Ukraine Crisis II–21 Aug 14

Latvian paper looks at impact of Russia-West conflict over Ukraine

Text of report by Latvian newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize

[Commentary by Juris Paiders: "When Will ‘Cloudberry Revolution’ Begin in Russia?"]

One day before the Malaysian plane was shot down, the US government substantially expanded sanctions against Russia. Shortly afterward, the EU expanded sanctions against companies and people who are linked to the Russian president. Most people in the EU, the United States and Latvia, too, cannot accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea or its military support for one of the sides in the Ukrainian civil war.

Nature of Sanctions

The only thing is that even the new sanctions are even narrower than those that the EU set against Belarus two years ago. Numerical visa limitations against a country that unilaterally annexed 28,000 square kilometers of land and is involved in a military conflict that has involved hundreds of victims are lesser than those that were implemented against Belarus — a country that did not endanger its neighbors, annexed no one, and did not kill anyone. Instead it used police methods to keep the local opposition from organizing a mass riot in Minsk. If we compare the sanctions against Belarus and Russia, then we see that even until mid-July, sanctions against Russia were more in the way of imitations of sanctions to satisfy the yearning for revenge in local societies, as opposed to any true punishment. True, by late July, the conflict between the West and Russia had become rather impressive. On July 28, an arbitration court at the Hague ruled that the Russian state must pay 5! 0 billion dollars in compensation to the shareholders of the YUKOS company, which in its day privatized oilfields in Russia. The expanded EU sanctions, in turn, are just another step. Until the Russian president promises to withdraw from Ukraine, sanctions will increase again and again.

If we ask about the practical purpose of the endless increase in sanctions, then we are told that it is economic pressure on Russia’s oligarchs so as to push Vladimir Putin out of power. Economic difficulties will mean that the people of Russia will become poorer and poorer, and this will gradually lead to a revolutionary situation. With the help of portals such as Odnokasniki.ru, Facebook and Twitter, a "cloudberry revolution" will emerge with the financing of local, partly destroyed oligarchs. The cloudberry revolution will sweep away Putin’s clique, and Putin himself will be caught wearing women’s clothing and hiding in a sewage pipeline alongside a river in Moscow. The leaders of the "cloudberry revolution" will join together with pro-Western oligarchs to appoint an obedient president who will immediately hand Crimea over to Ukraine and Gazprom to Merkel, also ensuring a golden age of democracy for Russia’s unhappy and repressed residents.

To be very serious here, the US government has been hinting that Putin is a new Hitler. He is prepared to overstep the boundaries of all international law and norms, and the only solution is to neutralize the Russian president physically. All Western governments must establish policies to ensure Putin’s replacement in any way at all. Ever-new sanctions are being predicted, and that is why capital is fleeing Russia. It is this capital flight, not the existing sanctions, that is the basis for fairly pessimistic prognoses about Russia’s economic development prospects.

Russia’s Economy

Russia does not have the money for all of the emergency costs and needs that relate to integrating Crimea, modernizing the military sector, at least ensuring an unchanging standard of living for most of Russia’s residents, and so on. There are already discussions in Russia about a "solidarity tax," raising the VAT, rejecting the super-low (13 percent) and flat individual income tax rate, and so on. After each round of sanctions, Russia’s mass media talk about the need to replace imports. This is already being done in the military industry and the banking sector (operators of foreign payment cards will mandatorily have to buy the services of Russia’s settlement center), the world of information technologies (the storage of Russia’s personal data will be permitted only on servers that are in Russia), and so on. Russia has begun a methodical and consisted policy of self-isolation and distinct domestic protectionism. Any ban from the United States and the EU, no matter how sm! all, is presented by the Russian media as an escalation of an economic war against Russia or as additional evidence of the plans of the American government to humiliate, destroy and enslave Russia and the Russians. People who spend months in this information environment begin to interpret any event in the world as yet another episode between the good (Russia) and the evil (the United States and the West). Even the shooting down of the Malaysian airline has been explained as a failed attempt by wicked people in the United States to shoot down the plane in which Putin was flying from Argentina to Moscow, mistakenly shooting down a passenger jet instead. This thought has been and continues to be upheld not by anonymous and marginal commentators on the Internet, but instead by respected people who are invited by Russian television stations to appear as experts. These experts are apparently not bemused by the fact that the popularization of this story compromises the Russian pre! sident, who would have to be a complete idiot to plan the routes of his foreign visits above the military zone of Donetsk in the wake of the Crimean saga.

No matter what the United States, EU or Latvia do, any action leads to a counter-reaction. The sanctions have created a counter-reaction that is manifested in Russia as purposeful self-isolation from the economic systems of the EU and United States.

An inevitable consequence of this self-isolation will be a deterioration in the standard of living throughout Russia. This is already being caused by the devaluation of the ruble and by capital flight. The standard of living is deteriorating if only because in place of cheap and imported goods, people are forced to buy the products of local oligarchs — products that are more expensive and of a lower level of quality. The most vulgar example involves the prices and quality of spas in Turkey and Sochi. You do not have to be a prophet to predict that in the short and medium term, the average standard of living in Russia will deteriorate. Will that lead to a "cloudberry spring," a renaissance in Russia, and a change in Russia’s leadership?

Russian Claims

Anyone who is dissatisfied with the deteriorating standard of living will be told by Vladimir Putin and by analysts on leading television channels that all of the economic problems for Russian people are to be blamed on the "criminal" politicians of Washington, London, Warsaw and Amsterdam. They are to blame for the fact that there are no state-of-the-art medicines in hospitals, that pensions can only be raised a bit, that Russia’s roads, which are in terrible condition, are not being restored, and so on. Western threats mean that instead, Russia must immediately finance the modernization and reorganization of its armed forces. The response to any sanction, ban or limitation is to demonize the leaders of America, NATO or the EU, calling on people to hate not the global defender of the humiliated Russians, Vladimir Putin, but instead the cynical politicians and militarists in the United States. Some intellectuals will be immune against such brainwashing, but I believe that! if most Russians in Russia were asked to choose between belt-tightening so that some of their wages are diverted to the needs of Crimea and the Russian Army on the one hand and the option of falling to their knees in front of Obama, rely on his mercy, and return Crimea to him, on the other hand, they would choose the belt-tightening. Anyone who objects to financing for the army, import replacements, energy diversification and other campaigns, in turn, will be branded as a traitor who is being paid by Obama and Biden. Each round of sanctions may be a source of jubilation in the West, but in Russia it is presented as evidence of the Western world’s efforts to subjugate and destroy Russia.

It is also true that any attempt to put up a wall between the United States and EU and Russia means that Russia will be globally forced to seek closer partnerships with Asian countries. Europe has a free choice in terms of being energy-dependent on the United States or Gazprom. If Europe rejects Gazprom gas in favor of shale gas from the United States, then it will find itself in another dependency — perhaps a better one, but nevertheless dependency. What is more, ongoing statistics from the US energy sector do not suggest that the United States can fully replace the natural gas that is delivered in the EU by Gazprom, to say nothing about the fact that it does not have sufficient tankers and decompression modules to ensure such vast deliveries. A rejection of Russian natural gas will also mean that Russia will shift those deliveries from Europe to Asia. Theoretically, Russia can created a self-sufficient economic system without the United States and the EU because of the! demographic potential of Asia. The increasing confrontation probably will not create a revolution in Russia, instead creating economic (and ideological) foundations for the establishment of several globally self-sufficient systems, also sketching out the contours of a new world order. Paradoxically enough, this extrapolation is amazingly similar to the global evolution that was predicted by the British writer George Orwell (1903-1950) in 1984, which he wrote shortly after World War II.

Orwell’s Novel

Orwell wrote in describing the views of the main character in 1984, Emmanuel Goldstein, that three "superstates" can be economically self-sufficient, with Eurasia covering Europe and the northern parts of Asia from Portugal to the Bering Sea, Oceania including both Americas, islands in the Atlantic Ocean, including the British Isles, Australia, Asia and the southern regions of Africa. Eastasia would be smaller than the other ones and have a fairly indistinct western boundary, but it would include China, lands to its South, Japan, and a large, but shifting segment of Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet. These three global superpowers would have economies based on self-sufficiency, with products fully adapted to consumption, no market battles of the type that were the main cause for war in the past, and competition over resources would no longer be a matter of life and death. War would have only the direct economic goal of conquering labor forces. Among the boundaries of the supe! rstates is an approximately square zone with corners in Tangiers, Brazzaville, Darwin and Hong Kong. It is populated by approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. The three superstates constantly battle over this densely populated zone and over which one owns the North Pole. In the event, no superpower can ever control the entire disputed zone.

The idea in George Orwell’s novel is simple. If there are endless confrontations among countries in the systems not just of the USSR (Eurasia in the novel), but also in England and the United States (Oceania), then evolution must be toward totalitarianism, rejecting democratic and civic values entirely. Orwell wrote of a dead end for civilization because of endless escalation and confrontation. Endless escalation creates the fear that the world is moving toward the situation in Orwell’s 1984, the only difference being that one superstate will be a customs union between the United States and the EU, with the others grouping around Russia and China.

I dare not claim that this situation has any positive solution. Most people in Latvia and the EU believe that the Russian president should be punished for what he is doing. Sadly, the consequences of endless punishments and limitations (until the entirely hypothetical time when Russia retreats from Crimea) may be very dangerous. These policies will eventually have to end, or else we will have to deal with a situation in which their consequence is not revolution or regime change in Russia, but instead the split of the world into three large blocs with an overall trend of authoritarianism and totalitarianism everywhere.

Source: Neatkariga Rita Avize, Riga, in Latvian 31 Jul 14

 

Lithuanian website criticizes West’s approach to Russian "aggression"

Text of report by Lithuanian news website Delfi

[Commentary by Vladimiras Laucius: "Putin Has Figured out Political Soul of West"]

Only now, after the Russian missile shot down Boeing 777, the west seems to be in something resembling a (small) shock. After all, not too long ago they were urging Ukrainian President Poroshenko to sit behind a negotiating table with the leaders of terrorists.

The most shocking thing should be not the war and killings in Eastern Ukraine, going on for more than one month, and not the behavior of Russia, going on for more than one century, but the reaction of EU communities and societies to the war taking place in Europe.

As the regime of Putin is going down the back roads of Hitler, the EU cannot come up with anything better than concern, which is already turning into a joke, and sanctions of ludicrous impact. If it was not for the stance of the United States that is somewhat more decisive (although unfortunately it is also too Obama-like) everything could have looked even more like a farce, instead of real response to the Russians.

The EU, which declares the biggest respect for human life and international law, for the occupation of the territory the size of Crimea and Putin’s war in Eastern Ukraine that has claimed many victims already has merely punished a small group of people, who will not be allowed to visit shops and museums of Rome and Berlin. Cruel. Well, true, they squeezed out something else, too.

However, after all, many people know and understand perfectly well that the protracted symbolic reaction to the rising Russian Hitlerism (Russism) is completely inadequate in terms of effective pressure against Russia, in terms of justice and in terms of morality, let alone the sale of Mistral, unstopped economic and business ties and mere contemplations that perhaps some time in the future Russia will not be invited somewhere by someone.

By the way, much more frequently we hear statements like those by FIFA that one should not boycott the World Cup that will be held in Russia, because allegedly sport will bring nations together and will supposedly squeeze out the white dove peace (it probably does not matter how many nations Russia will have attacked and occupied by then and how many people Russia will have killed and how many passenger planes it will have shot down).

It is interesting that the boneless stance of the EU is justified even in the public space of Lithuania. This is done by saying that the west allegedly have decided not to stoop down to the level of Russia and decided not to fight against Russia using the same methods that the Kremlin uses. It is stressed that greater economic pressure against Putin would not produce the desired effect — he would be unable to retreat without falling face down to the ground before his citizens. Therefore, one should not push him into a corner.

Such arguments resemble the excuses of those who are too weak, too spoiled, too subservient, and whose will is too weak to take the necessary action in order to be able to victoriously finish what was started — for example, to push the Soviet Union into a corner and to complete the fall of the evil empire. Therefore, all they can do is say that the best strategy in the fight against evil is not to do anything that can irritate that evil too much.

One would like to ask those who say that economic pressure that is more in line with the extent of Russia’s aggression will not produce the desired results and will actually be more detrimental than useful: What results have been produced by the current soft, barely-felt pressure?

During the months of softness towards Russia on the part of the west, hundreds of Ukrainians troops and civilians have died and 300 passengers of the Boeing 777 as well. The problem of Crimea is not raised. Russia strengthens its army, increasingly more often screaming about the Russian lebensraum — the living space, which it calls the Russian world — and activates fifth columns in neighboring states. So, did the soft pressure produce results or not?

No matter what predictions of the effect of tough economic sanctions may be, it is clear that the west, and especially the EU, today above all lack political adequacy and military might that would provide counterbalance to the modernized Russian army in the region. And this is not some falling to the level of Russia, as the peace doves are saying. According to their logic, for a state to have police is stooping down to the level of criminals?

The Kremlin has always respected power and has always despised the coos of peace missionaries. This was stressed by Winston Churchill in his famous Fulton speech (Iron Curtain Speech, 1946):

"Watching our friends and allies, the Russians, during the war, I saw and am convinced now that they do not respect anything else the way that they respect power, and the thing that they despise the most is weakness, especially military weakness."

Even if we wanted to see a different Russia, during the 70 years since the Fulton speech, that country pretty much has not changed. Except, unfortunately, Europe no longer has Churchill.

One can justify the EU (which demonstrates weakness) policy, which is hopeless and toothless even after the destruction of the Boeing 777 above Donbas, using nice words like "careful," "peaceful," and so on. However, the word "peace" under the current conditions sounds the way that it was uttered by Chamberlain and Daladier on the occasion of Munich — the way that the dictator, who definitely is not striving for peace, wants.

Such "peace," when Merkel in Brazil hugs the master of the terrorists and the EU urges the president of Ukraine to negotiate with the same terrorists, is not peace, but moral and political loss, with almost unconditional surrender to evil.

The firepower of such "peace" is not noble aims, such as justice, taming of the dictator, respect for the principle of country sovereignty and territorial integrity, but two motives that are very primitive, but very strong — greed and fear. Unfortunately, these two motives seem to be determining the current policy on Russia in the west. [Passage omitted on the opinion by Lilia Shevtsova, chief analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, that the west are afraid of confrontation with Putin’s Russia and are greedy for Russian investments].

Source: Delfi website, Vilnius, in Lithuanian 27 Jul 14

 

Lithuanian analyst interviewed on need to respond to Russia’s actions

Text of report by Lithuanian news website Delfi

[Interview With Dr. Nerijus Maliukevicius, Lecturer of International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University, by Migle Valaitiene; place and date are not given: "Effective Strategy of Kremlin: To Complicate, To Mask, To Manipulate"]

The situation in Ukraine is becoming increasingly threatening — military clashes do not cease, and announcements about the Russian aggression in the country do not stop.

We asked Dr. Nerijus Maliukevicius, lecturer at the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University, how to assess the current situation and how Ukraine and the West ought to respond in order to neutralize Russia’s military and information aggression?

[Valaitiene] How would you describe the current situation in Ukraine?

[Maliukevicius] Above all I would describe it as a situation that is being continuously worsened by one of the neighbors, which previously claimed to be a brotherly nation of the Ukrainian people. It looks like Vladimir Putin with his campaign has decided to enter history books as the leader who destroyed the sacred Slavic triple union between Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. The current events taking place in the east and south of Ukraine’s border regions (not to mention the annexation of Crimea) generally speaking is an open, not hidden, aggression.

We saw some fairly obvious examples — from shootings using Grad on the border to the videos posted on social networks by Russian border guards, showing military equipment being allowed to cross the border. I would say that the situation is really bad, because it looks like that Kremlin and Putin were preparing for this confrontation for quite some time. Decisions, which were mentioned, made it more difficult for the entire Russian civic society to express itself in Russia in general and tightened economic relationships, and this created an environment in which even Western sanctions are no longer that painful. So there has been preparation for Western sanctions, too.

[Valaitiene] Sometimes it is difficult to understand who is fighting against whom — is it the local Russians or the professional Russian army. How would you comment on that?

[Maliukevicius] One of the parts of the Kremlin’s strategy is to complicate our understanding. What was the little green men strategy based on? The aim was to disguise the identity and the identification marks, so that it would be difficult to tie the aggressors to Russia. In my opinion, whenever people say that it is difficult to understand, it is the result of the strategy that the Kremlin is trying to implement — to purposefully disguise one’s participation and possible ties with Russia while carrying out the disguised or hybrid war.

[Valaitiene] How do you think Ukraine should respond to these military actions?

[Maliukevicius] We ourselves should think how a country, even Lithuania, should react to an aggression. Then it becomes clear why the answer is so complicated. If we consider that it is a direct or disguised Russian aggression against Ukraine, it would imply that the aggressor should be confronted, even though it is several times stronger militarily and economically. It looks like the aim of the entire Russian campaign aim is to provoke a direct military response from Ukraine. It should be remembered that during the Georgian war in 2008 the behavior was the same — there was a very clear provocation that created the conditions for Russia to bring its troops into the territory of Georgia. Therefore, it is very difficult to say how Ukraine should respond.

I think that above all Ukraine should receive the biggest possible international support from the West. The response cannot be only one-sided — the response from the West is also very important. This is particularly relevant for our country as well, because the next step by Russia could be unpredictable, and no one knows which country could become the next target. Therefore, the response should be multifaceted, covering foreign support and domestic resistance, starting with the information component.

We see the importance of the Russian propaganda campaign. One needs to think how Ukraine could neutralize this media aggression and how to use their troops and their National Guard, which has a lot of internal support issues, as we have seen. All countries need to solve these complex defense issues, when they are facing an aggression.

[Valaitiene] What are defense methods against the threats posed by information warfare?

[Maliukevicius] The easiest way to understand it is by using an analogy of energy security issues. We all already know that Russia uses energy resources in an aggressive way, as a political tool. There were certain steps taken towards complex energy security, and the essential antidote of this was the diversification of sources — the principle that societies and states should not hang by a single energy source and should look for alternatives.

So, in terms of information security, we can apply the same analogy. The security dilemma occurs when a society a portion of society is hooked up to a single source of information — Russian state-run channels, which, especially in the Ukrainian context, broadcast aggressive and manipulative propaganda. It is not new anymore.

In this situation, one needs to create a space in which journalism and professional analysis could develop. I am definitely not saying that one should create an analogous propaganda campaign, but I am talking about a campaign of truth or a campaign of journalism, which would provide alternatives for the segments of society that are hooked up to the Russian information sources.

It must be understood that Europe with its information resources should also react to such an aggressive Russian strategy, an essential element of which are anti-European themes. Europe should develop its own platform and broadcast what the core European values are to Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern countries.

Information channels of the United States should also be convinced to return to our region. I recall that, in 1999, Bill Clinton’s public diplomacy reform assumed that Russia was becoming a partner and that Cold War resources were no longer needed. It is clear now that the illusion of Russia as a partner has collapsed and the West needs those resources to withstand the aggressive propaganda from Russia.

[Valaitiene] Do you think we should be afraid that Lithuania may face the threat of a Russian military aggression, too?

[Maliukevicius] I do not wish to mystify this, but I think that the environment of insecurity already exists in practice, which clearly expanded because of the Russian campaign in Ukraine. When there is a feeling of insecurity, specific actions need to be taken. Thus, it is not only a question for Ukraine, but for us as well: How should we solve information security dilemmas? How should we tackle the problems of the ability to defend ourselves, something that now is being reviewed again after our active campaigns in Afghanistan?

There comes a realization that fundamental threats are still here — they have not moved somewhere to Afghanistan or Iraq. Those threats are here, and appropriate strategic steps must be taken in order to eliminate these security gaps.

[Valaitiene] Thank you for the interview.

Source: Delfi website, Vilnius, in Lithuanian 29 Jul 14

 

Polish president slams West for seeking to "avoid conflict" with Russia

Text of report by Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on 26 July

[Interview with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski by Pawel Wronski; place and date not given: "Giving In to Russia Is a Road That Leads Nowhere"]

Putin has to keep going but the imperial course has no chance of succeeding. The Russians will reject it sooner or later. Until this happens, we need to ensure that Russia does not cause damage to its surroundings, which also includes us — an interview with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

[Wronski] Right after the Malaysian aircraft was shot down, you said that perhaps people would finally stop being blind to Russia’s policies. Have they?

[Komorowski] My remark was addressed to politicians from the Western world, of course. A world that really does not want to find itself in a difficult situation of conflict with Russia. It does not want such conflict despite Russia’s hard-to-accept behavior that is dangerous not only to Ukraine but also to the European or global order in general. Up until now, the West has been searching for reasons to avoid conflict. But this is a road that leads nowhere because the Kremlin usually interprets this as a sign of weakness. And right now we are seeing how politicians’ eyes are opening.

[Wronski] During the annexation of Crimea, Western leaders really wanted to believe Putin that the "little green men" had nothing to do with Russia and that they had purchased their uniforms in a "military shop," as Putin claimed.

[Komorowski] The only problem with this is that, as far as I know, the Buk missile system, which is most likely what was used to shoot down the Boeing, cannot even be bought on Moscow’s Arbat Street.

I am observing what is happening right now, for example, in the Netherlands, whose citizens perished on board the Boeing. The Netherlands were previously quite restrained in their assessment of what was happening in the East. I hope that public opinion in the West will not allow politicians to uphold their illusions.

[Wronski] So you do not believe that politicians will reflect on their position of their own accord?

[Komorowski] I have faith in the influence of public opinion, which, shocked and deeply affected, will force its own politicians to deal with a matter that is very inconvenient for them. In other words, I have faith that the public will react to what has happened in a suitably strong and resolute manner. This is because we are dealing with an unprecedented situation — the downing of a civilian passenger aircraft that was carrying citizens from countries that are not involved in the present conflict.

[Wronski] For the time being, the EU has announced its intention to implement another round of sanctions. Is this a suitably strong reaction?

[Komorowski] This depends on what we expect from the sanctions. These sanctions may be sufficient if we think in terms of their long-term effects in the hope that they will produce a strategic change in Russia by "wearing down" the country. At any rate, the existing sanctions are already generating certain noticeable effects by stimulating reflection in Russia, especially among business people. However, if we want to force a relatively quick change in Russian policy and get the country to abandon its imperial course and its efforts to build up its power at the cost of others, especially Russia’s neighbors, then these sanctions are unlikely to produce such an effect. The sanctions are still too selective and not systematic. The sanctions provide for the continuation of existing programs and thus they give Russia the chance — if it wants to maintain its current course — to adapt economically to more difficult conditions.

[Wronski] Some leaders have quite a sober view of the nature of the Russian system. Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up in the GDR and she does not have any illusions about Putin. Even so, when action is called for, she speaks of "intensive dialogue aimed at de-escalation." Do you think this might because the Western world feels weak?

[Komorowski] This is a kind of European diplomatic newspeak in which the aim is to avoid calling something by its name. I do not agree that the West feels weak. The West has a sense of economic and military superiority and it also has a sense of moral superiority, which is important. So wherein lies the problem?

First of all, in a democracy it is more difficult to make decisions that jeopardize various day-to-day interests in the name of more important and strategic objectives pertaining to global security. Secondly, Western Europe is politically organized within the EU, and this is an organization that has become specialized in common economic policy and not in the issues of security and foreign policy. The EU is not designed to solve crises but to conduct good business. This "corporate culture" is oriented toward compromise and agreement, not conflict.

[Wronski] Maybe it would be good if a representative of the "new Europe," which has a different experience, was appointed to a senior EU post?

[Komorowski] It is important in terms of the EU’s internal balance to have the countries of our region be represented in decision-making circles. Even so, the simple fact that someone comes from this or that part of Europe will not necessarily determine their ability to act. This depends on a candidate’s will, political program, and strength.

[Wronski] Do you think that Donald Tusk would be a good candidate for the post of European Council president?

[Komorowski] Yes, he would be a good candidate. It pleases me to see that there are voices advocating his candidacy. I treat this as a confirmation of Poland’s strong position within a Europe that is becoming integrated, and as a confirmation of Poland’s good reputation. Of course, these are not easy decisions, and they are additionally complicated by domestic political calculations. This is not an easy decision for the prime minister himself.

[Wronski] I recently heard a distinguished Polish diplomat say that, up until now, many leaders had perceived Ukraine and the events in the East as a "Polish phantasmagoria." According to these leaders, the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian nation did not exist and it was Poland that dragged them out into "the Wild Plain" by creating conflict.

[Komorowski] The conflict arose because Ukrainians wanted the association agreement with the EU and wanted to go westward, but Yanukovych suddenly changed the direction in which the country was moving under pressure from the Kremlin. We have the obligation to make Europeans realize that the problem of eastern policy exists, just as the countries of western or southern Europe have the duty to make the EU as a whole sensitive to the problems of its southern neighbors.

Let us remember that the Eastern Partnership is not a Polish whim but the product of our hard work to get the EU as a whole to come to a decision.

[Wronski] You speak of historical awareness. The leaders of NATO’s eastern flank recently attended a summit in Warsaw at your invitation. Despite their historical experience, many of these countries speak more gently about Russia than the countries of the West. I am referring to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

[Komorowski] This was a meeting of countries that lie next to Russia, Ukraine, or the region of Russia’s influence. And these countries have varying degrees of sensitivity toward Russia, even though they share a common historical experience to some extent. After all, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and all of the other countries that participated in the Warsaw summit have the experience of being a part of the Soviet system. The Baltic States were a part of the USSR.

[Wronski] The problem is that some of these countries are replacing that system with a system of gas deliveries from Gazprom.

[Komorowski] What you say is unfair. I would not single out anybody, against the backdrop of the entire EU, in a firmly negative way for not reacting to crisis events in a principled fashion. We should keep in mind that the problem of dependence that many European countries’ economies suffer from is a real problem that has been inherited from the days of Comecon and the Warsaw Pact. And these problems should not be disregarded today.

[Wronski] Perhaps we should encourage these countries to abandon the construction of the South Stream pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine, for the sake of European security.

[Komorowski] I did not have the opportunity to encourage them to do this because this was not the subject of the meeting. Poland’s negative position toward this pipeline has been common knownledge for a long time. We talked about NATO’s fall summit in Newport, which I believe will be the most important summit for these countries ever since they joined the alliance.

This may also be the most important summit with respect to the political and military crisis that we are currently experiencing. The Newport summit is around 40 days away and we have time to build a common position. Only then will we be able to exert influence over the debate and over the proposals that are being formulated at the level of the alliance’s command institutions. These are incredibly important things. We all feel that, paradoxically enough, it is sometimes easier to make difficult decisions during a crisis than at times of peace.

[Wronski] Are the Baltic States — those which have large Russian-speaking minorities — afraid?

[Komorowski] Of course, they have something to be afraid of. After all, we do not have to speculate about what President Putin is aiming for. He has openly stated that he wants to rebuild Russia’s sphere of influence and envelope in his care everyone who feels Russian.

[Wronski] Minister Sikorski says that we have had the illusion of security and that we have yet to achieve our goal of having foreign NATO troops permanently stationed on our territory.

[Komorowski] I have always emphasized that liberty and security are not given to us once and forever, and that we must make a constant effort to maintain and strengthen them. I am also an advocate of achieving realistic objectives, or even partial objectives, instead of complaining that we have not realized our maximally defined goals.

[Wronski] What about the two American brigades that Sikorski is calling for?

[Komorowski] I said: maximally defined goals. I believe that, by making an effort in a few areas, Poland has a realistic chance of strengthening its security, maybe not in a manner that satisfies us completely but in a realistic way. The fundamental issue for me is to develop Poland’s capacity to implement contingency plans, which are simply the defense plans that NATO drafts for its members.

Of course, the presence of NATO forces, including US forces, always acts as a deterrent that guards against the development of crisis situations in NATO member states. We have already partly succeeded in securing such a presence. Irrespective of its magnitude, this presence is a fact.

[Wronski] "A temporary, permanent rotational presence." This is how the Americans define it. What a beautiful oxymoron.

[Komorowski] It is precisely the definition of this presence that will be a subject of discussion at the summit in Newport. For me, the fundamental issue is whether the defense plans — for Poland, for example — will be realistic in terms of other NATO countries possessing the forces and resources that are called for to implement the plans, and whether Poland will have the capability of receiving reinforcements in the event of a crisis. This is a question about NATO infrastructure.

[Wronski] What do you have in mind, Mr President?

[Komorowski] This is a matter of fundamental importance to us. The reason for this is that it is hard to imagine the effective defense of our territory in the absence of, for example, not only aviation infrastructure but also depots of NATO ammunition, fuel, military equipment, and so on. This is incredibly important.

[Wronski] General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s chief commander in Europe, wants to bring tanks back to Europe so that American troops can train with them. Should such an armored logistics base be established in Poland, for example in Szczecin?

[Komorowski] Military officials are the ones who should discuss what is needed and where it is needed. Moreover, we should always compare what is needed to what is most realistic. If you only spin Polish dreams and set objectives that reach too far then you may not accomplish much. There is no skill involved in having big expectations; the skill is in achieving as much as possible. It is important that NATO have the capability to respond quickly. We need to build up the capability to respond quickly and develop preventative deterrence. I am talking about the NRF — [NATO] Response Force. It is also exceptionally important to develop the capabilities to respond to new types of threats. We may disagree over definitions of whether what is happening in the East is a hybrid war, a sub-threshold war, or an asymmetric war. Even so, we all recognize that this is a new phenomenon; a new type of conflict involving aggressive actions that employ the armed forces. The alliance must find a way to respond to this.

[Wronski] The European Court of Human Rights has issued a verdict condemning Poland over the secret CIA prisons. Will this not serve to discourage overly close cooperation between Poland and the United States?

[Komorowski] This is a shameful matter for Poland and one that damages the country’s image. We must endure this ruling but also remember that there are limits to allied loyalty defined by Polish and international laws, which must not be violated even in the name of important and very important matters. The verdict shows that the US Government made more of an effort to respect its own laws, by locating doubtful activities in other countries, than the Polish authorities did to respect our own legal system. This is sad.

[Wronski] One of our diplomats said that he is terrified by the scale of Russia’s influence over political, economic, and media circles. It looks as though the West is losing the propaganda war.

[Komorowski] They have Russia Today in English and we do not have Poland or West Today in Russian. The West does not make use of information to influence the post-Soviet part of the world in any way. Vladimir Putin skillfully made use of time to build up gigantic influence in the media, and in economic circles, in order to influence not only society in eastern Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia, but also in the Western world.

[Wronski] During his speech on 23 July, Putin said that the West has surrounded Russia and that there is "an unprecedented NATO presence" along Russia’s western border.

[Komorowski] Russia has increased its military spending by 100 percent over the last few years. Many NATO countries have cut their expenditures during the same time. This is a fundamental issue for me that should be the subject of a discussion: why did NATO not respond in time to a real and very serious change in the security environment that was evidenced by Russia’s increased effort to fund its armed forces. The intensive arming of the Russian military has de facto been ongoing for eight years. This is the question that we started off with. Why does the Western world prefer not to see problems? You generally do not have to wait for a war to erupt in order to conclude that someone who is intensively arming themselves has bad intentions.

[Wronski] We are discussing the issue of how Europe should approach Russia. There is also the question of how Poland should approach Russia. Was it right to cancel, or "postpone," as the government put it, the Year of Poland in Russia and the Year of Russia in Poland?

[Komorowski] It is regrettable that it came to this. We cannot pretend that nothing has happened because many things have happened and we should let this be known, for instance by switching to lower-level delegations in contacts between our governments. Even so, I personally believe that we should not cut off all lines of communication to Russian society. Cultural relations are particularly worth protecting.

[Wronski] Antoni Macierewicz claims that what happened is the result of Poland’s inaction following the Smolensk crash. He claims that the attack on the airliner near Donetsk is the same kind of attack as the one carried out in Smolensk, and that Polish politicians and the media were co-involved in the latter.

[Komorowski] Antoni Macierewicz is known for his extravagant and increasingly bizarre theories that he presents with a stern face, and we should already be accustomed to this. I therefore propose that we leave this statement of his untouched by any commentary.

[Wronski] Do you not get the impression that the Polish authorities have a problem with explaining what is happening to society? In recent years, it was repeatedly said that Poland is safe within NATO and the EU, and that we are able to cooperate with Russia despites having conflicting interests.

[Komorowski] I do not think that Poland has much to reproach itself for. We tended to be the alarm bell within both NATO and the EU. At the same time, like the EU as a whole, we wanted to have a modernizing Russia as a potential partner and not an enemy. The myth of a safe world has been dispelled for the West as a whole. This concerns Europe as a whole and — I would say — the entire Western world, especially in the aftermath of the crisis of 2007-08.

No one in Poland said that history was over and that a world without conflict and aggression lay before us. Can we feel safe? We have never had security guarantees that are as strong as the ones we have today. Security guarantees that were confirmed by the president of the biggest superpower, the United States, on the 25th anniversary of our independence. However, we can never feel totally safe in this part of the world given our historical experiences. Consequently, never before have we spent as much on defense in Poland and we have ambitious modernization plans for the future.

[Wronski] It has been said recently that what has happened is actually a defeat for Vladimir Putin and that he will have to abandon his bandits in Ukraine. Do you share this optimistic vision?

[Komorowski] Unfortunately, I do not share this view with respect to the immediate future. Putin had the opportunity to back down a couple of days ago but he did not take advantage of the chance. Now he has to keep going. However, I would like to remain optimistic in the long run. The Russians will reject him, sooner or later, because he is an impediment to modernization, which no nation can survive without. Until then, we must take care to ensure that Russia does not cause any damage to its surroundings, especially its immediate vicinity, which includes us.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza, Warsaw, in Polish 26 Jul 14; pp 12-13

 

If he’s pushed, Putin may get tough
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, caught between a determined West and increasingly assertive nationalists at home, there are few options left in the Ukraine crisis – and they all look bad, writes Vladimir Isachenkov of The Associated Press
The Calgary Herald (Alberta) | August 1, 2014

Here are some possible scenarios that may play out:

MALAYSIAN PLANE DISASTER

The crash of Malaysia Airlines Fight 17 has triggered another round of U.S. and EU sanctions, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy, severely limiting Putin’s room to manoeuvre. He may be eager to sever ties with the rebels, but he’d need to find a way to do so that would allow him to save face.

Bowing to Western demands would potentially spell political suicide for the Russian leader, who is popular for standing up to the West. Under pressure, he may choose to escalate the crisis and risk an all-out confrontation.

Putin didn’t plan for it to happen this way. When mass protests chased the Russian-leaning Ukrainian president from power in February, Putin saw it as a Western plot against Russia and quickly moved to annex Crimea to head offthe imminent threat of Ukraine joining NATO.

Putin then sought to maintain pressure on the West by fomenting a pro-Russian insurgency that flared up in Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east, hoping a slow-burning conflict would persuade the West to allow Russia to keep Ukraine in its orbit.

That strategy has failed. The West, especially Europe, long showed unwillingness to take a strong punitive stand against Putin. But the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane was the unforeseen event that compelled the West to act.

The Russian leader is desperately looking for a way out from the crisis.

RUSSIA STRIKES COMPROMISE

Putin wanted a deal with the West that would allow Russia to maintain its leverage over Ukraine.

Next, Moscow began pushing for a "federalization" of Ukraine that would give broad powers to its provinces and allow them to deal directly with Moscow. Rebels later backed those demands by conducting independence referendums that both Ukraine and the West declared a sham.

The Kremlin softened its rhetoric and called for "dialogue" between the central government and the regions that would give the provinces a bigger say over local issues.

Now, with his hand weakened by the plane disaster, Putin may accept any deal that allows Moscow to maintain a symbolic degree of influence.

The West wants the Kremlin to disown the rebellion in Ukraine. Putin may despise the ragtag band of retired Russian officers and Moscow political consultants who helped foment the mutiny, but it’s hard for him to distance himself from them.

The Malaysian plane disaster, however, could offer a face-saving way of publicly condemning the rebel leadership. If an international investigation confirms the missile that downed the plane on July 17 was launched by the rebels, Putin may say Russia can’t support those who were responsible for the tragic death of nearly 300 innocent people.

MORE SANCTIONS PROVOKE TOUGH RESPONSE

Putin possibly fears that any concessions would lead to more Western pressure and may remain defiant.

Fighting in the east will raise the pressure on Putin to intervene militarily. He is already facing scathing criticism for failing to send in the army.

Fearing that the damage to his popularity could become irreparable, Putin may send more weapons to the rebels.

Pressed against the wall, Putin may decide to send troops into Ukraine. The West would be unlikely to intervene militarily, but it would freeze virtually all ties with Moscow, sending the Russian economy into a tailspin.

GROWING TURMOIL, UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES

Putin’s approval ratings have remained high, but if the economy starts collapsing under the brunt of sanctions, his popularity will dwindle quickly.

Thousands of nuclear warheads, smouldering conflicts between ethnic groups and crumbling industrial infrastructure that could lead to technological disasters make instability in Russia deadly dangerous for the rest of the world.

 

Putin nominated for highest honour in his homeland
Russian president is deemed a hero for bringing Crimea back into the fold
Isabel Gorst
The Irish Times | August 2, 2014

As the European Union voted in tough sanctions this week aimed at coercing the Kremlin to back down in Ukraine, a group of journalists in Russia’s remote far east had another matter in mind.

In an appeal published in a Russian state newspaper they called on lawmakers to award Vladimir Putin the title "hero of Russia", the nation’s highest honour, for his decision to take over Ukraine’s Crimea.

The deadly crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in Ukraine last month has unleashed the worst geopolitical crisis since the Cold War, one that threatens to condemn Russia to years of international isolation. But most Russians are rejoicing that Crimea is once again part of their country and they have not yet begun to question the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy.

How long this will last will depend on developments in the battlefields of south eastern Ukraine and on how far the US and the EU are prepared to tighten the sanctions noose on Russia’s already fragile economy. For now Putin’s approval ratings are at an all-time high, according to the Levada Center, an independent, Moscow-based polling agency.

Putin could not disguise his fury when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fled his country as opposition protests turned violent in February paving the way for a pro-European government to take power.

Plans to draw Ukraine into a Moscow-backed union of former Soviet states – a central goal in Putin’s third presidential term – were dashed forever. Instead Ukraine, which is also a Slavic country, was casting off historic cultural and economic ties with Russia for a European future and even possibly eventual Nato membership.

Yet in the eyes of most of his countrymen, Putin won the first round of the crisis, facing down western criticism and taking over Crimea without bloodshed.

A dozen journalists in the Russian far east said this week that Putin deserved the prestigious "hero of the nation" title for his decision to support "brotherly peoples" in Crimea and for the "endurance and firmness of his patriotic views".

An unrelenting propaganda campaign by Russian state media has buoyed popular support for the Kremlin’s Ukraine policies even as pro-Moscow separatists wreak havoc in the southeast of the country.

Glued to their television screens, Russians are fed round-the-clock updates from the battle fields of Donetsk and Donbass that, accompanied by drumming music, drive home the same confrontational message: Ukraine’s nationalistic new government is responsible for the sickening violence and the US is fuelling the crisis. Level-headed tone In speeches since the MH17 crash Putin has adopted a more level-headed tone than state media, refraining from accusing the Ukrainian military of downing the aircraft while at the same time holding Kiev responsible for creating conditions that led to the disaster.

References to unnamed "outside forces" bent on weakening Russia at work in Ukraine crop up ever more frequently in the president’s discourse.

"The Kremlin sees the US goal as being not so much stopping Russian support for the Donbass rebels, or even getting Moscow to withdraw from Crimea, but as the toppling of the Putin regime by means of economic pain and popular discontent wrought by sanctions," said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"It’s no longer a struggle for Ukraine, but a battle for Russia. If Vladimir Putin manages to keep the Russian people on his side, he will win."

Before MH17 Putin had hoped to drive a wedge between the US and the EU where some countries such as Germany were wary of imposing sanctions that risked upsetting trade relations with their main gas supplier, Russia. But public outrage in Europe about the crash has hardened attitudes and US president Barack Obama no longer needs to drag EU leaders down the sanctions path. The new "phase three" sanctions approved in Brussels this week go much further than penalties imposed after Russia annexed Crimea, which mainly targeted individuals and companies deemed close to Putin.

Russia’s $2 trillion (EUR 1.5 trillion) economy is now in the EU’s firing line including the critical oil, banking and financial sectors.

Russia has huge financial reserves and the sanctions won’t instantly bring the economy to its knees, according to Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank. "Rather they offer the prospect of isolation, stagnation and decline."

Even before the US and the EU began to impose sanctions, Putin had backed away from modernisation, sidelining liberals in his administration. A crackdown on the opposition that has intensified since the Ukrainian revolution has silenced Kremlin critics. In economic matters, Putin has focused on Soviet-style priorities: self-sufficiency in the defence sector and the ambitious development of Russia’s far east. Economic reform Advocates of economic reform have tried to put up a fight. Only last week, former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin warned that the Ukraine crisis was driving Russia into a "historic confrontation" that would damage business interests.

However, calls for reform have been drowned out by a powerful group of military-minded nationalists in Putin’s inner circle who welcome the prospect of Russia’s isolation and de-coupling from the west.

Putin has various retaliatory options. He can try to strengthen ties with China, which signed a 30-year gas deal with Russia this year and shares the Kremlin’s desire to end US global dominance. More aggressive moves could involve the derailing of international talks with Iran or counter sanctions against the west.

What Putin can’t risk, says Russian historian and commentator Nikolai Zvanidze, is buckling to western demands and withdrawing support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. "If he gives up the separatists or even gives a signal, he will immediately be accused of weakness and serious problems will arise over his political future," he wrote on Yezhednevny Zhurnal, the Russian current affairs website.

In the coming months Putin will need to calculate how much economic hardship ordinary Russians will stomach before questioning the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.

With almost two-thirds of respondents to a Levada Center poll this week saying they were not afraid of sanctions, there’s no immediate cause for alarm in the Kremlin.

Russians are historically used to putting up with hardship and the pain caused by the sanctions will hardly compare to the suffering unleashed after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the economy went into a tailspin.

"What matters more to Russians [than their material wellbeing] is that a historical injustice has been reversed and Crimea has been reunified with their country," said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center. "State media knows this and will play on the national consciousness."

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