Of course, many observers of the international stage wondered, after the Wales NATO Summit, what happens with Ukraine and what the future of that country was going to be. More precisely, is this country – one of Europe’s largest as territory, demographic potential and geopolitical position – going to be left on its own facing Russia’s aggression? Will it have to accept a federalisation that would ‘tie its hands’ in any foreign orientation decision other than one towards the East? Or, does Ukraine have to get used – like R. Moldova or other post-Soviet states – to having a kind of Transdniester in the South-East and South (the often mentioned Novorussia) of its territory that would make Kiev’s decisions prisoner to Kremlin’s will?
Developments in Ukraine are already known. During the NATO Summit in Wales, President Poroshenko announced his intention to sign an armistice with the separatists in Minsk the following day, which actually happened.
For the accuracy of the report, we need to note that a question was raised ever since that point in the international press whether we were facing a new agreement on the division of the spheres of influence. The known Polish commentator Marcin Zaborowski was wondering after the Summit in Wales: What did Ukraine receive? Here is the answer he finds to his poignant question: ‘as far as Ukraine itself is concerned the summit offered Kiev close to nothing. The announcement that NATO would spend 15 million euros ($19M) on military aid to Ukraine did not impress the Ukrainians nor the Russians. NATO’s decision to allow individual members of the alliance to sell arms to Ukraine has not changed anything, not least because since then a number of states have rushed to deny they intended to sell anything to Ukraine whilst the unstable situation there continues. In other words, after the summit Ukraine continues to be on its own vis-a-vis belligerent Russia.’
As a matter of fact, the international media often quotes this idea, that the current truce in Ukraine is a temporary one, the belief being that, by promoting/accepting it, Putin actually just tried to postpone the adoption of the forth wave of Western sanctions (which, nonetheless, entered into force on Friday, after being delayed for a few days) and the European Union extended the entry into effect of its association agreement with Ukraine until the end of 2015 as means of pressure on Moscow to keep the ceasefire and stop aggressive moves. Or, this idea of a persistent Russian aggression in the future catalysed response scenarios to Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe and security safeguards for the NATO member states in this region. In an entry to his blog on September 15, 2014, the reputed British strategist Julius Lindley-French sketches such a strategy of the West for the future: First of all, he shows that Russia’s current aim is to turn the annexation of Crimea into a fait accompli and set up its own protectorate in the territory of Tsarist Novorussia. Once this objective reaches, the Kremlin will assess the West’s response strategy and will start the second phase in pursuit of its strategic aim, defined as ‘to re-create a new sphere of influence that would strengthen Russian prestige and influence in Europe and create a buffer zone between Russia, the EU and NATO’. Russia, Lindley-French notes, is back to a ‘zero sum game analysis of power in which only one side can prevail’.
The answer of the West is foreseen by Lindley French in the simple formula ‘do the same to Russia as Russia is doing to the West’. Or, since Russia is an ‘essentially fragile’ state, such Western strategy should target its vulnerable spots, namely: ‘a) Russia is a declining power that must act now if it is to establish a European order that is Russia-friendly and thus prevent in the Moscow strategic mind the consolidation of the EU and NATO on its borders; b) irrespective of current actions Russia will over time be locked out of the European financial and energy markets and must therefore re-establish Russian strategic <independence>; and c) in spite of Russia’s military modernisation programme over the longer term Moscow will become relatively weaker compared with NATO. The next decade is decisive.’ The counteraction to Russian strategy must target the Kremlin’s conviction that the survival of the Putin regime requires a compulsory accommodation of the West. For that, the West should adopt a new political strategy, modernise NATO, appropriate a new ‘Forward Defence’ concept for NATO and an adequate concept of ‘hybrid (ambiguous) war’ for the West.
Without exploring into depth the details provided by Lindley French for each of the lines of development of the general strategy of the West concerning Russia, one has to note that the political strategy should seek to obtain Moscow’s belief that it is in its best interest to pull out of Ukraine, including Crimea, that France, Germany and the European Union as a whole should act like the ‘good cop’, keeping communication channels with Russia open and that the USA and the UK should be the ‘bad cop’ whose job would be to constantly stress ‘the threat Moscow poses to the European order’ and make NATO ‘a bastion against madness’. Regarding the modernisation of NATO, Lindley-French states that keeping the budget allocation obligations agreed on during the Wales Summit by all the members of the Alliance means that ‘as NATO nations spend four times that of Russia on defence it must be made clear to Moscow that any attempt to establish military supremacy in Europe will fail and thus simply be a waste of money.’ In Lindley French’s strategic view, the new NATO ‘Forward Deterrence’ concept means a ‘conventional force concept in support of all the Eastern Allies to underpin strategic reassurance and collective defence.’ And the hybrid/ambiguous war fought by Russia in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine this year must be deterred by a hybrid/ambiguous war by the West (why not deploy special forces, invited by the Ukrainian Government to use a similar retortion to the action of the Russian forces in Ukraine? Or even a NATO training mission in Ukraine to work with the local forces? Such things would be Kiev’s sovereign decisions Moscow would have no reason to protest)
Lindley French ends his blog post with a somewhat sceptical question: ‘Is there a West and if so does it have the collective political courage and guile to craft and enact such a counter-strategy? ‘
I would add a touch of optimism to the strategy draft sketched out by the prominent British strategist: many of the lines of action he imagines are in the pack of measures announced by the Alliance after its Summit in Newport – Wales. It is now for their practical implementation by all the members of the Alliance to edify the necessary strategy for Europe to successfully overcome the most grievous crisis it has seen after the last global conflagration in 1939-1945.