Igor Merheim-Eyre from the Global Europe Centre was interviewed by the Slovak daily Pravda on the situation in Ukraine. Speaking to Andrej Matisak, the foreign editor of Pravda, Igor’s commentary was published in the printed version of the newspaper on Monday 3rd March and Tuesday 4th March.
The interview can be found below.
Q – Does NATO have any real business in Ukraine 02/03/2014
A – In my view, the importance is not in what NATO can do, but rather in the message it is able to convey to the Russians; and the message must be clear: that the Alliance is committed to safeguarding Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that any unilateral action in Ukraine will only fuel the crisis further.
We cannot think of NATO’s role in terms of a military stand-off with the Russian Armed Forces, however, a clear message from the NAC on Sunday can open a dialogue either on sending an international observation mission to Crimea, or bring Russia to a roundtable discussion with Kyiv and the Western allies. If the NAC is followed by inaction, it can have dire consequences not only for Ukraine, but also Russia’s Near Abroad (Georgia and Moldova in particular), and the integrity of the North Atlantic Alliance.
Let us hope for a diplomatic resolution, but let us not fool ourselves – Russia has geopoliticised the crisis, one that has been primarily about simple human security (employment, standard of living, corruption etc.). In Europe, we have failed to see the Russian interpretation of events because we have been for too long under the blind impression that the post-Soviet Russia somehow shares our view of the world. This is a mistake; we are still dealing with the Russia created by Peter the Great and it continuous to act so; power politics is the name of the game. Therefore, to paraphrase Robert Cooper, when in the jungle, NATO allies must be prepared to observe the rules of the jungle.
Q – Who can Talk to Putin? And how? 03/03/2014
A – I think a fact ‘fact-finding’ mission must happen. This is likely to be an OSCE-led mission, not an EU mission as happened following the Russo-Georgian war back in 2008. In regards to a special envoy, Germany may be a more preferable partner for Moscow because it exercised more restrained in response to Russian intervention than any other states, certainly in comparison to Poland or the Baltic States.
For one, there is a question of Gernot Erler, Merkel’s special adviser on Russia, who’s been seen in general as a Rusophile in comparison to his CDU predecessor Andreas Schockenhoff. Secondly, Steinmeier, Germany’s Foreign Minister, has been cautious in his response to Russia’s moves, and is trying to keep as many channels opened between ‘The West’ and Russia as possible, including the G-8.
An envoy must be sent to Moscow, and a ‘fact-finding’ mission must be established, even if it has a symbolic meaning. In an ideal world, of course, Russia would withdraw back to its basis and all would live happily ever after. However, in a world of real international politics, Putin cannot afford to be seen as bowing to Western pressure, and so Russian troops will not be withdrawn without a show of some form of ‘accomplishment’ – whether that may be at this stage. In this sense, both the special envoy and the fact-finding mission buys time for Putin’s next move.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves, what really have been Putin’s aims? Simply to exercise Russia’s muscles in its near abroad? To counter what it feared was Western-meddling in its ‘back-yard’? To set up a client state in Crimean, or perhaps all three? Either way, Putin cannot withdraw Russian forces immediately or he will lose face – therefore, on-going special envoys, contact groups and fact-missions are important to keep doors open for an orderly Russian withdrawal without a conflict with Kyiv, and without Kremlin looking like it is bowing to Western pressure. At the same time, however, US and Europe must continue to exert sustained politico-economic pressure on Kremlin to make that withdrawal as speedy as possible.