The crisis in Ukraine remains a core divisive issue in Russia's relations with the West. And President Obama's phone conversation with Prime-Minister Cameron which was followed by a flurry of major international gatherings in Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg showed that the West is not ready to abandon its sanctions policy despite President Putin's recent steps to deescalate the crisis.
Boris Volkhonsky, an expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the West may not be exactly unified regarding the Ukrainian issue as it pretends to be, and that economic sanctions imposed on Russia may not have anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.
"When speaking about the sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, I always remember a fable by La Fontaine about a wolf and a lamb. The wolf said that you are guilty, because I'm hungry. I think Ukraine was only a pretext for imposing sanctions. A very comfortable and lucrative pretext for the West to use. So, if the West wants to use the language of sanctions, well, welcome, go ahead. I think in this respect, no measures taken by Russia to ease the situation in the east of former Ukraine will ever help the regime of sanctions.
There is another issue that the West is not as unified as it pretends to be. There is the US, which is mostly interested in the regime of sanctions, and there is the EU and countries like Germany and Britain, which try to follow in the wake of the US policy. But there are other countries, like Austria, which are not very happy about the sanctions, because the sanctions can backfire. And the recent visit by the Russian President Putin to Austria proved it to be very obvious, that Austria is not going to stop the works on this Southern Stream gas pipeline.
So, this is not an issue of good will on the Russians part. This is an issue of good will on the part of the West," he said.
Ernest Sultanov, expert at the MIR-Initiative independent think-tank in Moscow, said that despite claims to the contrary, Russia's decision to revoke the right of using force hadn't gone unnoticed, but because "the scale of the crisis is now that bad, that only one step is not enough."
"Actually, the main thing is stopping the war games near the border and engaging in this negotiation. More than that, we are deescalating with this request from President Putin to withdraw the permit for the use of military in Ukraine, and the direct talks with the leaders that President Putin is conducting during his visits to Europe. The last one in Austria was an example of this engagement," he added.
And Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent and an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House in London, said that while some elements in EU seek to belittle Russia's efforts to deescalate the situation in Ukraine, others have recognized its actions as very useful.
"There obviously are some elements in the EU, in particular from the new EU members form the eastern part, and in the most violent form in Lithuania, that will never be satisfied with Russia, as long as it exists.
And this is a structural existential issue which the EU should address and actually say to these countries – why do you think you are in the EU and what is the EU for. What it is for is to try to overcome the logic of conflict. And the catastrophic position it now finds itself in is that instead of taking away the logic of conflict within Europe and having ideas of how to unify the continent, it has now actually become the instrument of new division.
And of course, some of the eastern European new member states, and indeed some of the more mature ones, in particular Sweden, are only too keen to join this agenda. And this is something the EU really has to work at. So, for them of course Russia can do anything and it will always be at fault.
We may have our criticisms of what happened over the last few months and Poroshenko did not gain a huge popular majority, but in democratic terms his presidency is now legitimate, and it has to be accepted.
And I think this is what Putin is doing. He's accepted it. He is working with Poroshenko and I think in a pragmatic and positive manner. So, I think in that sense the situation is stabilizing, but there are all sorts of mines or bombs ready to go off underneath the system, because the system is not stable," he said.
He also added that in the current situation Europe's lack of a unified stance on Ukraine may in fact be beneficial, and stressed the importance of dialogue in resolving this crisis.
"Personally, I think the worst thing possible is for Europe to speak with one voice, because that voice is liable to be a very stupid voice. And so, I like and I approve of diversity. If that voice can be a genuine voice for peace, for dialog, for transcending the logic of conflict, then fine, let it speak with one voice. Otherwise, let there be these many different voices.
Yes, of course, there are a lot of different voices and that's why the European external action service was established, to try to coordinate European foreign policy. And one of the astonishing things, of course, in the last few months is how the EU itself in diplomatic terms has been totally marginalized, and instead of which, the main dialog has been between Washington and Moscow.
And when I say 'a dialog,' it's not of course been a dialog, it's been mutual implications and insults. But in all of this Europe has been marginalized. And this is catastrophic, because we hoped that 50-60 years now after the end of the WW II, that Europe could begin to speak not with one voice, but to have a sense of identity and to actually make a positive contribution to overcoming the logic of conflict and division.
Especially, this year – the 100th anniversary of the WW I – we find ourselves in the systemic terms in a remarkably similar position of divisions, new lines. When people in Ukraine talk about the military rising the border between Russia and Ukraine, nearly 2,000 km to be with barbed wire, sensors and so on – this is an absolute madness. And the EU is not doing enough to try to transcend these new dividing lines and, in fact, it is actually helping to create them," he said.