Moscow, Munich and Minsk

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

Asia-Europe_Summit_October_2014, by note in French is available here)

The negotiation process on Ukraine, of which the visit to Moscow of Mrs Merkel and M. François Hollande on February 6th was an episode, is clearly set to continue. The two leaders have planned to meet on Wednesday, February 11 in Minsk with President Putin and the President of Ukraine, M. Poroshenko1. The leaders of the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk will also be attending. One may therefore expect, finally, some serious negotiations. But how the road from Moscow to Munich and from Munich to Minsk is a long and arduous way. Which brings us back to the worst moments of the Cold War, which we had thought defunct.

A whiff of the Cold War?

For these negotiations are going to start in a much degraded situation. Still, it is good that they are being engaged at all. The humanitarian emergency in the Donbass requires it, and the desperate situation of the Kiev troops makes it mandatory. But nothing says that it will succeed. For this, President Poroshenko will have to make substantial concessions, which could put him in difficulty as soon as he returns to Kiev. And nothing says that it would be in the interest of the United States to have an end of the fighting.

President François Hollande has stated something very true on Saturday 7 February in Tulle: the only alternative would be war, or more exactly the continuation of this civil war which Kiev is camouflaging under the name of an “Anti-Terrorist Operation.” One can only agree with his assessment. Still, the summit on security, which also took place on Saturday 7th February in Munich, has shown how far we have come. Very clearly, part of the American and British journalists present have been delving for anything in order to resuscitate a Cold War climate. In such a deleterious atmosphere, made up of senseless accusations, the drive was more to accuse Russia, than to bring forward an agreement. The pathetic “show” of the Ukrainian president, M. Poroshenko, waving “Russian” passports, was part of this deleterious atmosphere. Yet, in his allocution, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Sergey Lavrov, said important things, which should be listened to, and especially should be taken into  account, even if one does not share his point of view2.

Western Autism

One of the points which emerge from this conference is the autism of Western leaders to the discourse held by Russian leaders since 2007. The Western press may conjecture a supposed autism of Vladimir Putin3. We know quite well who, in reality, is refusing to hear the other. Vladimir Putin has expressed himself steadfastly about the disintegration of the security framework resulting from American policies such as they have been conducted since 1995-1996. Never were his words taken seriously. The present crisis is to a large extent a result of this.

The political vision of the international environment of the XXI. Century characterizing Mr Putin and his advisers is clearly more pessimistic than his predecessors’4. It assesses the results of the intervention of NATO in Kosovo and of the American intervention in Iraq in 20035. If we turn to his speech in Munich, delivered on February 10, 2007, and which is a founding document of present Russian foreign policies, we notice that he makes the following appraisal:

The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place either. The history of humanity certainly has gone through unipolar periods and seen aspirations to world supremacy. And what hasn’t happened in world history? However, what is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decisionmaking.

It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority. Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves. I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation »6.

This very pessimism incites the Russian power to take its precautions and to guard itself against what it calls the « adventurism » of the United States. It also leads it to wish for a rapid rehabilitation of the technical and industrial capacities of the industrial sector of high technological content and of armament. In fact, from there date the priorities of which these sectors have been benefitting. Economic policies become in part determined by the international situation. As in the case of China, one can see here that economic decisions are dictated by political analysis. In Russia too, since 2000, politics is in the driver’s seat. The day will come when we will finally have to admit it.

The urgency of a real cease-fire

But for the time being, minds are focused on the on-going negotiations. We must therefore understand their blockages, be they immediate or in the long term. The first has to do with the conditions of a cease-fire, the urgency of which is vital. The idea of going back to the Minsk accords, if it can be understood from a strictly diplomatic standpoint, is absurd on the terrain. These accords have never been applied, and could never have been. The positions of the insurgent forces and of the Kiev army were too much entwined for a verifiable cease-fire to be able to come out of them. The declarations of President Poroshenko on this subject poorly hide his will to make vanish on the negotiating table the military defeat which his forces have undergone. This cannot be done.

Presently, with the progressive elimination of the « pockets » controlled by the Kiev Army, a cease-fire along the present line of combat is much more logical. At this point, this sad truth must be stressed: yet another military defeat of the Kiev forces was needed in order to make a cease-fire possible. Such was the observation I made a few days ago already7.

Kiev can presently no longer hide reality from itself: there will not be a military outcome to this conflict, a point which Chancellor Angela Merkel has recalled in Munich. It is urgent therefore that negotiations open between Kiev and the insurgents and that these negotiations be guaranteed all together by the European Union, Russia and the United States. In this regard, wanting to include Russia and not the insurgents doesn’t make any sense. It would be throwing to the birds the independence won by the people of Donetsk and Lugansk. It would be not to understand that Putin cannot exert too strong a pressure on them, at the risk of seeing himself rejected by a large majority of the Russian society, which supports the insurgents.

The conditions for the viability of a cease-fire

But a cease-fire is valid only if it is respected, and in particular if the murderous bombings on civilians of which the forces Kiev make themselves guilty are stopped. We must state again here that the behavior on the terrain of some of the Kiev forces amounts to war crimes. The bombings have been too systematic for them to be targeting errors. Remember  that the Kiev forces are using phosphorus bombs and shells,  and cluster bombs8, in attacks against civilian populations. Even tactical missiles of the « OTR-21 Totchka-U » have been used9. This is to tell how urgent it is to arrive at a cease-fire which is really  respected.

For this, a force of interposition is imperatively needed. This force will be in charge of verifying that there are no heavy weapons on either side at a distance of several tens of kilometres from the line of cease-fire. This force can by all evidence include neither the Kiev army, nor any of the NATO countries, as this organisation is presently a party to the conflict, nor Russia.

It has been six months that I have been saying and writing that only a force of the United Nations blue helmets can have the authority to impose such a cease-fire10. The day will finally come when this will be agreed to. One can imagine what should be the composition of this force, probably from the BRICS countries, but from such having good relations with the United States. This points at two countries: India and South Africa. Pressure must therefore be put on the United States and on the Kiev government for them to accept such a solution. At present, only the UN has the legitimacy to impose a solution putting an end to the armed conflict. The faster this will be recognized, the better it will be for everybody. This is also one of the lessons that can be drawn from the past ten years. Every time the United States have imposed that the United Nations be circumvented, disasters have happened. We must, here again, remember the words used by President Putin in 2007 in Munich:

« And with which results?

Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. Mr Teltschik mentioned this very gently. And no less people perish in these conflicts – even more are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more! Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international

relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?

In international relations we increasingly see the desire to resolve a given question according to so-called issues of political expediency, based on the current political climate. And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this — no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them.»[2]

What political solutions?

Then, but only then, will we be able to address the thorny question of the political outcome of this crisis. The solution of a “simple” federalism, which would have been possible in March or April 2014 is today dead. The violence of the Kiev forces and the thousands of dead of Donetsk and Lugansk have made it impossible. We must meditate on this fact: what would have been possible at the beginning of the conflict, without the disproportionate usage of violence of which the Kiev forces made themselves guilty, is no longer possible now. One may then think of a solution of the type which has been adopted in Iraq for the Kurdish regions: an autonomous republic within the framework of Ukraine. This solution, even if it does not chime in with the wishes of the leaders of Donetsk or of Lugansk, is far better than an “independence” without international recognition. But one must also think of the status of Ukraine itself.

There, we have a contradiction between the principle of sovereignty, which is unquestionable, and geopolitical reality. One can well understand that a Ukraine that is militarily hostile to Russia is a direct threat to the latter. But Ukraine cannot work economically without Russia. And this is probably where the solution lies. Ukraine must voluntarily accept a status of neutrality, be it with regard to a military alliance (such as NATO) or in economic relations (as much in relation to the EU as to the Eurasian Union). This decision must then be accompanied by a declaration by Russia of renewing the gas and oil contracts as well as of a declaration by the United States engaging themselves not to conclude any kind of military alliance with Ukraine. It is therefore essential that the United States be directly implied in this accord. One can understand that Russia will not be content with the engagement of Germany and France not to admit Ukraine in NATO. Such an engagement could be bypassed by a bilateral treaty between Ukraine and the United States.

What future for NATO?

Finally, this brings up the question of the security institutions in Europe. Very clearly, NATO which has not wanted to adapt itself to the new geostrategic configuration dating to the end of the USSR, has given proofs of noxiousness. The organisation, dating back to 1949, had at the time of its foundation three objectives: to guarantee the member countries against a Soviet aggression, to guarantee these same countries against a resurgence of German militarism, and to guarantee the presence in Europe of the United States. These three reasons are from all evidence obsolete. The organisation must therefore evolve, and accept Russia in its fold, or it must disappear and be replaced by a new security organisation, this time a truly European one.

  1. []
  2. RT : « Lavrov: US escalated Ukraine crisis at every stage, blamed Russia », 7 février 2015, []
  3. Viallèle A., « Vladimir Poutine serait autiste Asperger ? Ne jouons pas avec des diagnostics hasardeux », L’Obs, 6 février 2015, []
  4. See the delcaration of the Russian president at the security conference which was held in Munich on February 10, 2007 the text of which has been translated in La Lettre Sentinel, n°43, mars 2007. []
  5. Positions which I have developed in Sapir J., Le Nouveau XXIème Siècle, Le Seuil, Paris, 2008. []
  6. Putin, Vladimir, Speech and the following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy (Official Website of President of Russia, sdocs/speeches.shtml). []
  7. Sapir J., « News from the Donbass », note published on Russeurope, February 2 2015, []
  8. []
  9. []
  10. Sapir J., « Ukraine : Cease-Fire ? », note published on Russeurope, le 3 septembre 2014, []

Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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