War in Ukraine: What can be done by Western governments between appeasing Russia and preparing a military red line?

The so-called Minsk 2 accord, signed recently by the Ukrainan government and the separatists (but not the mediators), appears to collapse. Hostilities are continuing. The Russian president appears to be unimpressed by Western appeals to stop (or at least not support) the separatists. The only move not tested so far is a credible Western attitude of applying counter-force if required. Alas, difficult questions of escalation dominance are attached here.

  1. Andrey Makarychev 3 years ago

    Perhaps it’s time for Western governments to explore asymmetric responses. This hypothetical strategy can consist of, first, a drastically enhanced level of cooperation with Kazakhstan and Belarus, two alleged Russian allies who are, nevertheless, unhappy with what Russia does in Ukraine. The governments in Astana and Minsk are undemocratic, true, but these autocracies at least don’t bother their neighbors and can be encouraged to take a more Russia-sceptic stand. Second, anything that diverts Moscow’s diplomatic attention and material resources from Ukraine to other possible problematic areas (for example, in South Caucasus) will also be beneficial for asymmetric response. And finally, the West should seriously use all possible tactics and channels of communication with China to encourage Beijing to take a tougher position vis-a-vis Russia, mainly in economic terms – from energy contracts to Chinese migrant’s rights. It is only the understanding of growing isolation and deteriorating international attitudes to Russia from non-Western partners that can make the Kremlin reconsider its opportunistic policy in Ukraine.

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  2. Dorothea Schäfer 3 years ago

    Western governments need to stick to the Minsk 2 accord. If it is severely broken then they should put further sanctions on Russia. Ukraine is divided by now and will be for some time in the future. Hopefully, the two hostile parties are able to keep peace in the future. The Western part of the Ukraine needs to concentrate its forces on rebuilding the Ukrainian economy. This is essential for the future. Rebuilding an economy needs peace.

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  3. Theodoros Tsakiris 3 years ago

    If the pro-Russian separatists break the 2nd Minsk truce by advancing and more importantly attacking the vital harbor city of Mariupol that would offer them a direct land link to Crimea, the EU would be faced with a major strategic dilemma. Given the fact that harder economic sanctions on the part of the EU that would have a “blanket” effect to the entire structure of the Russian economy are excluded, the possibility of offering military assistance to Ukraine on behalf of individual member-states may be entertained.

    If there is a general collapse of the Minsk truce the US may indeed decide to arm the government forces supporting Mr. Poroshenko and this decision may be followed by several EU member-states but on an individual basis and without the support of Union institutions and major countries such as Germany and France.

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  4. Alexei Voskressenski 3 years ago

    The Minsk-2 accord must not only separate fighters but also provide guarantors: EU and Russia. The fighters must be separated by neutral and trustworthy peacekeepers, for example BRICS, or BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation plus Kazakhstan and Belarus.

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  5. Justas Paleckis 3 years ago

    In my country, Lithuania, the approach of the officials and most of the media to the Minsk Agreement II is more skeptical. The visit to Moscow of German and French leaders was seen almost as a betrayal of Ukraine.
    There were predictions that the Minsk II will not work at all or will collapse immediately. I think that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande are acting in the right way by choosing the lesser of several evils. The implementation of the Minsk II agreement is indeed unsatisfactory, the situation is very fragile. There are three most probable options. 1) After a very long and extremely painful process the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will receive a greater autonomy than the other ones remaining part of Ukraine. 2) Separatist-controlled territories will go to Russia as allegedly independent republics or directly; that would mean another frozen conflict – perhaps hotter than the others. 3) The Minsk II agreement fails and hostilities are renewed.
    In this case it is most likely that the US and some other countries will supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. This would lead to an open intervention of Russia, heavy fighting for the corridor to Crimea and most likely the occupation of an even greater part of Ukraine. For Ukraine it will be hard to resist bearing in mind the economic crisis.
    The US and EU would expand more and more painful sanctions on Russia and face some kind of the retaliation. Such a scenario would mean the division of EU countries on the approach to the supply of arms and the adjustment of conflict. Thus, the German and French initiative and Minsk II Agreement give a chance, though a small one, to avoid the worst scenario. Even if it will come true, one must remember that in all capitals (maybe less in Kiev) it is constantly repeated: the solution of this crisis can only be a diplomatic one.

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5 Comments

  1. Jongkor 3 years ago

    Indeed, I agree with above commentators who reminded us about Minsk 2-Summit that should be respected by two parties to keep ceasefire and give a chance for political solution.
    The four ways call between France, Germany Ukraine and Russia in regard ceasefire should be a breakthrough between the two parties toward the peace. However, that initiative should have started before withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Debaltseve to show the involvement of EU.
    The UN must work effectively to engage members of the UN to focus on Ukraine, and find effective prevention of violence that can escalate to major war crimes in the region.
    Economic Sanctions are not going to work because they have been enforced on Iran, Cuba and others many countries as example.
    I think there is no simple solution to the problem of Ukraine because the political will of the two parties has a long way to go, but international community must keep eye on Ukraine.

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    1. AW 3 years ago

      Do you think, that the current crises should be handled by the UN or by the OSCE?

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  2. AW 3 years ago

    I very much like the idea suggested by Mr. Makarychev. Even though the Russian army has shown its limited ability to fight and Putin understands only harsh actions, I am a very big opponent of a military reply of any kind by the West. As long as the “separatists” do not have aviation, the conflict remains at a low level in terms of arms involved and it better would.
    There is obviously a demand for more involvement of Belarus and Kazakhstan and I think that showing Putin, that he has lost his last allies is a very good tool. Ilham Aliev, the president of anything but democratic Azerbaijan, has claimed recently, that his country adheres to European values. This statement came very unexpectedly and shows, how much afraid small neighbours of Russia are and how ready they are to approach anybody who would protect them.
    However, I do not see, how China can be persuaded to distance itself from Russia. Currently it benefits from the clash between the West and Russia and will benefit even more. Neither Europe, nor the USA have a really leverage (or willingness to use it) to make China enforce the sanctions.
    Yet on the other hand, this current crises can be seen as a good opportunity to bring the cooperation between the USA/EU and the BICSA countries to a new qualitative level,

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    1. Cormac 3 years ago

      The narrative being followed in the discussion of the situation in Ukraine is flawed and does not seem to correspond to reality. Firstly, it was not the Russians who initiated this conflict. On the contrary, it is NATO that has been expanding eastwards up to the borders of Russia since the fall of the Berlin wall. This is despite verbal promises given by the US government to Mr. Gorbachev that this would not happen. NATO/US bases now surround Russia.

      The NATO backed overthrow of a democratically elected president in Kiev was the straw that broke the camels back. A NATO backed puppet government in Kiev would have meant that Russia would no longer have it’s Black Sea fleet stationed in Crimea. This is critically important to the security of Russia. It is therefore perfectly understandable that Russia would step in and secure its naval base. There are some concrete examples of US backing of the coup in Kiev. There is the now infamous Monika Nuland/Geoffrey Pyatt phone conversation. There is also the recorded conversation between the Estonian foreign minister and Cathrine Ashton in which the Estonian minister reports that agent provocateurs were operating in the Maidan firing on both sides.

      The sanctions placed on Russia following the shooting down of MH17 were a very counterproductive measure. There was quite a bit of uneasiness among many western European nations with regard to the sanctions and there was further unease when the US began debating sending weapons to Ukraine. The results of this would be an escalation of a war in Europe. The EU was set up to avoid war in Europe following the bloodletting of both world wars. The US would not be effected by an escalation of the conflict. This is why Merkel and Hollande went to Minsk and negotiated the deal. There was also the issue of the surrounding of thousands of Ukrainian troops by separatists in Debaltseve. The truce is largely holding. Russia has made it clear that it has no plans to expand its territory any further but does not want Ukraine in NATO. This is understandable. What if Russia were to enter a military alliance with mexico and send troops there. What would the US response be?

      Russia is by no means the type of country I aspire to live in but NATO eastern expansion is the cause of the current conflict. Russia is merely protecting its interests.

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  3. AW 3 years ago

    A nice read on China-Russian relations appeared in the last issue of China Brief by the Jamestown Foundation. Short summary: China is expanding its cooperation with Russia.
    Read here: http://www.jamestown.org/uploads/media/China_Brief_Vol_15_Issue_4_1.pdf

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