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June 27, 2022

Ukraine – Preliminary lessons

It is evident that what is going on today in Ukraine – the Russian military aggression, the troops being clearly masked as ‘unknown,’ but visibly with a precise mission which the ‘poor self-defence forces,’ as they are called by Moscow, could not have drafted, understood and especially implement – has not ended. One should not rule out even a military confrontation that could crown what was called ‘the biggest crisis since the end of the Cold War’ – could it be that the German minister of Foreign Affairs, who launched the expression, forgot what happened at 9/11 2001 ? – as it could end with a new frozen conflict. The situation in Ukraine is open today to any evolution and – obviously – even to an unforgiving mistake of crisis management, which could once again throw, 100 years after the first generalised European war, the old continent into a new big conflict.

But is it still too early for us to draw some lessons from the evolution of the Ukrainian crisis so far? Are we hampered by the fact that we do not know the end – hopefully a peaceful one that will preserve the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state – in making some attempts to notice few of the trends which these days of confrontation between Russia and the West outlined as probable constant lines of evolution in the future?
In our opinion, the answers to these questions are negative. No, it is not too early. And this is why:
From the diplomatic evolutions so far – the reference is to the days before February 21, when a European troika (the Foreign Affairs ministers of France, Germany and Poland) succeeded to mediate an accord between the EuroMaidan and authorities, rapidly shattered, but invoked today by Russia – and what happened after the installing in crescendo of the crisis management diplomacy as soon as Kremlin made the decision to intervene in Crimea (February 23) one can understand some significant traits. First, the ‘troika’ of the EU Foreign Affairs ministers that took upon itself the mission to mediate the Ukrainian internal conflict reveals the forming of a new axis of continental power with a role of managing the difficult situations in eastern Europe. Set aside the fact that Poland thus enters the ‘first echelon’ as one of the great European powers, let’s notice that the older German-French binomial suddenly finds the vigour it had lost when it failed to adequately manage the crisis of sovereign debts in 2010 – 2011 or in Libya. Second, we notice the almost immediate failure of the accord reached by the ‘troika’ in Kiev and, along with the installing of the new Ukrainian power, the strong discontentment of Moscow. It does not delay in acting through a masked military intervention, defying the international legality: The act of Helsinki, in 1975, reconfirmed later, which forbids the violation of the recognised borders of a member state, as well as the UN Charter. Third: the gradual loss of importance by the initial ‘troika’ and the advent of a power binomial, very robust and coagulated after an initial hesitation: Germany and the USA (backed by the United Kingdom). The talks of the Kremlin leader are generally conducted with the leaders of these grand powers, Obama and Merkel negotiate the opportuneness and amplitude of sanctions against Russia. Fourth, the European Union, which has a feverish programme of sending its high officials to Kiev and holding meeting in Brussels, gradually align behind the German position of probing all the possibilities of finding a peaceful solution. Fifth, it is evident that if Germany insists on finding a peaceful solution and sparing Moscow, the USA, together with this direction of action, insists on sanctions against Russia that will seriously shake Putin’s plans, suspected of not stopping just at Ukraine and also assumes the dispatching of military forces – a fleet is sent to the Mediterranean, a destroyer is sent to the Black Sea for common exercises with the Romanian and Bulgarian fleets, fighter planes patrol in the Baltic states and are dislodged in Poland. Last, but not least, NATO adopts a martial speech affirming the imperative of observing international laws. For the last few days, it dispatches to Eastern Europe, up to its own borders, in consensus with the US actions, AWACS planes to Poland and Romania conducting the normal mission in such cases: the discouraging of the aggressor and strongly supporting a robust diplomacy meant to bring it to reason.
This general picture shows several directions of action that seem to reclaim the title of ‘lessons learned’ from the present crisis. First, that the military aggression is no longer a tabu subject in Europe, that having at hand the military force one can advance designs of big power – camouflaged or not – without being met by a common, instantaneous and decision opposition of the West. The increasingly frequent references to the ‘30s of last century and the ways of action of Hitler – for instance, the pretext of protecting the own ethnicity in conquering the Sudetenland in 1938 – and the installing of a new trend of ‘appeasement’ in Europe are doubtlessly justified. Which way one will act with this regard on the old continent and perhaps in the whole system, it is still unclear, but the fact that the principles of the Act of Helsinki, like the stipulations of Versailles toward Hitler are disrespected, this cannot be denied anymore.
Second, Russia enjoys a differentiated treatment from the West. On one hand, Germany shows to be more conciliatory, more open to understanding the motivations of Moscow, as it only tries to refrain its appetite and repeatedly remind it that it infringes the legality, without weakening through adequate measures the capability of action. The fact that the German business has big interests in the relation with Russia, that the German economy needs the Russian oil and gas are realities that motivate strongly, but not completely the attitude of Berlin. On the other hand, one can notice, with all the hesitations and criticism brought to the Obama administration, that it seems to move from the position of no longer occupying advanced strategic/geopolitical positions (corresponding to the ‘grand strategy’ of off-shore balancing), which was general during the last years, and becomes more offensive and more decided in demanding the observance of the systemic order. Even China, suspected at the beginning of the crisis of tacitly supporting Russia, seems to have realised lately the danger posed by and Eurasian heartland dominated in Europe by Germany and in Asia by a Eurasian Union controlled by Moscow. The German magazine “Der Spiegel” recently admitted that “the Kremlin leader has succeeded in one respect: He has divided the West. This process began months before his foray into Crimea, when he granted temporary asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden.” The reference mainly refers the relation Germany-USA, but the mentioned division has a larger geopolitical connotation: Does Germany need Russia in a future global competition?
And there is yet another ‘lesson of the latest days of crisis. The small and middle-sized powers – fearing the ‘great games’ committed by the big powers show a normal movement of coagulation and constantly consult with each other, either in group meetings – like the Visegrad group – or in larger-scale regional ones – Visegrad and the ‘group of Nordic states’ – especially since the idea appeared – Kissinger, for instance – of a ‘neo-Finlandisation of Central and Eastern Europe.’ The voice of these powers is strong and is heard in the international organisations and leaders already take shape, like Poland and Sweden, through initiatives and constant diplomatic effort. The case of Romania is particular and reclaims a longer consideration that will show its basis and limits.
The hope is in rapidly resorbing the crisis and avoiding its degeneration into a destructive war. But the aforementioned lessons, as well as others, need to be granted a careful consideration and their systemic consequences must be measured, as they are by no means few, fortuitous or minor. The future will show this truth.

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