Ukraine-Russia: analysis of possible ways out of the crisis – Europe – International

When the world slides to new Cold War, democracies and authoritarian states must determine what they want from each other and what they owe each other to enable constructive cooperation. Democracies cannot simply say that time is on their side and that they should just stick to their principles until the authoritarian regime collapses. It is easier to imagine the end of the planet than the disappearance of authoritarian rule.

Current focus of tension is Ukraine (although it could be Taiwan). This “undeclared war” has been raging since 2014, when the Euromaidan movement led to the overthrow of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea and the occupation of the eastern Donbass region. While the West accuses Russia of illegally seizing the territory of another sovereign state, Russia claims that it is taking back part of the homeland.

These opposing narratives reflect historical differences. Russian policymakers—and many ordinary Russians—never privately acknowledged that the country had lost the Cold War, as this meant accepting that between 1989 and 1991 the global balance of power shifted sharply in favor of the United States and their European allies.

(Also: Why a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine raises war fears)

Meanwhile, Westerners are so used to seeing the Cold War as an ideological struggle between capitalism and communism, or between democracy and dictatorship, that they cannot understand it in terms of the balance of power. Part of the balance is nuclear, but most of it is territorial. After World War II, Russia sought to create a buffer in Eastern Europe against the Western invasions—the most devastating of which was Hitler’s 1941 attack on the Soviet Union—which adorned its history.

Between 1989 and 1991 the buffer became the new eastern front of the West. Non-Soviet members of the Warsaw Pact, whose inclusion in the treaty was far from voluntary, flocked to NATO, the military alliance founded against the Soviet Union.

This is the basic background of what is happening today in Ukraine and Belarus. Russian officials have long feared that if the West actively encouraged them to do so, those countries would join the exodus to NATO.

Russia he always considered Ukraine to be within his sphere of influence. Until 2014, the Kremlin micromanaged Ukraine’s domestic politics to ensure the country remained aligned with Russian interests. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that “Ukraine’s true sovereignty is possible only in relations with Russia”, affirming and denying in the same sentence Ukraine’s independence, a precedent set by the treatment the Soviet Union gave its satellites in Eastern Europe.

The frigate Blas de Lezo sails from Ferrol Military Arsenal to the Black Sea due to rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

There is, of course, a lot of turquoise (roughly melancholic longing) in Russia’s attitude to its separation from Ukraine. But we must not forget the role that Ukraine (and Belarus) has in calculating the Kremlin’s balance of power.
Former British and European Union diplomat Robert Cooper argues that Western countries are “not interested in acquiring territory”, but this ignores the fact that missiles can be stationed in the region. If Ukraine became a member of NATO, the eastern front of the alliance would be several hundred kilometers closer to Moscow.

Ideas about international relations in the West follow a different historical path than they do in Russia. From the French Revolution onwards, national sovereignty emerged as one of the main tenets of the West. In US President Woodrow Wilson’s interpretation, this means national self-determination.

The main idea is that in a world where everyone has the freedom to decide their own future, a balance of power and sphere of influence will not be necessary. It will be peaceful. In the name of this principle all European colonial empires were finally dismantled.

In 1795, Immanuel Kant longed for a democratic federation as a guarantee of “lasting peace”. More simply, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated in 1999 that “spreading our values ​​makes us safer,” implying a commitment to support or bring about “regime change” when the opportunity presents itself.

(Also read: Russia-Ukraine: Latest Troop Movement Map)

It seems that these two positions – the security guaranteed by the balance of power and the security guaranteed by democracy – leave a lot of room for agreement: they appear to be hostile to each other. Obviously, in any system that seeks to maintain a balance between the great powers, some countries will have less self-determination than others.

But the current hybrid international system includes balance of power agreements and initiatives to “spread our values.” In this highly volatile combination lies the main hope of establishing a modus vivendi that allows cooperation between democracies and authoritarian regimes on existential planetary issues such as climate change.

One way forward in Eastern Europe is for Russia to relinquish territorial claims to Ukraine and Belarus in exchange for Western guarantees that they will not be allowed to join NATO. This would essentially create a neutral military zone between Russia and the West.

There is a lot of ‘toska’ (melancholic longing) in Russia’s attitude to its separation from Ukraine. But we must not forget the role that Ukraine (and Belarus) played in the reckoning of Kremlin power.

With the NATO issue out, the two countries could develop economic and cultural ties with the EU, or be absorbed into Russia if they so decided through an internationally supervised referendum.

Belgium offers useful background in this regard. When Belgium was withdrawn from French control after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the major victorious powers incorporated them into the new British Empire of the Netherlands, which was intended to help prevent future attempts at French expansion.
The Belgian Revolution broke out in 1830 in favor of independence, which was granted by the Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria and Prussia) in the Treaty of London of 1839, on condition that Belgium remain neutral in perpetuity. Although Belgium, unlike Switzerland, did not want neutrality, removing it from discussions between the great powers allowed the new nation to benefit from the peace guaranteed by international law.

Of course, there is no such thing as lasting peace. Belgian neutrality was disrupted by the German Wilhelmine in 1914. However, the treaty kept the country war free for 75 years. Equally creative diplomacy regarding Ukraine today offers the best opportunity to turn undeclared war into declared peace.

ROBERTO SKIDELSKY
– © Project Syndicate – London

Robert Skidelsky is a member of the British House of Lords, he is Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at the University of Warwick. In other news

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