Belmont Club

No Deal -- Yet

John Kerry announced that he would not discuss the future of Ukraine without its presence in negotiations. “Mr Kerry said he told Mr Lavrov that the US still considered Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region to be “illegal and illegitimate”.

He said he had stressed that no decision on Ukraine’s future could be made without Kiev’s involvement.

Earlier Mr Lavrov set out demands for a neutral and federal Ukraine.

Mr Kerry told a news conference in Paris: “We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table.

But Bridget Kendall, the diplomatic correspondent of the BBC says that despite the bold words and ostensibly having nothing to talk about Kerry and Lavrov did a lot of talking and the difference in the body language between the two foreign secretaries was suggestive.

Mr Kerry’s description of what should be up for discussion covered quite a lot on Russia’s wish list: rights for national minorities, language rights, the disarmament of irregular forces and inclusive constitutional reform, including – most importantly – the idea of federalising Ukraine.

No wonder Sergei Lavrov looked satisfied and called the talks “very very constructive”, while John Kerry just looked tired. It’s true the Americans are insisting that all negotiations must be subject to the approval of the government in Kiev – which has already dismissed the idea of federalism as unacceptable. But if the issue is on the table, from Russia’s point of view, that is the first step.

In other ways, too, Mr Kerry seemed less than forceful: Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border were “intimidating” and “inappropriate” but he admitted they were on Russian soil so legally there could be no demand they were moved. And he made no American call for Russian troops to be pulled back in Crimea, or for the annexed territory to be returned to Ukraine. The impression left was that Washington is bending over backwards in its search for a diplomatic solution to stop this crisis getting worse.

Lavrov conveyed the impression that Kerry and he had discussed some things after all. Kerry was going to go and ask Kiev to quit persecuting Russian-speaking Ukrainians. “Lavrov said he and Kerry did agree to work with the Ukrainian government to improve rights for Russian-speaking Ukrainians and disarm ‘irregular forces and provocateurs.'”

Kerry will probably take some of Lavrov’s ideas and try them on for size with the Ukrainian government. The goad for Kiev to agree will be an awareness of a Russian build-up on their eastern border. The Washington Post writes:

Sunday’s meeting was hastily arranged 48 hours after U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone in a conversation in which Obama urged Putin to withdraw his troops from the border with Ukraine. Putin, who initiated the call, asserted that Ukraine’s government is allowing extremists to intimidate ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking civilians with impunity — something Ukraine insists is not happening.

That call did little to reassure U.S. officials that Russia is not planning to invade Ukraine after its Crimea annexation that drew U.S. and EU sanctions, sparking reciprocal moves from Moscow.

Kerry’s hasty trip to Paris may have been an effort to avert the threatened invasion. With a sword hanging over their heads and having already ruled military action out, Kerry essentially had no choice but to crawl over broken glass to Lavrov. On March 20 Obama himself said:

“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” Obama told KNSD, San Diego’s NBC affiliate, in an interview.

“We need do not need to trigger an actual war with Russia,” he told KSDK, a St. Louis station owned by Gannett in a separate interview.

John Kerry couldn’t even bluff. Thus having reassured himself that Obama would sit there and take it, Putin essentially had a free hand. With very few cards to play it was little wonder that “Sergei Lavrov looked satisfied and called the talks ‘very very constructive’, while John Kerry just looked tired.”

How the mighty have fallen. Only last September the Democratic Underground gloated that Obama towered over Putin: “Putin knows when he is in the presence of a real world leader.”

President Barack Obama was intent on getting the upper hand as he greeted Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit on Thursday, according to body language experts who watched the frosty exchange.

From a jacket-buttoning pause to a hard-pumping handshake, Obama displayed tell-tale signs of dominance after he alit from a limo in front of St. Petersburg’s Konstantin Palace, where Putin waited to meet him, communication experts said.

Patti Wood, author of “Success Signals: Body Language in Business,” made a similar analogy.

“It was very odd. Obama is treating him like he was greeting a doorman,” she said. …

Wood said Obama grasped Putin’s hand from underneath so he could bring it up to him.

“That says, ‘I’m in charge here. I’m going to run the show,” she said.

“Putin is intimidated by Obama, Obama is not intimidated by Putin,” Tecce said.

When the encounter was over, Putin remained standing outside the palace as Obama walked inside.

Reiman noticed that before Obama strode off, he raised up his arm, which she labeled a sign of dominance. “Putin looks down — another sign of submissive behavior,” she said.

The Democratic Underground may wish to reconsider. Back in February, 2011, Valerie Jarett mistook four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli — the No. 2 general in the U.S. Army — for a waiter. Chiarelli took the mistake in good part.

“It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters pants — REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March,” Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail.

In fact, when military personnel wear their dress uniforms of short jacket and striped trousers to black-tie parties, they themselves often make jokes to each other about waiting tables. Chiarelli, a veteran of Iraq, wears a chestful of medals, which Jarrett apparently did not see.

But Putin might not have Chiarelli’s sense of humor.  In 2010, Obama left prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu sitting a meeting declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”

As he left, Mr Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”

How much of this is personal payback we’ll never know.


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