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Bucharest
June 28, 2022
EDITORIAL

A proxy war between Russia and the West? (II)

According to an inside analysis by the French daily paper “Le Monde” on Minsk 2, “In the near future, the next two weeks will be filled with difficult negotiations concerning the implementation of Minsk 2. The parametres are well-known: the status of the territories in the Eastern part of the country, border supervision, the areas controlled by Separatists, the exchange of prisoners, etc. If a compromise is reached, it will compulsorily be translated by some kind of Russian authority over some of the Ukrainian territory. It is all up to finding how far this authority would go. ‘We are engaged in a long term conflict, we must be prepared to live with the Russian threat for 20 or 30 years’, an Ukrainian diplomat announced” (“Le Monde”, February 12). Reading between the lines of this analysis, it is to be noticed that European diplomacy must be prepared for a generation-long harsh confrontation with Russia, not just on the issue of Ukraine, but on the entire Eastern Europe. “The Russian threat”, as it is euphemistically named, as it is genuine aggression, an actual conquest war fought in full mockery of international laws, will be therefore on the long run, and predictions on the results of this confrontation are a topic everyone avoids. Should it be the acceptance of an accomplished fact, that is the acknowledgment of Russian territorial conquests in Ukraine. It would be appeasement, which was historically proven unable to save Europe and the world of World War II; on the contrary, it encouraged aggression. Should it be the hope of Russia’s economical crash and its “taming” as a result of sanctions that already show their major impact on Russia’s economy (the fall of the ruble, the economical contraction, the lowering of living standards, etc.)? If so, we must consider that Moscow had already taken into account this fact and is already conceiving response plans (such as its own sanctions against the states of NATO and EU). Should Russia’s military victory in Ukraine be so close, generating the immediate inference of the United States, which would result in a war between the two great nuclear powers of the globe?

A positive answer would explain the abandon, at least temporarily, of the Helsinki principles regarding European security; and yet, we are entering a terribly dangerous time, “neither war, neither peace”, while, anyway, the two nuclear powers will carry on a war by means of intermediaries (named proxies). Should Russia prefer Minsk 2 instead of military victory hoping to avoid economical disaster caused by sanctions or the hope that it would thus force partners to reconsider European security and global order, which can only be made together, by complex negotiation? It is hard to believe that Moscow did not expect the USA to become – if not immediately – a partner in the reorganizing of European security started by Minsk 2, especially that Washington, just like Russia, is a major part in the present security architecture of Europe.

At this point in the analysis, various scenarios of evolution are anticipated. Obviously, one must also take into account a surprise restart of the Russian military offensive and the annihilation of the main forces of the Ukrainian army (which would mean that Ukraine was a defeated state and which would lead to peace negotiations, as the winner has preeminence), which already seems to have happened, as there was an almost immediate pressure on the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve. Also, as some analyses published recently have pointed out, we might look forward to a “Finland-influenced” Ukraine (some people stated though that it is too late for this scenario), abandoning all military confrontations and focusing on taking advantage of Western support in order to be reborn and become an attractive investment venue, both for the West and Russia.

Of all possible scenarios, I would like to highlight two that seem the more likely to happen:

1)         a war between Russia and the West in Ukraine, by means of proxies

2)         a new international conference in Europe on security, as proposed in August 2008, after stopping military operations in Georgia, by Russian President D. Medvedev. Let us analyse each of them.

 

The war between Russia and the Occident in Ukraine, by proxies

 

The possibility that this scenario would occur is extremely high, considering the circumstances that have led to the reunion in Minsk, in the night of February 11 to 12, 2015, and, most of all, what happened after the agreement was signed. Clashes between the adversaries continued, a massive part of Ukrainian forces left the locality Debaltseve, so, actually, no progress was noticed in the application of “Minsk 2”; on the contrary, the situation became worse. Moreover, NATO started being very vocal in demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine. Yet, the strongest arguments for this scenario are the positions expressed by authorized voices: officials or experts, regarding Russia’s purposes in Ukraine. Russian president V. Putin had declared, by example, on February 7, 2015, according to the newspaper “Kommersant”, that “certainly, there are attempts to restrict our development by various means, there is an attempt to save the present order, created in the last few years after the division of the Soviet Union, with a sole leader who intends to stick to this position supposing that he can do what he wants and other people do just what he allows them to do or what suits his interests. Russia will never accept such international order”.

In the same day, the well-known Russian analyst Sergey Karaganov, attending a TV show, declared that “our nation will not give up until they accomplish their purposes, and the main purpose is to achieve a position in Europe, so that Russia would feel safe. Perhaps it is our fault, too, that we were unable to block the expansion of NATO during the 90s”. He declared that “Ukraine must understand that the games they have been playing during the last 20 years are over. We established our area of geopolitical interest and we intend to fight for this area” and if the nuclear weapons are enough to discourage the United States “because they are aware that the results might be terribly severe”, but also that the threat of a nuclear war is higher now, compared to the 70s and the 80s of the past century. On the contrary, Karaganov expressed the genuine frustration of the Russian political elite, as “we were perceived by the world as a state condemned to failure, a state that might be subjected to pressures and insults.” The expert was similarly critical to the way Russian society indulged in the last few decades: “we have to start working. We have partied for 20 years, discussing modernisation and failing to develop our country. We cannot go on like this. Otherwise, the evolutions of events could lead to Ukraine entering NATO. This fact would create an unacceptable situation, a “casus belli”. A border of 2,250 km cannot be defended”.

Such declarations are leave no room for interpretation: Russia will never cease its present directions in foreign politics and therefore, it will not cease its actions in Ukraine until it reaches its objectives. The adversary, the Occident, understood the massive challenge posed by Russia. They took adequate measures regarding the enforcing of the military forces of the Alliance at the Eastern borders: five commandments, including two in Romania, the consolidation of the Fact Reaction Force, sending troops to the East and so on. State Secretary Kerry visited London by the end of last week and announced new sanctions if Russia continued its present behaviour. The Congress voted for supportive measures, including sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, appointing American military instructors in this country, and so on, which clearly proves another fact. The USA are determined not to allow Russia to accomplish its expansion objectives.

Minsk 2 shows increasing fragility in less than a week after it was signed. There are still fights at Mariupol and in surrounding areas, localities of strategic importance. As put by Adrian Pabst, a British expert, on February 17: “Both Russia and Ukraine are vying for control over the strategic locations of Debaltseve and Mariupol where the worst fighting has raged. With neither party prepared to back down, the smallest incident could set the whole region alight.” It seems that this scenario has a great likelihood of turning into reality faster than one would imagine. In an interview granted to the press on February 18, 2015, General James Dempsey, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the American army appreciated that “Putin’s principal aim, strategically, is to fragment the NATO alliance,” and he went on to point out that “And if we allow this issue to fragment the NATO alliance, then we will have actually have played into his grand strategy.” The General also added that delivery of defence weapons to Ukraine is presently taken into account (the press even discusses the opportunity of packs of multiple rocket launcher systems able to attack the enemy’s points of command and control at a great distance). He also pointed out that if the Minsk 2 agreement is proved nonfunctional, then both NATO and the USA must come up with an answer. “Russian aggressiveness in Eastern Europe is incredibly destabilizing,” he said, “and what it’s done is it’s lit a fire of ethnicity and nationalism that, frankly, I think, I’m not sure how far it will spread and how violently it will burn.” Evaluations made by both sides thus converge to the likelihood that Russia would act on this scenario and that the West prepares an adequate response.

 

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