Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

Crisis in Eastern Europe: Origins, Putin’s Input, and Tasks Ahead

by Lutz Unterseher, 10 April 2014

Origins

During President Clinton’s first term he followed the advice of his Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to resist proposals for eastward expansion of NATO. They understood that NATO expansion would alienate Russia. However, in the summer of 1994 Clinton changed his mind. He faced discouraging predictions of his party’s prospects in the mid-term elections in November. Clinton calculated that by directing America’s NATO allies to accept Hungary, the Czech Republic and, in particular, Poland as member states he could attract additional votes from US citizens with roots in those countries.

Domestic policy concerns had dictated US foreign policy — with far-reaching consequences for NATO and Eastern Europe. As Strobe Talbott had feared, Russia’s political elite felt alienated by the American move which in turn produced anxiety in the Atlantic Alliance. In response and in order to address estrangement with Russia the West created the NATO-Russia Council. However, the Council was perceived by the Russian leadership as a cosmetic move.

Tensions rose further as the United States announced plans to station elements of their ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Officially these installations were to be a part of a defense against a strategic nuclear threat from Iran. Since this challenge does not yet, and may never, exist and given that the missile defense sites would be installed closer to Russia than to Iran, Moscow has expressed strong objection to what it perceives as a destabilizing challenge to its strategic position.

Putin’s Input

Compared with the United States or the European Union, Russia in 2014 is an economic midget — with less than one tenth of the combined GDP of the two giants. With the exception of its energy supplies for Central Europe, Russia does not have much product to offer. So if Moscow wants to maintain the status of a globally-relevant actor, the credibility of its strategic potential is of prime importance. Applauded by representatives of his power machine, Vladimir Putin has declared himself the protector of this potential and defender against the perceived threat from the West.

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But he appears to have yet another agenda. To further accumulate legitimacy Putin has developed strong ties with the Orthodox Church and has adopted an ideology favoring centralist autocracy. This is conceived as an ‘enlightened’, not totalitarian autocracy, as originally outlined by Ivan Ilyin, a Russian philosopher driven into exile by Lenin. The essence of this national ideology is that Russia, through tradition and divine right, is entitled to offensively assemble all true believers (and/or Russian language speakers) under one flag — or, at least, to coerce submission of neighboring countries where these designated people live.

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Tasks Ahead

The West not only has to deal with Russia’s now provocative reaction to NATO expansionism, but is also confronted with Putin’s imperialism. It makes sense for Eastern Central European NATO members, including those with sizeable Russian-speaking minorities, to be reassured of their Alliance’s assistance in defense of sovereignty.

None the less, it is important to be clear that neither marching into endangered non-NATO countries nor violating Russia’s own territory are viable options. The results would be chaos in the region and a strengthening of Putin’s position.

Rather, a serious attempt at stabilizing this region is needed — using a holistic approach combining political, economic and – only in defensive non-provocative formations – military measures, along with encouraging and relying on indigenous parties to lead efforts for positive change.

Helping to establish a well-functioning democratic system in the Ukraine should be high on the agendas of all democratic nations — not just those in NATO or the EU. However, assistance should be cautiously offered, avoiding an impression of imposition by the West. Rather than funding political parties and trying to control them, emphasis should be on an exchange of ideas. Could not the Swiss federal constitutional model inspire those who work for an equitable and functional national modus vivendi of the different ethnic groups in Ukraine?

More direct measures of foreign influence are needed, however, when it comes to isolating and weakening dangerous right-wing elements in Kiev. Political stabilization is likely the precondition of economic recovery … and vice versa.

If there is a visible process of political stabilization, foreign investors may develop interest in Ukraine. Even more so if this country gets better access to international markets. When the EU and Ukraine negotiated an agreement of association, Moscow feared that this could divert its neighbor from trade relations with Russia. Such an exclusive economic association should be avoided.

Instead Ukraine can prosper as the economic highway between Russia and the EU. Presently, short-term measures to balance the Ukrainian government’s budget are most important. The recent IMF credit of 18 billion US dollars is helpful, but the credit is tied to significant austerity measures. As a result a decrease in the income level of Ukrainian public servants (including members of its military) is to be expected. Their salaries will fall further below those of their colleagues in Russia. This will make Putin’s attempts to win over Russian-speaking Ukrainians more attractive. It will prove counterproductive to make austerity a condition of financial investment and economic reform.

Political and economic stabilization is dependent on the integrity of Ukrainian territory. To improve this nation’s chances to protect itself, a strictly defensive military posture should be adopted: not provoking any neighbor, but making intrusions very costly for the invader. In this respect the defense of Finland, proven reliable and cost-effective, offers an inspiring example. To further foster its security Ukraine may seek – renewed – international guarantees of its status of a non-aligned, free nation – under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a scheme embracing all the relevant actors.