Putin Disinclined to Make Concessions Before Elections

Interviewed by the chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vladimir Putin showed no interest in making any concessions to resolve outstanding international issues. He congratulated Kim, North Korea’s dictator, on winning the game in attaining a strategic nuclear capability. He refused to concede that Russia had interfered in the US elections in 2016. He bitched about the Ukrainian president taking his holiday with his family in the Maldives (Putin stayed at home). And although his press spokesman has said Russia is willing to return Ukraine’s naval equipment stranded in the Crimea, there was no sign of any attempt to meet anyone half way on the delicate issue of annexation. And he professed not to understand why such a fuss was being made in the West about the exclusion of Mr Navalny from participating in the Russian presidential elections: ‘This person to whom you refer’, he intoned haughtily, ‘is not the only one who is not allowed to participate in the presidential elections.’ Indeed! So how democratic are they to be? Clearly Putin took no pleasure in having to seek re-election. He reluctantly conceded that elections were a good thing, except the fact that ‘often all kinds of scum surfaces.’

Russia’s air base in Syria has recently been subjected to an unanticipated attack by drones. The first reports in Kommersant indicated significant damage which was later denied in Moscow. The drones were said to have emanated from oppositionist forces backed by Turkey but Putin had made a show of talking to Erdogan in Komsomolka’s editorial office next door to the room in which his interview was taking place. Apparently some reassurance had been offered. Putin claimed that forces unknown were trying to undermine Russia’s partnership with Iran and Turkey. I wonder whom he means?

None of this looks very promising for East-West relations. Consolation could be found in the absence of any unpleasant asides about the EU or the UK. And Putin clearly understands that Trump cannot follow whatever policies he wishes towards Russia. How Putin behaves after re-election is the open question. In generously befriending unpleasant régimes around the world, he appears to have been stacking his deck of cards to enhance his bargaining position when it finally comes to negotiation, so that he will need to concede much less for better relations than otherwise would be likely. This certainly cannot be ruled out. But until the American legislative elections take place and the balance of power within the United States shifts decisively to Trump, no deal is likely. At the moment the US Treasury Secretary is finalising another list of undesirables from Russia, including their offspring, who wish to travel to the United States. So all bets are off.