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Ukraine & Russia talks: Don't get your hopes up

Talks set for this week may look like a move toward a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine, but experts aren't entirely hopeful about the outcome.

Russia, Ukraine strengthen positions before talks: Pro
Russia, Ukraine strengthen positions before talks: Pro

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, are set to meet in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday, the first meeting of its kind since Poroshenko took office in early June. Ukraine has been at war with separatists supported by Russia since February.

Both sides have incentives to find a resolution to the fight, but as Eurasia Group's Alexander Kliment told CNBC, there's skepticism about any conciliatory mood from either side.

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"Putin, for his part, likely wants to achieve some kind of reprieve for militants who are taking it hard these days—and the humanitarian play maybe does that—but it does not strike me that he is prepared to make any concessions that would be interpreted as a loss," Kliment said. "He has staked virtually all of his political and geopolitical capital on this one issue now."

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko sings the national anthem during the Independence Day military parade, in Kiev, Aug. 24, 2014.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Those sentiments were echoed by Stratfor Eurasia analyst Eugene Chausovsky, who told CNBC that neither Ukraine nor Russia has shown a willingness to give up the fight just yet, though part of the reason is that they want to strengthen their hands heading into the Minsk meeting.

"We have both sides continuing to battle it out as a means of maintaining leverage in the negotiation process," Chausovsky said.

Ukrainian security forces have made serious military progress in recent weeks, but they've also incurred casualties at the hands of the rebels. Russia has consistently probed and pulled back and probed again since the conflict first began in February. Experts agree that Putin will continue to employ that strategy.

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Johns Hopkins University fellow Donald Jensen said that Ukraine's faltering economy and the upcoming winter are incentives for Poroshenko to come to the negotiation table.

"When Ukraine needs energy supplies, they become more vulnerable to Russian manipulation," Jensen said. Still, Jensen also pointed out that the downside to concessions for Poroshenko is that he has staked his presidency on a successful military campaign.

"Poroshenko is cornered, but in a better position somewhat than Putin," he told CNBC. Sanctions from the European Union and United States are already showing signs of hurting Russia's economy.

Regarding Putin, one should pay less attention to what he says than what he does.
Ian Brzezinski, the Atlantic Council

The Atlantic Council's Ian Brzezinski told CNBC that part of the significance of the meeting is that Putin is even acknowledging Poroshenko as Ukraine's head of state, "something he was loathe to do just weeks ago."

Brzezinski said that Ukraine has become only more determined in recent weeks to defend its territory against what he calls Russian aggression.

"Regarding Putin, one should pay less attention to what he says than what he does," Brzezinski said. "Russian equipment and personnel ."

—By CNBC's Dina Gusovsky