Unless those things happen, it seems highly unlikely that the troops on the border will be heading east anytime soon.
As Secretary of State John Kerry readies to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris over the crisis in Ukraine, the future of American-Russian relations (along with the fate of Ukraine) hangs in the balance.
How we got here:
Following the United Nations (non-binding) vote earlier this week to declare Crimea's secession from Ukraine to be invalid and the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday.
Based on the readouts of the call from both the Kremlin and the White House, it sounded like Putin was finally toying with the idea of coming to some kind of resolution on Ukraine, which has ratcheted up tensions between the two countries to its highest point since the Cold War. Either that or Putin was seeking a pretext for further action in Ukraine.
John Kerry was on a plane back to the United States when a meeting with Lavrov was urgently set for Sunday. The plane diverted to Ireland to refuel and left for Paris where the two men will meet.
What's at stake:
A lot. While defusing the crisis is the ultimate goal, this meeting is between two parties that are not willing to concede on the most major issues. Russia wants nothing less than the United States to accept its annexation of Crimea, which the American diplomatic team is loathe to do. When this condition likely goes unmet, expect Russia to budge very little on any of the joint initiatives that Kerry and Lavrov are ostensibly slated to discuss.
Earlier conversations between Kerry and Lavrov set a framework to help normalize the situation in Ukraine. Here are the parameters:
This included joint initiatives to stabilize Kiev's economy, promote the decentralization of the country's political system and demobilize pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries that have blossomed across the country in recent months.
Decentralization allays one Russian fear that Ukraine will become a starkly pro-Western stalwart right next door to Russia.
If Russia is really looking for an out in the crisis, an agreement on a number of these particulars would give cover for Russia to pull back on its saber-rattling about the need to defend the allegedly besieged ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.
What failure looks like:
Should the sides fail to reach a breakthrough and with Putin and Lavrov continuing to peddle the line that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are in danger, it seems highly possible that the tens of thousands of Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine will simply invade.
What success looks like:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.