The White House statement on Crimea annexation saying that U.S. President Donald Trump expects Russia to de-escalate the Donbas conflict and return Crimea to Ukraine is one of the first signals showing the direction in which a more specific position of the United States toward Ukraine will develop, and which starting point will be chosen for U.S.-Russia talks, not only on the Ukrainian issue but on all regional issues where Russia is actively engaged.
For Ukraine, this statement is certainly a positive development. But Kyiv should not perceive these words as Washington’s final negotiating position. So far, it is only the outline of their core stance, in particular, in negotiations on Ukraine. As the negotiations will develop, this position will either change or strengthen. Therefore, Kyiv should focus on these talks and closely monitor their progress, trying to be a participant to all of their stages.
The White House statement is a positive sign as it indicates that Washington’s core stance is one in Ukraine’s favor. And now Ukraine needs to use all possible communication channels between Kyiv and Washington to give the Americans as much material, evidence, and arguments for them to retain their current position, not change it.
If in the near future, no top level communication takes place between Ukraine and the United States, the White House's position may alter
That’s because now it is highly likely that the U.S. position will be modified during the negotiations with the Russians. In fact, Russia has its arguments reasoning why Crimea should remain part of Russia, and these arguments will soon be tabled in Washington. Ukraine must present its own arguments as soon as possible.
Once again, if in the near future, no top level communication takes place between Ukraine and the United States, the White House's position may alter. The Ukrainian authorities shouldn’t be anxious about it but they must continue their efforts to present evidence-supported arguments on why Crimea has to be returned to Ukraine.
The signal from President Trump, although treated with optimism, should not let Kyiv relax and take things for granted.
Russia's reaction to the White House statement is logical. Russians will continuously defend their position on Crimea, and no other behavior should be expected from them. Ukraine perceives Crimea annexation as a move in complete violation of international law. In turn, Russia insists that the “accession” to Russia was in compliance with all regulations, citing the outcome of a pseudo-referendum, etc. It would be naïve to expect Russia to change its position now. They will continue to “patiently prove” to the Americans that whatever Moscow has done was right, honest, and necessary.
And here lies a threat. As the Americans say they are willing to resume dialogue with Russia, this creates risks for Ukraine because, after all, Americans can accept Russia’s arguments instead of Ukraine’s. That is when at the highest level of international relations the current U.S. formula of “Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine” may change.
We need to use all possible communication channels between Kyiv and Washington
So far, only the general lines have been defined from where the parties will start their dialogue on the Ukrainian issue. Whether these lines will remain the same in the future, depends on Kyiv.
Pavlo Rudiakov is an expert on foreign policy, head of Perspective information and political center in Kyiv