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September 20, 2020

Towards a Mega-Yalta? (IV)

Returning to the reunion in Crimea, this February, a well informed blog (Dan Hamilton) shows that, besides persons close to Moscow due to their economical interests, or compromised in their home countries, Russia was also represented by politicians; and one of the noted presences was that of Duma leader Sergey Naryshkin. And, surprisingly, there was an ample Italian delegation belonging to Silvio Berlusconi’s party, “Forza Italia”  (some of the members of this party were actually observers in the so-called elections of self-proclaimed republics “Donetzk” and  “Luhansk” in Eastern Ukraine, in October 2014). They were also joined by a member of the Government party in Spain   (Partido Popular). D. Hamilton mentions on his blog:  “Clearly, political parties are entirely powerless to stop their members from traveling overseas to attend gatherings of this sort; nor does the attendance of any of the aforementioned individuals signify a ‘corporate’ endorsement of Vladimir Putin or his aims. It would be nice, however, to see the actions of these individuals in backing Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine condemned by their party leaders in the strongest possible terms.”

Does the “openness” practiced by V. Putin towards the West, especially the United States of America, in the interview -discussions of April 18, grant a signal that Russia is willing  to practice its traditional technique signified by Yalta, which is an agreement on influence spheres?

We have already quoted the opinion of a Russian expert, F. Lukianov: we are absolutely not discussing a mega-Yalta, which means the division of spheres of influence; but,  on the contrary, we are discussing the proposal of a new edition of the “peaceful” coexistence of the two grand powers; the preceding one was during the Cold War. Lukianov writes:    “that means both (great powers-our note) must cooperate wherever possible to minimize the risks, even if that interaction is limited to certain, specific areas. Ratcheting down the conflict does not necessarily mean that the two sides want to end it, but rather that it they want to contain it within a manageable framework.”

But there are also other Russian experts who think that such solution of a “mega-Yalta” is perfectly functional. According to S. Belkovsky’s opinion, expressed in an interview for  radio station “Echo Moskvyi”, on March 5, 2015, “Putin’s most important task is to become in international politics a new Stalin, not in the domestic sense but in the international. That is, to move toward a second Yalta, to return to the world of Yalta and Potsdam, and to agree with the US and the EU, and in the case of the EU in the first instance with Germany, about the division of the world” with clearly “fixed zones of influence.”

One may, obviously, reply to that by pointing out that Belkovsky is notorious for his unorthodox opinions, to use an euphemism, yet, the hint to Stalin made by him in the quote above is quite different, to say the least; but there are also highly reputable experts who share this point of view. By example, the November 7, 2014 edition of the British newspaper “The Independent” published an article signed by  A. Lebedev and V. Inozemtsev, that gave a detailed account on the necessity of a “grand bargain” for solving the crisis in Ukraine. They mentioned that “A compromise on Ukraine is badly needed. What could it look like? We argue that the ‘grand bargain’ should now be built  around a bilateral climb-down, allowing both sides to save face but also to  unlock the existing logjam. The West should rethink its attitude towards Russia’s actions in Crimea as being open and clear aggression; Russia, on its part, should clarify the causes for its annexation, even if it retains its control over the peninsula. The first step, therefore, would become a purely diplomatic position change that might (or might not) produce further results.”

The authors are not unknown; on the contrary. A. is the owner of the British publication, one of the Russian magnates that had “entered” in international media, and Vladislav Inozemtzev is a member of the scientific board at the Russian International Affairs Council and a fellow at the Institute for  Human Sciences in Vienna. Inozemtsev  was not at the first such proposal, as the idea was already inoculated among Russian experts. On August 8, 2014, the prestigious international politics magazine “Foreign Affairs” ran a snapshot by this author  (web-only; snapshots are 750-1,500-word analyses of significant  events and policy issues, editor’s note), this time co-authored by another Russian expert, Anton Barbashin , entitled “Grand Bargain with Russia: What It Would Take to Get the Kremlin to Cooperate”. In this snapshot, the reader’s attention is caught by one of the terms of this detailed negotiation of Russia with the West, proposed by the authors: “taking into account the many dangerous fault lines in Europe, the West could radically shift the focus of its cooperation with Russia to the Pacific. Russia is already making an effort to rethink its strategy toward Siberia and the Far East. As the government attempts to develop this extremely resource-rich but underpopulated and mismanaged part of the country, the West could play a leading role in integrating it into the global economy, stymieing China’s aspirations to take the spoils for itself. Full-scale cooperation between Russia, Canada, Japan, and the United States (for example, the creation of jointly owned resource and industrial clusters supported by improved regional infrastructure) would temper the current hostilities and lessen the emphasis that Russia places on Crimea. This kind of joint and constructive work, both economic and political, could become a model for cooperation between Russia and the West throughout the world”.

This massive deal, suggested by the two Russian experts as early as August 2014, revealing Russia’s offer to cooperate in the regions of Siberia and the Pacific Ocean, was presented as a “great win-win game”, yet, one can hardly ignore the edge against China. Putin – the authors pointed out – would have therefore reached the peak of his political career (the recovery of Russia’s lost prestige), and the West is granted “decades of peace as well as the reaffirmation of the West’s dominant position in the international system.” In  the article ran by “The Independent” in November,   Inosemtsev and Lebedev even proposed that this “grand bargain” would be set in Yalta: “A new Yalta Conference could be organised on the issue – and it would be quite symbolic if it convenes in February 2015. Crimea could be proclaimed a special economic zone under Russian jurisdiction – something similar to Hong Kong or the Black Sea.”

Persistent in his view on solving the crisis in Ukraine,  V. Inozemtsev revisited the topic and, in September 2014, he published another article in the well-known US magazine “The American Interest”, highly appreciated by the community of American experts, and not only by them. In this article, entitled “Exit Strategy: Playing the Long Game with Russia”, the author shows that the strategy employed by Westerners to solve the crisis in Ukraine “should involve, on the one hand, formal concessions to Russia on a number of ‘symbolic’ issues that would allow Putin to claim a kind of victory, and, on the other hand, the creation of new ‘red lines’ that Russia could not trespass in the future. Given that this year’s events in Ukraine may be seen largely as a logical development of Russia’s post-Soviet policy, which has already led to de facto separation of Transnistria from Moldova, and of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, one should focus on how all of these conflicts may be brought into a single, though not classically legal, field.” For Inozemtsev  “The most important task today is to put an end to the legal vacuum that allows Russia to expand its zone of control in the post-Soviet space.” In the several step plan suggested by Inozemtsev, the fact that gains our attention is the way he sees the solution to the Crimean issue, although it is known that the West is relentless in its engagements regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity. He also provides a solution to the issue of the annexation of the peninsula by Russia in the process of putting an end to the crisis. Obviously, Crimea will not be returned to Ukraine at once, but Moscow will warrant that the peninsula will be returned as soon as Ukraine had joined the European Union,    “which is a competent guarantor of human rights”. Therefore, the steps of the action would be the following:  “The West would refuse to recognize Russia’s actions as an aggression; It would lift the sanctions and continue to develop a mutually beneficial relationship; In response to all of this, Russia would agree to transfer Crimea to Ukraine, for example, ten years after Ukraine becomes a full member of the European Union:” Russia would be able to por­tray this arrangement as a diplomatic outmanoeuvring of the West, since few in either Moscow or Brussels believe that Ukraine will ever join the European Union.”

The meticulousness of presenting the “grand bargain” of Russia and the West, as well as the persistence of his articles in publications of high notoriety in the international community of experts may lead you to the conclusion that Inozemtsev’s actions are far more than mere personal initiative.


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