For companies doing business in Russia and following with concern the possibility of further sanctions, next week will be critical. On August 26, senior EU officials will be gathering in Minsk, Belarus. It is likely that Russian President Putin will also be meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Poroshenko, for the first time in two months.
If there will be negotiations, Poroshenko will face a difficult choice. In recent days, Ukrainian troops have made gains against pro-Russian separatists but the battle is still raging. The price for Poroshenko agreeing to a ceasefire and ending the bloodshed may be to halt Ukraine’s effort to reclaim its territory being held by the rebels.
It is not surprising that these negotiations will be structured in a way in which Putin comes away with a partial victory. A number of years ago, a Russian diplomat explained to me Putin’s approach to negotiations. It’s like cutting a salami, he said. You begin with the entire salami. As a compromise, Putin says let’s cut it in half. You agree so he puts half in his bag. The other half is resting on the table, and he says, now let’s negotiate. In successive increments, he gains almost the entire salami.
I recalled this in connection with Ukraine. A couple months ago, the negotiations were over Crimea. Putin now has that in his bag. The negotiations are now over the fate of Eastern Ukraine.
The western Europeans will be pushing for a ceasefire. Will the price be too great for Peroshenko to accept? Even if he does, months from now, will there be a further negotiation—- over what’s left of the salami?