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March 23, 2023

Brussels Forum (March 20 – 22): “Russia file”-II

Journalist Steven Erlanger from NYT, who had hosted the debate by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ursula von der  Leyen, published afterwards a commentary about “Brussels Forum”, referring to the panel he had hosted. He stated that the West, who considered that they were united, is actually divided over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and how to respond”. Moreover, with irony, he declared that the only domain where both Europe and the USA are sympathetic is the one concerning the defence of Ukraine: both allies consider that it deserves military support. Erlanger continues in his analysis: “But they disagree on much else: whether to provide Kiev with arms; whether to give Kiev massive economic aid and for what benchmarks; whether the cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus, last month is being implemented.” As the American analyst declared, this lack of agreement was more than obvious at the Brussels Forum. Besides, on the same day, Yahoo News published an article significantly entitled “NATO, Russian officials clash over situation in Europe” (http://news.yahoo.com/nato-russian-officials-clash-over-situation-europe-174716300.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory&soc_trk=tw)

Indeed, a few such divergences of opinions were noticed ever since the debate between Brezinski and von der Leyen. But the panels held next day emphasized both the essential contradiction of Russia and the West regarding the behaviour of Russian fighter planes in the air (the fact that they closed the transponder, causing severe dangers to civil planes), upon the application of article no. V of the NATO treaty in case of a cybernetic attack against a member state, of the status of Ukraine, etc., but also divergences of view inside the Western camp. Some of these refer to the right of every state to choose the alliance it wants to join or the way Russia-s position is evaluated regarding the implementation of Minsk-2 agreement. If the NATO Secretary General had stated that “We aren’t in the cold war , but we are not in the cooperative situation as RF has broken the rules”, according to an attendant’s Twitter post, hinting that Russia has troops in Ukraine, violating obligations assemed at Minsk 2, Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Politics  “says instability in #Russia is not in the interest of #EU, but also that the removal of EU sanctions will only occur if Moscow is proved to fulfill obligations according to Minsk-2. Nonetheless, according to a Twitter post, “The EU High Representative for foreign affairs refuses to criticize Russia’s implementation of Minsk agreement on Ukraine”. Moreover, Mogherini declared that “We turn pages on crises too quickly and don’t see new crises coming”. And this statement occurs during the discussion that includes several opinions – some of them firm, regarding the support granted to Ukraine, such as “Victoria Nuland: President @BarackObama has not made a decision on arming Ukraine”. Or, when Mogherini shows that “I wish we could lift the sanctions soon, but depends on situation in #Ukraine.” and “Still as no military means in Ukraine, economically to pressure Russia”. Fresh information provided by Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiators who arrived at the forum after six years of discussions were synthesized in a Twitter post as follows:#TTIP will reinforce the alliance between the EU and US at a time when we’re conscious of our shared values.” This new information determined Carl Bildt to announce on Twitter that there is still hope that TTIP will be signed this year, sealing the alliance of the West. They insisted on asking:“Can we think about crisis with Russia without reactivating Cold War logic @FedericaMog asks @IgnatiusPost”. D. Ignatius gave a detailed answer to this question a few days later in his article in Washington Post, showing that NATO was at a loss. “The NATO alliance seems stuck at a crossroads on Ukraine, unsure whether to move toward greater confrontation with Russia or accept the deadlocked ‘frozen conflict’ that has emerged there. It’s a unified morass, at least, with President Obama sharing the reluctance of European leaders to escalate the crisis by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine or tightening sanctions against Russia. The United States tacitly backs the decision made by European leaders here last week to maintain the status quo — and link any easing of sanctions to implementation of the Minsk agreement that has brought a shaky truce in Ukraine.” Is the experienced journalist’s conclusion determined by the Cold War “logic” or “mindset”?

More explicit in all ways regarding the attitude of the West towards the Ukrainian crisis was the reunion of March 21, where American General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, was the member of a challenging panel entitled “Future of conflict”. In the opening of this panel, a short investigation in the audience was “what is the biggest challenge” for the  transatlantic community today. The received answer was significant: 50 per cent of the audience voted for “economy” and 40 per cent for Russia. At a different panel in the forum, a similar investigation, “What poses the greatest long term threat to Western security?” received from the audience the following answer: “Russian revanchism: 39,6%; Islamist terrorism -60,4%”). As for the crisis in Ukraine, Breedlove was very direct. He mentioned, according to the Twitter post of an attendant, that “no Western tool should be off the table. Including military ones, arms support for Ukraine.” This position was reconfirmed by Breedlove in a private conversation, the second day after the conference, as presented by D. Ignatius in the quoted article of  “Washington Post”:  “ I asked him Sunday at a conference here whether arming Kiev, which he reportedly favors, would be stabilizing or destabilizing. He indicated that he favored sending weapons, saying: ‘I do not think that any tool of U.S. (. . .) power should necessarily be off the table’.” The present dilemma of NATO is choosing between action (military support for Ukraine) and non-action (avoiding the delivery of lethal weapons).  D. Ignatius quotes the words of the general as an answer to the question whether  the supply of lethal weapons would destabilize the situation in Ukraine :“Could it be destabilizing? The answer is yes. Also, inaction could be destabilizing.”

Therefore, one of the matters intensely debated by Western Chancelleries is that of economical sanction against against Russia or of weapon delivery to Ukraine. On these matters, there are two schools of thinking that define the debate. On one hand, there are those (mostly Europeans) who evaluated that sanctions would be able to lead to the reduction of the crisis (despite of the fact that the pervert impact of strenghthening the Putin camp may not be excluded); an on the other hand, there are those of the opposite camp (mostly recruiting adepts among American Congress members and decision makers) proposing the hypothesis that the option of military support (lethal weapons) provided to Ukraine should not be excluded at all. The arguments in support of each position are various, but it is obvious that consent is not gained for the second school of thinking (the Obama administration is still hesitating in this respect), and, as far as sanctions are concerned, EU recently reached the decision to maintain them as long as Russia does not adequately follow the requirements of the Minsk-2 agreement.

As far as the debate between the two approaches continues in Western Chancelleries and a transatlantic political consensus is not reached upon one of them, on one hand, and a “game changer”-size event does not intervene suddenly, on the other hand (a mega-Yalta, or a modern kind of proxy-war, or anything else), the perspective of a “frozen conflict” appears in Eastern Ukraine (such as those that already exist in Georgia and Moldova). But, in this case, the dimension of the present clash between Russia and the West, the amplitude of sanctions against the Putin regime, Kiev’s capacity for independent action – as Ukraine is still one of Europe’s strongest nations – prevent tough consequences in the future. Russia may choose a path of concentrated isolation and may concentrate on struggling the effects of the sanctions – increasing internal instability – which can have unpredictable effects upon the EU, such as the coherence of the EU policy towards East. The important economical interests of EU members in Russia will force a fast “unfreeze” and thus the EU cohesion will be damaged; perhaps the transatlantic one, too. On the other hand, an eventual “unfrieze” of this conflict – at the initiative of Kiev, Moscow, or even separatists supported from abroad – may throw the entire Europe in a terribly difficult crisis, perhaps a destructive war.



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