Syria – Russia Returns to the Table of Great Powers

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Russia just started its airstrike campaign in Syria after approval by the upper house of the Parliament. “We [Russia] ’re talking exclusively about operations of Russia’s Air Force,” announced Mr. Ivanov, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, “as our president has already said, the use of armed forces on the ground theater of military operations is excluded.” The airstrikes have for objectives to assist the Bashar al-Assad regime in his war against the Islamic State.

After more than four and half years of war, Syria is the home of a complex crisis seeing a war between the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syrian militias, and many terrorist networks. The Syrian war has permitted the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Levant (ISIS), and has been costing the lives of 250,000 civilians and a million injured, displaced millions displaced, and put million refugees on the road. The Syrian civil war is taking a new turn with the direct military involvement of Russia. A simple, but yet complex question, ought to be raised: Does Russia dictate global politics in the European sphere of influence?

The Syrian Civil War

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad never lost his power. Even though the country is highly divided among a multitude of militias, terrorist networks and the al-Assad forces. The interesting case of Syria is that the West did not see coming the fall of Mubarak and Qaddafi and wanted to be proactive in the fall of al-Assad. In September 2013, the West was trying to build a coalition in order to start bombing Syria and the al-Assad forces after he was found guilty of having used sarin gas against civilians. Two forces played in favor of al-Assad, and

Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images

still are, avoiding the launch of airstrike against Syria’s al-Assad: Russia and Western public opinion.

Vladimir Putin has played an important role in sponsoring the al-Assad regime through military and financial assistance. Putin’s rationale is that the Assad regime is a better alternative and protection against radical Islamic groups than rebels. In the case of western public opinions, they had grown war-worn especially for the Americans and Brits both involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade. British citizens, through the UK House of Commons rejected to grant authorization to Prime Minister Cameron to participate in military airstrikes in Syria. The British aversion to use force in Syria was a powerful signal for the Obama administration, whom refused to intervene despite the fact that al-Assad had crossed the ‘redline’ in using sarin gas. Ultimately since 2013, the war in Syria has seen the rise of refugees, displaced individuals, rise of ISIS and a continuation of war without any direct role being played by the West to stop the conflict.

US-Russia Divergences

Mr. Putin has been very clear. Russia uses military force in order to fight ISIS and support the al-Assad regime. Vladimir Putin does not want to see his regional ally go and wants to maintain Russia’s influence in the region. Putin sees Russian intervention in order to stop the expansion and rise of ISIS in the region. If attention has been raised about radical islamists trying to conduct terrorist acts in Western Europe (like in Toulouse, Charlie Hebdo, the Thalys) and the US, Russia has as well been dealing with radical islamic terrorism for decades. Since being in power, Vladimir Putin has been fighting a lengthy war in Chechenya. Major Russian cities have been the targets of acts of terrorism over the years. In Syria, President Putin has played his game carefully by first bringing military capabilities, like fighter jets, in Syria at the airbase base of Latakia, in Western Syria.

In the case of the US, President Obama is neither interested in protecting al-Assad nor keeping him in power. As demonstrated by his two mandates, President Obama has been150928153854-barack-obama-vladimir-putin-toast-exlarge-169 trying to leave the Middle East and readjust American power towards Asia. Obama’s presidential promises were to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he has done even though some military forces are still on the ground. During the Arab spring, the US with his European allies missed the moment. The US was leading from behind in 2011 in the implementation of a no-fly zone in Libya. The mission was led by France and the UK, under the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), which facilitated the fall of the Qaddafi regime. Since 2011, and especially after the killing of US ambassador in Benghazi, the Americans have been extremely reluctant in playing an active role on the ground and rather remain in the sky. But ISIS has brought back the US in the region. As demonstrated in recent polls, Americans consider ISIS as the greatest threat to the US.

Chart: Global Perceptions of Major Threats (Only the ‘Very Concerned about’ are being represented here)

Threats
Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

With the rise of ISIS over the region, President Obama was obliged to send some hundreds of military advisors in Iraq in order assist the Iraqi army and leadership. Since then, the US with France have conducted airstrikes over Iraq in order to limit the rise of ISIS.

Even within the US team, there is a certain division as reported by the New York Times between President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry. “Obama seems to approach Syria with a professor’s detachment”said David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “while Kerry — perhaps because of his high regard for his own diplomatic acuity — sees it as something he can solve.” President Obama deeply distrusts President Putin, while Kerry feels that he can work on a deal with the Russians in order to bring in the long-term Bashar al-Assad down from his leadership position.

But the tension between the US and Russia can be sensed. During his address before the UN General Assembly, Russian President underlined that the US air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria were illegal and a violation of international law. Putin claimed that the US used military force with neither a UN Security Council Resolution nor with the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now it will be interesting to see if the UN Security Council agree on a resolution in order to fight ISIS in Syria.

Europeans, Russians and Americans

The Syrian crisis is, and ought to be perceived by the Europeans, as the top priority. From Europe, the civil war in Syria is causing regional instabilities all around the Mediterranean front, is at the origins of the worst migration crisis since World War two, and is exposing the failures of Europeans address a direct security threat to its continent. The massive number of migrants seeking for refuge in Western Europe is exposing the weaknesses of European cohesion and solidarity, European integration (see the failure of the Schengen agreement and Dublin rules), and is destroying the myth of Europe as a civilian/normative power.

The only power in Western Europe to be military active is France. Under Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, France has sought to maintain its global and regional influence and interests. France has been flexing its muscles in Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Back in 2013, France was waiting on the Americans in order to start airstrikes against the al-Assad forces after he was proven to have used sarin gas against civilians. If French air power has been used as part of the coalition with the US over Iraq in order to fight ISIS, but it started its bombing campaign over Syria several days ago. However, François Hollande has maintained the fact that a solution in Syria cannot exist with Bashar al-Assad. As demonstrated during the nuclear talks with Iran, French diplomacy has been one of the toughest in order to assure that French and Western interests would be protected and enforced. On the Syrian case, Laurent Fabius is keeping the similar cap.

_85593741_iraq_syria_air_strikes_624_v45

The United Kingdom has expressed a less clear position. British Prime Minister Cameron said “I know there are people who think Isis is even worse than Assad, so shouldn’t we somehow cut a deal with Assad to team up and tackle Isis.” But the Brits, in order to show support to their American partners, underlined that a long-term solution cannot include Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. The French and Americans have been clear on the fact that any peace deals cannot include Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said that Russia was a central actor in the fight against ISIS in the region. His tone towards Moscow is much softer than his European partners, as Italy and Russia have always had deep relationship, especially in recent times. For instance, Italy has been the least supportive of European sanctions against Russia.

Russia, The Return of the Global Power?

Since the arrival of Putin to power in 2000, his priority has been to make Russia a great power once again. He has demonstrated that Russia not only plays an important role, but can shape global events. If Putin put himself in a corner after the annexation of Crimea and lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, he has brought Russia back at the table of great powers with his actions in the Middle East. If this aspect has been lost in translation as the world is more concerned about the approval of the deal by the US Congress, Russia played an important role on bringing a deal for the Iranian nuclear program. In the case of Syria, most powers have been reluctant to act aside from airstrike bombings over Syria and Iraq. Now Russia is actually forcing the West to act and do something about the vicious war in Syria.

Europeans have been inactive on dealing with Syria and have struggled on welcoming Syrian migrants. Aside from boosting border patrols in the Mediterranean and increasing financial assistances to countries hosting Syrian refugees, Europeans were unable to agree on a clear military operation in order to address the root causes of the migration crisis. The Americans, under Obama, have been much more reluctant to start another military mission in the Middle East. Obama promised in 2008 to quit the greater Middle East, he certainly does not want to leave office in 2016 with another war in Middle East.

With the escalation of its military intervention, Russia is bringing itself outside of the corner and rejoining the table of great powers. This last decade, Putin has demonstrated his ability to promote Russian influence and interests where and when desired. By using realpolitik, Putin has been able to promote Russia’s interests without any moral dilemmas, while the West is trying to act morally (which is highly debatable) and is actually limiting its flexibility and interests. Russia is back and the West needs to work with a complex partner.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Does the World Hate Russia?

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A large segment of the academic literature reflects on the power of attraction, known as well as soft power, of the European Union and the United States. But what about Russia? and Putin? What are the global perceptions of Putin’s Russia since the turn of the century? In a recent survey produced by the Pew Research Center, most of the world – aside from China, India, Ghana and Vietnam – has a largely unfavorable opinions of Russia and Putin (see below).

Russia-Image-World Opinion

The concept of soft power is a very theoretical concept famously developed by Joseph Nye in his book ‘Soft Power: The Mean to Succeed in World Politics’ (1998). His argument is directly connected with the earlier work produced by Antonio Gramsci. But Nye was able to take the core of Gramsci’s argument and bring it at the global level in order to talk about foreign policy. Gramsci was mostly concerned about domestic Italian politics and non-change in the 30s. When talking about opinions and perceptions, the concept of soft power is certainly directly connected as it does influence state’s foreign policy. But let’s take a look at the way the transatlantic community see and perceive Russia and Putin.

Transatlantic Perceptions of Russia and Putin

The US-Russian perceptions are very much aligned with change of leadership in the US (from Bush to Obama), policy change (failed 2009 reset policy and the pivot), and the regional crises (Ukraine, Syria) and domestic narratives controlled by Putin. The graph below claims that the opinions have worsened on both sides of the Altantic. The last two years of the Bush administration were a period little more stable between the two superpowers despite the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. With the election of President Obama and his tentative to soften and deepen the relationship with Russia, the opinions of one another become more favorable in Russia (+13 point of %) than in the US (+6 point of %) though. From 2010 to the invasion of Crimea, the options were pretty stable. The lowest point was in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia-Image-US-Russia

Considering the European views and opinions of Russia, the Pew did not produce a graph, but included a set of numbers at the end of the survey. The transatlantic opinion is very homogenous since 2007 (since chart below). Not surprisingly France and the United Kingdom have had the most favorable opinion of Russia, and Poland the lowest in recent years. The US is in the mix of the transatlantic opinion. However, it would have been interesting to see how the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark) and Eastern EU Member States (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria) perceive Russia over the years. The survey failed in providing the data for these states.

Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11
Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11 / Data compiled by Politipond

Vladimir Putin, Global Villain?

A big part of the negative views of Russia in the US and Western Europe is directly connected to the person of Vladimir Putin. The press, academia, and think tank communities (here are some excellent works and examples such as book by Fiona Hill, and a book review of Karen Dawisha’s manuscript) have created some type of admiration/incomprehension around the person of Vladimir Putin. There is a certain fascination about Putin in the US and Western Europe as Vladimir Putin has been framed as either an irrational actor, or a master of realpolitik (read here and here previous analyses). In any case, the US and Americans have never had the highest degree of confidence in Putin.

Even though the impacts of Russian influences on the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and 2008 war in Georgia were not major, as demonstrated by the data below, in affecting the confidence in Putin, the turning point was the incursion in Crimea and ultimately its annexation. Then with the lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, and even the ‘accidental’ targeting of the civilian Malaysian flight last summer, they have contributed in lowering the confidence and trust in Vladimir Putin. In some ways, the low degree confidence has been materialized in the isolation of Vladimir Putin, whom has been absent (or more accurately kick out of the G-8) of the recent G-7 meeting. In addition, Putin has not demonstrated being serious in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis, as he was never committed to make the Minsk Protocol II work.

Russia-Image-Putin & US

All these graphs and data provided by the Pew highlight one common trend, most of the world share a common negative perceptions of Russia and his president. In the 21st century, it is quite rare to find such unanimous position on an issue. More seriously these data demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not concerned about global perceptions. Putin has a vision for Russia and has demonstrated that he can not only remain in power (which he has done since 2000), control the domestic narrative (through playing the nationalist card and  limiting the freedom of press and civil society), and advance Russian interests where and when required.

European and American sanctions are certainly hurting the Russian economy, already weakened by the historically low prices of hydrocarbons, but Putin has been tactical in choosing which issues are important to fight for. For instance Ukraine is, but Iran was not so much as Putin, with his Chinese counterpart, agreed on the Vienna agreement in July. Putin will continue to fascinate and certainly won’t stop in leading Russia where he desires, with or without the approval of global opinions.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”

europe-russia

Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Minsk Provisions – The Emergence of a New European Foreign Policy Engine?

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After an all-nighter, the four-nation peace talks in Minsk concluded with a list of 13 provisions in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine. The meeting was held between French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko. The marathon bargaining peace talks almost collapsed in the early morning, but was finalized thanks to an agreement on several key provisions such as: ceasefire on February 15th (point 1); withdrawal of heavy weaponry (point 2); a promise for constitutional change (point 11), and “special status” for the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (points 4 and 5); humanitarian assistance (point 7) among others.

The concern, now after having Presidents Putin and Poroshenko at the same table, consists in enforcing the 13 provisions (listed below) and ultimately guaranteeing peace. The EU and the OSCE will have to continue their monitoring roles as requested in the provisions (points 2, 3, 10, 12). However there is two threats flying over the success of the

AFP/Mykola Lazarenko
AFP/Mykola Lazarenko

peace agreement: first, will Vladimir Putin bind himself to the agreement? So far, Vladimir Putin has yet to demonstrate his compliance. Second, will the US give a chance to diplomacy and avoid the continuous threat of providing lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government? (read here a previous analysis on arming Ukraine). Even though none of these questions can be answered, the success of this peace agreement depends on them.

Franco-German Engine – A Shift in European Foreign Policy?

Ensuing the talks, German Chancellor and French President expressed their views and conclusions in a joint-declaration. “We have no illusions,” Chancellor Merkel said, “A great, great deal of work still needs to be done. But there is a real chance to turn things around toward the better.” On the 12th of February, both leaders were briefing the European Council about the Minsk agreement. “It is as well a relief for Europe” said President Hollande. “It is an example of what Germany and France are capable of accomplishing in promoting peace.”

The German-Franco diplomatic engine is an interesting illustration of a shift in European decision-making in foreign policy. After years of reluctance in leading in foreign affairs and of rapprochement with the East (policy known as Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy, which focused more on rapprochement with the east, and especially with Russia), Germany has recently changed its course of actions. Since the annexation of Crimea, Germany has been a European pillar in seeking for a solution in Ukraine and with Russia. Both Berlin and Paris understand the strategic consequences of the war in Ukraine and even an eventual lasting frozen war on the European continent. Both countries understand the importance of normalizing relations with Russia for economic, energy, commercial, political and naturally security reasons.

However, the Normandy format – the four nations talks – “eclipsed the EU, sidelined Poland, and excluded the United States, something that Putin surely wanted” writes Judy Dempsey. “But the presence of the EU and the United States would have signaled a strong and united transatlantic front.” Such format permits Chancellor Merkel to follow her strategic avenue based on diplomacy and economic sanctions. Such approach is defined as ‘strategic patience.’ Additionally, France provides strong diplomatic support to Germany.

Interestingly enough, the missing Member State is the United Kingdom (UK). Prime Minister Cameron has really put the UK on the sidelines on foreign policy questions. Even former Britain’s highest ranking NATO, General Sir Richard Shirreff, underlined the absence of the UK in shaping negotiations and solving the crisis. “The UK is a major Nato member, it is a major EU member, it is a member of the UN security council,” he said,“and it is unfortunate that the weight that the British prime minister could bring to efforts to resolve this crisis appear to be absent.” Philip Hammond responded to the criticism by claiming that the UK had “chosen to take such a back seat” and let the Germans lead the negotiations. Nevertheless, Cameron’s absence – or irrelevance – is a considerable missing piece to the puzzle. His domestic policy of euro-bashing has affected UK’s role in shaping a common European foreign policy.

Last but not least, the fact that the EU is not an active part of the negotiations demonstrates the complexity in forging a common strategy between Western and Eastern Members and between willing and unwilling foreign policy actors. But on a positive note, historically, questions of foreign and defence policies have been initiated through bilateral agreement, which have then spilled-over at the Union-level. The EU may not need to be at the negotiation table with Putin and Poroshenko, but it will need to bring a credible voice and force in assuring the survival of the ceasefire and then avoiding a war on the European continent with Russia in the middle.

The 13 Provisions of the Minsk Agreements for a Peace in Eastern Ukraine

Based on the Elysée’s webiste, here are the list of the 13 provisions agreed by the four nations in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine:

1. Immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and its strict implementation as of 15 February 2015, 12am local time.

2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides by equal distances in order to create a security zone of at least 50 km wide from each other for the artillery systems of caliber of 100 and more, a security zone of 70 km wide for MLRS and 140 km wide for MLRS ‘Tornado-S,’ Uragan, Smerch and Tactical Missile Systems (Tochka, Tochka U):

for the Ukrainian troops: from the de facto line of contact;

for the armed formations from certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine: from the line of contact according to the Minsk Memorandum of Sept. 19th, 2014;

The withdrawal of the heavy weapons as specified above is to start on day 2 of the ceasefire at the latest and be completed within 14 days.

The process shall be facilitated by the OSCE and supported by the Trilateral Contact Group.

3. Ensure effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE from day 1 of the withdrawal, using all technical equipment necessary, including satellites, drones, radar equipment, etc.

4. Launch a dialogue, on day 1 of the withdrawal, on modalities of local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” as well as on the future regime of these areas based on this law.

Adopt promptly, by no later than 30 days after the date of signing of this document a Resolution of the Parliament of Ukraine specifying the area enjoying a special regime, under the Law of Ukraine “On interim self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, based on the line of the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014.

5. Ensure pardon and amnesty by enacting the law prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

6. Ensure release and exchange of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons, based on the principle “all for all”. This process is to be finished on the day 5 after the withdrawal at the latest.

7. Ensure safe access, delivery, storage, and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need, on the basis of an international mechanism.

8. Definition of modalities of full resumption of socio-economic ties, including social transfers such as pension payments and other payments (incomes and revenues, timely payments of all utility bills, reinstating taxation within the legal framework of Ukraine).

To this end, Ukraine shall reinstate control of the segment of its banking system in the conflict-affected areas and possibly an international mechanism to facilitate such transfers shall be established.

9. Reinstatement of full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area, starting on day 1 after the local elections and ending after the comprehensive political settlement (local elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform) to be finalized by the end of 2015, provided that paragraph 11 has been implemented in consultation with and upon agreement by representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under monitoring of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups.

11. Carrying out constitutional reform in Ukraine with a new constitution entering into force by the end of 2015 providing for decentralization as a key element (including a reference to the specificities of certain areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, agreed with the representatives of these areas), as well as adopting permanent legislation on the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in line with measures as set out in the footnote until the end of 2015.1

12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.

13. Intensify the work of the Trilateral Contact Group including through the establishment of working groups on the implementation of relevant aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.

Participants of the Trilateral Contact Group:

Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini 

Second President of Ukraine, L. D. Kuchma

Ambassador of the Russian Federation

to Ukraine, M. Yu. Zurabov

A.W. Zakharchenko

I.W. Plotnitski

1 Such measures are, according to the Law on the special order for local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions:

Exemption from punishment, prosecution and discrimination for persons involved in the events that have taken place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Right to linguistic self-determination;

Participation of organs of local self-government in the appointment of heads of public prosecution offices and courts in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Possibility for central governmental authorities to initiate agreements with organs of local self-government regarding the economic, social and cultural development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

State supports the social and economic development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Support by central government authorities of cross-border cooperation in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with districts of the Russian Federation;

Creation of the people’s police units by decision of local councils for the maintenance of public order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

The powers of deputies of local councils and officials, elected at early elections, appointed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by this law, cannot be early terminated.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

A French Headache Called Mistral

Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Mistral warships are becoming one of the hottest issues for the French government in light of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine. On November 25th, some media outlets (read here and here) announced that France was moving on with the delivery of its first Mistral ship on November 27th. Soon after these reports, the French President, François Hollande, announced in a communiqué published by the French Embassy in the US that:

The French President believes the current situation in eastern Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first [Mistral] amphibious landing ship. He has therefore considered it appropriate to postpone until further notice the examination of the authorization request necessary for the export of the first amphibious landing ship to the Russian Federation./.
 

Ultimately, the questions have been since the invasion of Ukraine: Will France deliver the Mistral-class warships to Russia? and when? Additionally, another one has emerged: how can France arm the principal aggressor on the European continent?

Origins of the Deal

The Franco-Russian deal was signed in 2011 and consisted in the construction of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The first one, the Vladivostok, is supposed to be delivered this month, and the second, the Sevastopol, later in 2016. The value of the contract for the construction of the two warships is of €1.12 billion, which has already been paid in full by Russia. The 2011 contract for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was the first large sale from a NATO country to Russia in the post-Cold War era.

The deal was signed in January 2011 between two former Presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Aside from the obvious economic gains and industrial prestige, Nicolas Sarkozy justified the deal in order to end once and for all the old Cold War enmities. He claimed that “One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don’t treat them as one.” Was it Sarkozy’s ‘reset button’ moment?

Following the signature of the deal, former french President told STX workers that this deal “represents 6 million hours of work and 1,500 jobs over four years” at the shipyard in the coastal town of Saint-Nazaire. Once elected in May 2012, François Hollande declared that the deal would remain. It was only in 2014, months prior the first delivery, that the tension increased considering the geopolitical context. In May, despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the French government declared that the deal was still on creating some concerns across the pond. Despite the economic sanctions implemented by the EU-28 during the summer against Russia (principally individuals), France was still willing to deliver the warship on time. It was only early September that France, under pressures by its allies, laid out two conditions for the delivery: a cease-fire and a political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. And since October, a political game between Moscow and Paris has begun between the two partners, with Moscow claiming that France would deliver the ship on time, and Paris responding that the government has yet to make a decision. In recent time, Russia is telling his French counterpart that France has until the end of the month to deliver the first Mistral, otherwise, Moscow could eventually seek for claims for a breach of contract. However, on Tuesday, November 25th, Yuri Borisov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister, has announced that so far Russia would not seek for damages.

The Mistral – A Game Changer

The Mistral-class helicopter carriers produced by the French shipyards of Saint Nazaire are important and powerful logistical military instruments. These Mistral-class ships offer a variety of tactical and materials advantages as explained by Military-Today (for more technical information on the Mistral amphibious assault ship (LHD) class see here):

  • transport and rapid deployment of helicopters (from 16 to 35 helicopters with 6 landing spots);
  • mechanized landing craft;
  • carry a full tank battalion (from 40 tanks to 70 lighter vehicles);
  • carry from 450 marines up to 900 troops;
  • become modular field hospital;
  • be deployed as command and control vessel with up to 150 personnel;

The figure below illustrates the versatility of Mistral-class warship.

Mistral

Undeniably, the Mistral-class would offer a serious strategic advantage to the Russian navy. For instance, in the case of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Russian admiral Vladimir Vyssotsky argued that “With a Mistral-type vessel during the South Ossetian conflict, the Russian military could have accomplished all its missions in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.”

The headaches of the French Government:

Aside from the obvious technological and military functions, the Mistral-class warships are causing complex problems, of different orders – political, economic, and strategic -,  for the French government.

First, when money tromps regional stability. The financial crisis and its domestic impacts on the French economy and society are affecting the strategic vision of French leaders. The deal signed in 2011 was seen as an important economic boost for France. It not only created hundreds of job in the shipyards of Saint Nazaire, but as well boosted the production of heavy military armaments by the French armament industry. The French industrials are now fearing that a breach of contract may affect their global credibility and reliability for future armament sales with foreign states. Currently, France stands as the fifth world largest arms supplier. In 2012, France totaled €6.87 billion of arms sales, which provide over 50,000 jobs in France. Ultimately, the economic impacts could be serious for the French economy and its military-technological industries. Such claim was validated by a conversation between President Obama and Hollande in Paris in June. As reported by Vincent Jauvert of Euromaidan Press, Obama said “I am deeply concerned. The annexation of Crimea is not a good signal. Why not cancel the deal?” To which, Hollande replied “Because I do not wish to discard the reputation of France.”

Last but not least, with the €1.12 billion already paid in full, the penalty for France for not delivering the warships is valued at €250 million. In case, the Socialist government decides to stop the sale of the warships, €250 million fine plus the two unsold warships could become a serious political headache for the current government.

Second, the delivery of the Vladivostok would send the wrong message to Moscow. By providing such military instrument in times wherein Russia is destabilizing the Eastern neighborhood of the Union, France cannot afford from a strategic point of view to deliver it. Since 2008, Russia has perturbed the European continent with the war in Georgia (2008), the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the incident of Malaysian airliner (weapons provided by Russia to Ukrainian separatists), and the sponsoring of Ukrainian separatists. Politically, France, despite its deep and historical ties with Russia, cannot provide such capability. The invasions of Crimea and now of Ukraine directly threaten the stability on the European continent. President Hollande argued that the delivery was on hold because of Russia’s behavior running “against the foundations of security in Europe.” Additionally, Vladimir Putin is advancing Russian interests until he will meet a serious challenge. Until then, Putin won’t alter his strategy.

Third, what about Europe? The EU has had trouble formulating a clear response and strategy in dealing with Russia for over a decade. For France to deliver the warships in this difficult time for the Union would demonstrate its absolute irrelevance in foreign affairs. Individually, EU Member States such as the United Kingdom, Germany and naturally Eastern EU Member States have expressed their concerns. London has for instance called on suspending the deal. Despite the criticisms emerging from 10 Downing Street, the UK is still receiving large amount of money and investments coming from Russia. From Eastern Europe, these warships represent a real threat to their national security. Radek Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, advanced that “Russian generals have already said what these ships will be used for: to threaten Russia’s neighbors in the Black Sea and that means Europe’s partners.”

The deal is a bad one for European security. How can France provide military assets to a state in search of destabilizing the European balance of power and promoting its interests at any cost? France is unable to respond to such crucial question.

Fourth, what about the French political voices? The French political extremes, right and left combined, have expressed their opposition to the current status-quo on delivering the warship. For instance, Marine LePen of the Front National, extreme-right, argued that it was a clear demonstration of French submission to American hegemony.She said that it “reveals our subservience to American diplomacy.” A similar argument about American imperialism was formulated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the extreme left.

Marine Le Pen, whom has become an apparent force in shaping the French political debate, added that the decision to uphold the delivery is serious as “it runs contrary to the interests of the country.” From her point of view, the reasons are double: French jobs would be at risk and France would have to pay a fine if it failed to deliver the warships. Aside from the economic argument made by the Front National, one should underscore that the party recently accepted a €9 million loan from a Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank. Moscow has become a large financial sponsor for extreme-right parties throughout Europe.

Even, Nicolas Sarkozy holds the same message that the extreme right, which is not surprising, when arguing mid-November that “France needs to honor its words and deliver the Mistrals, France decides by itself, not from what the US wants.” Sarkozy, in search of re-gaining the leadership of the right wing party, UMP, and ultimately the French presidency is demonstrating once again his desire to fulfill his personal ambitions rather than demonstrating his understanding of geopolitics.

In sum, the future of these two Mistral-class warships is still unclear. On the one hand, as advanced by the New York Times, “a decision by France to suspend the deal would encourage other European countries to accept whatever sacrifices future sanctions might entail.” Such action would demonstrate the commitment by France to stand against Russia in its clear violations (read analyses on the issue here and here). On the other hand, some experts have argued that France could sell it to other buyers, preferably NATO members. In recent days, Canada, or even the European Union (in theory), have appeared as a possible buyers of the warships. Until then, the Mistral-gate is here to stay.

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

EUAM Ukraine – Responding to Geostrategic Realities?

Reuters
Reuters

During the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, received a rather cold welcoming from his world counterparts. It appeared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper among others to have had critical words toward Vladimir Putin. It was even reported that Canadian Prime Minister told Vladimir Putin, “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: ‘You need to get out of Ukraine’.” Russian President even left the meeting before the end as he explained, “We still have to get home and be ready for work on Monday. It would be nice to be able to sleep for 4 or 5 hours.” During the last Q&A with the press, Putin claimed that “Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions. The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.” The G-20 meeting confirmed that the relations between the West and Russia are at one of the lowest since the end of the Cold War.

Decisions by the FAC Meeting

After a rather difficult, or even ‘humiliating‘ G-20 meeting for Vladimir Putin, the Russian President is now waiting to see what the EU and its Member States are willing to do in order to tackle the Ukrainian crisis (see here a previous analysis on the topic). On November 17th, the EU-28 met during a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in order to discuss the Ukrainian situation among others. HR/VP Mogherini was presiding the FAC, for the first time as the HR, principally focusing on the situation in Ukraine. The conclusions reached by the FAC are once again minimal. The United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic states were pushing for tougher rhetorics in order to denounce Russian violations in Ukraine. As explained by Mogherini ensuing the FAC meeting, “a major EU political role on the way to find effective means to have a political solution to the crisis, engaging in dialogue with Russia.” Four dimensions were discussed during the Council meeting:

  • first, reaffirming EU’s support for the Minsk Protocol and Memorandums (pushed by France, the Benelux countries, and Finland);
  • second, underscoring the importance of the formation of the new government following the national parliamentary elections of October 26th;
  • third, eventual sanctions targeting Ukrainian separatists, possibly agreed next month. But according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stricter sanctions are not currently on the table;
  • fourth, the launch on December 1st of the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine).

EUAM Ukraine – The latest CSDP mission

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

The EUAM Ukraine, or the latest Common Security and Defense Policy mission, will be launched on December 1st, 2014. EUAM Ukraine is a civilian, or unarmed, non-executive civilian mission. EUAM was created on July 22nd, 2014 and is led by Kálmán Mizsei, appointed on the 24th of July. From its initial creation on July 22nd to November 30th, EUAM received a €2.68 million for the start-up of the mission. More recently, the Council has allocated a budget of € 13.1m for the first 12 months of the mission’s two-year mandate starting on the 1st of December. The mission of EUAM Ukraine consists in assisting “the Ukrainian authorities in the field of civilian security sector reform, including police and rule of law.” So far, there is no indication of the size of the EUAM.

In the aftermath of its establishment in July, former HR/VP Ashton declared:

“The Ukrainian Authorities have embarked on the critical path of civilian security sector reform and have requested the support of the European Union. The EU is deploying this mission to assist Ukraine in this reform, including police and the rule of law. It will provide strategic advice for the development of effective, sustainable and accountable security services that contribute to strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine, for the benefit of all Ukrainian citizens throughout the country.”
 

Several months later, newly appointed HR/VP Mogherini announced that

“Responding to a request from Ukraine, the EU advisory mission will assist in the reform of the Ukrainian civilian security sector, including police and civilian security services, public prosecution and the courts. EU experts will work for efficient, trusted civilian security institutions under democratic control. Like the Association Agreement, the Status of  Mission Agreement is a further sign of our joint efforts for a genuine reform process for Ukraine.”
 

The Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) has already been signed between the HR/VP Mogherini and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, permitting an immediate launch of the operation on the 1st of December. Despite a small budget, the EUAM mandate and mission is enormous. EUAM is supposed to advise on a reform strategy over the civilian security sectors, including the police and the rule of law, and oversee its implementation. In a report produced by Bruxelles2, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde underscored the degree of challenges in creating and implementing the rule of law in Ukraine in a two-year period considering the level of corruption, the nature of the police forces – an historically politicized and militarized instrument -, and reaffirming the power of a centralized government – as some regions are under militia control -.

The implementation and deployment of EUAM Ukraine is a positive note for the EU as its represent a certain willingness to act in Ukraine aside the OSCE. Unfortunately, EUAM Ukraine does not address the root cause of the current tension in Ukraine, Russia. Even though, European leaders have talked tough in Australia, they are still not addressing the real problem represented by Russia. In her recent op-ed, Judy Dempsey underscored how Chancellor Merkel perceives Russia as the main threat to Europe’ security and her continuous interaction with her Russian counterpart as she does not trust him.

Following the G-20 meeting, Chancellor Merkel made some comments about the Ukrainian crisis, saying “suddenly we are confronted with a conflict which goes to the center of our values, so to speak. Now we can’t hold speeches at commemorations. Now we have to show what we have learned from all this.” Chancellor Merkel was clear on advancing the need for Europe to stop the talking and finally start behaving as a regional power. Additionally, Dempsey wrote that “The recent bout of Western sanctions against Russia have shown how the diplomatic path is not working. That is all the more reason for European leaders to accept the changing geostrategic realities.” Once again, EUAM illustrates the gap between between the rhetorics and the actions.

The Use of Economic Power to Asserting Europe’s Power?

To some degree EUAM Ukraine can be compared, in terms of strategic choice, to the failed EU mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL-A, trying to reform the Afghan National Police (ANP) in wartime. Despite, American and Western military presence, the EU was unable to perform such complex and lengthy process considering the security challenges in Afghanistan among other reasons. In Ukraine, wherein combats are taking place in the Eastern part of the country, wherein Russian presence and influence is undeniable, how can the EU be successful at reforming the civilian security sector in two years. Not significant reforms can be implemented until the borders are secure, the political situation of Eastern part of Ukraine is settled, and the central government of Ukraine is legitimate all around the country. EUAM Ukraine should be launched once the status of Ukraine is settled and Russian influence minimized, not before.

Right now, the EU ought to address the military threat represented by Russia on the European continent against Ukraine and some EU Member States. The EU and its Member States are not committed to use hard power, so they will need to increase the economic sanctions against Russia. EUAM does not respond to the geostrategic realities in Europe, deeper and stricter economic sanctions would finally demonstrate EU commitment to enforcing its influence and responding to Russian actions. The EU has demonstrated that it is not and does not want to become a military power in order to assert its influence and power, its economic engine and market may be the instrument to do so. “Merkel believes that German industry, and Europe as a whole,” argued Dempsey, “must be willing to pay the price for Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” History has demonstrated that there is always a cost to pay in order to assure one’s security. The EU feels that by adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, the security threat embodied by Russia will eventually disappear. The battle over Ukraine may be a bigger fight about the future of geopolitics and peace on the European continent.

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

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).