Sunday, 14 September 2014

Response to Dr Ian Klinke's comments

Thank you for your detailed (and still very lucid :)) response. I follow your argument - with a few exceptions:

Russia's annexation of Crimea is not comparable to Kosovo's split from Serbia. Kosovo became a sovereign state (if only recognised by some existing states), as did Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain largely dependent on their patrons, the patrons' willingness to afford them sovereignty does count. Norms, as you know, tend to get a life of their own. We have already seen Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia act in ways contrary to their patrons (i.e. the USA and NATO, and Russia, respectively). Crimea, conversely, is formally a part of the Moscow vertikal - with no sovereign room. This also creates a dangerous precedent for regions contested by actors outside the post-Soviet space.

The West, as a whole, has had a long-term involvement in Ukraine and Georgia. Yet the West did not support the breakup of the USSR (with the exception of the Baltics), NATO clearly rebuffed Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, and NATO has shown no interest in military involvement in Ukraine - Russia's annexation of Crimea was met with words only; little else has happened in eastern Ukraine. I fail to see how this is NATO's proxy war - NATO would like the problem to go away, thank you very much, so it can concentrate on Isis (and maybe China and North Korea for the US). NATO is strengthening its position in Eastern Europe, but at the request (i.e. demands) of the Baltics and Poland, in particular. I doubt if more weapons in Eastern Europe will promote peace (and no, NATO has no plan for what to do with Russia or itself in the coming years), but Russia has no right to decide Polish or Baltic defence policy (and, indeed, vice versa).

No, I do not expect much on the "war crimes tribunal" front. Kosovars and Bosniaks have perhaps also been treated too lightly, yet we can add plenty of examples from Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel etc. My hope is slightly (or very...) quixotic, but helping Ukraine to address any war crimes their forces may have committed would send a stronger sign to the Kremlin than any guns could.

As per your wish I will refrain here from prolonging the debate on "fascist Russia." I just want to point out that by "fascist" I don't mean "bad" - I mean "fascist," as an ideology such as "liberal,""conservative," etc. The US has plenty of wars and some chauvinism on its record, and for me its democracy leaves much to be desired. Yet corporatism is mainly absent, there is plenty of room for expressing opposition to the state (e.g. shown in popular culture), no president in recent memory has succeeded in becoming a Leader / Strongman, diversity is officially (if not always effectively) promoted. Whether this makes the US a "better" state than Russia is moot - I think so, but that debate would lead us into a long discussion of ethics. My points here simply are: (a) if your remove the epithet "fascist," the Russian elite today (and much of the country) would sign up to fascism's attributes as I outlined them. The (mostly) liberal West would not. That lack of mutual comprehension risks increasing the distance between Russia and the West - a distance which I would like to see minimised as soon as possible; (b) liberalism has plenty of flaws - as seen for instance in the financial crisis and social hardship in the West since 2008. Yet liberalism allows for the existence of minorities and minority opinions. True, such opinions are often suppressed economically, politically, socially and - sometimes - militarily by the West, but the principle of tolerance remains, unlike in fascism. Much worse - and this is really my fear now - much of the West now seems ready to say "sod Russia - that weird country" which leaves adrift not only a glorious country but also those Russians who might not have high opinions of the state. I fear for those Russians, if the Kremlin and the West both abandon them.

The early 1990s certainly witnessed many lost opportunities, including in relation to NATO. Most fundamentally, perhaps, it was a great loss that most countries in Central and Eastern Europe still felt they needed protection from Russia. That is certainly not just Russia's fault; NATO - and the West as a whole - should actively have presented and promoted ideas of a common European security space, instead of simply floundering. Now, we need to start those discussions, even if an inclusion of Russia in such a space would probably have to wait at least 5-10 years (or, I fear, much more...). 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Response to Dr Ian Klinke's article "NATO: the alliance that should have been dissolved"

Dear Ian.

On your article, I find it interesting on a number of points. I think you are absolutely right to note that Russia is not the only cause of instability in eastern Ukraine. Recently, some observers - notably Ben Judah in the New York Times - called for military assistance, and troops, from the West to Ukraine. Among others I was not  convinced how such a step would enhance Ukrainian or indeed regional security. Similarly, I cannot help but see your point that NATO has been anything but a passive bystander in relation to Ukraine. As with the EU this problem began years ago. Ukraine was de facto refused entry to NATO while at the same time the country was expected by NATO to come closer to "our" side, leaving Ukraine in a dangerous limbo. In retrospect, it is perhaps not surprising that some members of the Russian elite perceived a battle - bloody or otherwise - was taking place with the West on the future of Ukraine.

You suggest that NATO has an identity crisis. Few observers, I believe, would fully disagree with you here. Following the end of the Cold War during the 1990s NATO was, for most intents and purposes, simply another Western "club" which former socialist states could join. Subsequently, events in Kosovo and Central Asia have given NATO concrete jobs to do, yet it probably remains most correct to say that these were American projects with a NATO sheen - "coalitions of the willing," indeed, which, certainly, was never the point of NATO where members of course are expected to help each other when they otherwise might be most unwilling to do so. Now, the fear might remain that Ukraine, and Central and Eastern Europe more generally, is the latest American project into which the rest of NATO is being dragged. Clearly, you have a good point in stressing that the Ukrainian military has been responsible for civilian deaths in eastern Ukraine – and that some of this responsibility might constitute war crimes. Arguably not the best partner for NATO to arm.

With all this said, however, I still do take issue with some points in your article. You mention that the fighting in Ukraine is NATO’s “proxy war,” just as you suggest NATO is “beating the war drum.” Now, in order for this to hold up, I think, one of two conditions would have to be fulfilled. Either, NATO would have to have actively helped to start and expand the war in Ukraine; or the mere existence of NATO would have provoked the war in the first place. I am afraid I do not see either of these conditions in place here. That NATO should actively have started and/or expanded the war in Ukraine does not seem to be the message from your article. And, certainly, all signs during the toppling of Viktor Ianukovych showed that NATO (and Russia) were taken aback. I appreciate that some Western politicians, such as John McCain, actively and vociferously campaigned in Kyiv for the removal of a democratically elected president. Yet McCain, for all his follies, does not represent NATO. The organisation, in fact, kept very much in the background until Crimea had been annexed by Russia. The second explanation, that the existence of NATO has provoked this war does ring true for me, but only in the limited sense, I hinted at above. The fact that NATO for many years has been unwilling to state clearly whether Ukraine belongs inside or outside the organisation (or even the “sphere of interests” of NATO) is a contributing factor to the war. Yet, from this point, I cannot conclude that Ukraine and Europe would be better off if NATO disappeared. On the contrary, I believe that NATO now needs to assert itself and its mission in a much clearer fashion than before.

Ian, I do not believe in a Europe, or a world, that is divided into “spheres of interest,” belonging to a range of great powers. Now, I do not claim that your article is advocating this – yet the elite of Russia is, and so are many observers in the West for whom the actions of Russia today are understandable and must be taken into account. Right now, this almost seems to be the dominant tone of the debate in my Denmark. Still, if we are not to have “spheres of interest” as the founding norm of international relations, of what should such a norm consist? Well, I fear that the least bad option here for me remains the norm of state sovereignty. This point comes with a number of caveats, the largest one of which is that I remain a strong believer in humanitarian intervention when required. Humanitarian intervention has been somewhat discredited following the debacle in Iraq (and elsewhere), yet its necessity in rare circumstances remains. Hence, it could be argued that the elites of Russia, having witnessed the violent deposition of Ianukovych, honestly feared that Ukrainian nationalists would assault Russians throughout Ukraine, including in areas with an overwhelming Russian population, such as Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Reports from the UN soon pointed out, that Russians in Ukraine were not threatened by Ukrainian nationalists. The interim government did suggest a law to remove Russian as official language – a suggestion, which a sensible interim president immediately discarded. Ukrainian nationalist candidates had no chance in the subsequent presidential election. Thus, I cannot agree with your assertion that Ukraine has done little to diffuse nationalist tension. Certainly, though, the subsequent war has increased the presence of intolerance in Ukraine, and there is no doubt that very worrying nationalist, racist and other forces now fight as paramilitaries for the separatist and government sides alike. Having said this, however, I fail to see that NATO support for Ukraine equals Russian support for the separatists. All accounts I have seen indicate that conditions in the separatist-held areas have remained dangerously lawless, even when Ukrainian troops were not near. With the deplorable exception of Odessa, this has not been the case in Ukrainian-held territory. Certainly, Ukrainian shelling of civilian areas has been a substantial part of the reason for the lawlessness in eastern Ukraine. Yet the difference remains that Ukrainian military personnel can (and absolutely should) be held responsible for all war crimes committed. The West must insist on this; and while I am not overly optimistic about this happening, at least in the state of Ukraine there is someone to hold to account. Whom do we hold responsible on the nebulous side of the separatists?

But leaving all this to a side for the moment, let us assume – for the sake of the argument – that Russia had somewhat humanitarian reasons to enter Ukraine. Let us agree that the war has cost immense suffering for the civilian population of eastern Ukraine. If, under these circumstances, Putin’s Russian military now entered eastern Ukraine, and Crimea, just to stop the fighting and to hold the Ukrainian regime to account, then the intervention might be justified. Forget for the moment that Russian military assistance has inflamed the fighting for months; forget, likewise, that Russian soldiers and equipment have been part of the fighting for a long time, too. If the Russian regime wants to ensure peace and tolerance for all in Ukraine then Russia, as a neighbouring state, might do well in ending the fighting now – and NATO, by extension, might do well to stay away. In fact, if Russia can begin to play the role of guarantor of stability and civilian safety in the post-Soviet region – if Russia can help to guarantee that the populations of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states can enjoy the sovereignty of their increasingly well-governed states – then NATO should perhaps be drawn back, slowly dismantled, to be gradually replaced with negotiations for pan-European security stretching this time really from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. Certainly, the USA would probably be happy to turn his full attention to China and what promises to be some tense years in East Asia.

And yet, Ian, this is not the Russia of which we today can speak. Russia did not insert troops on Crimea in order to force Ukraine to treat the inhabitants of the peninsula better. Instead, Russia promoted a Crimean political party with 4% support from the previous local election to the role of governing force capable of developing an unfree, unfair referendum that justified the first land-grab in Europe since the Second World War. This is not Kosovo – it is not even Abkhazia and South Ossetia for here, at least, the contested areas are recognised as sovereign by Russia. A small difference you may think, yet states whose sovereignty is recognised have a tendency to gain more and more autonomy for themselves; something arguably visible with the two republics in the Caucasus. Yet not with Crimea, which has now become the symbol of the simple premise that “might makes right.” And a world built on such a premise, the Soviet Union and Russia until quite recently clearly understood, is a dangerous world in which states with justification can look anxiously for the possibilities and dangers of conquest.

Now, you and I of course both know that many other factors besides sovereignty guard international stability. Some international institutions, for instance, have shown an ability to solve international disputes with a minimum of tension. Arguably, NATO does not have a good record here; not least due to the exclusive, militarised nature of this institution. Thus, it might seem sensible to dismantle NATO and replace it instead with a body of understandings and treaties that could foster a pan-European security framework, including Russia. Yet, for me it is today difficult to see how such a framework could be created. The elite of Russia today has substantial resentment for the West. In Moscow, there is a clear feeling that the West has treated Russia poorly since the end of the Cold War, and that the West seeks to keep Russia down whenever possible. The merits or otherwise of this impression are moot, yet there is little doubt for me that Russia’s elite saw the deposition of Ianukovych in precisely this vein. Clearly, the activities of NATO during the last decades have contributed to this Russian wish for revanchism, yet removing NATO now would not convince elites in Russia of the beneficence of the West. Unfortunately, for the time being, the resentment will stay in place. It will also be accompanied by a search for justice for Russia; a belief in Russia that there is a just place for Russia in the international system and that Russia should seek this place with whatever means possible. Now, unfortunately, beyond the idea that Russia should be a great power with a regional sphere of interests what would constitute a just world in Russian optics remains rather vague. Consequently, while Russian diplomatic and military manoeuvres in and around Ukraine have often been tactically sound, on a strategic level they have been haphazard. Yet even if a clear Russian strategy for a just world order could be conjured, this does not imply that neighbouring states and their populations should acquiesce. Populations of regions such as Crimea and the Donbass might wish for independence – and this might conceivably be accommodated through democratic means such as is happening shortly in Scotland – yet Russia, just as other actors outside Ukraine, has no right to force this through. And right does matter if we are not to start doubting the entire post-World War II web of (admittedly very constructed) borders – or perhaps have a look at the North Caucasus?

Even though the elite of Russia today is revanchist in relation to the West, and seeks to create a just (as opposed to an ordered) world – and even if we assume these are developments to be resisted by the West – it does not automatically follow that NATO is the instrument with which to check the Russian state. In many ways NATO is a poor instrument for the task. Being blatantly unwilling to send troops and serious military equipment to Ukraine, NATO is reduced to strengthen its presence in its existing member states such as the Baltics and Poland. I am not quite convinced that an increased NATO-presence in Central and Eastern Europe will sufficiently comfort local regimes, who may still fear Russian attacks through non-traditional means, such as by the recent kidnapping of the Estonian security official. Yet NATO remains the least bad option here; at least for the time being. If NATO were disbanded now, a belligerent yet floundering Russia would be opposed by a range of European states, which in many ways are equally floundering and could quickly become equally belligerent, squaring up to Russia. A pan-European security agreement would be ideal, yet I for one see no reason why the current Russian state should be trusted to adhere to such agreements or to respect for sovereignty, for that matter. Unfortunately, in the foreseeable future this lack of trust might well grow.

This is because, I believe, the nature of the Russian state and its development. Russia today is increasingly becoming a fascist state. Mind you – not a Nazi state, although these two terms are often confused, especially in Russia. By a fascist Russia I mean a Russia that has the state (and the leader) as the highest ideal, that favours corporatism and a modicum of expansion in the surrounding region, that is increasingly militarised, and that shows signs of chauvinism. Conversely, racialism and worldwide expansion are irrelevant here. (My apologies for spelling out such basics to you, but I have come into the habit of closely defining fascism, before people accuse me of comparing Putin and Hitler; Putin and Franco might be a better bet). This is relevant here, because such a Russia will increasingly be distanced from the European community of values (and yes, I do believe such a community exists). Possibly, Russia might drag Belarus away, too (although I doubt it), but an iron wall of incompatibility and perhaps incomprehension is being constructed between Russia and the rest of Europe. The existence of NATO certainly does not prevent this development, yet – I believe – the absence of NATO would today not prevent it, either. Instead, unfortunately, the West is forced to retain NATO for the simple reason that lack of trust and mutual understanding between Putin’s Russia and the West will remain for the foreseeable future and, at least, as long as Russian state ideology remains fascist. This is not a shout for all the glories of “democracy,” (however ill defined) but simply my conviction that some basics of Western political ideology – including a respect for individuals and a non-militarised solution to problems in the areas surrounding “us” – are going to, and should, remain. And if I take this normative position I cannot possibly accept any international imposition of a Russian fascist state ideology. This does not mean that the West by force should seek to change Russian ideology – an impossible and in many ways pointless task – but it does mean that we should recognise our fundamental differences with the Russian state of today, and take the necessary precautions against Russia, such as by ensuring the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania that their right to sovereignty will be ensured by the EU and, yes, by NATO.

On a concluding note, however, this leads me to a final concern. Leaving Ukraine to a side, it remains unlikely that Russia would openly intervene in NATO member-states. Low-level provocations will remain yet, frankly, Russia can ill afford a long-lasting dispute. Already, Western sanctions are hurting a stuttering Russian economy much more than Russian sanctions are able to hurt the West (a Russian halt to energy transfers to the rest of Europe would be similarly catastrophic for the Russian economy in the medium term). So some sort of modus vivendi will probably be found as the shooting dies down in Ukraine (Donbass as the next Transnistria remains quite possible). Nevertheless, in such a modus vivendi the Russians will remain “others.” Not such a big problem for the many talented Russians living and working in the West, who should easily be able to carve out a position for themselves, and not such a problem for those people living in Russia who agree to support the glory of the Russian state with their existence. Yet what to do for those people in Russia who do not support the state above all else; who do not see Putin as the ultimate leader; who seek to be politically, economically, culturally, gender-based different? Well these Russians, on whose behalf the West for so many years has been willing to shout, will now be left on their own. Lumped together, by the West, with other people in Russia in the category of “others” / “outsiders” / “barbarians.” These people in Russia may well be forgotten in the coming years. And that would become yet another tragedy in this sad tale.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Endgame approaching

Autumn is approaching - for nature and for Europe. Or at least for the Europe we have known since 1991. At best, we are heading back to a continent with two opposed military parties. At worst...well, let's not go there, quite yet.

What does Russia want? Just a "common-sense peace" if the government is to be believed. For Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, war is outmoded - and sanctions are, too. (Putin o sanktsiiakh) Yet the armed forces of Ukraine shoot at civilians. So of course civilians must be defended by armed fighters in eastern Ukraine (V Evrope predpochitaiut ne samechat' rasstrel ukrainskimi voennymi zhilykh kvartalov) - and perhaps by Russia, too? The Ukrainian government only wants war and try to undermine all attempts at peace, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Vashington, Briussel i NATO podstegivaiut partiiu voiny v Kieve) So the Ukrainian military must move out of - or be removed from - eastern Ukraine and agree to an immediate ceasefire. (V Minske budet obsuzhdat'sia prekrashchenie ognia) When that has been achieved Russia and Ukraine can again each agreements on natural gas deliveries, to the benefit of all of Europe. (Rossiia i Ukraina gotovy provesti trekhstoronniuiu vstrechu po gazu 6 sentiabria)

There is a kernel of truth to these Russian claims. In eastern Ukraine fighting has taken place in residential areas. And as the state with de jure sovereignty over this area, Ukraine has a responsibility to ensure a minimum of civilian casualties, also to the detriment of military aims. Whether Ukraine has shown such duty of care is not clear now, but the rest of the world must insist - now and later - on complete transparency of the actions committed by the military forces of Ukraine. If necessary, the West must insist on sanctions against any Ukrainian forces found to have committed crimes against the civilian population, through intent or neglect.

Similarly, as much as Ukraine and the West today want to distance themselves from Russia, the issue of energy deliveries remains. The European Union, and perhaps even Ukraine, could scrape through the coming winter without Russian oil and natural gas, yet this will cause economic pain for Europe in a way, which the continent only now seems to understand. In the longer run energy from the USA and elsewhere might help Europe to escape from Russian energy, but that will only enforce the division now strengthening just east of Riga, of Warsaw and of Kyiv.

And the division is there to stay. Russia keeps on seeing NATO as a threat, especially if the military infrastructure of the organisation is seen to threaten Russian territory. That is a sinister message, considering that Russia today sees Crimea as its territory. (Novaia voennaia doktrina). There is little sign so far that Putin will back away from the peninsula and the new, Russian map of Europe (Canada and Russia in Twitter fight over map) - or indeed back away from its "defence of peace and civilians" in eastern Ukraine. (Putin's talk of statehood for East Ukraine puts pressure on Kiev) And now it looks as if Ukraine and the West have finally taken up the challenge.

Have Russian troops invaded Ukraine? In effect, this seems likely. However, what really matters is that everyone now acts as if this has happened. Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, now speaks of a direct Russian attack (Priama agresiia Rosiii proty Ukraiiny dokorinno zminiue sytuatsiiu u zoni boiiv) - and his government has called for the entry of Ukraine into NATO. Ukraine in NATO - if that is not a red line for Putin's Russia, then nothing is. Crucially, not only is the idea of Ukrainian membership not rejected by NATO's General Secretary, Anders Rasmussen, but he has presented plans for a NATO "rapid response force" that is openly directed against Russia. (NATO to create high-readiness force to counter Russian threat).

Now, in itself such a force makes good sense for NATO. Rapid reaction forces are increasingly needed by the international actors of the world to handle modern warfare. Russian military reform has itself been moving in this direction. Similarly, Rasmussen and others in Europe can say with justification in the preservation of peace that the involvement of Russia in Ukraine is unacceptable, and that Russia must be prevented from further aggression, in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The problem is, though, that there currently is no sign that anybody is willing to back down. If Putin is (allegedly) heard saying that he "could take Kyiv in two weeks," (Putin comment on "taking Kiev in two weeks" twisted, aide says), Ukrainian Minister of Defence Valerii Heletei writes that Ukraine must be prepared for a war in which tens of thousands may die. (MES Rosiii nesadovolene zaiavamy Heleteia). Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania, says that Russia is at war with Europe. (Rusija "praktishkai pradejo kara su Europa"). From the US, Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that the US must arm Ukraine now before another Syria is created. (U.S. lawmakers call for arming Ukraine government). For Heavens sake, even the EU - war-averse little EU - is about to have a foreign policy chief, who sees the "strategic partnership" between the Union and Russia as dead, even if she at least wants to stick to diplomacy. (Putin non rispetta i patti) But not everyone seems to agree with Federica Mogherini, as would largely have been the case just a month ago.

Now, probably the situation is less dire than it seems. Putin's people have been quick to downplay any threat against Ukrainian statehood. Poroshenko and Heletya have not argued for war against Russia, but for Russia to get out of Ukraine. NATO gives no indication that military action against Russia is forthcoming. And the exhortations of Rogers et al seem to have little impact on President Barack Obama, who has plenty to do in Syria. Yet especially the calamity of the Middle East - and other incoming political crises such as Britain's fight to retain Scotland - still prevents Ukraine from getting the undivided attention of the West. The Baltics, and other NATO states, would not suffer from such neglect and Putin's Russia, consequently, will almost certainly not cross that line. Yet if Russia has now invaded Ukraine then two of the largest states in Europe are at war. And the West, still, seems to have no plan for ending this - apart from sanctions that came too late and, at the very least, will need more time to work. Worse, the West seems to have no plan for what to do with Ukraine - or with Russia - in the longer run.

Maybe a solution starts with Europe itself. What sort of Europe do we want? Can it include armed aggression - at a price - or should international law and sovereignty always outweigh economic considerations? If aggression can be acceptable, then Russia is effectively welcome to take over eastern Ukraine (and to keep invaded Crimea). To take whatever else Putin can get his hands on. And Russia and Ukraine alike are welcome to ignore civilian casualties. In return - once a stalemate has been reached - "negotiations for peace" can commence.

Yet if aggression is never acceptable then the West must make that clear now. If it is claimed by the West that Russia directly violates peace in Europe then no collaboration with the Russian state can be possible until Russian forces are completely and unequivocally out of eastern Ukraine, and out of Crimea. No ifs and no buts! With this solution - probably now the least bad of many truly terrible options - the West and Russia are in a state of bloodless war. The consequences of which will be felt for years and maybe decades to come.