanctions, it will be difficult for Russia to expect an improvement in its financial balance. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spox, welcomed the will of Petro Poroshenko to have Donbas returned to Ukraine, given the intention is driven by "humanitarian considerations." In fact, the Russian leaders skillfully and cynically manipulate the information space with this formula. It is no wonder that while in Greece, Vladimir Putin once again blackmailed Ukraine saying that hostilities in Donbas will continue until Ukraine adopts Constitutional amendments.
The European Parliament last week paid a lot of attention to relations with Ukraine. It was not only about the decision on the allocation of EUR 1.8 billion in macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, but also about a quite optimistic report on the prospects of introducing visa-free regime, which is now seen as a symbol of further rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU. At the same time, it should be noted that both the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz and President of the European Council Donald Tusk who welcomed the liberation of Nadia Savchenko, called it an insufficient reason for the lifting of sanctions against Russia.