The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, says he does not expect progress anytime soon toward ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine because Russia appears to be waiting for possible changes coming out of the Ukrainian elections.
"I think that Russia has essentially decided to wait out the Ukrainian election, see what happens. Maybe it will be a new opportunity that arises to get a more favorable position for Russia. So I think they intend to play it out," Volker told the Atlantic Council in Washington on October 18.
Volker's remarks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Valdai Club in Sochi that he hoped a government more friendly to Russia emerges from the Ukrainian presidential election, which is due to take place on March 31.
"We need to wait until the internal political cycles are finished, and I really expect that we will be able to build at least some kind of relations and reach some kind of agreement with a new leadership of the country. We're ready for that, we want that," Putin told the gathering of Russian and Western foreign policy experts.
Putin claimed that the current leadership in Kyiv is also waiting for the elections before making any further progress in peace talks aimed at carrying out a road map for peace agreed to in the Belarusian capital in 2015.
"It's obvious to everyone that not only are the incumbent Ukrainian authorities failing to implement the Minsk agreements, but they are also not going to do that today, including because of domestic policy considerations -- I mean the upcoming presidential and then parliamentary elections," he said.
Putin charged that the current government in Kyiv led by President Petro Poroshenko has made its mark by "selling Russophobia and anti-Russian sentiments" to the West.
Volker said Russia appeared more determined than ever to continue backing separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine despite extensive efforts by the United States and Western Europe to pressure Russia over its aggression in Ukraine.
"We did not impact the decision-making from President Putin and others in Russia about whether to continue the war. They are determined to continue to do so. And my estimation is that the chances of their changing position now are lower then they were even a year ago," he said.
The best strategy for the West, Volker said, is to maintain pressure on Moscow through the economic sanctions, which were first imposed on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
"I think we need to keep on track. I believe that sanctions do have an impact and we see evidence of that in Russia. I believe that having a strong position and some resilience and stamina over time is what’s necessary to convince Russia that it’s not going to get better for them and potentially can get worse," he said.
"This is a shockingly big and important humanitarian catastrophe that no one talks about. We have over 10,000 people killed" so far during the Ukraine conflict, Volker said.