Minsk peace is an illusion

Minsk peace is an illusion

Minsk peace is an illusion

Written by Ian Bond, 15 February 2015
From The Moscow Times

Russia's war in Ukraine: Is Minsk the end, or just the start?

Russia's war

Russia's war in Ukraine: Is Minsk the end, or just the start?

Written by Ian Bond, 13 February 2015

There is no doubt who gained most from the deal reached in Minsk on February 12th to end the conflict in Ukraine: Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a minimum, a frozen conflict will block Ukraine’s progress towards NATO and the EU; and if fighting resumes, the terms of the ceasefire will leave Ukrainian forces in a weaker position than now. The only questions are why German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were prepared to give Putin so much, after a year of Russian aggression and lies; and what the West can do now to buttress European security.

The Minsk deal includes two documents. The first, entitled ‘a package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements’ was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the separatist entities in Donetsk and Luhansk. This contains 13 points, modifying the original Minsk agreements of September 5th and 19th; and an annex outlining a special status for the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The second document is a declaration by Hollande, Merkel, Poroshenko and Putin “in support of” the package of measures.

According to the package, a ceasefire will start at midnight on February 15th (Kyiv time), giving Russian forces and their proxies time to take more territory. Early indications are that fighting around strategic points is intensifying. After the Minsk talks, Putin said that the separatist forces claimed to have surrounded 6,000 to 8,000 Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve and “assumed that they would lay down their arms”.

Gaining territory before the ceasefire matters, because the line of contact at that time will become the boundary between Kyiv and ‘separatist’ controlled territory. Ukrainian forces will have to withdraw heavy weapons (artillery and missiles of a calibre greater than 100mm) to distances of up to 140 kilometres from that line. Heavy weapons on the Russian side are supposed to withdraw by the same distance, but from the ceasefire line agreed in Minsk in September.

To monitor the ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons, the OSCE will have (at least initially) its current team of 250 unarmed monitors and one drone to cover an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres. By comparison, the UN peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border, UNIFIL, has 10,000 multinational troops to cover an area of under 1,000 square kilometres, and still cannot prevent Hizbollah deploying thousands of missiles there. The OSCE may not need the same force density as UNIFIL, but trust between the parties is low; the resources and mandate of the OSCE mission will need to be significantly strengthened if it is to play an effective stabilising role.

Even if the ceasefire holds temporarily, Ukrainian defences will be weakened. The port of Mariupol, less than 10 kilometres from the line of contact, will be unprotected by tanks or artillery if fighting resumes. Meanwhile, Russian forces will keep control of the Ukraine-Russia border in the separatist areas until the end of the year, and until Ukraine has made constitutional changes guaranteeing the special status of the separatist areas. Unlike the first Minsk agreement, there is no provision for OSCE monitoring of the Russian-Ukrainian border, which means that Russia is free to move more weapons and other supplies into the separatist areas for at least the next ten months.

The constitutional changes sketched out at Minsk show how limited Kyiv’s influence will be in separatist-controlled areas. The local authorities there will have a role in appointing public prosecutors and judges and can create “people’s militias” (an ambiguous term, which might or might not be limited to a police force). The central government in Kyiv will have to pay for social and other services, without having control over them.

The Minsk package also foresees an amnesty for “events that took place in the particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”. MPs in the Netherlands are already asking whether this means that those responsible for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 will also be amnestied; though Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has told the Dutch prime minister that they will not, the text itself makes no exception for them.

In the accompanying declaration, Hollande, Merkel, Poroshenko and Putin reaffirm their “full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Given the involvement of Russia, it is not surprising that this is not further defined; but it is disappointing that neither Merkel nor Hollande appears to have said the word “Crimea” even in comments to the media after the talks.

Worse, the four leaders backed talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine “to find practical solutions to the concerns raised by Russia about the implementation” of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The DCFTA will force Ukraine to make painful reforms; but it also offers a long-term route to a successful European economy.

Putin wants to deprive Ukraine of the benefits of the DCFTA. Russian proposals to exclude whole categories of EU goods from tariff reductions, in order to keep Russian goods competitive on the Ukrainian market, are contrary to WTO principles and economically damaging both for EU exporters and Ukrainian consumers. The European Commission delayed implementation of the DCFTA last September, in an effort to support the last Minsk deal. Putin wrote to Poroshenko at the time, warning that any move by Kyiv to implement the DCFTA would bring immediate retaliation from Russia. Now Hollande and Merkel appear to have offered Putin another opportunity to influence implementation of the DCFTA to suit Russia.

Poroshenko must have felt he had no choice but to accept the Minsk deal: his troops have been losing ground since the New Year, as more Russian regular forces and equipment have joined the fight; and the West has offered rhetorical but not practical support. France, Germany and the UK have all come out against supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine (the UK with the caveat, according to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, that “we could not allow the Ukrainian armed forces to collapse”). President Barack Obama has said only that he has asked his team to look at all the options, including supplying arms, if diplomacy failed.

On the positive side, the deal may give Poroshenko time to focus on economic and political reform, instead of concentrating on the war. The IMF announced on February 12th that it had agreed a $17.5 billion loan for Ukraine, as part of a package of bilateral and multilateral loans of about $40 billion to support reforms; without that, Ukraine would soon run out of money.

On the other hand, the Minsk deal may have weakened Poroshenko’s political position: Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has been consistently more hawkish than Poroshenko, and may see an opportunity to undermine him. Western leaders will need to stay engaged with both men to keep them working towards the same goals of cleansing Ukraine of its pervasive corruption and reforming its Soviet-legacy economy. Whatever comes out of talking to Russia about the DCFTA, the EU should ensure that Ukraine is as ready as it can be to start full implementation of the agreement on January 1st 2016.

Why have European leaders conceded so much to Russia, despite its failure to implement the September agreement? Despite Russia’s serious economic woes, President Vladimir Putin has once again exploited Western divisions and disguised his own vulnerability.

The EU is divided between a small group of countries who want to arm Ukraine; those, led by Merkel, who think arming Ukraine would make things worse, but support the use of sanctions and diplomacy to persuade Putin to move; and those who want to get back to business as usual with Russia as soon as possible. Merkel leads the second group; Hollande seems uncomfortably balanced between the second and the third: he told journalists on February 13th that while the conditions were not yet right, he hoped that France would eventually be able to deliver the ‘Mistral’ warships ordered by Russia. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Congressional Republicans like John McCain and members of the Obama administration are encouraging the president to reconsider his opposition to arming Ukraine. Putin has skilfully used European fears that giving weapons to Ukraine will escalate the war, and has offered peace, but at a high price.

What can the West now do to rescue something from the Minsk mess? First and without fanfare, those countries willing to do so should start training and equipping Ukrainian forces to ensure that they can defend the rest of their territory if fighting resumes. There will be no Western consensus on this; but the argument that helping a victim is ‘provocative’ to an aggressor does not stand up, either in international relations or in life: despite the West’s efforts not to provoke Putin, he now controls a significant portion of Ukrainian territory. Given the shortcomings in the new Minsk agreement, strong Ukrainian defences are likely to be needed sooner rather than later. The West cannot stop Putin escalating the conflict again if he chooses to, but it can raise the cost to him.

Second, France and Germany must do more to show that they are taking account of the interests of other EU member-states as well as the EU’s institutions. EU views are not united: the new Greek government is clearly a lot closer to Putin’s Russia than its predecessor, while the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, has openly criticised the February 12th agreement as weak. Merkel may be doing her best to represent the EU’s ‘centre of gravity’, but in doing so she risks sidelining others. The Commission has never accepted the validity of Putin’s objections to the DCFTA with Ukraine, yet has now been committed by the Minsk deal to holding talks on how to accommodate them. Poland, despite having borders with Ukraine and Russia, no longer has a voice in negotiations. The UK has been invisible in the diplomatic arena, though it is contributing to NATO efforts to reassure Central European allies.

Third, the West should tighten implementation of its existing sanctions and start preparing new ones. It is time the European External Action Service (EEAS) had the resources to examine how sanctioned individuals and entities can circumvent the rules in particular member-states. Encouragingly, Merkel said after the European Council on February 13th that further sanctions were possible if the new agreement was violated. As a last resort, the EU could block Russia from SWIFT, the international financial transfer system, thereby inflicting considerable damage on Russia’s economy. But short of that drastic step, there are many senior Russians, including Putin himself, with financial interests in the West which have yet to be targeted.

Finally, the EU should let go of its illusions. A brilliant recent analysis by BBC Monitoring showed how Russian state media is successfully stirring up hatred and war fever in the population. Confrontation, not an idyllic pan-European zone of co-operation, is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future. The EU has spent two decades trying to develop a mutually beneficial, rules-based contractual relationship with Russia. It is time to accept that its efforts have failed; now the West has to invest in protecting itself. Merkel was right to say at the Munich Security Conference on February 7th that a policy of forcibly altering borders in Europe should have no place in the 21st century, and that Russia’s actions in Ukraine had violated international law. It is a pity that the Minsk agreement rewards such behaviour.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

Ukraine's ceasefire gives separatists two days "to conquer as much territory as they can"

Ukraine's ceasefire

Ukraine's ceasefire gives separatists two days "to conquer as much territory as they can"

By Ian Bond, 12 February 2015
From Quartz

Link to press quote(s):

http://qz.com/343488/ukraines-ceasefire-gives-separatists-two-days-to-conquer-as-much-territory-as-they-can/

Judy Asks: can the west save Ukraine?

Judy Asks: Can the West Save Ukraine? spotlight image

Judy Asks: can the west save Ukraine?

Written by Ian Bond, 08 February 2015
From Carnegie Europe

Roundtable on 'How Russia is changing and the implications for European security'

Roundtable on 'How Russia is changing & the implications for European security'

Roundtable on 'How Russia is changing and the implications for European security'

24 February 2015

With Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center

Location info

London

Event Gallery

Lunch on 'Britain, Europe and global security challenges'

Lunch on 'Britain, Europe and global security challenges' with Rory Stewart MP

Lunch on 'Britain, Europe and global security challenges'

10 March 2015

With Rory Stewart MP

Location info

London

Mogherini's mission: Four steps to make EU foreign policy more strategic

EU foreign policy

Mogherini's mission: Four steps to make EU foreign policy more strategic

Written by Rem Korteweg, 19 January 2015

At her confirmation hearing, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said that she wants to make EU foreign policy more ‘strategic’. She called for a ‘strategic rethink’ and asked for 100 days to review the External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm that she now leads. What steps should she take?

Mogherini heads a service that struggles to live up to expectations.  Four years after the creation of the EEAS, European foreign policy remains disjointed, overly technocratic and too slow in response to political crises. There have been a few successes, including the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, the diplomatic détente with Iran and political reform in Myanmar. But too often, member-states pursue narrow national agendas while EU institutions lack the political clout to push for a common European agenda. The result has been a European foreign policy that punches below its weight.

A stronger, more robust European foreign policy is needed. Europe’s security environment is more volatile and unpredictable than at any time since the end of the Cold War. From North Africa to Eastern Europe, business-as-usual no longer suffices to promote a stable and prosperous neighbourhood.

On this, many agree. But Europe’s default mode has been to favour the status quo. In European capitals there is a sense that there is little to gain and much to lose in the current international environment. At the turn of the century, Europe was affluent, dynamic and an aspirational global power. But those certainties have faded after years of financial crisis, the sobering experience of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising euroscepticism and a range of security crises on Europe’s doorstep. European publics have become inward-looking, sceptical of military force and suspicious of European projects. This creates a tendency to respond to events, rather than to shape them. But the EU cannot sit back and wait. To misquote the old nobleman in Lampedusa’s The Leopard, if the EU wants everything to stay the same, everything must change.

The EEAS, of course, is not solely responsible for Europe’s foreign policy ailments. After all, it depends on the political consensus of the 28 member-states before it can act. But the EEAS, with its staff of 3,600 personnel, was created to develop and co-ordinate common foreign policy positions, and it must be an essential component of any stronger European voice in foreign affairs.

If only it could act strategically. That term has come to mean many things. Here, ‘strategic’ means the concerted use of all the means at the disposal of the EU and its member-states ‒ including trade, development, diplomatic and military tools ‒ in pursuit of strengthening Europe’s geopolitical position and protecting its interests. To increase the EU’s ability to act strategically, Mogherini should take the following four steps.

Firstly, to act strategically, the EU needs a strategy. The existing European Security Strategy, a document approved in 2003, is out-dated. It takes no account of the deteriorating security in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, the effects of the financial crisis or the structural changes in global geopolitics as a result of the rise of China. Without a coherent and updated overarching framework, European foreign policy action is bound to be fragmented and driven by ad-hoc responses to events. On October 6th, Mogherini suggested that she wanted to midwife such a new document, and this week the process starts.

To ensure that EU external action has a firm strategic footing Mogherini should appoint a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). He or she should have two roles: lead the drafting of a security strategy; and assisting the High Representative with putting the strategy into practice. The EEAS leadership will need to respond to unexpected and diverse security crises; within this, the CSO should guard the overall strategic direction of EU foreign policy. The EEAS already has a ‘strategic planning division’ but it lacks influence at the highest level of policy-making. The current division is headed by a mid-career diplomat, yet the CSO should be a senior official with the political and bureaucratic gravitas to push for strategic initiatives, selected and mandated to challenge traditional thinking inside the EEAS. The ‘strategy czar’ should work closely with the High Representative, provide senior EEAS leadership with strategic analysis and inject strategic input into the policy-making process. Crucially he or she should be a member of the EEAS corporate board. Instead of being distracted by the day-to-day humdrum of EU diplomacy, this officer’s team – drawn from the current strategic planning division – should monitor long term security trends and assess how they impact the Union. The division should draw on the traditional diplomatic reporting from EU delegations and the policy planning documents of EU member-states, and leverage ties with counterparts within the member-states, the EU’s ‘strategic partners’ and the intelligence, research and think-tank communities. Thus, the CSO would help Mogherini offer a common picture of longer-term trends in the security environment, and develop policy responses.

Secondly, with a new security strategy and a CSO, Mogherini should push for greater European unity of effort. The decision to move her office to the Commission building should increase the coherence of European external action and increase geopolitical awareness of those directorates-general of the Commission working on development aid, energy and trade. But she must do more and attempt to manage the foreign policy cleavages that run through the EU. A well-known schism lies between Europe’s south and east. Proximity to a threat shapes policy priorities. So Italy is more worried about immigration flows across the Mediterranean, and Poland about a resurgent Russia. But neither Warsaw nor Rome can deal with these issues alone. Mogherini will not be able to overcome strong national reflexes in foreign policy but, more than her predecessor, she should be visible in European capitals making the case for European strategic solidarity.

Moreover, she must address security free-riding within the Union. Some states take the deterioration in Europe’s security environment more seriously than others, and are willing to commit the necessary resources and political attention. The effectiveness of European foreign policy ultimately depends on the resources and capabilities that back it. Mogherini must argue for a European military ambition commensurate to the EU’s economic weight. She should promote defence co-operation (together with her colleagues at NATO) and push for tangible results on defence spending when European foreign ministers solemnly declare that “geopolitics is back”. But military capabilities have declined since the financial crisis, or even earlier. Fewer resources equate to lower expectations: in the late 1990s the EU discussed creating a 60,000-strong ‘Helsinki headline force’, in the early 2000s the new focus became 1,600-strong Battle Groups. Today, the 300-strong training mission in Mali is considered a large EU mission. European defence ministers applaud marginal progress in defence co-operation, when far-reaching initiatives are called for. Mogherini should initiate a debate about the role of hard power in EU foreign policy.

Thirdly, she should make EU foreign policy more (geo)political. The EU prefers to project externally what brought it peace and stability internally. This means that EU external action often takes on legalistic, not political, overtones. Diplomatic successes are considered those legal agreements that are signed when technocratic checklists are complete. It is a reflection of the EU's origins when the power of trade and institution-building trumped power politics in Western Europe. This system was exported effectively when the EU waved the carrot of membership at its neighbours, making the acquis communautaire one of the most effective European foreign policy instruments over the years. Enlargement, however, appears to have run its course for now. Instead, foreign policy focuses on those states with little chance of joining the EU, but whose political and economic stability is essential to European security. Here, the appeal of the EU’s single market is important but not sufficient to sway key decisions in Europe’s favour. The EU must build its influence through a mix of financial aid, trade incentives, security assistance and diplomacy, based on strong personal relationships with the region’s leaders. The best mix will depend on the country. For instance, Egypt’s autocratic turn has estranged it from the EU, yet it remains a country of strategic importance. Mogherini should pursue a dialogue with Cairo based on security co-operation, which is a shared interest, instead of cutting ties or attempting to curry favours through a trade deal or financial assistance.

EU officials often use the mantra that “the EU does not do geopolitics”. But in the Ukraine crisis, EU sanctions rather than NATO’s military toolkit have squeezed Moscow. This makes the EU – and the EEAS – a geopolitical actor, and to Russian eyes, a geopolitical competitor. Mogherini should push her staff to develop policies that reflect this geopolitical competition. This has consequences for her personnel. As she considers a reshuffle of the EEAS senior management – a new Secretary-General will take office in April, and the post of Chief Operating Officer might disappear – she should scrutinise broader EEAS human resource policies. Not every EU diplomat is, or should be, a good strategist. Career paths at the EEAS should, however, create a space for developing strategists, not only excellent diplomats that can execute policy. In particular she should review the system of EU special representatives: senior diplomats that act as Mogherini’s substitutes on specific regions, but whose effectiveness is harmed by their turf wars, open-ended mandates and unclear ties to the EEAS bureaucracy.

Fourthly, inside the EU, Mogherini should attempt to build a special relationship with the EU’s most important country, Germany. In the Ukraine crisis, German chancellor Angela Merkel has shown herself a leader, rallying other EU capitals in support of sanctions. But it remains to be seen whether this more robust stance will translate into other areas of its foreign policy. For instance, Berlin’s relations with China continue to be trade-focused, and avoid thorny security issues. Even worse – as Hans Kundnani of the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out in a recent article – Germany’s foreign policy interests may not necessarily align with the rest of Europe’s. More than any other large member-state, Germany is uneasy about the utility of force in its international relations; even the recent decision to provide 100 trainers for the Kurdish Peshmerga was politically controversial and Berlin is not involved in the air campaign against the Islamic State terror group. As its political and economic clout in Europe grows, other member-states – particularly its neighbours – increasingly look to Berlin for foreign and security policy guidance. Mogherini was wise to visit Germany in her second week in the job, but she must make it a priority to cajole Germany to commit to an ambitious European foreign policy, even if she faces strong headwinds doing so. As long as Germany under-invests in the tools of foreign policy, Berlin will weaken the EU and provide a convenient excuse for the inaction of others.

These four steps would help Mogherini strengthen Europe’s voice in foreign affairs, even though progress may only be incremental; member-states remain reluctant to give too much influence to someone in Brussels. But given the overwhelming need for a common and credible response to Europe’s increasingly dangerous neighbourhood, she should make it her mission to search for strategic convergence among the 28 sovereign states. Her most strategic work might, after all, not be to find diplomatic consensus with governments outside the Union, but with those within.

Rem Korteweg is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

La Unión Europea intenta blindarse contra el yihadismo

La Unión Europea intenta blindarse contra el yihadismo spotlight image

La Unión Europea intenta blindarse contra el yihadismo

By Camino Mortera-Martinez, 19 January 2015
From El Pais

Link to press quote(s):

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/01/17/actualidad/1421531233_964700.html

Ukraine lurches back toward war as Merkel urges rapid talks

Ukraine lurches back toward war as Merkel urges rapid talks

Ukraine lurches back toward war as Merkel urges rapid talks

By Ian Bond, 15 January 2015
From Bloomberg

Link to press quote(s):

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-15/ukraine-lurches-back-toward-war-as-merkel-eyes-rapid-minsk-talks.html

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