Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to endorse Ukrainian sovereignty when he told Italian publication Corriere Della Sera that Donetsk and Luhansk regions should remain with Ukraine, but only under certain conditions.
“Incidentally, the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics have publicly stated that under certain conditions – meaning the implementation of the Minsk Agreements – they are ready to consider themselves part of the Ukrainian state,” he claimed. “This is a fundamental issue. I think this position should be viewed as a sound precondition for the start of substantial negotiations.”
The Minsk agreements occurred in September 2014 and February 2015. Ukraine and Russia agreed to cease-fires in both, but the Russian soldiers and pro-Russian rebels have consistently broken this agreement. The fighting progressed these past few days. Russian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists opened fire near Maryinka on June 3, which forced Ukraine “to use artillery that had been removed under the cease-fire agreement singed in Minsk in February.” On Monday morning, Andriy Lysenko, the military spokesman, claimed the rebels continue to launch an offensive “on government positions there using mortars and firearms.”
Even taking the Minsk Agreement caveat into consideration, many have reacted with confusion at Putin apparently endorsing the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state. Ukraine is the crown jewel of Mother Russia since many believe Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is Russia’s birthplace. Moscow began sending “rebel” Russian soldiers into Ukraine after the new government ousted Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. They annexed Crimea and sent soldiers into east Ukraine. Evidence has consistently piled up against Russia in 2014, but it was not until early 2015 that the European Union and America admitted Russian soldiers exist in east Ukraine. Putin admitted in a documentary that Moscow orchestrated the chaos in Crimea that led to annexation.
After Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence, Putin said the world should respect their feelings and recognize their desire to part ways from the pro-Europe government. In September 2014, Putin posted a letter to the rebels inside east Ukraine. The headline said, “Russian President addressed the militia of Novorossiya.” Novorossiya is a name meaning “New Russia” and “dates to an era when the Russian Empire controlled much of modern-day Ukraine.” He first used the term in April 2014.
“I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days – Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa – were not part of Ukraine back then,” he explained. “The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.”
The apparent change of heart arrives in time for the G7 Summit, occurring in Germany this week. The Group of Seven (G7) consists of some of the world’s major industrial nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States of America. It used to be the G8 with Russia, but the group expelled the country due to their aggressions against Ukraine. The 2014 G8 summit was scheduled in Putin’s beloved Sochi, but in early March, the UK and France halted all preparatory talks. President Barack Obama told Putin if he did not pull back in Crimea then America would not participate in the summit. Canada recalled their Russian ambassador and stop all preparation for the meetings.
Putin annexed Crimea on March 21, 2014. The G8 officially kicked out Russia on March 24, 2014, becoming the G7.
“International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force,” stated the organization. “To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations.”
Moscow attempted to dismiss the expulsion, but there is no doubt the move stung. Before Russia left the group, it hosted the 2014 summit in Sochi, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The move also knocked down Putin and Russia as prominent members of the world economy. Instead, the G7 met in Brussels.
On Sunday, Obama told the media the group is making Ukraine a top priority. They need to find a new way to stop the Russian aggression since a year of economic sanctions did not work.
“We think that there can be a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to this problem, but it’s going to require that Europe, the United States and the Transatlantic Partnership, as well as the world, stay vigilant and stay focused on the importance of upholding the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he said.
Even though Russia is no longer a part of the G7, it is a top trading partner in Europe, especially with gas and oil. In April, Putin admitted the sanctions damaged the nation’s economy.
“After the fall in oil prices from $100 a barrel to 50 (USD), 160 billion out of 500 (USD) did not come into the economy,” he explained. “It’s a big figure. And at the same time our quasi-partners limited access of our banks to refinance on the European markets.”
He also claimed the nation will recover, but so far this has stalled. The ruble fell by 40% by the end of 2015 but is up 15% so far this year. Russia’s central bank believes the ruble already peaked for the year.
Putin’s government is also facing protests from unpaid government workers across Russia. Teachers, autoworkers, and construction workers are among those who protested against Putin. In total, the government owes the workers around 2.9 million rubles ($56 million) so far this year, which is 15% higher than 2014.
However, in the same interview, Putin told the publication the world should not ignore the feelings of those who reside in east Ukraine:
In Donetsk and Lugansk people voted for independence, and the situation there is different. But the main thing, something we must always bear in mind, is that we should always respect the feelings and the choice of the people. And if somebody wants these territories to remain part of Ukraine, they should prove to those people that their lives would be better, more comfortable and safer within a unified state; that they would be able to provide for themselves and ensure their children’s future within this state. But it is impossible to convince these people by means of weapons. These issues, issues of this kind can only be resolved by peaceful means.