Letter From the Editors

The real problem in relations between Russia and the West is, arguably, politicization. With each side accusing the other of making every issue political, it’s no wonder that the most pressing matters are not being addressed.

This week, Ukraine found itself at the center of this trend when German Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped in for a quick visit following talks in Moscow. The Kremlin had hoped that Merkel would relay the message to Kiev that its “political unwillingness” to tackle the stalemate in the Donetsk Basin with what Sergei Strokan calls its “effective rejection” of the first and second Minsk agreements is only making matters worse. To Moscow’s dismay, Merkel skirted the issue in her public comments after meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky. Instead, she said that “Russia is a party to the conflict, so it was right for Ukraine to refuse direct talks with representatives of the separatists.” This statement was particularly abhorrent to Russia, which views itself as a participant in the solution to the conflict, but not as a participant in the conflict itself.

The other hot button issue that came up during Zelensky’s talk with Merkel was the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. In this case, Ukraine is the one politicizing the issue, with Zelensky warning that “[T]his is a question of politics and security,” and not economics, as Germany insists. Clearly, Ukraine views the new pipeline as more of a political threat than an economic one, even though it’s unclear how Ukraine will make up for the loss of revenue it will experience when its current gas transit agreement with Russia expires in 2024.

One topic that was not reported as being discussed during Merkel-Zelensky talks was the topic of the Crimea, which is about as politicized as they come. In fact, the inaugural meeting of the Crimea Platform, an international initiative launched by Ukraine, was held on Aug. 23, the day after Merkel left Kiev. As Yekaterina Postnikova explains, this platform’s purpose is to “peacefully [end] Russia’s temporary occupation of the Crimea.” Its declaration accuses Russia of violating human rights, militarizing the peninsula and impeding “navigational freedoms.” Russia was not among the 44 countries initially invited to attend, although Zelensky did extend an invitation once the forum was under way. It was no surprise that Russia scoffed at this, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying, “The whole story with this gathering will not be about reality or the actual situation in today’s Crimea.*** It will all be focused on the information and political component.”

The question of Crimea also came up during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg. When a journalist from Izvestia asked Schallenberg if he wanted to visit the Crimea, Lavrov interrupted to say he was sure Schallenberg would want to see the peninsula for himself. Schallenberg corrected Lavrov, insisting that he has no desire or intention to visit the Crimea. But Lavrov had the last word: “I don’t want to come off as an impolite guest, but Alexander made an important statement just now. Let the record show that the Austrian foreign minister has no desire to find out what’s actually happening in Crimea.”

So what conclusion can we draw from all this politicizing? Could it be that East and West alike find that politicization is a convenient tool because it means they don’t actually have to roll up their sleeves and get down to work? As Vladislav Inozemtsev argues in his insightful column on Russian-Chinese relations for Republic.ru, the best way to draw Russia away from its alliance with China is by treating it as an equal partner, something the US has never done before. But, he laments, the West has lost the ability to pull off groundbreaking initiatives like the ones achieved by George Marshall, Jean Monnet and Mikhail Gorbachev. These were leaders who were able to rise above politicization and get some real work done.