OPD Sept. 25, 2021; reviewing opinion value of article (hs)
According to a Kommersant source, U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland is highly likely to receive a Russian visa and visit Moscow soon despite being currently blacklisted in Russia. The American diplomat, who is considered an expert on the post-Soviet region, is ready to be received by the Kremlin curator of the former Soviet Union, Dmitry Kozak. Kommersant has learned that in exchange for lifting restrictions on Nuland, Moscow is expecting a favor in return, as it awaits Washington’s decision to issue visas it previously denied to Russian diplomats.
A Visit for a Visa
Nuland’s visit to Moscow, as reported by Kommersant on Sept. 17, appears to have entered the final phase of preparation. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov was the first Russian official to indirectly confirm Kommersant’s report about Nuland’s planned visit. On Sept. 19, in response to a TASS request for comment on ithe visit, the diplomat said she had not yet received a visa. Antonov did not deny that he was holding talks regarding Nuland’s visit, a visit by someone who, it should be recalled, is on a blacklist that Russia drew up in response to personal and financial sanctions that the U.S. imposed on Russian officials.
Meanwhile, an informed Kommersant source in the Russian state authority says that the visit of the American diplomat is almost a done deal. The official reports that Nuland will receive a Russian visa. Moreover, Kommersant’s sources previously reported that she might arrive in November, but it seems it will be closer to October.
Kommersant has learned that Russia, in planning to allow Nuland to enter the country, is insisting on reciprocity. Moscow, in particular, is demanding that the United States issue a visa to Konstantin Vorontsov, a specialist of the Arms Control and Nonproliferation Department in the Russian Foreign Ministry. He is in charge of multilateral disarmament issues and is scheduled to fly to New York to the U.N. headquarters to attend the session of the General Assembly, but has been unable to obtain a U.S. visa since the fall of 2019.
At that time, amid ongoing diplomatic wars between Russia and the United States, the Americans denied visas to 13 Russian diplomats and members of parliament who were to accompany Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on a trip to New York for the high-level General Assembly session, and eight members of the Russian delegation who were scheduled to participate in the First Committee. Apart from Vorontsov, several other Russian diplomats, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and Roscosmos did not receive visas.
Moscow accused Washington of violating international obligations, and the Duma advocated moving the U.N. headquarters out of the United States. Konstantin Kosachev, then head of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, told RIA Novosti that the failure to issue a U.S. visa to Vorontsov could be considered an attempt by the Americans to show the world that they “are above the law, in terms of the international obligations the United States assumed when the issue of locating the U.N. headquarters on American soil was decided.”
Because of the visa scandal, a committee meeting had to be postponed for several days. At this time, problems with U.S. visas arose for delegates from Iran and Cuba as well. Moscow had repeatedly voiced its concern at every opportunity. Official representatives of the U.N. also publicly expressed their concern over the U.S. visa situation with Russian delegates. There was even a special resolution of the General Assembly devoted to this issue, but it was remained unresolved. Vorontsov, like many of his unfortunate colleagues, is not on any of the sanctions lists published by the Americans.
Comrades in Donbass
According to Kommersant, Nuland’s key point of contact in Moscow will be Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, who plays a key role in determining Moscow’s policy on the former Soviet republics. Kozak reports to the presidential office for cross-border cooperation and for interregional and cultural ties with foreign countries, between which the post-Soviet region is divided.
Nuland is also considered an expert on the post-Soviet region and a primary Russia expert in the current U.S. administration. In Russia, she is well known for a conflict that occurred eight years ago. In the winter of 2013, while working as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, the diplomat flew to Kyiv and went to the Euromaidan, where she talked to protesters challenging former President Viktor Yanukovych, treating them to cookies and sandwiches. After that, a meme about State Department cookies went viral, and Moscow became confident that the United States was behind the civil unrest aimed at tearing Ukraine away from Russia.
In January 2016, Nuland played a key role in the political crisis in another post-Soviet country that Moscow cares about: Moldova. There was unrest in Chisinau when the locally corrupt parliament appointed Pavel Filip, a protégé of the odious oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, to head the country’s government. The latter was then the real yet dubious leader of the republic. He was in conflict with Moscow, but spoke out in favor of a partnership with the EU and the United States. At the height of the protests against the oligarch’s rule, Nuland voiced her support for Filip’s administration, which enabled Vladimir Plahotniuc’s regime to hold on.
Kozak works on both Ukrainian and Moldovan issues. In the case of Moldova, the irony is that in 2019, he played a key role in bringing down the Nuland-backed Plahotniuc regime. Kozak essentially pieced together an anti-oligarchic coalition in the Moldovan parliament from the pro-European Action party and the party of Action and Solidarity, as well as the pro-Russian Party of Socialists. As a result, a new government appeared in the country and Plahotniuc had to flee abroad.
As for Ukraine, he represents Moscow in the Normandy Format Talks on Donbass as a political adviser to the leaders of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France. Kommersant sources say that the Ukrainian conflict will be a key subject at the meeting between Kozak and Nuland. The subject is familiar to Nuland. In 2015 and 2016, she repeatedly discussed the settlement of the conflict in Donbass with the former Kremlin curator, Vladislav Surkov.
A Kommersant source familiar with the Donbass negotiation process considers the creation of the Kozak-Nuland channel useful. “Previously, there were three negotiation tracks in Ukraine. The first was the contact group, where Kyiv, Moscow, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, Donetsk and Luhansk were represented, the second was the Normandy Format talks, and the last was the bilateral Russian-American format such as communication between Surkov and Nuland. The bilateral track was the most useful.”
Moscow asserts that during the June meeting of the U.S. and Russian presidents in Geneva — where, incidentally, Kozak and Nuland were present — Joe Biden spoke in favor of basing the conflict settlement on the Minsk agreements. Vladimir Putin mentioned this point at a press conference in Geneva. This approach completely suits Moscow, which insists that the conflict should be resolved strictly according to the Minsk agreements.
In addition to granting special status to the unrecognized republics of Donbass within Ukraine, the Minsk agreements are important to Russia because one involved party is in Kyiv, while the other is in Donetsk and Luhansk.