14 11 2021

How to conserve the peace in Europa

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 takes part in Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in the Black Sea. Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 takes part in Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in the Black Sea. https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2021/ nato-allies-and-partners-ready-for-exercise-sea-breeze-21

A new a multi-polar world is dawning on us. This has implications for all corners of the world, but not least for Europe, the cradle of the two world wars. The dominating powers in Europe are US-lead NATO in the military sphere and EU in the economic and political sphere. According to both, all would be well in Europe had it not been for Russia which is a malign power trying to subdue independent countries, sowing confusion and distrust within the EU and threatening the continent with military invasion. They both need to reconsider and think harder if they are serious about conserving a lasting peace in Europa.

If we look at the stand-off between NATO and Russia in Europe, the main point of contention is presently Ukraine. According to US scholar Jeffrey Sachs this is not all Russia’s fault: ‘Russia countered the push toward NATO enlargement with wars in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014); I don’t think these two Russian wars, hundreds of miles apart, were coincidental; they were triggered by the prospect that these two countries, right on Russia’s borders and deeply intertwined with Russia’s economic and security interests, would suddenly become members of NATO. Were Ukraine to join NATO and the European Union, Russia’s military base in Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula, would flip into NATO hands. In the end, Putin’s actions stopped the advance of NATO to these countries, but not the intention in the minds of the American exceptionalists.’ So this implies that both parties will have to accept that there are ‘red lines’. For Russia, Ukraine joining NATO is obviously a ‘red line’. If NATO tries anyway, it might have serious consequences. I guess the prospect of being able to have NATO bases and deploy troops so close to Russia’s underbelly was too tempting to let pass and hence was the reason that George Bush in 2008 offered membership to Ukraine and Gerorgia. It would really had ‘rolled-back’ Russia and given NATO the definitive upper hand. As the former Security Advisor for Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated in 1994, getting Ukraine out of Russia’s ‘orbit’ was essential: ‘without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire’. But they failed to understand how strongly Russia feels about it.

The policy of the Ukrainian Governments since the 2014 Maidan uprising has been surprisingly self-defeating. Like it or not, there is a sizeable Russian population in Ukraine (according to the 2001 census, 8 million) particularly in the Eastern part, but also in the South. Unfortunately, history shows us that when passionate nationalists take over in a country with sizeable minorities, things can easily go wrong. It is even worse if the nationality of the minority is that of a big neighbour. Most sensible governments recognize that this means that moderation would be the best course of action. That is what Denmark did after World War I, when the victorious coalition offered Denmark to get back the province of Slesvig, lost in the war with Prussia in 1864. The Danish Government, against the will of vociferous nationalists declined and opted for a popular vote where the population decided, municipality by municipality, which country they preferred to be part of. Half of Slesvig went to Germany, including, much to the chagrin of many Danes, the beautiful City of Flensborg, despite being predominantly Danish. But the Danish Government succeeded in its objective of avoiding having a big German minority within the country. The border has been peaceful since. Could somebody try to explain this gently to the Ukrainian Government?

Sevastopol, Russian Naval Base, 1846. 7 years before the Crimean war with France, England and the Ottoman Empire. Russia lost, but without losing Crimea and Sevastopol.Wikipedia. http://lj.rossia.org/users/john_petrov/506143.html

Since the Maidan uprising, the overriding goals of Ukraine's governments have been to take Donbas back from the rebels, get the Crimean peninsula back from Russia, cut the economic and commercial ties with Russia, and prepare for EU membership. The economic cost has been very high, as much of Ukraine's industry was closely linked to Russia. When Ukraine blocked all exports to Russia of products from the aerospace and defence industries, this part of industrial exports collapsed, and historic, well-known Ukrainian companies such as Antonov Aircraft Company and Sich Motors, already in decline before the Maidan Uprising, are now a shadow of their former selves and on the brink of extinction. Ukraine is fast turning to the economic model preferred by the EU for countries at the periphery: Deindustrialisation and dependence on services and remittances from workers migrating to the EU Centre Countries. Ukraine by now depends mainly on exports of agricultural products and people. As it is stated in the 2020 Migrants and Refugee Report: ‘Some 5.9 million Ukrainians have been reported as migrants living abroad, especially in the Russian Federation (over 3 million), Kazakhstan, Poland (an estimated 2 million) and Italy (234,000).’ Remittances from workers abroad constituted around 5% of GDP before Maidan, but more than doubled after that, reaching 11% in 2018, as the EU made it easier to get visa.

Ukrainian farm workers in the Czech Republic. 0https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/11/ukra-j11.html

One wonders why it apparently is so important for Ukraine to ‘get back Crimea’. It is probably a beautiful place, but, unfortunately for Ukraine, the population is overwhelmingly Russian, and prefer to pertain to Russia. Why would any country want to have a large minority within its borders who don’t want to be there? Well, unfortunately this is often the case. What is perhaps even more difficult to understand is why the EU and NATO would support Ukraine in this, knowing that this is not going to happen unless the Russian Federation is defeated in a war.

Instead of telling the Ukrainian Government that a bit of moderation and prudence would be in place, and that Ukraine should treat its ethnic Russian citizens decently, the position of NATO is that ‘Russia will not get away with this’, and whether the Crimean population agrees or not, is not to the point. It cannot be because they seriously think they will reverse the situation and that Crimea will eventually ‘return to Ukraine’. Why give so bad advice to the Ukrainian Government? The open amassing of Russian troops along the border of Ukraine in April 2021 was clearly sending a signal to NATO: ‘If you really want war, it is on our door-step, and we will win it long before you have even time to mobilise’. This is hard-nosed power politics. NATO is presently paying back in the same coin parading missile-armed war ships close to the coasts of Crimea, apparently saying: ‘intervene in the Donbass conflict at your own peril’. What good can possibly come out of this? If Ukraine, thinking it has the backing from NATO, attacks the rebel areas in Donbass to bring them ‘back to Ukraine’, it is possible that Russia will intervene to protect the rebels, as they did in Georgia in 2008 (South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and if the NATO war ships then fire missiles into Crimea or Donbass (which one must suppose is the idea of placing them there), there is a very high risk that they will be sunk with Russian anti-ship missiles. We would then be in an extremely dangerous escalation that will be very difficult to de-escalate and which can easily end in all-out war between NATO and Russia. For Ukraine itself, a conflict like this could be its undoing. And the whole thing could happen as a result of a miscalculation, based on wrong reading of the unclear signals from the US and NATO.

So what might the solution be? Guarantee Russia that Ukraine will not be joining NATO or have foreign troops stationed on their soil, and get guarantees from Russia that they won’t engage in military actions against Ukraine. This was the way the Cuban crisis was solved in 1962: The Soviet Union promised not to put up missiles in Cuba, and the US promised not to invade the country. Ukraine is closely intertwined with Russia, not only because of the millions of Russians that live there, but also because of family links and the millions of Ukrainians living in Russia. Even so, Russia should be convinced that Ukraine can join the EU, if EU so wishes, but relations to Russia should be kept open, including trade and visas for mutual visits – i.e. no iron curtain should be erected between Ukraine and Russia. The cases of Finland, Sweden and Austria show that countries can be neutral and at the same time be members of the EU - and still keep friendly relations to Russia. If EU insists on expanding further East and South, the EU will have to accept that these countries (as e.g. Serbia) can maintain close relations with powers outside the EU, despite their EU membership.

The drawing of the border between Denmark and Germany in 2020 after voting municipality by municipality, which brought back part of Schlesvig to Denmark, could serve as inspiration for solving other border conflicts in Europe. The red municipalities went to Denmark, while the blue went to Germany (with the exception of a few to get a natural border). https://www.dst.dk/da/informationsservice/blog/2020/02/genforeningen

The use of common sense along the same lines could by the way help to solve other long-standing, tensions in Europe. The Greek-Cypriots (and Greece) should accept that the partition of Cyprus in a Greek and a Turk part is a reality they have to live with and negotiate a final border (or let the people decide by voting). Serbia should accept that the Kosovo secession is a reality and negotiate a final border (or let the people decide by voting). EU, which has administered Bosnia for now more than two decades and not been very good at it, should stop pretending that keeping Bosnia as a unitary state is necessarily something its peoples want, and accept the secession of the Serbian part - and also the Croatian part if the people there want so (letting people decide by themselves is sometimes the best solution). Georgia (and the EU) should accept that the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a reality and that these people don’t want to reintegrate. EU states with sizeable minorities such as Slovakia and Romania (ethnic Hungarians), Estonia and Latvia (ethnic Russians), and Bulgaria (ethnic Turks) should accept that, like it or not, they have minorities living within their borders, who have rights, and start treating them reasonably, among others respecting their human right to the use of their own language.

 

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