October in fire (I)

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None of the many previous months have been so turbulent like October 2016 in terms of international relations. Relationships between the major forces, between what we called a generation ago, in the bipolar era, the West and the East, therefore between USA and Russia, have never been so tensed like in this ended October for a long time ago, maybe since the start of the 80s in the last century.

It’s justified to talk about an accrual of tension since 2012-2013, when the so-called “reset policy” has consumed/ended between the two forces, culminating in 2010 with the signing of START-3 by the American and Russian presidents, seeming to end the “frost” occurred after the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

In December, 2013, the Euro-Maidan crisis in Ukraine started, soon being developed by a pro-European Government who took the power and who caused Moscow’s restlessness, making it to act in force. Russia occupied Crimea, an Ukrainian territory at the end of the Cold War, although received as a “gift” in 1954 from a leadership of Kremlin which now is disavowed. Counteractions of the West followed – economic and financial sanctions -, strengthen as Moscow has supported separatist movements in the Eastern Ukraine. To calm the situation in this region, a format of negotiation called “Normandy” has been established, where the French, Russian, German and Ukrainian heads of state (presidential election took place in Ukraine) tried to identify a solution for the started conflict, which was threatening to turn into a first interstate war in Europe.

In September, when NATO assumed the “reassurance” policy of the Eastern flank, at the Wales Summit, deciding to form a quick reaction force and giving strong military signals regarding the automatic application of the Article No.5 if states from here will be the victims of an aggression, there have also been concluded a first ceasefire agreement in Ukraine and a peace itinerary have been established (Minsk-1).

Developments in Syria, more and more threatening for Europe, especially because of the huge wave of migrants in 2015 (more than 1 million people), have caused an improvement of the relationships between Russia and USA, between West and East, even if the sanctions remained in force. On the one hand, a negotiation (failed by the end of the year) was performed to find a solution of implementing the Ukraine’s association agreement with EU, with Russia’s consent/participation. On the other hand, in Syria took place the military intervention of Russia (September 30, 2015), who started to military cooperate with US, to end the so-called Islamic caliphate (ISIL), established in Syria and Iraq and turned into a real threat of the global stability. Terrorist organization from Africa and Asia, cells from Europe and Caucasian organizations who caused a real global war against the status-quo’s powers, joined the ISIL cause of challenging the global order. Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war wasn’t without incidents with an international impact (with Turkey in 2015), and the file of the conflict in Ukraine seemed to be solved according to a Russian strategy perseveringly followed (the implementation of the Minsk-2 agreement in February 2015, giving a veto right to the separatist pro-Kremlin forces on the Kiev’s foreign policy decisions).

In February, 2016, Russia and USA succeeded to sponsor a ceasefire agreement in Syria, which soon failed (July-August), and by the end of September, Washington and Moscow concluded an agreement stipulating cooperation to implement the peace itinerary in Syria (agreed and approved by the UN Security Council in December, 2015), as well as ceasefire between the Syrian warring groups and the joint fight against ISIL. Barely concluded, this agreement was terminated on October 3, 2016, in the circumstances of some assaults performed by the Russian aviation in Alep, of some bombings on some humanitarian support motorcades, for which both parties (Russia and USA) have accused each other. From this moment, the developments were very quick, and the most tensed period after the end of the Cold War, as it was called, started. For instance, on October 28, the former Swedish PM, Carl Bildt, wrote on his Twitter account that “Relations between East and West worst since Cuban missile crisis. Dangers”. Being together in Warsaw at an international forum on the international context, Bildt received J. M. Guehenno’s reply, a known leader of the prestigious website “International Crisis”: “I am certainly not supporting backing Russia into a corner. On the contrary, need to restore framework for engagement”, but mentioning that ” Russia exploits weakness: Europe must have more self-confidence”. In the days preceding the above mentioned conversation, events that indicated a large crisis between West and East occurred.

A top place between them is taken by the accusation brought by USA to Russia that it intervenes in the American electoral process, by intercepting and disclosing by an itinerary of camouflage of the exchanged emails, first, between the members of the campaign of the democrat candidate Hilary Clinton, then by disclosing by similar procedures the content of her emails from a private server.

These disclosures, which the American officials revealed that are officially managed by Russia, seemed to give favor the republican candidate Donald Trump; the surveys had clearly indicated such an interpretation of the case. At the level of the US Vice President, Russia has been warned that replies will follow; articles seeming to accuse the own secret services appeared in the Russian media, while pleading for understanding such escapes from under Kremlin’s control and for resuming cooperation in the Syrian case. A new round of talks of the Normandy format took place unexpectedly in Berlin (October 20), few weeks before EU decision on prolonging or removing the sanctions applied to Russia. It was the moment when the head of the German diplomacy talked about the maximum tensioning of the international situation. Simultaneously, military developments have occurred; the only aircraft carrier of the Russian fleet, Kuznetzov, located in the port of Severomosk, in North, started on October 15, 2016, a long journey to Syria, rounding the whole Europe (on October 26, the Russian naval group entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Strait of Gibraltar).

British press asserted that the Russian President V. Putin bows to a “hot war”, to recover the global force statute, lost at the end of the Cold War: “European security has not looked as perilous since the early 1980s. Russia does not believe that the West is serious about defending its frontline states, especially in the Baltic region. Many in the West do not believe that Russia is serious in its intention to divide and dominate Europe — and in its willingness to use force to do so.

The great danger is that this combination of complacency and recklessness will provoke an accidental conflict”. On the other hand, Russia, through Putin, has rejected the occidental assertions; the Russian leader stated at a meeting of the Valdai Group (October 27), that “The world is full of contradictions today/…/there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals/…/ the solidity of the system created back then / after the WWII )rested not only on the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries, but on the fact that this system’s ‘founding fathers’ had respect for each other, did not try to put the squeeze on others, but attempted to reach agreements”.

By the end of October, the international state system was in full crisis, surprisingly reminding of the crisis in July, 1914, which ended with the World War I, early in August. Some of the analysts had the courage to anticipate since now that the World War III is coming. On October 28, 2016, A. Brenton, Britain’s former Ambassador in Russia, wrote that Putin is going to a “hot war”.

How did we get to this crossroad?