On January 13, the presidents of Russia and the United States had a phone conversation upon US initiative – the first one in the last six months. The discussion included the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, as well as the situation in the Korean Peninsula. The both countries are trying to save the Geneva international meeting on Syria (slated for January 25) which is in jeopardy now as Syrian insurgents threaten to ignore the event while Saudi Arabia faces a stand-off with Iran, which is also threatening to withdraw from the negotiation process.
The leaders expressed mutual support for the UN efforts to reach political settlement in Syria in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The Russian President stressed the need to create a broad coalition to fight the Islamic State and other extremist organizations.
According to the official statement of Russian presidential press-office, the presidents discussed the whole range of issues related to the bilateral relations. They emphasized the need to consolidate efforts in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
Russia has already launched an initiative to manage the Saudi Arabia-Iran stand-off acting as an intermediary.
Meanwhile US State Secretary John Kerry is talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif more than any other foreign leader. Since the beginning of the year, Kerry and Zarif have spoken by phone at least 11 times. They've focused on nuclear matters, Iran's worsening rivalry with Saudi Arabia and peace efforts in Syria. Kerry met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in London on January 14.
During a phone conversation on January 14 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that they will meet in Zurich, Switzerland, January 20 to discuss ways to settle the Syrian crisis and the conflict in Ukraine.
Russia-US contacts took place on January 13 within the framework of the Russia-US-UN dialogue. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov took part in the consultations. The parties held a detailed exchange of opinions on issues related to the organization of intra-Syrian talks due to begin in Geneva on January 25. The participants also discussed possible humanitarian measures to mitigate the plight of civilians in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Russian Deputy Minister met leaders of Syria opposition on the sidelines of the event.
Jordan, a country which enjoys friendly relations with the US and Russia, makes its own diplomatic contribution. His Majesty King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama met briefly on January 13 at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington as the two leaders were leaving the US capital. In his interview with CNN, the King said Russia and Jordan were discussing the possibility of establishing a ceasefire in southern Syria and the prospects for the transfer of power in the Republic. Abdullah II stressed the necessity to start the political transition process in Syria. «Obviously, there are countries who believe that Bashar Assad must go now. And Russia says no earlier than 18 months… We are working with Russia to establish a ceasefire».
With Syrian opposition putting forward its own demands and the Iran-Saudi Arabia stand-off exacerbating, the success of negotiations in Geneva may seem to be a tall order. This is a mission to be accomplished only on the condition of leading world actors uniting their efforts and making the best of their diplomatic skills.
The Middle East is not the only issue on the Russia-US agenda. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is meeting Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov on January 15 in the suburbs of Kaliningrad (the meeting with Surkov is held at the presidential residence in the city of Pionersky) to discuss issues concerning the settlement process in the south-east of Ukraine. It’s a closed meeting and there will probably be few comments on the results as it winds up. It’s not what is important. Nobody expects diplomatic breakthroughs there. But the very significance of the event is impossible to overestimate. It’s a start of something new – a Russia-US dialogue on Ukraine to be added to the Minsk Russia-Ukraine-EU-self-proclaimed republics negotiation effort. It’s a game-changer. The issue is now discussed in another format. The process is launched just a few days before the Geneva talks on Syria – the negotiations important for both Russia and the United States.
The beginning of 2016 is the time of new developments, big challenges and intensive diplomatic activities. The trends are positive and should be strengthened, the chances should not be lost and sound reason should prevail.
With issues to unite the parties topping the agenda and the problems to divide them addressed separately, progress can be achieved.
Clearly, all the talks about «Russia’s isolation» have become a thing of the past. This is an irrefutable fact. Hopefully, this article offers enough evidence to prove the point. It makes the anti-Russia’s sanctions imposed by the US and EU irrelevant.
This point of view is supported by US experts. Emma Ashford, a visiting research fellow at the neoliberal/libertarian Cato Institute, produced an essay Not-So-Smart Sanctions (The Failure of Western Restrictions Against Russia) published by prestigious Foreign Affairs in its January-February 2016 edition. She argues that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West have been totally useless. They have neither altered the course of Moscow's foreign and military policy in the directions desired by Washington, nor caused any substantial damage to the Russian economy. The author brings us to the following conclusions: a) the sanctions have been totally useless in changing Russian foreign and military policy in the directions desired by the US, b) they have caused very little damage to the Russian economy but much harm to immediate European and American economic interests, and c) they have caused the Russians to join with other BRICS members in creating institutions and pursuing financial practices that ultimately will undermine US global hegemony, thereby compromising America’s future.
The author is banging the drums over the «costs of containment» to the US and its European allies. Citing the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, she warns that the prolongation of the sanctions may cost Europe «over 90 billion euros in export revenue and more than two million jobs over the next few years».
In the United States, banks are taking much of the impact. US energy companies, for their part, have had to abandon various joint ventures in Russia, losing access to billions of dollars of investments. The sanctions have also encouraged Russia to create its own financial institutions, which, in the long run, will chip away at the United States’ economic influence. Russia’s shift away from trading in the dollar could make future US sanctions less effective, since transactions structured as currency swaps do not require access to the US financial system. If the United States continues to insist that the sanctions against Russia need more time to work, then the costs will continue to add up, while the likelihood of changing the Kremlin’s behavior will get even slimmer, the author says. It is time to admit failure of US sanctions. Because the high costs of Western punitive actions cannot be justified by their limited impact, the United States would be better off trying a different policy.
With the international developments emphasizing the need for the US-Russia cooperation, Emma Ashford hit the nail right on the head by raising the issue of sanctions at the right time in the right outlet –Foreign Affairs – which is a leading international forum for discussions of burning international issues much respected by foreign policy savvies across the globe.