What brought Vladimir Putin to the table over Ukraine, and how to keep him there

February 12, 2015
A weapon of a pro-Russian separatist is pictured as a monument with a Soviet MiG-21 jet fighter is seen in the distance on the outskirts of Vuhlehirsk, eastern Ukraine

A weapon of a pro-Russian separatist is pictured as a monument with a Soviet MiG-21 jet fighter is seen in the distance on the outskirts of Vuhlehirsk, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 10, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The signing of the ‘Minsk II’ ceasefire agreement in the Belarus capital on Feb. 12 raises the question of whether the United States and Western governments should shelve the idea they have hotly debated over the past few weeks over providing defensive weapons such as radar systems, unarmed surveillance drones and armored transports to Ukrainian forces.

In recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to have concluded that the original Sept. 5, 2014 Minsk agreement would constitute a strategic defeat, as it froze the conflict with only a third of the combined ‘oblasts’ of Donetsk and Lugansk under the separatists’ control. This was unlikely to give him the leverage to achieve his long-term goal of a subservient Ukraine within a broader Russia-dominated neighborhood. A new injection of Russian military supplies, trainers and ‘volunteers’ to the separatists at the start of the year led to a major military escalation and loss of life among civilians and fighters alike on both sides.

Since mid-January, the separatists made some significant gains, specifically retaking the ruins of Donetsk airport, pushing West towards Buhas and drawing a tight noose around the strategically important town of Debaltseve. But despite these gains (some 190 square miles by some estimates), the separatists are still far from controlling the two provinces. So what brought them and Putin to the bargaining table?

Ukrainian resistance and the growing impact of Western economic sanctions, whose removal became an ever more distant prospect as the conflict escalated, may have played a role. Another factor, however, will have been the transatlantic debate over providing arms to the increasingly beleaguered Ukrainian forces.

The argument in favor of arming Ukraine was powerfully espoused in a jointly-authored report issued just before last week-end’s Munich Security Conference by senior former U.S. political and military officials, entitled “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence.” Economic sanctions have not deterred Putin from intervening militarily in Ukraine, thereby tearing up the post-Cold War European order. Nor has the withholding of military support. Ukrainian forces are willing to defend themselves and have the right to — they just need the right equipment. The United States and its allies should proactively help the Ukrainian government defend itself. By doing so, it is argued, Ukrainian forces could increase significantly the damage they inflict on the separatists and escalate the domestic political cost to Putin of Russian soldiers’ deaths, thereby driving him to the negotiating table.

The argument against was clearly laid out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Munich. There can be no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine because Putin will always be able to escalate further than the West. And he is likely to do so, as he has more at stake. Given the hysterical daily reporting in Russia about American plots to bring down the Kremlin, Putin is no more likely to cave into Ukrainian forces backed by U.S. arms than to accept a diplomatic compromise. And once the West heads down the route of providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces, and Russian ‘compatriots’ are seen to be killed by them, European nations’ relations with Russia could enter a confrontational deep freeze that would be deeply damaging to both sides for decades.

In order to avoid this outcome, Merkel decided to gamble her political capital and agree to meet with Putin, first in Moscow last Friday, along with French President François Hollande, and then again yesterday, something she had promised not to do unless an agreement were to be forthcoming. Had Putin not arrived at an agreement with Merkel, her ability to withstand U.S. calls to arm Ukraine would have been greatly diminished.

How then to proceed now that the Minsk II agreement has been signed? It is important to recognize that this agreement is broadly similar to the September 2014 agreement and, given that it does not clearly advance Putin’s strategic goals, conflict may again resume. Moreover, the fate of Debaltseve remains unclear. And, although heavy weapons are being withdrawn to specific distances, there will be no de-militarised zone, leaving the risk of conflict flaring up again quickly. Moreover, Ukraine will only have the right to regain control of its eastern border with Russia, and thus halt the inflow of heavy weapons, after local elections have been held by the end of 2015.

With these concerns in mind, U.S. and allied governments need to take this opportunity to consult as quickly as possible and set out a clear set of Western expectations and demands. First, they should state that any future spread of the conflict beyond the existing cease-fire line would be seen as an attack on the political sovereignty of the government in Kiev.  Under such a circumstance, NATO members will not stand in the way of those nations which decide to help the Ukrainian government by providing them with defensive weapons.

Second, they should make clear that they will not consider easing any of the current economic sanctions until the Minsk II agreement has been completed in full, to include unfettered inspections by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Ukrainian government’s securing control of its border with Russia.

In the meantime, European and other governments should follow through with their pledges to support the government in Kiev financially as it begins its planned economic restructuring.

Should the conflict resume, military assistance by the West may not be any more effective than economic sanctions at changing Russian policy in the near-term. It may indeed escalate the conflict. But both policies are principally about imposing costs on Russia for its actions and accepting costs on North America, Europe and their close allies. It is essential that they demonstrate to Putin their willingness to take the risks involved in defending the values upon which their prosperity and security have been built these past 70 years.

CORRECTION: Corrects fifth paragraph of an earlier version of this article to replace “arming the rebels” with “arming Ukraine.”


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“Cautiously optimistic for cease fire” in Ukraine? For dreamers only! Ukraine is a nightmare which will get worse not better. There might have been a chance to achieve some co-existence between the pro-Western right wing government in Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists at the beginning of the conflict. But when the Kiev government – with Western encouragement- started to call the pro-Russian separatists “terrorists, criminals, and bastards,” and vowed to wipe them out militarily, that moment the Kiev government wrote the epitaph of a united Ukraine.

The pro-Russian separatists won’t accept anything less that a Federal Ukrainian political system in which they would have full autonomy -including their own armed forces independent from the Kiev’s Ministry of Defense. That will be their guarantee that their autonomy will be respected by Kiev, and if Kiev tries to reduce it or subjugate them, they would be able to defend their provinces militarily.

The fallacy of Kiev’s government is Pedro Poroshenko’s vow to reclaim “every inch of Ukraine, including Crimea!” I am sure that rhetoric is simply for internal political consumption, but with such extreme political claims and demands, any negotiation with Russia and with the pro-Russian separatists is a non-starter at the negotiating table.

Ukraine as a whole country “ceased to exist” with the resigning and fleeing to Russia of the former elected Ukrainian president Victor Yakukovich. The Ukrainians Right Wingers thought then that they had finished with the Bolshevik Russia, and with the ethnic Russian in East Ukraine once and for all! Now they are begging the Western countries to help them put Ukraine back together. But it is too late now. The hostility between pro-European Ukrainians and pro-Russian Ukrainians has been damaged beyond repair. A divorce is a 100% certainty. The only thing that remains to be negotiated now is how the assets in that divorce will be apportioned!” Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Nikos_Retsos | Report as abusive

So “fear” is what brought Putin back to the table. The fear of dead Russians being shipped back to Moscow in coffins. Nothing more, nothing less. And should the Russians renege on their promises as they always do, how then should Germany and France respond? Well, you have your answer…

Posted by blasto | Report as abusive

RE”What brought Vladimir Putin to the table over Ukraine, and how to keep him there”

The surrounded 8000 Ukrainian soldiers in Debalcevo.
Putin don’t want these people to be killed as US and Kiev gov hopes that they continue to sell their WAR products.

Well lets amid help US economy :-)

Obama: We have to twist arms when countries don’t do what we need them to

Posted by mini_me | Report as abusive

These are all suppositions.What exactly been agreed,no one knows in detail.In short Merkel has established herself as honest broker and hence after without concurrence of Merkel nothing is possible.It also seen that Merkel is not that harsh for Putin unlike others all leaders.US is busy for ISIS.Obama is by heart is a man of peace.It seems this ceasefire will last.Poroshenko’s mistakes and weaknesses are also exposed and so he will cease to be aggressive.His PM’s mistakes are also exposed by now.Both have proved novice in such international matter.Putin has again proved himself compromising and not that rigid.One thing is clear no party wants friction going further because of their engagements elsewhere.Mutual respects of Putin and Merkel made such ceasefire possible.Any way now lives will be saved.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

“.. set out a clear set of Western expectations and demands ..”

This is the root-cause of the conflict to begin with.

It’s fraudulent that US started this senseless conflict under the influence of trade-lobby while using the US tax payer dollars via USAID agencies in Ukraine. This however, resulted in utter defeat in terms of – loss of land, life and setting back US relation with the one that matters, by 2 decades. Both reckless and shameful on the current administration that has allowed some rogue war strategy hawks to have gone mental on this. You messed with someone that means business in bringing MAD. These sanctions, NATO posturing, EU pressure means little to this nuclear giant. Ever wonder why all the sudden recent love for Cuba if not for the fear of Russia’s reciprocating staging harm close to US?

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

Vladimir brought the light in the negotiation room. Glory to Vladimir The Righteous!!!

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Angela Merkel brought Putin to the negotiating table, she deserves the full credit for that! The occupied areas are running out of food and many necessities – their economy is not existing. Ukraine was going to quench the last factories and workplaces to sell anything. Without money the fighting give no meaning. Their “state” is broke. 2 things are very desturbing about this deal – Ukraine must pull back troops before the ceasefire and Ukraine have no control of the border.. If any ammunitions and weapons come over this border then the ceasefire wont last long.
But as there is not a war anymore then Ukraine can have some modern weapons too to make any future attack from separatists gangs much more expensive. It is still Putins aim to keep Ukraine poor and fighting – But with the help from EU and USA then this huge country can get a quich improvement of the economy – from a low lewel but still – there are many ressources , and THE VEST COMPANIES THAT START PRODUCTION THERE CAN BE GAINE HUGE PROFITS

Posted by jacobsch | Report as abusive

What brought Putin to the table? It certainly wasn’t fear of anything NATO would or could do. We really need to stop fooling ourselves.

Putin came to the table because he saw that Europe, and by default the U.S., was ready to give him what he wanted–a buffer zone between Russia and NATO. After all NATO IS a military alliance against Russia. Duh! What else would you expect him to do? Just imagine what the U.S. would do if a pro-Russia revolution in Mexico City brought Russian-allied forces up to the border with the U.S.

Posted by Nickcw | Report as abusive

Sometimes a writer drops such a delicious clanger I must overcome my aversion to posting. So with this article:
‘The argument in favor of arming the rebels was powerfully espoused in a jointly-authored report issued just before last week-end’s Munich Security Conference by senior former U.S. political and military officials, entitled “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence.”’

For emphasis I provide the offending clause:
‘… in favor of arming the rebels was powerfully espoused…’

The only plausible reconstruction I arrived at is to include the following missing words:
‘…the Ukrainian Government against…’

The first part of the sentence then becomes:
‘The argument in favor of arming the Ukrainian Government against the rebels was powerfully espoused…’

The problem with this revision is that an already long sentence then becomes too long. However, perhaps St. Paul (wryly referred to as the Patron Saint of run on sentences) would be proud of the result? :)

Posted by sbevan | Report as abusive

What brought Putin to the table?

He heard there was a mirror there.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Instead of encouraging coup to depose earlier president they(EU/US) should have shared gains from Ukraine 50:50 Since Russia doing business with every one Russia could have agreed easily.But when EU membership and Nato threats came in Security became Russia’s main interest to acquire Crimea and that’s how everything was in mess and unnecessarily 5000 people lost lives and unrepairable damage of structures.Not only that Ukraine will remain under debt for ever and there will be divide among Ukraine people for all time to come before which they were living happily together for years without any fear from Russia.
Despite all this Russia kept on supplying oil without which one can not imagine the condition of people in such a winter there.Despite on winning side (With increasing oil prices)Putins all steps were compromising so much so for ceasefire he prevailed upon rebels to agree.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Putin was not brought on the table.He came on the table because he is a positive thinker for his people,his country and the world.Look at how mediated with Iran for nuclear talk,he helped remove WMD from Syria,and in the midst of crisis he agreed to supply gas to Ukraine.
At the same time he is a strong mind.He is not to be cowed down by others
Look at how many stalwart politicians of the advanced countries were attacking him yet he kept holding.I am a proud citizen of America but I appreciate Putin as an individual, gentalman.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

There has been more that five thousands dead in this war, and this is just official data. Most likely the real number is much higher. Putin is a war criminal, he needs to be dealt with accordingly.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

What are these “values upon which [North American and European] prosperity and security have been built these past 70 years”? Putting US strategic bombers onto the borders of Russia? Ukraine is essential to Russia’s own security — as its experience in the “Great Patriotic War” will forever remind the Russian people.

What this is all about is an attempt at regime-change in Moscow, to replace Putin with some US poodle like Boris Yeltsin so that the Wall Street can plunder the natural resources of Siberia. Apparently there are at least a couple folks left in the Pentagon who aren’t such idiots as to think that Boom-Boom McCain can conquer Siberia with an invasion from Sarah Palin’s Dogsled Militia.

Posted by MikeEhling | Report as abusive

What brought Putin to the table? Conscience, common sense and conventional wisdom in order to stop killings on both sides, in order to control the Russian border and adjacent neighborhood and to flash finger to the US and to its factotum UK.

Posted by RatnaMatin | Report as abusive

What brought Putin to the table, this is part two of the plan. he has out played the west constantly and will continue to do so why? because he has right on his side. The coup was a stupid action by stupid politicians in the EU and US. It strains believe that these people can think that the over throw of a democratically elected government can be justified. As to the constant sniper against Russia in relation to its behaviour how many times must people point out then death and destruction caused by successive US presidents all over the world. The last count was 72 countries invaded by the USA since 1945

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

I know every politician and journalist has to cook his/her bread but they should do so more constructive ways not to enhance killing of people.This world is full of resources.talented people and many more enjoyable sources.I was amazed to see how Hungery and Austria people en jot the life!That tranquility and security is not with American people despite having wealth,Why? Putin and his people should be allowed to live.Ukraine leaders have made mistakes let those mistakes be high lighted and give chance to correct them.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

genitalman, you do realize the weapons that Assad has used against his own people in Syria came from Russian?

Posted by smokeymtnblues | Report as abusive

‘The argument in favor of arming the rebels was powerfully espoused in a jointly-authored report issued just before last week-end’s Munich Security Conference by senior former U.S. political and military officials, entitled “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence.”’

Nowhere in the summary of this report did I read anything about arming rebels.
Rather the opposite.
The report URL together with portions of the webpage are duplicated below

http://www.brookings.edu/research/report s/2015/02/ukraine-independence-russian-a ggression

“Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do” is a project of The Brookings Institution, The Atlantic Council, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which argues for greater U.S. leadership in ending the conflict in Ukraine and Russian involvement in the region. The report, authored by eight former senior U.S. diplomatic and military officials, urges the United States and NATO to bolster Ukraine’s defense and deter further Russian aggression by providing military assistance to Ukraine—including lethal defensive assistance.

• The White House and Congress should commit serious funds to upgrade Ukraine’s defense capabilities, specifically providing $1 billion in military assistance this year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in the next two fiscal years;

• The U.S. government should alter its policy and begin providing lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military and;

• The U.S. government should approach other NATO countries about also providing military assistance to Ukraine.

Posted by sbevan | Report as abusive

Mr. Putin is a “free agent” of God and he is at the “table of Peace” along with his Trusted Counterparts.

Many thanks, So say’s God.

However God’s creation is dying at a rapid accelerated rate and Mr. McCain must stop arming All nations for the sake of industrialized war fare at The End of Times.

Mr. McCain and those he a fronts are mentally ill and cannot stop murdering innocent people of their own free will.
So, in a Peaceful manner, All United States national extremists must be sent “home” and then the World Will find Peace enough to cooperatively adapt to the dire state of Our World; Given God’s Gift to Humanity/The model of The Theory of Everything.

My ministry ends on Feb 18th.

Again many thanks and much Love to Mr. Putin and his Trusted Counterparts. We appreciate the very long hours and Will in Your efforts for Global Peace.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

To All of The People of Our World:

Be my Valentine.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BVsQF1m vak

Be mine.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BVsQF1m vak

Be mine. :o)

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

For some reason Eye can’t join the m to the v on the link provided above.

Please conjoin.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

Missing in the article and all the reader comments are two crucial economic factors: the crash in oil prices and the IMF deal for Ukraine. At the end of the day, despite all the Moscow screaming about the “Russian World” and “fascist juntas,” money concentrates the minds of the Kremlin very quickly.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive


Enough with the verbal pollution!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Putin is at the table because the billionaires who got their assets frozen…. told him to go to the table. Putin made a fool of himself over a nothing-country and is being called in by his handlers. Incompetent blowhard.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Forget about getting Putin to the table – with US sending tank-busters, you can see his next steps come close our neighbors – http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/12/world/a-10 -jets-to-europe/index.html

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

“.. more that five thousands dead in this war, and this is just official data. Most likely the real number is much higher. Putin is a war criminal..”


By that admission – so are Mr.Obama and Ms.Merkel were more criminals to have started this, stood-by and openly supplying arms to counter this.

There will be no winners in this – only losers on both sides – just look at Syria – with US and Russia backing each side, is is open-wound that keeps getting worse.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

It’s simple, Putin is a thug and is not moved by anything other than the threat of force. Hence, he stepped in when the threat of force was used against Syria, and he stepped in again when the threat of providing arms for Ukrainians.

The difference here is Putin clearly has much longer-term plans for Ukraine and he is simply playing the West for fools as they drag their feet. Hopefully this arming will continue as planned. If that concerns Putin, he has simply to de-escalated the situation that he has escalated.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

Dear OneOfTheSheep

Are you emphatically confessing?

I forgive you.

Peace be with you All.


Posted by Lovetwo | Report as abusive

It is the colossal blunders by the West that brought this civil war about. I do not blame the Eastern section from wanting a divorce. Perhaps the divorce is necessary to get the foolish conflict ended.
An free separate East aligned with Russia has advantages for the West. Getting rid of the sanction and rebuilding. There is a lot of work for the unemployed. While rebuilding the trade problems can be addressed. A healthy economy for all is the goal.

Posted by vxx | Report as abusive

Germany is already helping to boost NATO’s presence in eastern Europe.
Is the White book an updated version of Mein Kampf? A new militaristic Germany? Will they also train the Right Sector, continue to demonize Russians as subhuman? Russian lives don’t matter?

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

First the US superpower with its NATO/EU coalition have failed in two wars that have been going on for longer than a decade. Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of these two forays have cost the United States. 4,487 American lives, 32,223 wounded for Iraqi Operation Freedom, Operation New Dawn another 66 deaths, and 301 wounded. 2343 deaths in Afghanistan, and wounded 17,674. The financial cost is at about $5 Trillion, plus interest borrowed on the War debt is still to be calculated, and Afghanistan isn’t over in lives and cost. With a debt in the US approaching $18 Trillion. Also the United States has $118 Trilliion in unfunded liabilities. I think you people better learn to deal peacefully with your neighbors, don’t be conned by the EU. Using the US as its muscle.
The United States currently provides about 25 percent of these common-funded budgets, and will continue to do so after the addition of the new members. source NATO

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

Only four NATO nations meet funding threshold: the U.S., Britain, Greece and Estonia. So the other 24 Nations fail in this. The United States currently provides about 25 percent of these common-funded budgets, and will continue to do so after the addition of the new members. source NATO
So as countries join and costs increase, the US still pays 25%. So this will cost more $$$.

*At present, NATO has 28 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia (2004), and Albania and Croatia (2009).

So how much longer can a bankrupt nation, that cannot secure its own border let the moochers of Europe drain our resources? Both with NATO and the UN. The rest of the free lunch free loaders of NATO bleed the US. You Europeans are the real welfare rats of the US. I don’t believe my countrymen should bleed for your living well at the expense of my nation.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

AmericanGrizzly complains: “So as countries join and costs increase, the US still pays 25%. So this will cost more $$$…”

Talk to Lockheed Martin and their politicians. They’re the ones pitching this stuff in Europe and across the world. Foreign meddling = big dollars for defense contractors. “Hey Yemen…. looks like you could use a hundred new F-16’s. The American taxpayers will help you pay for them. Defense budgets are patriotic. What’s the worst that could happen…” Okay, take these. We’ll check back and see if you need more next year.

You get what you vote for.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The 25% is a fact. The source was NATO. NATO is supposed to be 28 countries sharing the burden. Germany is a wealthy country, yet doesn’t do this, but Greece does? Don’t you find this odd, or wrong…. As far a complaints “When yu’ can’t have what you choose, yu’ just choose what you have.” Owen Wister So the leaders that you have are what is left, most come from the bottom of the barrel.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive