Friday, November 21, 2014

Disrupting Putin’s Game Plan

MUNICH – No sooner did the Sochi Winter Games end than Russia bade farewell to the Olympic spirit by invading and occupying a foreign country. With its aggression against Ukraine, the Kremlin has breached the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the Black Sea basing agreement, which spelled out Russia’s relations with Ukraine.

Crimea has been turned into a military zone, and its inhabitants might soon find themselves trapped in the firing line if the crisis continues to escalate. Russians now face international diplomatic and economic isolation, thus exacerbating their country’s economic woes. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reckless gamble risks dragging the world into a wider conflict.

In light of Putin’s dangerous behavior, the West must rethink its stance toward him. Here is a leader who read a hidden, menacing agenda into a technical European Union document about export subsidies and anti-fraud provisions. More broadly, here is a paranoiac who sees an implausible coalition of liberal Russians, Ukrainian fascists, the CIA, and Islamist terrorists trying to thwart his preferences, if not topple him, at every turn.

Indeed, what we are seeing is not an unfortunate over-reaction to recent events, but a result of meticulous preparation. Armies do not mobilize 150,000 troops within days, or have vehicles and thousands of uniforms without insignias ready, or hold military exercises in peaceful regions of the world without warning.

It would be a mistake for NATO to respond to Russia’s provocations with similar saber rattling. After all, the United States and the EU still have a range of tools to modify Putin’s calculus, or that of those bankrolling his regime. Most important, the US and Europe must cooperate much more closely than they have so far. The impression of disunity on sanctions plays into Putin’s hands.

Some EU members, like Germany, must live up to the expectations they have recently raised. If German leaders are serious about instituting a “culture of responsibility,” they are obliged to act accordingly, even if doing so entails economic costs. The West should also listen carefully to Ukraine’s neighbor, Poland, which probably has the deepest insight into the complexities of the crisis.

Most important, it is essential to adhere to certain key principles:

Use diplomacy. Europe, the US, and Japan have already suspended their cooperation with Russia in the G-8. Similarly, the OECD should put Russia’s accession process on hold. Following punitive measures by the US, the EU has now decided on some “soft” sanctions. But modest steps like suspending talks on visa liberalization will not impress the Kremlin much. Stronger signals, such as cancellation or suspension of agreements concerning the South Stream gas pipeline and a trade embargo on arms and dual-use items, merit serious consideration.

Impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for Russia’s Crimean incursion. An obvious tool here is to broaden the US Magnitsky Act, which prohibits the 18 people identified as being directly responsible for the detention, abuse, and death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky from entering the US or using its financial system.

The Magnitsky Act should be amended to include the names of political and military leaders responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, the modified bill should be adopted by the US and the EU simultaneously – thus delivering a credible threat to freeze the foreign assets of Russia’s government, state-owned companies, individual officials, and relevant oligarchs.

Engage Russians. The West needs to communicate to ordinary Russians the spuriousness of Putin’s zero-sum, us-versus-them narrative. Closer relations between Ukraine and the EU pose no threat to Russia; on the contrary, a Ukraine closely integrated with its Western neighbors could boost Russia’s economy as well. That may be irrelevant to a leader who is guided by visions of restored imperial glory, but not to the people under his rule. Knocking holes in the Kremlin’s wall of propaganda will not be easy, but it should not be impossible in our hyper-connected world.

Support Ukraine with financial aid – as the EU has now done –and by securing its upcoming elections. Military assistance should include, at a minimum, Western intelligence sharing and cooperation through the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Should the situation deteriorate further, the West should also provide medical aid and surveillance assets. If the 2008 Russo-Georgian war is any guide, NATO’s Cyber Defense Center should help Ukraine prepare for a large-scale digital offensive.

Defend NATO allies. NATO should discuss concrete steps to protect its members. Ukraine borders four NATO members (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania), while a fifth (Turkey), along with Romania, borders the Black Sea. Moreover, Estonia and Latvia are alarmed at Russia’s geopolitical ambitions, especially given the pretext of protecting ethnic kin. Both have populations that are about 25% Russian – a legacy of their Soviet past. Finally, Poland and Lithuania border Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave in the middle of Europe (and the scene of its most recent combat-readiness exercise).

This is a time for diplomacy, and NATO must try to avoid direct confrontation, but not at all costs. It must reckon that Russia’s actions might deliberately run counter to a peaceful settlement. The alliance cannot afford to launch a lengthy and heated debate about the deployment of its forces and capabilities only at the moment diplomatic efforts fail.

When Ukrainians stood up against their corrupt elite, they became the first people to put their lives on the line for the goal of EU membership. The result was unwarranted retaliation from Russia.

So this is not Ukraine’s war. Ukraine is the immediate victim, but it is by no means Putin’s ultimate target. This is a blatant attack on the principles of state sovereignty, inviolability of negotiated borders, and adherence to multilateral agreements that underpin today’s rule-based international system. Countering Russia’s aggression is thus the responsibility of all who would uphold that system.

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    1. CommentedTsuda Shoken

      I'm very curious to know how Russians react to Putin's way. Do they believe what Putin said is right?

    2. CommentedVladimir Evdokimov

      In Crimea near Novoozernoye, Donuzlav at night, when "green people" were away for one day from their camp. Local people took away all their equipment and other items, ravaged camp and filled trenches with water from water from toilet sewage by tank car.

    3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Let us assume that the article and most of the western media is right, and Russia broke international laws, although who broke what, who interfered, who "invaded" ( not necessarily by armed forces) and how is widely debatable I think.
      What I would like to ask is, even if a clear breach of agreement could be shown from Russia's part, and I purposefully use the expression Russia instead of Putin, since it is absurd maintaining that a single person is acting here, who in the world has any moral standing, authority questioning another country, leader about breaching anything?
      How can the whole western society, responsible for the constant quantitative growth economic model driving humanity into the multi-faceted global crisis, driving multiple regions in the world into humanitarian catastrophes through direct or indirect manipulations, economic or even military invasions, have any right to question anybody else on "breaching" any agreements, laws?
      Today we exist in a generation where nobody, no individual or country could stand up and claim that they haven't been committing crimes against the rest of humanity or against the natural environment we exist in.
      Until we keep pointing fingers, and trying to place the blame of others instead of looking into the mirror ourselves we will not solve anything.
      We are all sitting on the same, fast sinking ship as a result of continually drilling holes underneath others, not understanding that in today's global and integral system any catastrophe, crisis is global, affecting everybody regardless of place or influence.
      Any solution, building a better future can only come from rising above our inherent differences, rejection and hatred, and by starting working together in a mutually complementing cooperation.
      We have no other choice and with every new conflict that we try to solve in the previous, fragmented, polarized, subjective manner we are wasting another opportunity.

        CommentedEdward Ponderer

        In Mr. Hermanns's words I am reminded of Tom T. Hall's 1968 legendary American country music classic, "Harper Valley PTA (Parents Teachers Association)" also "socked it" to a hypocritical environment of self-serving individual playing the part of the concerned society. In shared hope that the world does becomes the global human society that it must if we are to survive into this century, I offer for your edification the lyrics of the song. The similarity of characters here to self-centered national interests and the politicians masked as statesman pushing them under a cloak of noble cause, may seem purely coincidental, but I suspect it prophetic on Mr. Hall's part. [Only unlike Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Putin and Russia are certainly themselves par for the course.]:

        I want to tell you all a story 'bout a Harper Valley widowed wife
        Who had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High
        Well her daughter came home one afternoon and didn't even stop to play
        She said, "Mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley P.T.A."
        The note said, "Mrs. Johnson, you're wearing your dresses way too high
        It's reported you've been drinking and a-runnin' 'round with men and going wild
        And we don't believe you ought to be bringing up your little girl this way"
        It was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley P.T.A.
        Well, it happened that the P.T.A. was gonna meet that very afternoon
        They were sure surprised when Mrs. Johnson wore her mini-skirt into the room
        And as she walked up to the blackboard, I still recall the words she had to say
        She said, "I'd like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley P.T.A."
        Well, there's Bobby Taylor sittin' there and seven times he's asked me for a date
        Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lot of ice whenever he's away
        And Mr. Baker, can you tell us why your secretary had to leave this town?
        And shouldn't widow Jones be told to keep her window shades all pulled completely down?
        Well, Mr. Harper couldn't be here 'cause he stayed too long at Kelly's Bar again
        And if you smell Shirley Thompson's breath, you'll find she's had a little nip of gin
        Then you have the nerve to tell me you think that as a mother I'm not fit
        Well, this is just a little Peyton Place and you're all Harper Valley hypocrites
        No I wouldn't put you on because it really did, it happened just this way
        The day my Mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.
        The day my Mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.

    4. Commentedsilvio starosta

      Sanctions ? ,diplomacy ? defend Nato allies ?.etc.
      Most of the articles regarding Ukraine (and others) are wrote from a burocratic point of view , the reality is that the Ukranian episodes are already Past finish, over.
      Putin won , because he knew that the reaction of west is formal.
      There is a simple detail: who can tell me that the USA and European Intelligent agencies were ignoring the result,the consequences and the actors from more than a month when this revolt starts ???
      what they did ?

      Financial ad ?,yes.coperation ? yes.
      But as always happent , the Ukranian people will not recover a huge quantity of billions ,that are already in fiscal paradises, product of corruption of the regime and his friends oligarchs.
      Now we are in front of a new scenario, Russian and Ukranian oligarchs working togheter and competing .
      Meanwhile the people ,there down ,down, will suffer some years to help with their poverness to recover the country's economy-
      So, keep on ¡¡, more diplomacy ¡¡ , more conferences to see what to do, and how ??
      - Putin is on his way.
      - Europe as usual looking the wrong way
      - USA zero autority to give lessons on intevention,human rights and democracy.

    5. CommentedVladimir Evdokimov

      I am a crimean's russian and I want to say that not all people in Crimea want to go to the russia. I evaluate part of them who want to go russia about 50% no more, and yet, those people don't want troubles and war too. they would want to go but don't want radical change and any agression in region. If this will happen they will claime russia and will recoil from it. Will see. We, russian ukrainians are ready to fight for our homeland and will do.

    6. CommentedAlexander Shilyaev

      It's of great fun to read articles and some comments by people sitting somewhere in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, etc., telling us fantastic stories about events in the rest of the world (e.g. Russia, Ukraine, China, Iran and so on) and trying to play the oracle. They know for sure what authorities should and will do in regard to any situation.
      For such cases and for such "indisputable" experts Russians have got a quite plain adage-advice which reads: Teach your wife to cook shchi.

    7. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Messrs Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Bogdan Klich urge the West to "disrupt Putin's game plan". Does President Putin have a plan? If he does, it doesn't seem to be a well-thought one. The fast-paced events in Ukraine may have taken him by surprise as well, and his strategic moves in Crimea could have been more haphazard than systematic. Now facing a fait accompli, he is taking the development there as it comes and plays by ear.
      Both Guttenberg and Kilch believe Putin's incursion in Crimea is not "an unfortunate over-reaction" to the toppling of Yanukovich, but well planned. Unfortunately only Putin and his closest and most trusted aides have the answer. The same applies the military exercises Russia had held 10 days ago.
      It is easy for Mr. Guttenberg to suggest a suspension of Gazprom's project, the "South Stream gas pipeline" as Germany - unlike the Nord Stream pipeline - will not be affected. It doesn't make sense to broaden the "Magnitsky Act", as those held responsible for Magnitsky's death, are - probably - not involved in the Crimean incursion. Indeed it is important to "engage" the Russians, as some of them don't support Putin's domestic and foreign polices. It is crucial for Ukraine to look forward and focus on bringing its economy back on its feet . The international community is setting up an aid package to keept it afloat. Ukraine's former fraternal allies - Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary - who are now in the NATO, are keeping a hawkish eye on the development in Ukraine. Although militarily Russia is much stronger, the Kremlin will think twice, before it embarks on a foray.

    8. CommentedAlexander Shilyaev

      Biased authors would better itemize what acts new Ukranian so-called "government" had breached, of course if they know. But I am not sure they are interested in objectivity.

    9. CommentedMargaret Bowker

      Interesting article and comments. But from a practical and more immediate viewpoint, what's the procedure with the OSCE group trying to gain admittance to Crimea? Are they turning up each day and waiting to see if they are allowed in, or are they approaching the people in charge, and attempting to negotiate entry and terms for doing their work there? The OSCE issue seems to have a Gordian Knot feeling about it. Get somewhere with that and negotiation could follow more generally.

    10. Commentedhari naidu

      It seems like some former defense ministers are even more dumb (besides plagiarizing knowledge!) than their common citizens.

      Kissinger @ 90 raised a salient q’: namely, how do you want this crisis to end. I’ve argued that Ukraine remains pivotal to Putin's proposed customs union with Central Asia and China. Crimea will become the trading portal of that customs union, if it should, in fact, materialize. So, are we witnessing a master chess game against NATO & West or a geostrategic plan to restructure the Kremlin and its condominiums or both? According to People’s Daily, China is not buying Putin’s strategic outlook. Mainland China is strictly emphasizing its international demand for non-interference in the domestic affairs of another sovereign state…and more.

      Putin has exposed his (KGB) ego and geopolitical grasp to reunite old Russia. How far is he prepared to go? Newly acquired reciprocal relationship with USA and EU respectively may now be mothballed. EU would have drawn Russia into a special partnership, and, in the process dramatically changed the political perception of common Russians – let alone its leaders. That global outlook was prevalent in Brussels - not too long ago – and may now remain indefinitely still-born or non-flagged. The political damage is very serious; and, right now, even Berlin doesn’t know which way to move forward.

      In the final analysis, it seems Kremlin has been laboring with its strategic geopolitical outlook for some time – i.e. Ukraine and its national boarders will finally join NATO (cf. Poland & Baltic States).

      US Congress – unlike EP – is not sensitive to Russian nationalism.

      Finlandization of Ukraine may still remain the best policy alternative – long term – to avoid a worst-case (hot war!) scenario.

    11. CommentedVal Samonis

      Indeed, why drama? President Putin apologized to the EU, here is His apology:

      "I now recognize this placed you, the Eurocracts, in an awkward position and so I am ready to pledge that ALL FUTURE HUMANITY LIBERATING MILITARY INCURSIONS (e.g. into the PRIBALTIKA) will take place MONDAY TO FRIDAY DURING YOUR OFFICE HOURS, BRUSSELS TIME. I will further agree to AVOID THE FUTURE ACTS OF LIBERATION DURING THE MONTH OF AUGUST, when I know you guys like to get away for a few weeks, after your hard work.

      Vladimir-Piotr II"

      I can't see why the US have a role either!

      Val Samonis
      Vilnius U and Royal Roads U

    12. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

      Why the drama? I can't see, despite principles of international law, Europe would suffer from a Russian seizure of Crimea. A smaller russophob Ukrainian nation state with high ethnic and linguistic cohesion plays much more into the hands of European interests. Europe got everything they wanted in Ukraine, now Russia takes what they want. I can't see why the US have a role in the region and should meddle or impose sanctions.