Look who's back in Eastern Europe - this time forced to deal directly with the Kremlin after a half-decade of military and political stalemate in war-torn eastern Ukraine. Victoria "F*ck The EU" Nuland is currently in Moscow for high-level talks with top Russian officials. Among multiple tense issues, there's reportedly been progress on the situation in eastern Ukraine, related to working out a potential lasting political settlement leading to the cessation of violence there.
As Biden's Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Nuland kicked off three days of talks Tuesday and into Wednesday with Yury Ushakov, the top foreign policy aide to Putin. Interestingly the Kremlin agreed to a temporary lifting of travel sanctions against her just to enter the country for the meeting.
After initial meetings, Nuland hailed "the frank, productive review" of US-Russia relations, noting that the two sides are "committed to a stable, predictable relationship," according to a US Embassy statement. On Tuesday after her arrival she had met with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, reportedly for more than an hour-and-a-half.
The US side has indicated "no breakthroughs" in US-Russia relations as of yet, which comes after a year of sanctions and counter-sanctions targeting diplomats and mutual restrictions on media entities. It's among the highest level meetings since Putin and Biden's June summit in Geneva where the two leaders pledged better, frank and open communication - given Nuland is the number three highest official at the State Department.
While the American delegation hasn't commented to this level of specifics, Russian media is citing Kremlin deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak as saying after Wednesday meetings that "A thorough and constructive dialogue took place regarding the settlement of the conflict in south-east Ukraine."
Kozak told the top daily newspaper Kommersant that there's general agreement over mutual recognition of special autonomy for Donbass - where the Russia-backed, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic have been in a military stalemate with Ukrainian national forces for the past six years:
"It was confirmed that the Minsk agreements remain the only basis for a settlement," he continued. "During the talks, the US confirmed its position… that significant progress towards the settlement of the conflict is unlikely without any agreement on future parameters of Donbass autonomy.
In other words, giving the region a special status within Ukraine."
The reference is to the 2014 peace plan for eastern Ukraine signed by Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with the mediation also of France and Germany. It's still considered the only agreed upon basis for any future negotiations and settlement to the still "on hold" conflict.
👇first comment from the US Embassy Moscow on how Victoria Nuland's meetings in Russia are going so far. https://t.co/13xqLFTIYB— Mike Eckel (@Mike_Eckel) October 13, 2021
Commenting on the irony of Nuland - one of the very officials responsible for destabilizing Ukraine in the first place with an obvious agenda to strike at Russia's influence - now eagerly joining Russian officials at the table in Moscow to talk "peace", geopolitical analysis site SouthFront recalls:
As a senior state department official, Nuland took an active part in what transpired in Ukraine back in 2014, namely the Euromaidan. She visited Kiev on several occasions during the height of the protests.
From 2019 onwards she’s been entirely banned from entering Russia. Her visit on October 11th was completely at the initiative of the American side.
Nuland who was a part of the "very successful" destabilization efforts in Kiev is now being sent to Moscow in order to foster “stable and predictable” relations.
But also looming perhaps larger in the background is Russia and China's growing closeness on a multitude of fronts:
The developments in Ukraine, as well as in Afghanistan or in the Middle East, are only a pretext for the meeting. The recent US-China tensions and the energy crisis are a much more significant focal point.
The United States is attempting to take advantage of the energy crisis, as China is one of its main victims. Washington is doing its best to inflict competitive damage to Beijing and to strengthen its own position. Improving on its competitive advantages over the EU comes as an added bonus.
China, for its part, is drawing closer to Russia, as it has no other choice. As a result of Nord Stream 2, and the United States proving to France, and earlier to Afghanistan, that it is a disloyal “ally”, the EU is likely to grow "fonder" of Russia. This is a worrisome development for Washington in both of these cases.
Indeed just last Friday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian issued rare statements on the Nord Stream 2 controversy, stepping firmly into Moscow's corner.
"It is well-known that the Nord Stream 2 project shows energy complementarity between Russia and Europe, and would help resolve the European energy crisis," Zhao said during those last Friday remarks defending Russia.
"The U.S., however, to serve its own geopolitical interests and monopolize the European energy market, spares no effort in disrupting and hobbling relevant projects to undermine the interests of Russia and Europe and their cooperation. This wins no support," the official said.