Contradictory information is coming from the White House regarding whether American President Barack Obama will accept the Kremlin’s invitation to come to Moscow for the 70th Victory Day celebration. In any case, it is unclear for now when the White House’s decision will be made. According to experts, an Obama visit could take place if signs emerge of a political-diplomatic breakthrough on Ukraine and in Russian-Western relations.
Obama’s invitation to visit Moscow in May 2015 has not been rejected, according to Celeste Wallander, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council. Earlier, however, National Security Council spokesperson Mark Stroh said that Obama was not planning to visit the Russian capital.
According to Wallander, for now it is unknown when a decision will be made about Obama’s visit; answering questions, she said only that no announcements had been made in Washington regarding any visits by the president to Russia.
The fact that the Kremlin sent an invitation to Obama was revealed during a press briefing on Monday (Dec. 22) by Russian Presidential Adviser Yuri Ushakov. At the briefing, Ushakov said that “negotiations regarding possible contact between the presidents of Russia and the U.S. are not being conducted at the present moment.”
According to Dmitry Danilov, head of the Department of European Security at the European Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an Obama visit could take place if signs emerge of a political-diplomatic breakthrough on Ukraine and in Russian-Western relations. “We’ve already speculated many times about who would shake whose hand and when. Without any breakthrough on Ukraine, this will hardly take place during the 70th anniversary celebration of Victory Day, insofar as there are many pitfalls,” the expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “First, there is the weakness of the American president, and he will hardly want to come under fire from the direction of conservatives once again. Second, Obama has difficult relations with Congress, which is demanding an even harsher stance toward Russia. To take steps toward Moscow would only be possible in a situation where specific outcomes and payoffs follow, but such a scenario is not likely at the moment. Third, Obama has recently stopped playing a significant role in Russia policy, having transferred the policy arena to other members of his administration, especially Secretary of State John Kerry. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the difficult historical context, with serious problems connected to perceptions of the Second World War, alliances, and so forth.” All of this, superimposed on the current crisis in Russian-Western relations, will hardly create a good context for a visit, Danilov argues.
Besides Obama, many heads of state and government received invitations, including North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. According to Ushakov, “invitations were sent according to the list for the previous Victory Day jubilee.” He added that, “naturally, all countries of the anti-Hitler coalition were invited … plus our closest allies, plus our partners, the largest and most influential, including the BRICS countries.”
When asked whether Moscow expected visits from leaders of European governments, Danilov replied: “The resumption of the Norman format of negotiations on Ukraine — Putin, Poroshenko, Merkel, Hollande — demonstrates that Europe should play a significant role in regulating the crisis. Especially in a situation, when from the point of view of continuing contacts with Russia, the U.S. has clearly passed the baton to Europe, which ought to make the most of the situation. It will be compensation for American nonparticipation in the Moscow festivities at a high level.”
As a reminder, in their capacity as presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have met five times. Their first meeting took place in 2009, when Putin occupied the post of prime minister. At their last meeting, they briefly interacted at the APEC summit, which took place in Beijing last month.
In 2010, Obama was invited for the 65th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis; however, he was not able to visit Moscow. In place of himself, Obama had planned to send Vice President Joe Biden to the festivities. However, according to British media, the candidacy of Biden, who was close to then-president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, was rejected by Prime Minister Putin. As a result of the refusal, Biden stopped his journey in Brussels, and the White House was more than infuriated.
In 2010 Russia also invited then-Prime Minister of Great Britain Gordon Brown. However, parliamentary elections hindered his presence in Moscow, and the foreign office proposed the candidature of Prince Charles. According to The Guardian, Putin refused him, too — possibly as a demonstration of irritation for blocking the extradition of Boris Berezovsky.
In connection with the severe crisis in the eurozone at that time, the visits of two other European leaders were cancelled — France’s Nikolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. On the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came in order to, as she said, “demonstrate that they taught us something in history.” True, she called this year’s celebration by Putin on May 9 in Sevastopol a disgrace.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s sources, Beijing expressed some dissatisfaction with the non-participation of the Chinese military in the commemorative parade of countries of the anti-Hitler coalition in 2010. Representing the British army in the Red Square was the battalion of a regiment which fought in France beginning in 1940. France was represented by pilots of the famous Normandy-Niemen squadron. From the U.S. came the second battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, the first group to land in Normandy.
Beijing hopes that in 2015 this blunder will be reconsidered by the organizers. Especially considering that, according to a source of Nezavisimaya Gazeta in diplomatic circles, the parties are discussing how best to realize the agreements of Vladimir Putin and Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping regarding the joint celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory Day.