Russia: The Unchecked Power in Europe?

Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russian tanks and combat troops appear, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to have entered in Ukraine. This news was confirmed by NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove earlier on Wednesday, November 12th. With these new allegations, the Minsk agreements of September, calling for a ceasefire and reform measures, may be threatening. Breedlove said that the OSCE has reported that “We have seen columns of Russian equipment – primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops – entering into Ukraine.” Over the night, the fight continued and reports are now claiming that “professional soldiers in green uniforms without insignia,” known as the green men, whom carried out the invasion of Crimea, were seen around Donetsk.

The European OSCE monitoring mission, in charged of monitoring the transition to peace and stability, has warned of “a real risk” of further escalation in a conflict. So far the violence of the war in Eastern Ukraine has costed the life of over 4,000 people. The OSCE_78831099_ukraine_rebel_forces_071114 told that fire is continuously being exchanged between the separatists and the Government forces. Additionally, reports have underlined that large convoys of heavy weapons and troops coming from Russia was flowing into rebel control territories.

Reactions at the UN Security Council

On the 12th, the UN Security Council (UNSC) was briefed on the allegations made by the OSCE and met during a little more than 2 hours. “The United States, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg and Lithuania, among others,” as expressed in a UNSC meeting coverage, “strongly urged the Russian Federation to end support for the separatists, citing reports of convoys bringing materiel over the border and criticizing endorsement of the alternative separatist elections.” Russia responded that “delegates [of the UNSC] had used the Council — and OSCE representatives — to put forward ‘propaganda with new flourishes’.”

Each member of the UNSC made a statement afterwards. Samantha Power of the US argued that “the root of the problem in Ukraine was the Russian Federation’s flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. […] The Russian Federation

Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP
Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP

had done nothing to rein in the separatists and had continued to provide them with materiel; it was also holding abducted Ukrainian citizens.  A Russian air defence system was protecting separatists’ convoys, and columns of Russian equipment had been observed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) entering Ukraine over the last 48 hours.”  In the case of her British counterpart, Mark Lyall Grant underscored “that Russian actions were flouting international norms, including the United Nations Charter, and had undermined the Minsk agreements by continuing support to the separatist rebels.” French representative, François Delattre, used a softer tone and called “on the Russian Federation to end the transfer of arms and men into Ukraine and to pressure the rebels to hold to the ceasefire.” Russian delegate, Alexander A. Pankin, responded – at two occasions – to the members of the UNSC by saying that the Council should not turn these meetings into a “farce” and he “rejected allegations that convoys being sent by the Russian Federation had been filled with anything other than humanitarian supplies, saying that such contents were always recorded.”

Regional Shift of Power: Russian Actions versus European Inertia

The turns of events in Eastern Ukraine are serious and may certainly turns into a traditional war between Ukraine and Russia with real regional consequences. Russia under Vladimir Putin has been in search of its ‘lost’ grandeur and sought to reaffirm to its sphere of influence over ‘lost’ territories. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Putin has continuously challenged Western European powers – France, Germany, the United Kingdom – without any serious responses (refer to Fiona Hill’s book on Vladimir Putin). Eastern EU Member States, like the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, have been concerned about the resurgence of Russian powers. Their recent integration into transatlantic institutional structures, NATO and the EU, was linked to the Russian threat on their stability and security.

Despite the threat represented by Moscow through the militarization of its energy – gas – and the use of force against Georgia and now Ukraine, the EU and its powerful Members have remained inactive. Each of the Big-three, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, has its own direct relationship with Moscow. For instance, the United Kingdom has certainly tense relations with Russia, but Russian investments in its financial sector outweigh the political tensions. In the case of Germany, its priority consists in guaranteeing a regular flows of Russian hydrocarbons. Last but not least, France, an old Russian partner, has continued selling weapons despite the continuous violations perpetuated by Moscow. The lack of European unity and strategic thinking on dealing with Russia has affected the weight and influence of the EU on asserting its power over the region. Until, the EU-28 does not agree on a common line of conduct in interacting with Russia, the Russian strategy of divide and conquer will remain effective.

In the afterwards of Crimea’s invasion and then its annexion to Russia validated by a referendum, the EU agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Experts have been divided on the powers and eventual success rates of these sanctions. Despite some eventual financial and economic repercussions on the Russian economy, Vladimir Putin seems ready to continue the fight and continues to receive a positive popular support. The question remains: Is Puting seeking to expand Russian borders? Or is he testing how far he can get away with? The recent report published by the European Leadership Network, titled “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” identified several risks of close military encounters in recent year. The examples go from Russian air incursions and airspace violations, to “underwater activity” in Swedish territorial waters, to abduction of a Estonian security service operative, to a mid-air collision between a SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen and a Russian reconnaissance aircraft. These are some among the many examples illustrated in the report. Each of them demonstrates the high degree of activity of Russian military forces around NATO airspaces.

Aside from Russian military activity, one of the main problems is the lack of power-check from EU Member States. Russia is shifting the regional balance of power and directly threatening European interests and security. Even under this context, neither the EU nor

EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops
EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops

its Member States seem willing to act. France and the United Kingdom, the two EU Member States with credible military capabilities, are neither flexing their muscles nor leading the way in addressing the threat represented by Russia destabilizing the regional balance of power. Additionally, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) does not represent a credible military force in order to enforce security on the continent. The CSDP may eventually be sent off monitoring the borders like during the Georgia mission, EUMM Georgia, following the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Ultimately, the EU and its Member States are facing two serious problems, both intertwined: on the one hand, they are convinced that European soft power will protect them from regional and international threats. However, soft power tends to be an empty instrument without hard power backing it up (read here and here two pieces on the topic of soft and hard power). Thus, the Ukrainian issue is going to be an important and difficult one for the new HR/VP Mogherini to lead and establish herself as the European diplomatic leader. So far, she has not made any public statement on the matter. On the other hand, the European domestic and economic moods are so dire that European heads of states and governments are principally focusing on domestic questions affecting their vision on the shifting regional balance of power. Domestic politics is causing a greater degree of risk-aversion from the EU. Samantha Power claimed during her statement on the 12th of November in New York that “there must be consequences when Russia continues to flout the commitments it has made.” It certainly does not look like that either the EU or its Member States will be the regional peace and security enforcer.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

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