Washington, DC. In new moves following the recent G7 meeting in Italy, the US government is preparing to send a new special envoy to Moscow in an effort to end the Donbass conflict that has thus far spanned three years and taken 100,000 plus lives.
The Trump administration is expected to appoint a new special envoy to communicate directly with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin once known as the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal,” two European officials told reporters.
The job of the new envoy, who has not yet been named, would be to negotiate over the fate of war-torn Ukraine, where a floundering peace deal has yet to bring an end to the three-year conflict, the officials said.
One Western diplomat said German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the opening of the channel, and raised it with President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last month. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would oversee the selection of the envoy, a full-time role that is expected to include a supporting staff.
A State Department official acknowledged that “there is currently a discussion of the idea,” but said “no final decisions have been made.” A senior White House official said the Trump administration was currently evaluating “all diplomatic options on how to engage most effectively in this effort.”
Under the Obama administration, the US also maintained a direct channel with Surkov to discuss the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, a package of measures aimed at resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern territories.
Speculation about who the US might appoint for the position has captivated European diplomats trying to make sense of the mixed signals the Trump administration has sent about Ukraine.
Tillerson recently asked a group of foreign ministers why US taxpayers should care about Ukraine. However, he has also insisted that sanctions against Russia remain in place until it fulfills its obligations under the Minsk Agreements.
The White House official said the “administration supports the Minsk agreements as the sole path forward towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” Surkov, the man at the other side of the table, was sanctioned by the US in 2014 for his “status” as presidential aide to Putin during the Ukraine conflict, a punishment he later called a “great honor.” Often described as the Kremlin’s chief ideologist, he pioneered the term “sovereign democracy,” a doctrine that supports a strong Russian state to stave off internal chaos and foreign sabotage.
French and German diplomats generally support the channel with Surkov because they view increased US involvement as strengthening the West’s hand against Russia. “If you want to pressure the Russians, you need the Americans on board,” said the Western diplomat.