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Prigozhin’s lesson for Trump & Co: Don’t trust Putin’s promises

Prigozhin’s lesson for Trump & Co: Don’t trust Putin’s promises

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KYIV — U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy has joined ex-President Donald Trump in believing that there are deals in good faith to be made with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That’s a position that was also taken last December by French President Emmanuel Macron, who held out the prospect of negotiating security guarantees for Russia with Putin under a new security architecture for Europe.

You try telling Yevgeny Prigozhin that the Kremlin keeps its word in deals. Two months ago, after Prigozhin’s abortive coup, Russia’s security services said they wouldn’t be pressing charges and Prigozhin was tricked into a false sense that he had received security guarantees. Putin’s real verdict was served up as an explosion in a private jet at 28,000 feet.

Any Ukrainian can tell you Russia’s assurances that it’s not going to invade are worth zero. Moscow was meant to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and grant Kyiv security guarantees according to the terms of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine handed over its nuclear arsenal, but Putin has shown no interest in abiding by that international agreement.

Prigozhin sure did no good for Ukraine — sending his convict recruits into “meat wave” attacks at the battle of Bakhmut. His killing, however, may provide a sobering, cautionary lesson for politicians around the world, who glibly believe that you can trust Putin and do deals with him.

“There is no way anyone can reach an agreement with a serial liar like Putin and expect it to be respected. The U.N. Charter, the Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty, the Minsk Agreements, the Black Sea Grain Initiative — how many more treaties must Putin violate before everyone realizes that talking to him is pointless?” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told POLITICO. 

Ramaswamy recently explained to CNN he would freeze the current lines of control and make a commitment that NATO will not admit Ukraine. He said the U.S. can even push Ukraine to make concessions as it “is paying the bills.” In return, he would just ask Putin to withdraw from military alliance with China.

And he would trust Putin on all this?

“Whether he is dealing with his own war-criminal commander or an outside power, the Russian president will use any means necessary to achieve his goals. Only a solid Russian military defeat in Ukraine can bring about a just and lasting peace,” Kuleba argued. “Those who argue that Ukraine should agree to a quick ceasefire, a concession of territory, or freezing the conflict are not seeking an end to the war. They are inviting Ukraine to die. It is the path to a larger war after Putin is given a respite.”

Broken deal

The Black Sea grain deal — an initiative to export Ukraine’s massive wheat resources, particularly to poorer nations — is another case in point.

It was signed in July 2022, with mediation by the U.N. and Turkey.  

For a year, Ukraine won an opportunity to transport its grain to the world and stabilize food prices, but Russia kept claiming the grain deal should include more perks for the Kremlin and was constantly complaining about the ineffectiveness of the initiative, until it withdrew in July 2023.

Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg in 2010 | Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Since then, the Kremlin has shelled Ukrainian ports and grain terminals, destroying food that was destined for emerging nations.

“This is a clear demonstration that negotiating anything with Putin is like asking a serial rapist to promise he won’t do it again. This does not work, and Prigozhin is evidence of that,” Ukrainian political scientist Mykola Davydiuk told POLITICO.

In public, Putin claims he is ready for peace negotiations, and that the U.S., NATO, and Ukraine are the ones pressing to continue the war. However, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov on August 2 said those negotiations must be on Russian terms. On August 6, he claimed there were no grounds for peace and that Russia wants to keep the five Ukrainian regions it has illegally annexed, even though it does not fully control four of them.  

“For me, the attempt to annex part of the Ukrainian territories was yet another confirmation of the Kremlin’s complete inadequacy in assessing both the political and the military situation,” Ukraine’s State Security and Defense Secretary Oleksii Danilov told POLITICO. 

Ukrainian officials have warned the Kremlin that the decision to annex Ukrainian regions in 2022 would destroy the possibility of ending the war at the negotiating table. But the Kremlin did it anyway.  

The site of a plane crash near the village of Kuzhenkino | Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

“Negotiations and concessions to Putin will be a geostrategic fiasco for the West, and will start the countdown to the beginning of the anti-democratic counter-revolution and the advance of autocracies along the entire front from Latin America to China,” Danilov said.

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