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Sunday, 16 March 2014

How both the EU and Vladimir Putin’s Russia managed to get themselves in a dangerous stalemate, Pt II: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is a fatally flawed concept of international diplomacy!

This is the second and last article in a short series that started yesterday…

In the first quarter of 2014, I watched the events unfold on Maidan square in Kyiv and in other Ukrainian cities, with a mixture of flabbergastedness and hope, but also with sheer disgust at moments. The events raised a lot of questions with me. 

To name a few:

  • Was this the country where less than 2 years ago the European Championship Football have been held?!
  • Where did the sudden outburst of public outrage, hatred and chaos come from?
    • Was it a spontaneous outburst, or was it orchestrated by people, in whose interest it was to create chaos and a governmental vacuum, in order to regain power?
  • Were the protesters, indeed mainly normal citizens who were sick-and-tired of the corruption in their country?
  • Were the snipers, who shot numerous people on Maidan Square, indeed arranged by the Yanukovich clan – which was the ‘communis opinio’ – with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as main steering force in the background?
    • Or was there something smelly about those snipers?!
  • Are the new leaders of the Ukraine, who gained power after their ‘coup d’etat’, indeed the friends of the European Union and the United States?
  • And what was the hidden agenda of Vladimir Putin and Russia in the background, when the events unfolded in the Ukraine?

Well, to start with answering bullet 3; I am convinced that the large majority of the protesters were indeed genuinely shocked people, who protested against the widespread corruption,  poverty and economic backwardedness of the Ukraine and hoped that the association agreement with the EU would change their country for the better. However, probably not all protestors had these noble intensions.

Besides that, I am not so convinced about the good intentions of the current, new leaders of the Ukraine. There are just too many signals from different, unsuspected sources, that one bunch of corrupted leaders – the Yanukovich clan – has just been exchanged for the next bunch of corrupted leaders: the clans around Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleksandr Turchynov and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Read for instance this series of articles (here, here and here (video)) in Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the more independent newspapers in Russia; you can use Google Translate for a rough translation.

For that matter, I was amazed how quickly the EU and the United States have welcomed the new Ukrainian government, as the true representatives of this country.  And this, in spite of the fact that the Yatsenyuk clan gained power through – what seems – a genuine coup d’etat.

This coup d’etat violated the earlier made agreements with a.o. Russia – of which the ink was hardly dry – with respect to the formation of an interim government, chaired by Viktor Yanukovich for the time being. This interim government would originally stay in power until the next presidential elections, which were scheduled in December 2014. 

This, of course, never happened, which brings me to the current conundrum…

Initially, I just thought that the European Union (and the NATO, as interested party in the background) had been playing with fire out of naivety, when they offered the Ukraine an association agreement with the European Union. That all shocking events, which happened at Maidan square, were just a question of unintended side effects: ‘collateral damage’.

Of course, it is my deepest desire that countries like the Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states – and of course Russia itself (!) – could profit from the reasonably fair and uncorrupted leadership and economic growth opportunities, that the European Union would offer. In my opinion, every European citizen (and elsewhere) has the right for a life in freedom and prosperity, without corruption and without interference by tyrannical and meddlesome governments.

Nevertheless, during the last fifteen years, we already had the temporary political frost period between Russia and the NATO-partners, caused by the plan for the deployment of the Polish / Czechian rocket-shield against “Iran”. This plan understandably offended  Russia, as it would only be THEIR rockets that would be stopped by the shield. The rocket-shield would therefore have partially taken away the mutual deterrance strategy for Russia and it would have left the country in a more awkward position, from a defence point-of-view.

And we also had the events in Georgia (Abchazia / South Ossetia), where temporary outbursts of violence between Georgia and the ethnic-Russian region South-Ossetia, initially led to Russian boycotts (Georgian wine and other products) and later (in 2008) to Russian aggression. This aggression culminated in a short-lived, but nevertheless deadly war between Georgia and Russia.

That is why I thought that it was quite reckless of the EU to offer the association agreement to Ukraine, without reaching an agreement with Russia first. 

Even though you can justifiably argue that Vladimir Putin is more and more acting like a ‘cornered cat’, one should not forget that such cornered cats can be extremely dangerous, when they feel themselves under attack. 

You could say: ‘Even if you box with Mike Tyson for a just cause, you should still not forget that it is Mike Tyson, who you are fighting with”. Unfortunately, this lesson has fallen on deaf ears within the European Union initially.

And one should also not forget that not all intentions of the EU and the US are automatically saluted everywhere, without questions. Europe – with its centuries-long history of regional conflicts and violent wars – should have understood this lesson in the first place.

There have indeed been some signals that the protests on Maidan square had been (slightly) orchestrated by the United States and Europe. This has made the quick, almost overnight acceptance of the new Ukrainian government a crystalclear, political statement in the direction of Putin’s Russia. And such an orchestrated action should not be ruled out automatically... Especially the US has a history with respect to such orchestrated actions in South- and Middle-America and (of course) Afghanistan; please think about the early years of Osama bin Laden as a Mujahedeen fighter against the Russian army in Afghanistan.

At least, it is a signal that Vladimir Putin has very well understood… 

And consequently, as a reaction upon the events in Ukraine and only days after the slightly disappointing Olympic Games in Sochi, Putin has mobilized and exploited the nationalist feelings in his country for his own purposes. These nationalist feelings screamed after the events in Kyiv: “We want Crimea back!!!”

And so, in a desperate attempt to change the political “deck of cards” to his benefit, Putin entered the Crimean region with a number of unidentified soldiers and prepared the minds there for a return of this area to ‘Mother Russia’. For these actions, Putin was hailed by the Russian population. This was not strange, as Crimea ‘had been Soviet-Russian territory until 1954 and had been given away only at a moment that Nikita Krushchov was allegedly drunk’, as the myth states.

In this way it could happen, that an action which was officially meant to protect the Russian population in Crimea against the nationalist feelings of the ethnical Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, evolved quickly in vulgar land-robbery on a large scale. It was akin to what happened in Abchazia and South-Ossetia. 

Today, Sunday, 16 March 2014, the referendum on the future of Crimea has been held and – as expected – it turned into a landslide victory (95%) for the people, who want to bring Crimea back to Russia. And now the world is watching how the events unfold in Crimea and the whole Ukraine, wondering how we entered into this pile of political manure in the first place?! 

And, to ask the question that is even more important: how to get out of it without a full-blown civil war in Ukraine (and perhaps even worse)?! This will not be easy and it requires diplomatic and political ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’ (i.e. instinctive prowess) of the highest level. 

This is normally miles apart from the fairly common gungho attitude of American diplomacy. Therefore I am very pleased that political and diplomatic heavyweight John Kerry is foreign minister of the United States and not an intellectual lightweight, like Sarah Palin. She simply stated at a press conference that Russia should be nuked. As if…

What personally bothered me during the last month, was with how much disdain Dutch politicians and some journalists talked about one of the most powerful leaders in the world. According to for instance Dutch Christian-Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma, ‘Putin should be put back in his kennel’. And also people, like VVD celebrity and MEP Hans van Baalen talked with hardly hidden contempt about Vladimir Putin.

Personally, I don’t like Vladimir Putin very much as a leader (an understatement) and I totally disapprove of his envious and aggressive actions in Georgia (earlier) and now Crimea and East-Ukraine. Nevertheless, I think that the western world would be stupid to underestimate him and treat him as if he is just a naughty child: he isn’t! 

And if you want to solve the situation in Ukraine, you can’t do so without having him involved. The western world can kick Putin out of the G7 and it can target Russia with harsh sanctions, which would make the life for the common Russians much harder. However, if you want to solve the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, you simply can’t do it without the Russians.

And please remember the lessons that the west learned through blood, sweat and tears in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and a dozen other countries:
‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is a fatally flawed concept of international diplomacy.

We might again find this out the hard way with the current leaders in Ukraine, who are probably not so nice, friendly and Europe-loving as we all think today!

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