Friday, 21 March 2014

Europe on the brink

Western leaders who’ll be meeting for emergency talks in Europe next week have an unusually important judgement call to make: do they believe President Putin when he says he intends to go no further in Ukraine?
It may well be the most important decision facing Western policy-makers since they gave the green light to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Europe’s future hangs in the balance.
If they decide that President Putin is likely to be satisfied with having reabsorbed Crimea back into the bosom of mother Russia, well, that’s something the West can live with. Crimea is not a strategic Western interest, even if the principle of territorial integrity (one state does not gobble up bits of another state) has been flagrantly breached.
If, on the other hand, they suspect that the Russian president does intend to bite off another bit of Ukraine – the eastern part where most people are Russian-speakers and where many feel a closer affinity to Moscow than to Brussels – that will be a step too far.
And it’s at that point that we would enter uncharted waters. No one envisages going to war with Russia, although it’s worth reminding ourselves that if Mr Putin were to move against any of the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), all of which are members of both the EU and NATO, then there’d be no alternative to war. An attack on one NATO member state is regarded as an attack on them all, and a military response would be all but inevitable.
That’s how serious this is. So far, there has been no sign that Russia does intend to up the ante, although the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s justification that it was defending its Russian compatriots does create a dangerous precedent.
(By the way, if you can't find the Moldovan region of Trans-Dniestr on a map, now may be the time to look for it. Some analysts are already highlighting it as a potential next flash-point.)
As for the Baltic states, what would Mr Putin do if ethnic Russians in Riga or Vilnius were suddenly to "ask" for protection? Could he blithely ignore them, having gone to the aid of ethnic Russians in Crimea? Has he perhaps embarked on a course without fully having considered where it might take him?
It’s easy to assume that he’s having things all his own way and that the annexation of Crimea was part of a carefully calibrated strategy. Maybe it was, but it may also have been a tactical response to a crisis in Kiev that from Moscow looked like being seriously damaging to Russian interests.
Imagine what the world looks like as you stare out of a Kremlin window. The US is worn down by wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq – and the EU has barely emerged from a financial and economic crisis that threatened to tear it apart. This, surely, is the moment to reassert your right to defend your own backyard: no more NATO encroachment up to your borders, no more EU blandishments to tempt your neighbours.
Since 1989, Moscow has watched helplessly as the Baltic states, plus Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the former east Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia have all moved out of the Soviet/Russian orbit and into the EU/NATO camp. It has been, in the eyes of Mr Putin, a massive humiliation -- and the West's forays into military adventurism (Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya) have simply rubbed salt in the wounds.
Now, President Putin has decided that enough is enough. He's under growing political pressure at home as the Russian economy splutters, so what better time to wrap the Kremlin in the nationalist flag and unite Russian voters in support of their compatriots in neighbouring states? In the words of the former British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer: "Putin and his cabal of close advisers are moved by a poisonous combination of grievance and ultra-nationalism."
That's why, he says, "there is no possibility that any combination of economic sanctions and visa restrictions currently under consideration in the West will check the Kremlin. Crimea is gone for good."
On the other hand, Russia's economic weakness may turn out to be the West's strongest card. That, at least, is the thinking that underlies the current taste for imposing sanctions. It was, after all, economic weakness that played a significant role in the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire -- and it may turn out to be an equally significant factor again. Two credit rating agencies have already downgraded Russia post-Crimea, and that does mean a real added cost to Russian borrowing on international markets.
The response so far from Western leaders to President Putin's Crimea-grab has been, in effect, to shout loudly while wielding a stick so small as to be almost invisible. They must do better next week. By all means keeping turning the sanctions screw, but more importantly, lay out unambiguously the nature of the NATO mutual defence commitment as it applies to the Baltic states.
Mr Putin may well be thinking that just as the US could get away with doing pretty much whatever it liked in the first 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now it's Russia's turn again. He must be disabused of that notion as quickly as possible -- for our sakes as well as for Ukraine's. A world in which one superpower can operate overseas unchecked is a highly dangerous one. Surely that's one lesson we should have learned by now.


Mick said...

A world in which one superpower can operate overseas unchecked is a highly dangerous one. Surely that's one lesson we should have learned by now - you can only be referring to the one and only rogue, terrorist superpower of the USA. Otherwise, keep taking the medication.

Mary said...

Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to join NATO. Might Europe have been a safer place by now if he had been allowed to?!

Aga said...

"A world in which one superpower can operate overseas unchecked is a highly dangerous one" You mean USA, right? If so, don't worry: the world is now safer place with more than one superpower acting unchecked overseas.

Anonymous said...

Surely you must be joking? The US has been going around the world, bombing countries to the stone age, pardon, till they reach a state of democracy, even without mandate from the UN (Iraq, Serbia, and Lybia). And when Russia in this case starts acting using their rules, they now are branded as unlawful?

Oh the mock of humanity that is the USA and EU these days...

Anonymous said...

Of course he does, even if he didn't realize it himself. Either a principle works for EVERYONE or is not a principle at all.

KitGreen said...

What is going on in the "Western" end of Ukraine?
Never forget to follow the money.
Will the people of Kiev be happy when they realise that subsidised gas is no more (40% price rise)?

Plans are already afoot to asset strip them and their country:

Anonymous said...

Would the united states sit unconcerned for any of its states,alaska,florida etc to enter into alliance with the Russian Federation?There is war looming ahead.

Anonymous said...

"Mr Putin may well be thinking that just as the US could get away with doing pretty much whatever it liked in the first 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now it's Russia's turn again"
Well, considering the US didn't face any reprisals for doing pretty much whatever, we have to admit that it's an infectuous notion, wouldn't you agree?
This is a test of integrity for NATO - they either face up to double standards they're imposing on Russia, or stand idly by as they did during Bush Jr.'s campaign of spreading democracy through carpet bombings.

Richard said...

God forbid we have war over Ukraine or the Baltic States but I think the west is every bit as guilty as Russia for where we are now.

A few months ago we were happy and keen to tie up an association agreement with the ousted Ukrainian leader; now, because he decided he should retain closer ties with Russia he is a bad man and corrupt.

Around the world the west has displayed a shocking level of deceit and hypocrocy - we have propped up despotic leaders in Indonesia, Central America, parts of Asia; we arranged the overthrow of the leader of Iran in 1953, we supported Saddam Hussein against Iran in the early 1980s.

Let's not even talk about the illegal invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We encouraged uprisings across North Africa yet when the democratically elected government in Egypt was not what 'we' liked or wanted and is overthrown, hardly a word of censure is muttered.

President Assad of Syria May be a bad man but we are at least as guilty in stirring up the bloodshed there.

Now we do the same in Ukraine. Until the start of the Soviet Union Ukraine was split between several states.

Following the break up of the Soviet Union the west encouraged the race to capitalism that almost bankrupted Russia, with little help or support then to help her when economic trouble followed. It instead rubbed her nose in the dirt.

It gave loud assurances the former Soviet Republics and Eastern block countries would not be encouraged to the west and then went ahead and incorporated the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary etc etc into the EU and NATO.

Russia has been invaded many times over the centuries - from Poland and Sweden the 1600s, France in 1812, Germany twice in the 20th century. No wonder it distrusts the west.

Crimea was handed to the Ukrainian Soviet republic by Krushchev, himself a Ukrainian, in the 1950s. It is largely a Russian enclave from history.

Now yet another elected government has been overthrown the west makes no protest about the abandonment of democracy, instead dashing in yet again to do business where it thinks it can prosper.

So now we have sanctions on Russia; no such censure or restrictions on Israel who has carried out a huge land grab on the West Bank in Jordan, building houses illegally for years.

What shocking cant and hypocrocy by the west. God help us all.

dceilar said...

Yes the West has been getting away with murder for the last fifty years. The deaths of 20+ million civilians in south east Asia is on America's hands is a case in point.

As Orwell once said, nations cannot do these things unless it has a willing intelligentsia that supports it. The same intelligentsia that supported the US/UK invasion of another country on completely trumped-up pretexts now criticises Russia for doing the same thing. We can't just blame the US/UK blatant disregard for international law for Russia's latest invasion - it is the media and, us the people, for allowing and supporting it to happen in the first place who are also to blame.

On a separate note, the Tories have been smooching with Russia for quite some time now. Probably because Russia hates the EU and loves dumping cash into the City. The Conservative Friends of Russia organisation is now laying low - just like it did with the invasion of Georgia, but after the attention moved to elsewhere it soon went back to business as usual. This time it'll be no different.