Sunday, November 23, 2014

Europe’s Act in Ukraine’s Tragedy

BERLIN – Grand political strategy and everyday experience often have a lot in common. Try, for example, to swallow a salami whole, and you will probably choke to death. In the world of high politics, people behave no differently: they slice their salami before consuming it. If they cannot achieve an objective immediately, they approach it patiently, step by step.

Today, the Kremlin is employing such “salami tactics” vis-à-vis Ukraine. Before our eyes, a tragedy in several acts is unfolding, in which the players and their aims are clear. What is not known is how many more acts this sad political spectacle will have, and thus when – and how – it will end.

The first act began in the fall of 2013, when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych duped the European Union and its leaders by refusing to sign a long-planned association agreement. Instead, he chose to have Ukraine enter a customs union with Russia, in exchange for a pile of cash and cheap oil and natural gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to have achieved his political aim, namely to bring Ukraine, which had been drifting toward Europe throughout the post-Soviet period, firmly back into the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

The second act was staged by the Ukrainian people, who, in the west of the country and on the Maidan in Kyiv, rebelled against Yanukovych’s effort to align their country more closely with Russia. After three months of protests, the uprising led to Yanukovych’s ouster, temporarily derailing Putin’s plan to vassalize Ukraine peacefully. It was not NATO, the EU, or the United States that acted to block Ukraine’s shift eastwards. Yanukovych was chased from power by a significant majority of Ukrainians themselves.

The third act was born of Putin’s domestic political situation, and resulted in a stopgap solution that led to Russia’s poorly disguised armed invasion, and then annexation, of Crimea. Without Crimea’s annexation, Putin faced domestic political disaster and a premature end to his dream of reenacting Ivan the Great’s “gathering of the Russian lands” and restoring Russia’s global power.

But Putin’s aim has never been Russian control only of Crimea; he has always wanted all of Ukraine, because he fears nothing more than a successful, democratic, modern neighbor that undermines by example the authority of his own “managed democracy.” So now we have reached the tragedy’s fourth act, in which Russia attempts to grab eastern Ukraine, and the West responds.

Annexing eastern Ukraine – and thus splitting the country in two – by force has much less support, even among Russian-speakers, than the operation in Crimea. The aim of Russia’s covert military intervention there is to destabilize Ukraine in the long term by using stage-managed “unrest” to delegitimize the May 25 presidential election in the short term, thereby preventing consolidation of the post-Yanukovych political order.

The task for the West is to stabilize Ukraine by economic and political means and contain Russian expansionism. The Kremlin, not surprisingly, is seeking to make any Western response as expensive and uncomfortable as possible, by implementing its destabilization strategy before our eyes, step by step, hoping that a frustrated Europe and America will one day throw in the towel.

It is foreseeable that neither Russia nor the West will be strong enough to achieve its aims fully in Ukraine. It would therefore be sensible for both sides to try, together with the Ukrainians, to reconcile their interests. But that would require Putin to abandon his strategic ambitions, which he will never do so long as he can continue to slice the salami.

Dulling Putin’s knife and ending the Ukraine crisis peacefully depends largely on the EU. Sanctions will not impress Putin (he and his cronies are isolating Russia economically and financially more effectively than most sanctions could); peaceful yet tangible political steps within Europe will.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has made the right suggestion here: prompt establishment of a European energy union, starting with the market for natural gas and including joint external representation and a common pricing policy. This step, combined with further differentiation among supplier countries and progress toward implementing renewable-energy technologies, would invert the balance of power between the EU (Russia’s most important customer for oil and natural gas) and the Kremlin.

If, at the same time, Poland resolved to join the euro at the earliest possible opportunity, Putin’s challenge to Eastern Europe would receive a powerful and completely peaceful answer. And Poland would assume the role of a major player at the center of an increasingly integrated Europe.

It has largely been Germany that has opposed integrating Europe’s energy and natural gas markets. After the tragedy in Ukraine, no one in Berlin will be able to defend this stance, particularly given that Germany’s leaders do not want to confront Russia through sanctions. There will no longer be any room for excuses about why an energy union should be rejected. Everyone knows now what this communality called Europe is about. To borrow from Aesop’s “The Braggart”: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Enough said, Europe. Now show us!

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    1. CommentedHartmut Rißmann

      Die Besetzung von Rundfunk und Fernsehstationen sowie Rathäusern und öffentlichen Gebäuden in der Ost-Ukraine ist sehr wahrscheinlich Teil des Plans von Putin, um mit seinen "Legionären" die Bevölkerung dort massiv zu beeinflussen , gegen den Westen und Kiev zu hetzen und die Bevölkerung vor Ort einzuschüchtern ( wer nicht für uns ist , ist gegen uns und muß die Konsequenzen tragen ). Das Referendum am 11.Mai in der Ost-Ukraine wird sicher genauso ausgehen, wie auf der Krim. ( über 90% Zustimmung ) , denn wer kontrolliert das schon ?

      Was folgt ist die "Loslösung" von der Ukraine und der Anschluss an Russland.

      Putins Militärparade auf der annektierten Krim am 9.Mai anlässlich des Jahrestages des "Sieges über den Faschismus" wird auch ein klares Zeichen an die Ost-Ukraine und eine Provokation gegen den Westen zugleich sein.

      Was macht dann das ukrainische Militär in der OST-Ukraine , welche im Moment versucht, die "prorussischen Legionäre" zu vertreiben ?

      Im Falle der "Unabhängigkeitserklärung" der OST-Ukraine und dem dann folgenden Anschluss an Russland wird das ukrainische Miltiär ein 2.mal zum "Feind" im eigenen Land. Wie wird dann reagiert ?

      Sicher liegen in Moskau bereits die Geseztesänderungen zur Aufnahme der OSt-Ukraine ins russische Reich bereit. Und der Westen mit seiner Angst vor "wirtschaftlichen Nachteilen" durch eigene Sanktionen wird auch dies wieder zähneknirschend hinnehmen.

      Putin und die Ost-Ukraine werden ein 2.mal das Völkerrecht und die "territoriale Integrität" der Ukraine verletzen. Ich denke bereits Ende Mai hat sich das russische Reich bis nach Kiev ausgedehnt...was dann folgt, wird die massive Unterwanderung und Destabillisierung der West-Ukraine sein, das Vorrücken der russichen Armee in die "OST-Ukraine" und spätestens Ende 2014 wird Russland die gesamte Ukraine einverleibt haben. Es wird wohl so kommen, denn Putin weiß, der Westen wird nichts oder nur sehr wenig dagegen tun.

      Ist die Ukraine erstmal einverleibt, werden die benachbarten Regionen mit russsichem Bevölkerungs-Anteil die nächsten Ziele sein.

      Wie werden die baltischen Staaten mit russischem Bevölkerungsanteil dann reagieren ? Europa steht eine sehr unruhige Zukunft bevor, sollte sich dieses Szenario bewahrheiten...und die Wahrscheinlichkeit ist doch sehr groß, das es soweit kommt, sollte der Westen mit seiner bisherigen Strategie fortfahren.

    2. CommentedCilya Rozenbaum

      Йошка такую фигню пишет, что даже украинские СМИ не всегда такое говорят. Верить в собственную пропаганду - это за границами разумного.

    3. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      In August 2008 Mr. Joschka Fischer posted an essay "Realism about Russia" on Project Syndicate - right after Russia's invasion in Gerogia and the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He advised that "in dealing with Moscow, the EU needs hard-headed realism, not hysterical over-reaction".
      He also proposed a few measures like: "Putting a stop to Moscow's divide-and-conquer politics by adopting a common EU energy policy"; "Serious initiative for strengthening Europe's defence capabilities; "A greater EU commitment to Ukraine to safeguard its independence; etc.
      He was also right that "Russia will once again pursue its vital interests with military force". History repeated itself in Crimea in late February 2014. Now Putin has his eye on Russia's backyard again, territories that the Soviet Union lost after its collapse.
      Mr. Fischer describes Putin's "salami tactics" in absorbing Ukraine. It comes as no surprise that he wants to bring Ukraine "back into the Kremlin's sphere of influence", because the culture and identity of these two countries intertwined in history. In a speech he delivered on March 18, he said "Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities".
      Being a nationalist it hurts Putin to see Ukraine "drifting toward Europe throughout the post-Soviet period". The chaos after Viktor Yanukovich's ouster offers him a opportunity to fulfil his dream of restoring Russia's former glory. He is trying to destabilise Ukraine. If he doesn't succeed in grabing the whole country, at least he wants to annex the eastern part – "thus splitting the country in two". As the situation in Ukraine is fluid, and the date - May 25 - seems an eternity away, many doubt if the leadership in Kiev would survive to hold the presidential elections.
      Mr. Fischer lauds Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk's suggestion of "a European energy union", that would inlude a "joint external representation and a common pricing policy". Yet he also encourages Poland to join the Eurozone. Does he really believe that Poland "would assume the role of a major player at the center of an increasingly integrated Europe" after adopting the euro?
      It is true that Germany has so far "opposed to integrating Europe’s energy and natural gas markets". It is one of Russia’s primary trading partners, and trade with Russia has played an important role in its emergence as an economic superpower over the last decade. Germany is heavily reliant on Russian exports of gas and oil. Even if Angela Merkel wants to rein in Putin's expansionism, it's unclear whether German conglomerates would support her.

    4. CommentedPeter P

      Mr Fisher advises that Poland adopts the Euro to show its commitment to Europe. Yes, let's all commit suicide, that will show the Russians!

      EU elites seem to be the last ones catching up to the fact that common currency without one state doing fiscal policy is a recipe for disaster. Monetarily sovereign states can run any deficits they need to sustain their economy, EZ nations cannot even run deficits large enough to stave off depression level unemployment. So now Poland needs 60% youth unemployment? No, thanks.

    5. CommentedPaul Daley

      The EU needs a little bit more than an energy union. It needs a political union if it ever hopes to share the continent peacefully with Russia. Poor political structures just make for weak political actors and right now, the EU ha by far the worst political structure of any of the entities that hope to play a large role in the world.

    6. CommentedFetewei Tewoldemedhin

      Good thing about living in Europe is that you can Actually hear opposing opinions to such statements; one was ..'why is Nato trying to go further than already agreed upon borders... why are so vain and corrupt people like Yulia Tamoshenko running for democratically elected office when they are the primary reasons why its not there in the first place??

    7. CommentedR. Andreas Kraemer

      Beware of the devils in the detail of Donald Tusks "European Energy Union", which has also been proposed by France for some time. Poland wants it to protect coal and promote fracking for fossil methane, France wants it to protect its moribund nuclear industry. The latter cannot pay for the legacy cost of the French reactors and needs bailing out, sooner or later, which would run afoul of EU internal market rules and state-aid disciplines. If Europe is to avoid being fracked and exposed to more nuclear risks, and instead have an innovative, competitive, clean, cheap, and dynamic energy sector, in power and in gas, it should reject reject the idea of a new European Energy Union and start working on the basis of the new, but already existing energy chapter of the EU Treaty (Lisbon Treaty) and the European Energy Community Treaty. In doing so, it should focus on renewable energy, smart grids throughout Europe, load-based variable tariffs for electricity, storage of power and gas, and use innovation and real-time flexibility to drive out coal, oil and gas while also phasing out nuclear. Want to know more? See

    8. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      It is a tragedy where all the actors are playing "bad guys".
      Nobody has the moral standing, right to question the actions of the others, if there is an "invasion", "aggression" it is a "counter-invasion", "counter-aggression".
      People, nations can be invaded without military force, and such invasions have been happening for decades now, supra-national markets, global financial priorities taking over sovereign national institutions, governance, making national leaders simple puppets.
      Besides there have been multiple military conflicts invading sovereign, far away countries on made up reasons from the "other side" as well.
      Ukraine is just the latest example of the final fights for the last morsels of markets, energy resources, global dominance.
      The problem is that such violent acts, trying exploit everything and everybody for one's own sake is happening today in a globally interconnected and interdependent system, where each and every action spreads virally across the whole system causing unpredictable consequences, including everybody.
      If we do not learn how to negotiate, make decisions and act in a globally mutual, and complementing manner, rising above self-interest, differences and hatred, we will ignite such violent explosions that could lead to a global meltdown.
      And here Europe has a great responsibility by the fact, that at least in Europe nations already started building the structure for a mutually complementing unity.
      Even if the intention and implementation was in the wrong direction, trying to exploit the common market and unity for profit and constant growth, disregarding the actual public, at least the infrastructure and the "idea" exists, it just needs to be reformatted with the right "operating software".
      There is no solution for the Ukrainian crisis or any other aspect of the global crisis by coercive, forceful means.
      As Einstein said we cannot solve problems at the same level where they were created.
      We have to rise to a higher, more optimal level, to a mutually common point, with the understanding that only by such cooperation can we build a common future. After all we are all sitting on the same sinking boat.
      And then we can solve our present problems from that future, more optimal state.
      The longer we wait the more clear it will become that our common, mutual point is survival.

    9. CommentedNichol Brummer,_hic_salta Meaning: "stop pretending, show you can do it"
      with an explanation whence 'salta=dance' and not 'saltus=jump',_hic_salta
      .. from Hegel and Marx, in a time when more people knew latin.

      To add another ancient reference: if we want more countries to join the Eurozone, maybe we should not insist in making it as (un)comfortable as Procrustes' bed. This is another point where Germany has insisted that the silly requirements of the Maastricht treaty must be intrepreted in the most painful way.