Monday, November 17, 2014


Recent international gatherings have proven that the hidden agenda can easily marginalize the official one.  Ukraine is fast becoming the phantom of the international opera.  It is one thing to react to Russia's overreach in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea; it is another to refuse to engage in or to ignore particular aspects.

President Putin has broken the rule of international law and passed agreements.  As in Georgia he refers to specific cultural and historical precedents. Indeed, the consequences of the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667 (which led to the construction Muscovy + Ukraine = Russia) whereby Poland had to relinquish Ukraine to Moscow are lasting.  This "acquisition" is a structural footprint in "Russian" DNA which cannot be ignored ( "Europe" by Norman Davies).
But to acknowledge those "particularities" is not the same as to condone them. Russia could have chosen the path of consultation rather than the road to confrontation. Diplomacy can be creative when challenged and acted upon with expertise. Russia's heavy hand was met with Western amateurism.

The sanctions are deserved but perhaps the conflict could have been handled better in more abstract terms, because the over-personalization can easily backfire.  Putin is here to stay and the West in particular needs his cooperation badly, be it in the Middle East in general, in the 5+1 nuclear negotiation with Iran, in the fight against Jihadism or global governance. Sanctions must focus more on the deed than on the man.  Besides, Ukraine is not just an indifferent country in the Russian narrative. One should recognize this "special relationship." In doing so we deprive Russia of a repeat in other countries on its Western border, which do not share in this "exceptionalism."

The West must take sides in the respect for obligations and treaties, but it should abstain from setting a quid pro quo precedent of interference in Kiev's affairs. Ukraine should be granted unconditional self-determination.  Likewise, Moscow should stop acting through a proxy of thugs.  Putin is no pariah, neither should he be isolated. When snubbed he might bite more. If engaged on proper rules and protocol he might enter into a more normative dialogue. The Kievan history is a most complex one.  The free Ukraine and free Russia which emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union are still too sensitive not to be handled with care. Positive containment of the crisis is in everybody's interest. The West should not hand Putin an undesirable scenario.  He might call its bluff.

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