Munich-51: A Geopolitical weekend (II)

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The entire debate on international order held in Munich-51 is based on the challenge raised by Russia beginning with the war with Georgia, in August 2008, through which it ‘generated’ two new states in the Georgian state’s territory, and continuing with the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. So the entire current situation in Ukraine, the whole Russia-West debate on the military developments in the East of the ex-Soviet country are closely connected to the European and global status-quo, with keeping or changing/correcting the current international order. It is in this sense that one should read the references of the NATO secretary general in his speech in Munich on the respect for rules and borders, as well as a different statement he made, resent on twitter: ‘a strong NATO is essential if we are to engage Russia with confidence.’ The Russia-West confrontation is not just at a diplomatic level, but, through what is happening in Ukraine and given the reaction of the West (NATO), it tends to be already exceeding this framework. And twitter shares with us the various opinions voiced in Munich. From the beginning the key-question in the matter came from Carl Bildt: ‘Is help with diplomacy to Ukraine enough? Or is help with also defence necessary? Key issue as #msc2015 starts.’

Does Ukraine need to be armed to give an effective response to the Russian military aggression inflicted directly, through own troops, and though proxies (separatists)? A series of positions taken in the international media after the launch of the Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine (21-23 January) – through the artillery attack on Mariupol – Ukrainian Black sea port of strategic importance the control of which by forces opposed to Kiev would provide a direct land connection between Russian territory and Crimea – pointed out the necessity to provide lethal armament to the attacked state in order to be able to defend itself. Whilst Western capitals expressed their views on the matter – the US Congress being decisively in favour and the delivery of radars and anti-tank armament, drones etc. only needs the approval of the president – the Russian troops supported by the separatist ones continued the offensive, acquiring land beyond the divide line agreed upon in Minsk in September 2014.

Wehrkunde-51 provided a rostrum for the expression of Western and Russian positions through authorised voices. It has to be noted that the statements came after an extraordinarily meaningful development in the Ukrainian dossier – the visit to Moscow and meeting with Russian President V. Putin on 6 February 2015 of two Western leaders – F. Hollande, President of France, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. As the German foreign minister posted on the official twitter on 6 February ‘Chllr #Merkel travelling to #Moscow: Will use all our power to stop the bloodshed+to fill #Minsk Agreement with life.’

During five hours the three heads of state talked about the way to avoid a general war in Ukraine. Details of the talks are not known, but the Russian press notes that, unlike media speculations that President Putin was given an ultimatum by the West, the Kremlin’s spokesperson said that

‘Nobody has ever talked to the president in the tone of an ultimatum — and could not do so even if they wanted to.’  („The Moscow Times”, February 9, 2015).

The three politicians decided in Moscow to meet again, this time also with Ukraine’s President P. Poroshenko, in Minsk on 11 February to make a decision on the Ukrainian crisis. Therefore a postponement of a decision with a few days, during which time Wehrkunde-51 took place. As early as on 2 February, the organiser of the conference, W. Ischinger, had published a column in ‘Der Spiegel’ , with the headline ‘How to Stabilize Ukraine without Playing Putin’s Game’ in which he pleaded that the West should not resort to arming Ukraine with lethal weapons, but, on the contrary, continue to harden sanctions, by that elevating the cost Moscow has to pay for its military action in Ukraine.

What were the opinions at Wehrkunde on this matter?

Ever since the opening of the conference, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, according to twitter, that she opposed ‚arms deliveries to #Ukraine: too many unknown consequences’. Angela Merkel’s address Saturday morning was therefore expected with a huge interest. According to a twitter sequence, she said that ‘Russia’s procedure violated foundations of European peace order, international law, the Helsinki Final Act, Budapest Memorandum.”; “Germany will be forever grateful to nations of CEE for ending Cold War “; “Merkel on Ukraine: Militarily this cannot be won. This is the bitter truth and the bitter reality.’ ” ( Josh Rogin ); “Merkel’s plan in Ukraine conflict? Endurance of the West during the Cold War. “( Daniel Brossler ) ; “One point worth mentioning about Merkel speech: No discussion of possible further sanctions if latest negotiations fail.”( Ian Bremmer ) ;“Heated debate on arms to #Ukraine with #Merkel on dias & an uncomfortable @poroshenko on front row with audience split btw pro/con. “ (Damon Wilson).

Russian Minister S. Lavrov’s speech at Wehrkunde-51 highlighted the radically distinct positions of the two parties. He accused the West of generating the Ukrainian crisis by organizing a coup in Kiev in February 2014, that the inhabitants of Crimea expressed their internationally guaranteed right in a referendum and chose to join Russia and, responding to the disavowing reaction of the audience, he commented: ‘Perhaps you think what I say is funny, but I think what you say is funny’. A renowned expert ( Josef Joffe ) asked him sprightly :” I understand your problems with the US. Why do you make #Ukraine pay for it? “. What caused a caustic answer on twitter on the Russian leaders: ‘It’s the historical mindset from the Cold War. Other than that they are all decked out in US goods…’ Minister Lavrov imperturbably continued to threaten the West for the extremely dangerous evolution of the Ukrainian crisis as demonstrated by Wehrkunde’s twitter: ‘At every stage of the crisis in #Ukraine, the US and the EU took measures to escalate the crisis.’; ‘Our Western partners were not guided by common European security but by illusions’  And he menacingly summarized: ‘Recent development have corroborated our warnings. Remember Pres. Putin’s speech here in Munich’. The reference to the memory of the audience is made directly to President Putin’s threats in 2007, in his address to the Wehrkunde meeting, where he threatened with Russia’s offensive actions to defend its own rights disregarded by the West. At the time, Putin told the audience: ‘We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.’

Immediately the Munich audience embraced the position that ‘The West is not united in The face of #Russia threat, perspectives very depending on geography’ (twitter resent by M. Zaborowski, initially written by Edward Lucas). It’s interesting that this latter expert who commented on Merkel’s speech, having read Anna Applebaum’s report in ‘Washington Post’ on A. Merkel’s address the following day and, after that, Serghey Lavrov’s, noted on twitter: ‘If we don’t come up with a serious strategy to prevent [a world war] that’s what we’ll get’.