Negotiations between Kiev and Moscow are progressing relatively nicely, thanks in part to the help of a few European governments. On June 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier convened in St. Petersburg for a Kaliningrad Triangle meeting that had been scheduled in January. Meanwhile, newly inaugurated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that his government would create safe passages for those who want to flee eastern Ukraine safely. The meeting and the announcement are hardly coincidental. Rather, they illustrate a certain degree of reconciliation.
Indeed, what happened as a result of the meeting appears to show that all involved are tempering their stances. Lavrov said Russia would not sanction Ukraine for signing the economic chapters of the EU association agreement — a clear departure from its earlier position, since Russia discouraged the previous administration from signing the agreements, thus helping foment the Ukrainian revolution. Lavrov did, however, note that Moscow may adjust its tariff scheme.
Just before the meeting, Steinmeier said Russia and Ukraine should cooperate to try and control the flow of militants and arms across their shared border. Previously, Germany — indeed, most Western countries — had put all the responsibility on Russia alone.
Sikorski, a longtime advocate of Ukraine's Western integration and a stronger NATO presence in Eastern Europe, noted that NATO membership was not an option for Ukraine. Poland, the staunchest U.S. ally in the region, apparently recognizes that Ukraine's NATO membership is a red line for the Kremlin and has chosen to respect Russia's position on the matter — at least for now.
Poroshenko's calls for safe passage out of eastern Ukraine likewise appear to be conciliatory. On June 2, Russia introduced a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for an end to fighting and the establishment of humanitarian corridors. At the time, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Yuriy Sergeyev rejected the resolution, saying there was no humanitarian crisis in the country. Poroshenko's policy reversal shows that he is open to compromising with the Kremlin and that his administration recognizes the realities on the ground in eastern Ukraine. Russia has welcomed Poroshenko's approach, and Lavrov referred to his proposal for humanitarian corridors as a step in the right direction.
Poroshenko's efforts to negotiate with the Kremlin began June 6, the day before his inauguration, when he held a short meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He continued those talks after his inauguration, meeting with the Russian and German ambassadors in Kiev, as well as a representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Germany has played an important role in facilitating Poroshenko's diplomatic efforts. Just as Merkel was involved in Russia-Ukraine talks at Normandy, the German ambassador has been present during negotiations in Kiev. Lavrov's announcement regarding Russia's position on sanctioning Ukraine, were it to sign the association agreements, came after his discussions with Steinmeier.
Both Russia's leadership and Ukraine's new president are interested in making progress in their ongoing negotiations. Despite their diverse relationships with Russia, leaders throughout Europe are trying to defuse the crisis in Ukraine. Nevertheless, today's announcements are only a small step in a complex negotiation in which Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the United States are still far from a final compromise.