Who could talk to Putin. And how

President Putin talk to Chancellor Merkel and basically accepted “fact-finding” mission. Hard to say if it will work somehow, but would you say that Putin is probably more willing to talk to Germany at this moment than to anybody or not, and why and as e. g. Genscher was involved in Khodorskovsky case would you say it would be wise to send some sort of envoy to Moscow? Read few comments.

Hylke DijkstraAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

Questions of war and peace take place at the level of heads of state and government. Mediation between Russia and Ukraine will therefore also have to place at the highest level. We can recall that it was the French President Sarkozy who played an active role in negotiating a compromise between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

From this point of view, it is encouraging to see that Merkel has talked to Putin and, as such, has made Germany an owner in this conflict. The trouble is that I find it still hard to see at this point who precisely can act as the mediator. Putin will probably prefer to speak to European counterparts than to the United States directly. Yet I do not see Merkel stepping on a plane to Moscow. Nor Cameron or Hollande for that matter. Kerry and High Representative Ashton may, in this respect, do the initial preparatory work.

A question is also whether this conflict is ready for mediation. As long as it is unclear what Putin precisely wants and where he will stop, I am not sure any mediation attempt will be successful. What the West should therefore do is to collectively increase the pressure while keeping channels of communication open. We should start with imposing economic sanctions as well as increasing the NATO reconnaissance and presence in the Black Sea.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, Programme Coordinator, Global Europe Centre, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

I think a fact ‘fact-finding’ mission must happen. This is likely to be an OSCE-led mission, not an EU mission as happened following the Russo-Georgian war back in 2008. In regards to a special envoy, Germany may be a more preferable partner for Moscow because it exercised more restrained in response to Russian intervention than any other states, certainly in comparison to Poland or the Baltic States.

For one, there is a question of Gernot Erler, Merkel’s special adviser on Russia, who’s been seen in general as a Rusophile in comparison to his CDU predecessor Andreas Schockenhoff. Secondly, Steinmeier, Germany’s Foreign Minister, has been cautious in his response to Russia’s moves, and is trying to keep as many channels opened between ‘The West’ and Russia as possible, including the G-8.

An envoy must be sent to Moscow, and a ‘fact-finding’ mission must be established, even if it has a symbolic meaning. In an ideal world, of course, Russia would withdraw back to its basis and all would live happily ever after. However, in a world of real international politics, Putin cannot afford to be seen as bowing to Western pressure, and so Russian troops will not be withdrawn without a show of some form of ‘accomplishment’ – whether that may be at this stage. In this sense, both the special envoy and the fact-finding mission buys time for Putin’s next move.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves, what really have been Putin’s aims? Simply to exercise Russia’s muscles in its near abroad? To counter what it feared was Western-meddling in its ‘back-yard’? To set up a client state in Crimean, or perhaps all three? Either way, Putin cannot withdraw Russian forces immediately or he will lose face – therefore, on-going special envoys, contact groups and fact-missions are important to keep doors open for an orderly Russian withdrawal without a conflict with Kyiv, and without Kremlin looking like it is bowing to Western pressure. At the same time, however, US and the Europe must continue to exert sustained politico-economic pressure on Kremlin to make that withdrawal as speedy as possible.

Jörg Forbrig, Senior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe, Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy, German Marshall Fund

Putin-Merkel talk: My reading of this seeming acceptance of a fact-finding mission is that it is Putin’s well-timed attempt to sow discord among European leaders. Some EU countries want a strong reaction, others including Germany remain inclined more softly and want to avoid a freeze in EU-Russia relations. Putin sends the Germans a signal that he might co-operate, hoping to reinforce Germany’s opposition to harsh EU measures.

Fact-finding mission: This is absolutely needed as a foundation for a political solution of the crisis. Both the UN and the OSCE have suitable mechanisms in place but require first-hand monitoring on the ground. Such a direct presence, which has been missing so far, will likely prove the Russian side wrong on a whole number of claims and expose their fabricated reasons for intervention. Which is why the Russians are not very likely to accept a fact-finding mission at this stage. They need to establish more facts first.

German mediation: Germany is, of course, well-placed to act as a mediator. It has people and back channels to employ discretely vis-a-vis the Russian. However, given Germany;s often ambiguous role towards Russia and the scepticism among many Central Europeans, this role must be coordinated with and backed by those EU countries that are most immediately affected. These are especially Ukraine’s direct neighbours in the EU.

Ulrich Speck, Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Europe

I think Berlin has a strategy which is trying to bring Putin back in the camp of reasonable leaders of states. By taking a much softer approach than other western leaders, Steinmeier and Merkel are trying to build bridges which allow Putin to step back from further aggression. There is some merit to such an approach.

But it can only work when it is coordinated. Carrots can only work as a diplomatic tool if there are also sticks: Putin must understand what the price is for invading Ukraine, and he must understand that the west is united and very serious. If Berlin only wields carrots, someone else needs to carry the stick.

Currently I don’t see such a coordinated approach. But without a close coordination of US and EU positions, the Kremlin will perceive the west as weak and is unlikely to stop its actions in Ukraine. The most urgent thing therefore for the west is to move beyond a joint approach.

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