The record of the Putin administration shows that in the end, economics always defers to politics

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By René Nyberg

Carnegie Moscow

1st November 2016

What is permanent in this world or in international politics? The break in Russo-Turkish relations, which lasted just six months, is a striking example. So a change of administration in the United States offers a possibility for a fresh start or to try to find new openings. Despite the deep disparities in the current relations between Russia and the West, history is full of examples of how conflicts have been defused.

Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is one of the hardest nuts to crack. But, even though a legally binding treaty is unrealistic, I have witnessed Track Two talks on BMD that prove that certain crucial aspects can be agreed upon.

On Ukraine, the solutions are on the table. The option of keeping Donbas in the long run is corrosive, untenable and too costly for Moscow. At the same time, the region has become permanently estranged from Kiev. A clean separation from Ukraine seems more and more the only realistic solution. As for Crimea, a border change is possible, but acceptable only if agreed upon in a treaty. The hardest part for the Kremlin remains accepting Ukraine as the other heir of the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus.

The biggest source of instability for Moscow lies in the South. The North Caucasus has been pacified but is still simmering. The shock waves from the war in Syria and Iraq are affecting the South Caucasus. Syria is basically a failed state and only the intervention of Russia saved the Assad regime from collapse. The return of Russia to the Middle East requires a political settlement, otherwise the war will eat up valuable resources and become a second Afghanistan.

There are plenty of reasons for the Kremlin to look for a settlement with the West, the most compelling ones being economic. But the record of the Putin administration shows that in the end, economics always defers to politics.