Deep mistrust between the West and Russia over Moscow's aggressive actions in Ukraine is threatening global security, top government officials say, and there is little sign of progress in ending the conflict or rebuilding deteriorating relations.
The impact of events in Ukraine extends far beyond the country’s conflict-battered eastern region, where residents struggle to live with widespread destruction and periodic skirmishes between government troops and pro-Russian rebels further imperil a delicate cease-fire deal.
Western officials say what happens in Ukraine will affect the future of relations between the West and Russia. It has cast into question Russia’s credibility as global powers work with Moscow on critical security issues around the globe.
“We have a lot of issues that we would like to work with Russia on and are working with Russia on: Iran, Syria, non-proliferation,” said Celeste Wallander, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the U.S. National Security Council. “These are important issues. But we have to have a willing partner that we can trust.”
Wallander spoke at a Washington forum on the role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The United States and other Western nations accuse Russia of continuing to violate Minsk agreements reached in September and February calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of fighters and heavy weapons from conflict zones in eastern Ukraine. A core concern given Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, say top Western leaders, is whether Russia will honor other international commitments and agreements.
With rising uncertainty and mutual suspicion, Russia is increasing its show of military might with ramped up exercises and NATO is flexing its muscle with land, air and sea drills in the Black Sea region.
Need to rebuild trust
German ambassador Rudiger Ludeking, who took part in the OSCE conference, said the Ukraine crisis threatens trans-Atlantic security. He added that rebuilding trust will be a priority when Germany takes over as OSCE chair next year.
"Quite clearly the question of European security and how to get back to building trust will be very high, if not on top of the agenda," Ludeking said.
During the OSCE forum, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Olexander Motsyk, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Kislyak, sat next to each other on stage, but the divide between them was clear.
Motsyk said Russian “aggression” in the conflict “must be stopped now so that it would not be felt in Moldova and Georgia, and to prevent it from expanding to the Baltic and other countries.”
Kislyak said the claim against Russia is “absolutely out of this world.”
U.S. security officials said the Ukraine crisis puts at risk not only European security, but also Washington’s relationship with Moscow.
“Will the order that was created and has made Europe so prosperous and so secure, be threatened by the actions of an incredibly powerful and significant country that should be part of the solution, not the core of the problem?" Wallander asked.
The forum took place the same week that Russians held massive rallies to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.