HARI SREENIVASAN: President Petro Poroshenko is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk on Tuesday for their first encounter since June.
For more, we’re joined by Steve Sestanovich, a senior fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. and author of the book “Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama.”
So, did Vladimir Putin win in the world or war of perception so to speak, or did he back down?
STEVE SESTANOVICH: He certainly did something that was unexpected. Yesterday, everybody was predicting that maybe we were finally going over the cliff to war that this time the Russians were serious about an invasion and all hell was going to break loose.
Today they are taking the troops back and Putin has not done the big thing that he seemed to be threatening, which was to make his troops, his men, his trucks a shield for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
And the same landscape is really there now that was there before this truck convoy story.
Putin has to figure out how to support the separatists, who are basically going down, without over involvement that will excite too much opposition from the West and embroil him in a big mess that he wants to stay out of.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What does The West do about it?
STEVE SESTANOVICH: Well, one of the things that The West did yesterday, European and American governments, were really loud in their criticism of what Russia did and made it clear that there was going to be new trouble ahead if he persisted and tried to really interpose Russian forces into this fight in Eastern Ukraine. I think that’s got to be one of the reasons that made it such a quick roundtrip for these trucks in and out of Luhansk.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what does President Poroshenko do on Tuesday when he meets with Putin?
STEVE SESTANOVICH: Well, what he said is that he wants to talk peace. He said you know we’ve had enough of war, but he’s laid out some important conditions in his conversations today with Chancellor Merkel of Germany who is visiting, giving him a show of support.
He said he wants to have an opportunity to, for dialogue with Eastern Ukrainians, but he wants all the mercenaries out, meaning the Russian military intelligence officers and soldiers of fortune who have shown up in Eastern Ukraine.
He’s demanding that Putin pull back and stop meddling, stop the flow of arms and men into Eastern Ukraine.
He’s got the wind at his back in some ways, he’s had a military offensive in Eastern Ukraine that’s been pretty successful. So, he deals with Putin on a stronger footing than many would have expected a few weeks ago.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the end game for Putin here?
STEVE SESTANOVICH: This is a little hard to say. There’s a range of possibilities. He could be looking at a kind of permanent ferment in Eastern Ukraine, something like the support that Russia’s given over many years to separatists in Moldova, in Georgia and elsewhere.
That’s not a really good outcome because it doesn’t get him off the hook with The West, it means a lot of these sanctions will probably stay in place for a long time.
A better outcome would be one in which he gets some kind of concessions from Poroshenko about the structure of Ukrainian politics, some kind of acknowledgement that there has to be decentralization.
Poroshenko has offered all of that, but he hasn’t offered to do it in a way that looks enough to Putin like a real victory.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Steve Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, joining us from Washington, D.C. Thanks so much.
STEVE SESTANOVICH: A pleasure.