London 13 Feb 2022 – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday talked with Macron (who had a phone call with Putin). The truth is we do not actually know the actual content of these frantic calls, including the third call Biden-Putin: one hour call, no improvements. Next Tuesday 15 Feb. Scholz will meet Putin in Moscow while Monday will be in Kyiv for talks with President Zelenskiy.
Germany’s soft approach to Russia divided Europe, but Reuters report today, ahead of the mission, the Chancellor “warned Russia of immediate sanctions and “hard reactions” if it attacks Ukraine, maintaining a tough tone ahead of a meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin”.
How effective are all these face-to-face meetings with Putin and Lavorv?
A US official said there was “no fundamental change” after Biden’s one hour-long call with Putin. On the other side the Kremlin denounced US “peak hysteria” after the two presidents call, though the two leaders agreed to “continue” dialogue”.
On top of all this one more spat: Russia handed a note to US military diplomat in connection with the US nuclear-powered submarine’s incident in Russia’s waters near the Kuril Islands, Moscow Defense Ministry said. “On February 12, a representative of the office of the military attaché for defense issues at the US Embassy in Moscow has been handed over a note at the Main Directorate of the International Military Cooperation of Russia’s Defense Ministry in connection with the violation of Russia’s state border by the US Navy’s submarine”. Kremlin statement also said “US submarine’s actions are assessed as a blatant violation of international law. The US Navy vessel’s provocative actions posed a threat to Russia’s national security”.
It sounds like any provocation could be the right one to trigger an attack and given the size of deployments the chance would arise easily. Experts say Russia deployed at eastern European border nearly half of its military capability.
It is evident dialogue is only formal, but not substantial in a sense of concrete change leading the withdrawal of Russian army from Ukrainian borders.
The nature of the crisis is political, geopolitical, as Russia is challenging the very core of the international setting post WWII and post Berlin wall.
Regardless of that, diplomacy is going on with bilateral talks where head of states and foreign ministers meet Russian counterparts. There’s not a collective coordinated form of negotiations with Russia, so far. The ‘Normandy format’ (France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) which in the past facilitated dialogue for solutions of Donbass crisis, is now turned down by Moscow who accuses Ukraine “of breaking Minsk II agreement”, the one signed in 2015 in the Belarus capital between Russia, Ukraine and OCSE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to find a solution to the regional fighting in the Donbass region; leaders of separatist-held regions Donetsk and Luhansk also signed the pact.
A matter of geopolitical setting
With the end of the Cold War and fall of Berlin Wall, Russia agreed to withdraw from Eastern Europe subject to the non expansion of NATO in the former Soviet countries. When in 1993 EU (CEE) was born, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Baltic states, started negotiations to enter the Union, but this accession was subject to their membership of the North Atlantic Alliance, meaning that, in order to enter the EU, a country had to join NATO first, as the then US president Bill Clinton urged while seeing Hungary, Poland, Check Republic on the final stage of negotiations to become EU members.
The New York Times reported in 1996 that President Bill Clinton said a ”gray zone of insecurity must not re-emerge in Europe,” and urged Russia to view NATO’s enlargement to former Warsaw Pact countries as an arrangement that will ”advance the security of everyone.” And he told the American public that the expansion cannot be made ”on the cheap.”
As Ukraine aims to enter the EU and therefore has to previously join NATO, this would turn the former Soviet country from buffer state into a full EU Member State, defended by the world’s stronger military alliance, at Russia’s border.
It is clear that from Russia’s perspective the geopolitical system is being challenged, but there’s no other exit from this but through diplomacy and multilateralism right because this crisis stems from treaties and the international system.
As things stand now, diplomacy has nothing to put on the table apart from threats of ‘severe consequences’ if Russian 125.000 troops will go for a ground invasion of Ukraine or missiles would be fired.
The general crisis of diplomacy is highlighted by top analyst Ian Bremmer, head of Eurasia Group, as he put it straightforward talking to American TV NBC: “
In particular, EU and UN are not acting at level the complexity this international crisis requires. This is very different from the previous Ukrainian post Euromaidan turmoil in 2014 and Crimea’s annexation: at that time we were coping with a regional conflict. Today China is opening an eastern door to Putin, meaning an economic support through trade. Those who said that a potential conflict might remain within the boundaries of Donbass, might be wrong. China could open a second front in the South China Sea or create a Taiwan crisis. The global context in which this crisis is happening is very dangerous.
Europe looks paralysed, despite Macron’s frantic dynamism. British Foreign Secretary’s travel to Moscow definitely failed: head of Russian diplomacy Sergey Lavrov said talks with Liz Truss left him ‘disappointed’.
The ‘tough sanctions’ UK promised still have to realise. The ‘unprecedented package’ was set to be approved by the 10th of February, but Foreign Secretary did not keep up to the statement made at the House of Commons, maybe hoping her visit to Moscow would have released tensions instead of backfiring:
“I am disappointed” said Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the joint press conference with the newly appointed Liz Truss after two hours talks. “Speaking to Liz Truss is like ‘the deaf talking to the blind’, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reported by British ITV news.