Meeting in Minsk may hinge on Putin

The Presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine.

The much-welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country’s southeast, analysts say. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine celebrated its independence from the Soviet Union on Sunday with a parade of the re-strengthened military it hopes will defeat pro-Russia separatists threatening its sovereignty in the southeast.

Fighting this year has left thousands dead and widened a rift between Russia, Ukraine and Western nations who accuse the Kremlin of supporting the rebels.

Kyiv’s show of strength comes just ahead of talks in Belarus between European leaders, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin.

Peace in Ukraine, as always, rests on the shoulders of Putin, says political analyst and Russian opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov.

“We don’t know because no one publicly said, in Kremlin, what real aim of Russia is strategically,” Ryzhkov said. “If task is to create new pro-Russian states, or quasi-states, in Donetsk and Luhansk…war could be prolonged for many many months.”

Separatist rebels in Donetsk had their own parade — of Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner.

Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, is pushing for a lasting cease-fire and discussed the Minsk meeting with Poroshenko in Kyiv.

Germany may be key to negotiations between the two sides says Viktor Mizin, political scientist at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

“Now that, I mean that, the relations between Moscow and Washington have so much deteriorated that Germany has become, I think for sure, the major interlocutor of Moscow internationally,” Mizin said. “And, I think it’s a very important role and I think Madame Merkel understands it.”

But in the Ukrainian capital, teachers Yuri and Yulia are less than optimistic that Putin will push the rebels to end the fighting, saying Moscow will reject Ukraine’s future ambitions.

But others say Putin may be in the mood for a deal while he can still claim victory.

If the talks fail to make progress the situation could quickly deteriorate further.

“And don’t forget that this war on Ukrainian territory could jump to Russia,” says Moscow Carnegie Center’s Alexey Malashenko. “It doesn’t mean that it could be the war between some Ukrainia[ns] and Russia. But, impact on destabilization in Donbas, in Luhansk and around them could impact on Russian territories.”


(Photo of Putin: