Summary of the talk: Russia, Ukraine and European Security. Where are we now?

July 1, 2015 • Articles • Views: 574

On 26 June 2014, the Royal United Services Institute in London hosted the US Ambassador for the Organization for Security and Co-operation, Daniel Baer, in Europe. Baer, a former management consultant and academic who holds a DPhil from Oxford, spoke about ongoing efforts to implement the Minsk II accord in light of current and challenging developments.

Introduced to a diverse audience by Jonathan Eyal, Baer commented favourably on the efforts of the Ukrainians to reform the country, while criticising the European Union for its comparatively ineffectual efforts to come to the aid of Ukraine, and underscoring the impossibility of accommodating the demands of the Russian Federation vis-à-vis- the West.

Discussing developments on the ground, the Ambassador insisted that neither the EU nor the United States will diplomatically recognise the Republic of Crimea, and brought to the audience’s attention a recent escalation of what he termed a Russian, rather than a Ukrainian one. The OSCE Monitoring Mission (MM), which is confined in its reporting to the observations its members make on the ground, with little independent access, had reported 700 explosions in Eastern Ukraine over the weekend prior to the event. Despite the critical challenges the Ukrainian army is facing, the diplomat remained confident in the political will and unity of the citizens of Ukraine with regards to the conflict.

Ukrainian government needs criticism from time to time, [yet it is] the first government [since the country’s independence] to make difficult choices in terms of reform. Baer

According to Baer, the Ukrainian government “needs criticism from time to time, [yet it is] the first government [since the country’s independence] to make difficult choices in terms of reform”. He found the government to be adopting measures that often come at a high political cost to itself, citing its observance of the recently negotiated ceasefire, as well as its efforts to keep the frontlines open for goods and people. The authorities have recently implemented an electronic immigration system to this effect. Decentralisation, a policy the vast majority of political audiences in Ukraine support, is now undergoing parliamentary deliberation and has good prospects for success.’

Largely critical of the Russian Federation, Baer alleged that neither president Vladimir Putin nor foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had taken steps to de-escalate the situation, despite statements to the contrary. He nevertheless underlined the need for continuing dialogue. Dialogue, he insisted, does not simply translate into giving in to Russian demands. Rather, its purpose lies in maintaining communications both with the government as well as with Russian citizens, and in the opportunity of mutually holding each other to account.

Baer engaged in extensive analysis of the Russian government. While maintaining that “Putin is not Russia”, and that the Russian president does not make decisions on his own, he identified the latter as operating within constraints largely of his own making, This system he called Putinism is unlikely to be abandoned anytime soon. The ambassador was particularly concerned with an apparent zero-sum outlook he identified in Russian decision-making. Russia’s main ambition in the conflict, Baer claimed, is to achieve recognition of the militants in the separatist regions of Ukraine while extracting itself from the crisis, pointing to the separatists’ armament as unmistakable evidence of Russian sponsorship. He further implored the audience to resist the temptation of a grand bargain between NATO and the Russian Federation, referring to a proposal by Henry Kissinger made at a RUSI award ceremony two weeks prior.

The diplomat’s closing remarks concerned the attitudes of the two main Western entities, Europe and the United States. He reaffirmed his own government’s commitment to an international order based on sovereign equality and the rule of law, as evidenced TTIP and TTP trade negotiations. Russian hostility to recent arrests in wide-ranging corruption allegations at football’s international governing body, FIFA, a move with potentially grave implications for Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, equally lends itself to this context. Finally, he underscored the importance of the West to constrain and incentivise Russia, to mitigate risk, as witnessed in the building of a European energy strategy, to remain united, and to remain clear and confident while continuing to build a set of rules “based on human dignity and fairness for all“, in which he desired Russia to take part.

In his closing statement, Baer took the long view, in which “it is okay to regret the missed opportunity for good relations with Russia and to continue to build a rules-based order – we are where we are, and the two do not cancel each other out”.

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