Overnight, Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke on the phone. This was the first conversation between two leaders since 11 February, in the run-up to the Minsk ‘Normandy format’ heads of state meeting. According to comments from the Kremlin and White House press services, the presidents agreed that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry would hold a meeting to discuss the expansion of ISIS. Syria and Iran were also mentioned among the topics discussed. Otherwise, it was also agreed that Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland would talk in the near future about the fulfilment of the Minsk accords.
The phone call came on the heels of reports about a fresh offensive by ISIS in northern Syria, with the tangible prospect of it recapturing Kobane. The level of assignments – chief diplomats vs. their deputies – signals that the Middle Eastern agenda takes precedence over Ukraine. That said, with the reescalation of violence around Donetsk and Shirokino in recent weeks, it is encouraging that communication channels are being kept open.