‘Putin’s main interest - survival of Russia’

The West’s assumption that Putin wants to build a greater Russia via the Ukraine crisis are false, he’s defending national interests, and the prospect of having NATO on the border, Jeffrey Sommers, of Wisconsin-Milwaukee University told RT’s In The Now.

RT:The ceasefire in Donbass, the Minsk agreement starts at 00.00 on February 15. What are your feelings about this new Minsk agreement? Are you optimistic about this deal?

Jeffrey Sommers: At best cautiously optimistic. Everything depends on signals from the US and Ukraine on going forward with the issue of NATO. I think if Russia feels comfortable that this is something that is not being pursued, that it has been paused if not eliminated from discussions between them. But I think there is a prospect for peace and for this horrible episode that we’ve seen the past year to end, especially for the people of the Donbass who have suffered terribly.

RT:Yesterday UK Prime MinisterDavid Cameron saidthat “we should be very clear that Vladimir Putin needs to know that unless his behavior changes the sanctions we have in place won’t be altered.” What do you have to say to that? All the responsibility lying with President Putin pretty much…

JS: I would disagree with that. I think that Vladimir Putin’s interest is in the survival of Russia, and frankly the survival of himself, as well. In other words, the assumption of people like Cameron and others is that Putin is out to build a greater Russia. And I don’t think that is the case. What instead we have is the defense of the national interest and that encroaching upon Eastern Ukraine is just one step too far for a country that greatly shrank after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The prospect of putting a hostile alliance directly on its borders in the very place where it lost tens of millions of people during WWII is really unacceptable.

Reuters / Arben Celi

RT:It was due to President Putin’s push that the leaders of the anti-Kiev movement finally agreed to the deal. According to Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande it’s still not enough to persuade Obama and the US media that Russia wants peace in Ukraine, is it?

JS: I think they are talking about different types of peace. From the perspective of the US, there are these kinds of normative considerations. For them peace means Ukraine that can do whatever it wants, and Ukraine that could even move towards NATO if it wished. Now on one level every nation should be able to determine what its policies will be. But in the real world we have a complex set of relationships some of which will focus again on the national interests and what are really lines that cannot be crossed. That is what we’ve had here in the situation in Ukraine: Russia is just not willing to tolerate the potential entry of NATO so close to its borders.

RT:How can you explain President Poroshenko’s seemingly disappointment with this deal?

JS: Of course it is only speculation. But one might hazard a guess that both the French and the Germans, but perhaps more so the French, recognized that the real problem here is with NATO. The real problem is that you need to have the Donbass region, which has genuine autonomy within a federated Ukraine, and that this recognition lead to Poroshenko’s disappointment, this kind of understanding of what is in fact the real situation is and that he would have to make some real adjustments in order to bring about peace.

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