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...). 

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