Thursday, March 13, 2014


The Ukraine hostage taking by President Putin will have consequences which may loom larger than what observers foresee now.  The principle of international conduct (Pacta sunt servanda) which Grotius set in stone no longer applies in Moscow's strategy. A precedent has been created which reminds us of the former Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty, not to mention the perverse logic of Nazi Germany's ways in the 1930s.  Diplomacy is testing all the possible means to limit the collateral damage which might follow the Crimea referendum, whose result is already settled.

I am of the opinion that the Russian Federation should be isolated, to a point.  I am not a believer in sanctions per se with regard to Russia, as the West does not have a strong hand there. There are other ways to make Putin accountable :

-- The West should stop demonizing him, a strategy which might backfire. The facts should speak for themselves. Vladimir Putin gets off on others' frustrations.  Deprived of his ego trip he is taken out of his province. More important for Ukraine is to avoid at all cost provocations which could lead to further Russian military action, as was the case in Georgia.

-- The West should highlight principle over spite.  The proclaimed aim which could easily lead to other "incursions" in countries with Russian minorities will certainly be considered as dangerous by countries who share trans-border minorities.  It should not be so difficult to build, even by stealth, a coalition which intends to defend the rule of law, rather than be taken hostage by the avenging pathology of a leader who refuses to accept the facts as they developed after the demise of the Soviet Union.

-- Ukraine has to be supported both in terms of legitimacy (the Budapest 1994 memorandum) and financial, political and economical aid.  Kiev, for its part, needs to to project an inclusive image and refrain from hasty, impulsive moves.

--The EU should also remain cautious not to look eager to score. Neither should NATO, which had better accelerate its homework regarding the developing situation in the European theatre.

--The "new Europe" needs confidence-building measures.  A return to the former US plan of strategic defense, which was supposed to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic, looks difficult to materialize. Washington presented the plan as directed against Iran (Moscow always argued that the system was directed against Russia) and would now look unconvincing, replaying the same scenario with an opposite outcome.

In reality Putin is alienating most, antagonizing some, and risks being perceived as a repeater of historical events all prefer to forget. The Russia which we rediscover looks more like a relic than a model. The West will score if it pursues a sophisticated, firm policy, totally contrary to the bullish manners en vogue in the Kremlin. China must be following all this with the utmost attention.

The future of Crimea is a matter of gradual annexation, whatever this "eye sore" will be named. Sevastopol yesterday will in reality not be that different from what it will be tomorrow. Ukraine, on the contrary, will be very different indeed if the elections are truly democratic and transparent and on condition that all prospects (EU, NATO, neutrality...) remain open. Putin might end up suffering from a huge hangover if the West sticks to its precise goals and tools. The worldwide "silent majority" will become less Kremlin-tolerant as a result.

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