We continue, after an interruption determined by major events on the international arena, our series about the redefining of the balance of power in Europe against the backdrop of systemic crises in Ukraine (Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of that country’s eastern regions) and Greece (the possibility of bankruptcy with major repercussions on the EU):
In mid-May an entirely special situation was being outlined in what concerns the crisis in Ukraine. On the one hand, it seemed that the “Normandy format” was no longer sufficient for identifying a solution to the Ukraine crisis becoming chronic, especially since the possibility of a violent outbreak that would engulf the entire continent was growing. Some EU states shared the opinion that sanctions against Russia were pointless in view of the chances of solving the crisis, and the danger that the organization faced to its South – namely waves of immigrants from Northern Africa – required immediate confronting. On the other hand, the great European powers were preparing to handle a new crisis emerging on the horizon, namely the one in which the deadline on which Greece had to service its external debt was closing in (mid-July 2015), and that country’s treasury was empty. So the end result would have been either a third bailout or the Greek state going bankrupt, and the probability of leaving the Euro Zone was growing, with incalculable consequences on the actual durability of the EU.
This was the moment in which Washington considered that things were not going in a convenient direction in Europe and John Kerry, the head of American diplomacy, met Russian President V. Putin and his Russian counterpart S. Lavrov in Sochi, Russia (May 11-12). It was officially announced that the US does not plan to be part of the “Normandy format” but it was also clear that another line of communication and decision-making was opened in solving the Ukraine crisis, a line that went in parallel with this format, namely the American-Russian line. The insistence with which Washington was asking Minsk-2 to be applied in its entirety by all parties involved (namely Kiev too) shows in itself that Ukraine and this country’s situation has become a file of the bilateral Russia-US relationship to the same extent in which it is a problem of the European “quartet.” An informed connoisseur of US-Russia relations, America’s former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, one of the artisans of the bilateral reset of 2009, wrote vexed on Twitter: “Kerry spent over 4 hours with Putin today. Why did Putin have so much to say to someone not his equal? Missing the Americans?” (12 May 2015); and on May 26 he also wrote on Twitter, firmly outlining his position: “Claimed in this article that Kerry didn’t mention Crimea in 9 hrs of talk with Putin & Lavrov. Hope that’s not true.” (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/death-of-novorossia-why-kremlin-abandoned-ukraine-separatist-project/522320.html)
Likewise, in an interview published back then, on May 29, titled “Russia ‘reset’ architect to next president: Don’t try that again,” (https://www.yahoo.com/politics/russia-reset-architect-to-next-president-dont-120051660936.html) “he delivered an assessment of Putin’s strategy in Ukraine, saying it has made even some of his allies nervous about Moscow’s ‘neoimperial turn.’” Being currently outside official circles, McFaul nevertheless knows the usual diplomatic paradigms, especially the American-Russian ones, to which he actively participated for several years, so that his suspicions about a new US-Russia “reset,” against which he warns, declaring himself its enemy in the new circumstances, have to be seen with all seriousness.
Benefitting from “hindsight” – thus knowing what followed, at least until the present moment (early August 2015) – one could say that apart from Ukraine, but maybe in direct connection to the crisis in that country, Russian and American officials also debated the “Iranian file.” The reaching of a historic agreement with Iran in the negotiations of the “five plus one” group (the five veto-wielding members of the UNSC plus Germany) that took place in Vienna were nearing the end. The agreement was signed in mid-July, so two months later, and the final details of the main negotiators – basically Russia and the US were in this position, the disagreement between them being liable to block a positive denouement – had to be settled. It is suspected that the Iranian file was on the agenda of Russian-American talks, just as much if not more than the Ukrainian crisis file. Or, could there have been a direct link between these two files? Could they have been linked-up in the traditional style of great power arrangement on solving the stringent problems of international security? The future will tell whether this supposition is correct.
A word on the European “quartet.” The idea of such an arrangement of the continental balance of power is not new, its roots going back to the interwar period back when Italy proposed a “four-power” board (England, France, Germany and Italy) which also produced the Munich Agreement on Czechoslovakia in September 1938. During the Yugoslav crisis of the 1990s the idea was resurrected through the “contact group” for Yugoslavia, which consisted of England, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and the US, a format extended at the time as an expression of the Paris agreement on Euro-Atlantic architecture (November 1990), so with Russia and the US as parties. The summits of this European “concert of power” format also included the representatives of international organizations (EU, NATO, UN etc.), but its main component and objective shows a certain European security architecture in which Russia and the US were, albeit extra-European in the interwar sense, now rightfully members of the extended security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Here we have to note how Wolfgang Ischinger, one of the most experienced Germany diplomats, sees the way in which Russia can once again be engaged in the global security architecture. First of all, Ischinger talks about re-framing Russia within the “G-8,” from where it was suspended in the context of Western sanctions: “One possible approach would be to turn the “5+1” format – which enabled the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, to conduct negotiations with Iran – into a broader relationship. Such a forum could address all kinds of global and regional issues, ranging from Ukraine to Syria, with the additional benefit of increasing American involvement in the effort to manage the crisis in Ukraine.” The proposal for Germany to gain a role equal to that of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council is visible, which means more than short-circuiting the distance that separates it from the other great European powers – United Kingdom and France – but also from the US. In what concerns Europe’s security architecture, the diplomat pointed out that it would be necessary: “A military-to-military dialogue between NATO and the Russian armed forces (…) This kind of cooperation could serve as a first step in a collective effort by key states – including Russia – to strengthen Europe’s security architecture. Conventional and nuclear arms control must be put back high on the agenda. Visions of strategic economic cooperation also deserve attention. The inclusive multilateral framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could serve as a basis for the way forward.” (Wolfgang Ischinger, Saving Ukraine, July 2, 2015- https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/ukraine-russia-solution-cooperation-osce-by-wolfgang-ischinger-2015-07)
This is the place to state that the OSCE, an organization that institutionalized the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1994, establishing a close link between the US, Europe and Russia, created a unique security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok, having Europe at its centre. OSCE is basically the result of the 1970s détente, which established a veritable Decalogue of principles that would govern interstate relations and which allowed the peaceful reunification of the two German states, marking the end of the Cold War in 1991. It is already historically established that the CSCE’s success, inaugurated unanimously as an institution by member states on 1 August 1975 in Helsinki, with the signing of the Final Agreement that established the security architecture from Vladivostok to Vancouver, was mostly determined by Germany’s Ostpolitik orientation.
A systemic paradigm shift was also noticed in the positions expressed by Russian international relations experts and even by officials from Moscow. Its analysis – the focusing on the alliance with China –shows that it will have a powerful impact on the geography of power in Europe once it is implemented and consolidated.