West shows Ukraine fatigue, Putin wages hybrid war



Even a brief analysis of the accusations being made by Russia against NATO shows that Moscow’s characterization of NATO as a hostile and dangerous organization has long been based on a fixed set of dubious arguments, writes Karl-Heinz Kamp, President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin:

Moscow’s tone towards NATO has harshened once more since it has been trying to justify the breach of law in Ukraine with propaganda at home and abroad. Russia must therefore be expected to push ahead with the myth-making and present the well-trodden and long refuted accusations with renewed vehemence before the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016. The political fringes on both the left and right in Germany in particular will be pleased to pick up the spurious arguments.

In a must-read rebuttal, Kamp counters Kremlin claims that NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe are heightening tensions, that international law was breached in Kosovo, that NATO’s aggressiveness can be seen from its expansion eastwards, and that NATO promised not to expand, among other dubious contentions.

The European Union has agreed to the prolongation of sanctions on Russia, which the West imposed in reaction to the annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine, largely on the grounds that Kremlin was not adhering to the provisions of the Minsk Accord.

But Russia is not implementing the Minsk agreements because it believes that the sanctions policy will eventually collapse, argues Fredrik Wesslau, Director of the Wider Europe Program and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations:

It sees European leaders sending mixed messages about the sanctions and their usefulness and has taken note of certain European countries’ wavering commitment to the policy. Every time a European politician says that the sanctions do not work or predicts that they will come to an end or, indeed, demands that they be gradually eased, Russia becomes more certain that the sanctions will soon disappear.

“European leaders, in particular in Germany, need to stop sending mixed messages about the sanctions and their efficacy,” Wesslau contends. “These messages play into decision-making in Moscow and only make peace more elusive. Moscow will only revise the cost-benefit analysis of its objectives in Ukraine if it believes that Europe is serious about the sanctions.”

Foreign direct investment has collapsed (see chart). Yet even sanctions relief might not revive Russia, The Economist notes:

The World Bank reckons that lifting them would provide only a 0.9% boost to GDP in 2017. Their effect on Russian policy may be paradoxical: the war in Ukraine was partly Mr Putin’s answer to a slowing economy at home. Most importantly, the Kremlin still believes that Ukrainian ineptitude, European divisions or an electoral victory by Donald Trump could bring an end to sanctions all by themselves. While Russia entertains such hopes, sanctions alone will not tame its behaviour.

Some German and European officials have begun questioning how many fronts Europe can afford to fight at a time when the bloc faces major threats like Brexit, attacks from Islamic State militants and the simmering refugee crisis, Reuters adds.

“People are tired of confrontation with Russia. They don’t like the tensions and they see that Ukraine is not delivering enough on the reform front,” said Ulrich Speck, a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington.

“When you’re confronted with ISIS, Putin doesn’t look so bad. Because of this fatigue, there is a growing risk that the anti-sanctions camp grows stronger,” Speck said, a view also expressed by officials in the United States, which has imposed its own sanctions on Russia over Ukraine. 

‘We have paid with our history and our tragic experience for these democratic achievements, and they are not to be abandoned, whatever the circumstances and whatever the pretexts.”

I thought it was just worth reading this passage from Mikhail Gorbachev because it just reminds you what we started from in 1991, said journalist Arkady Ostrovsky author of The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War, which recently won the 2016 Orwell Prize for political writing.

“These were not empty words. The words about respect that Russia granted, solidarity, and not interfering in other countries’ affairs all seemed completely real at that time,” he adds.

We are now in a situation, 25 years later, where Russia is considered a geostrategic threat; where Russia has interfered in several countries’ affairs, starting in 2008 in Georgia, going on to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Most recently, Russia extended itself beyond the former Soviet territory in joining the military campaign in Syria. The pundits in Washington, Berlin, London, Paris, including The Economist, are all asking themselves the same question, which is: What’s next, where might Russia go next in terms of aggression? 

Spooked by Brexit and the migrant crisis, many European politicians are increasingly concluding that a conflict on their eastern flank is the last thing they need. And lured by Kremlin cash, entrepreneurs and industrialists are chomping at the bit to get back to business as usual with Russia, RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore writes:

But here’s the thing. Seeking to undermine European unity is business as usual for the Kremlin. It predated the Ukraine crisis and Moscow’s current standoff with the West — and it is not going to stop no matter what Brussels does now.

“The struggle against the European Union cannot end,” Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, author of the books Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warningsaid in a recent talk.

“If sanctions are ended tomorrow,” Snyder added, Russia will not stop supporting and encouraging far-right leaders like France’s Marine Le Pen and Britain’s Nigel Farage. “They won’t stop inviting the Nazis of Europe to St. Petersburg for annual conferences. If sanctions stop tomorrow, all that stuff continues because the problem with Europe is fundamentally a domestic problem for Russia. The existence of Europe is a domestic problem for Russia.”

Sanctions against Russia must continue, “because that country needs to understand – or rather, its government needs to understand – that it did something wrong; that you cannot exist this way in the modern world,” said Nadiya Savchenko (left), the former military Ukrainian pilot captured by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. “[Sanctions] should be extended, and I think it is necessary to introduce more personal sanctions, so that the people suffer less and the authorities suffer more, so that they [the authorities] themselves experience deprivation,” she told RFE/RL.

Europe’s Short Memory, Ukraine’s Long Crisis

“People have forgotten that there’s a real humanitarian situation and a real need in a European country,” said Jock Mendoza-Wilson, director of international and investor relations at System Capital Management, during a recent Atlantic Council panel examining the crisis in Ukraine, writes Melinda Haring, editor of the UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council[and a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy]:

In fact, he said, six hundred thousand people on Ukraine’s contact line live in “appalling conditions” without electricity and gas, have intermittent water, face shelling and small arms fire on a daily basis, and don’t have access to a food market. “They are in extreme need,” he said. “From the distance of Washington, DC, it may look like there’s not an active conflict…but it’s real and immediate.”…Nadia McConnell, president of the US-Ukraine Foundation, pointed out that a little over two years after the fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine, “it still remains an invisible emergency.” Less than 20 percent of the $298 million that the United Nations requested from international donors has been provided, she said. 

“The West is clearly suffering from Ukraine fatigue due not only to the slow pace of reform in Ukraine but also to the other more pressing concerns the West faces,” says the Transatlantic Council’s Stephen Szabo. “Upcoming elections in the United States, Germany, and France will decide whether the West can support a long-term strategy regarding not only Ukraine but Russia as well. A loss of Western unity and focus on Ukraine will be a disaster for the security and political order that has been painstakingly constructed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Beyond sanctions, the EU and the United States must become much more proactive and efficient in combating the massive disinformation campaign that has become a potent weapon in the Kremlin’s “hybrid war” against Russia’s neighbors and the West, argues Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, and President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament:

Likewise, the EU should devise ways to support civil society, students, researchers, and small- and medium-size enterprises in Russia, as they struggle for freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Finally, the EU needs to step up efforts to stem the flows of money and resources that Putin is using to destabilize and divide Europe’s political landscape.

“Those who are calling for a softer approach to Russia need to remove their blinders and recognize the scale of the Kremlin’s efforts to bring about the EU’s disintegration,” he writes for Project Syndicate.

But Germany’s Social Democrats appear increasingly committed to doing everything possible to appease Russian imperialism, argues Alexander J. Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark:

The roots of their indifference to international norms and human rights may go back to the days of Ostpolitik. They certainly go back to 2005, when then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder—who called Putin a “flawless democrat” at the height of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004—left his job in Berlin to become a highly-paid functionary of Russia’s deeply corrupt, state-owned energy company, Gazprom.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier should know better than to express disappointment with “NATO’s provocation of Russia” because of the recent military exercise in Poland, writes András Simonyi Managing Director, Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR), Johns Hopkins University:

Russia is intensively trying to impose its corrupt and repressive model on members of the European Union, infiltrating and corrupting the political and economic elites of Europe. The naïveté of Western governments is striking. Why isn’t the German foreign minister just as worried about the health of democracy within the European Union and the destructive intrusion by Russia into our midst? 

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