The May 25 election is in Russia’s interests, because it will give Western policy makers their desired short-term victory on the ground, and then American leaders can begin to direct their attention elsewhere. It also saves European leaders from having to make economic sacrifices as part of sanctions nobody genuinely wants to impose on Russia. Vladimir Putin is signaling that Moscow will play along if Ukraine agrees to give it that which it has largely conceded on the ground. Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s most powerful oligarch and largest employer in the Russian-speaking regions, has finally come to the rescue by using his workers to seize control in Mariupol from the separatists. He supports the restoration of order, and constitutional reform to give the regions greater autonomy, but not independence. His forces are a welcome change, but it is the bargain Vladimir Putin has been offering all along, just better wrapped to make it easier for Kyiv to accept.
Most realists in the West would have already taken this deal, and settled in for the long game in Ukraine. The rest will likely come around after realizing that at the moment they are being taken for a ride by Kyiv, Moscow, or both.
Michael Kofman is a Program Manager at the Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Image: Kremlin photo