A Russian-Western Rapprochement?
By Emil Avdaliani
October 20, 2019
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,316, October 22, 2019
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: There have been hints over recent months of improvement in Russian-Western relations that could have major implications for the balance of power in the Eurasian landmass.
The Ukraine crisis of 2014 was a watershed moment in modern Russian-Western relations as it marked the critical divide between the powers. Anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, though not working perfectly, have succeeded in limiting Russian advances in eastern Ukraine.
Over the past several months, however, hints in the European media as well as practical foreign policy moves point to a new scenario: a rapprochement between Europe and Russia.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Europe’s top human rights body, recently confirmed that Russia is returning as a member following its five-year suspension over the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Many French, German, and other European politicians have grown more open about finding common ground with Moscow.
Nor is this sudden rapprochement one-sided. There is a discernible increase in the willingness of the Russian government to improve relations with troubled neighbors Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
Over the past three months, numerous meetings have been held between Moscow and Kyiv officials, prisoners of war have been exchanged, and significant progress has been made on the holding of elections in Donbas and Luhansk – and perhaps even on giving special status to the two breakaway regions. A deal announced by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy triggered protests in Ukraine and praise from the Kremlin. In Moldova, the Russian government cooperated with pro-Western political parties to bring down the corrupt government of Vlad Plahotniuc. Changes are taking place even with Georgia. On September 26, the Georgian and Russian FMs (David Zalkaliani and Sergey Lavrov, respectively) met for the first time since the Russian invasion in 2008.