From pariah to player – Russia’s big push for relevance
Putin has gone from being frozen out over Ukraine to a power-broker in the Middle East
US president Barack Obama meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Mexico, in 2012. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Through the summer of 2015, Vladimir Putin has played a bold and unexpected diplomatic hand, taking Moscow from being frozen out over Ukraine to a power-broker in the Middle East. By turns the Russian president appeared as a capricious influence in Ukraine’s conflict, an engaged partner in a nuclear deal with Iran, a rallying-point for non-western powers and finally a purported military saviour to Syria’s Assad regime.
The tactics may not amount to a wise long-term strategy, but for now diplomats are at a loss over how to respond.
Russia cold-shouldered by world powers
Meeting in the southern German resort of Elmau, the Group of Seven countries issue a stronger than expected warning to Russia over Ukraine. The message from the gathering of western powers and Japan – which Putin routinely attended until last year – is a signal that economic curbs against Russia would stay and even intensify if it escalates military backing for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The EU on June 24th rolls over its sanctions against Russian industry – prompting the Kremlin to roll over its ban on food imports from the West.
Putin and friends: from Ufa to Iran
Lest Russia appear isolated over the Ukraine conflict, Putin basks in the praise of leaders from China’s Xi Jinping to Iran’s Hassan Rouhani during a two-day shindig for the non-western economic powers in the Russian city of Ufa. Within the week, Moscow is one of six world powers agreeing a landmark nuclear accord with Iran. It is now an engaged partner at the diplomatic top table.
The heaviest shelling in east Ukraine since February. Putin visits Crimea and Ukraine on August 17th, his first visit since the annexation. Clashes break out in eastern Ukraine around Mariupol and Horlivka.
Aug 25th-Sept 1st
The upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine prompts a flurry of diplomatic activity. Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petro Poroshenko – the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine – meet in Paris and deliberately do not invite Putin in a warning over the deteriorating situation. The French and German leaders later call Putin to plead for total ceasefire starting in September. With quite sudden effect, the negotiated ceasefire appears to hold. September 11th is the first day in almost 18 months with no shelling in eastern Ukraine.
Putin looks east, plays the Syria card
A Russian military build-up in Syria that began weeks before finally becomes public. After calling US president Barack Obama, Putin calls for an international coalition against extremists in Syria. Meanwhile, US officials begin voicing concerns about a Russian military base and new equipment arriving in Syria. The move is a power-play in a volatile region where US policy is adrift and Washington’s dominance is in doubt.
US complains but is forced to talk
US secretary of state John Kerry calls Moscow to complain about military build-up in Syria, while asking Greece and Bulgaria to block Russian supply flights. Russia, meanwhile, begins to openly confirm its military build-up in Syria. The US warnings make no difference; eventually Washington cedes to Russian demands for talks and US and Russian defence secretaries make first contact in more than a year.
Putin centre stage at UN General Assembly
Putin steals the show as he appears at the UN General Assembly for the first time in a decade. His speech lambasts US interventionism, arguing military misadventures in the Iraq and Libya left power vacuums now filled by “extremists and terrorists”. “Now do you realise what you have done?” he asks. While Putin describes Assad as the “legitimate” leader of Syria, Obama denounces him as a “tyrant who drops barrel bombs on innocent children”. The two hold a testy meeting – an encounter the White House had been loathe to agree to.
Ukraine talks resume
Putin, Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko will meet in Paris to discuss implementation of the Minsk ceasefire accord. It comes during a significant lull in violence in eastern Ukraine and is Putin’s opportunity to swing political opinion in Europe back towards sanctions relief at the end of the year. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015