13:00 Mar. 22, 2016
It is still not undefined how far Putin is willing to go
Recent articles by two of the smartest analysts writing on Russia today argue that it is time to reengage with President Vladimir Putin, following his decision to draw down its military intervention in Syria.
Whether the conditions exist to end sanctions over Ukraine and establish a new working relationship with Russia is the right question to ask -- if not, we are guaranteed a repeat of the Cold War. The answer, however, can't be based on assumptions of good faith. Normalizing relations with Russia now would be premature.
Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads Russia's Council of Foreign and Defense Policy, says nobody should have been surprised by Putin's decision to decelerate in Syria: Russia said all along the plan was for a short intervention, with the limited goal of securing the survival of the Syrian state. Mission accomplished. Now Russia can sit down with Assad's opponents, and the West should be ready to reengage over Ukraine -- for which read, lift sanctions.
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Anatol Lieven, a Georgetown University professor based in Qatar, goes a step further in an article headlined: Don't Fear the Russians. Not only were Putin's goals always limited in Syria, but so were they in Ukraine, says Lieven. Last year's Ukrainian cease-fire has largely held. Putin did not give rein to Russian nationalist desires to continue the offensive and recreate the 18th century Russian imperial territory of Novorossiya, because that was never his intent.
Yet this is not as clear as Lieven makes out, and Russia's leaders do little to reassure that their ambitions pose no further threat to Ukraine or other neighbors.