East-West relations have transformed over the past 10-day period. Russia’s isolation from the West after the Maidan coup in Kiev appears to have warmed as abruptly as it began.
Three major Western leaders – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – visited Russia during the period since May 18, mainly to attend the St Petersburg Economic Forum. But they had one mantra to chant: Russia is an indispensable partner – and one offer to make – despite sanctions, economic and political ties with Russia are possible and necessary.
On the other hand, US President Donald Trump’s critics, who accuse him of causing a trans-Atlantic rift, have had a rethink, since he may have instead triggered an overall easing of East-West tensions, as America’s European partners dust off their “Ostpolitik” to seek an apparent rapprochement with Russia.
Of course, the three Western leaders who traveled to Russia were not acting in concert. Merkel, Macron, Abe – each had a specific agenda with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. They were not interested in taking advantage of Russia’s tense relations with the US. Their intuition probably told them that things have come to such a pass in world politics that high-level contact between Russia and America might now be only a matter of time.
Equally, Putin was not inclined to turn the visits of three top Western leaders into an “anti-American” platform to exploit the current trans-Atlantic rift. Putin’s focus was on what these leaders could bring to the Russian economy by way of trade and investment. But in political terms, as much as Russia sizes up Germany, France and Japan as partners, the US still remains the partner of its heart’s desire.
Suffice to say, Russia grapples with the geopolitical reality that while the trans-Atlantic rift could become the “new normal,” an outright rupture between the US and its European allies or an unraveling of the Western alliance is not in the cards. Again, in the final analysis, without the United States’ participation, it is impractical to address issues such as Syria, the Iran nuclear problem, Ukraine, etc.