A Collision Course in Europe and the US with Russia?‏ – What is the real Crisis?

Air strike in Kobani An air strike in Kobani, Syria, in October. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

 

 

 

“United we stand; divided we fall.”
Aesop

It would seem  the world is facing a critical number of security issues at similar time, the last which is part of the reason for the 28-nation meeting in Newport (Wales) this week. As part of the military alliance heads of state including US President Barack Obama will express their views on the situation in both Iraq and Syria, with the profound dangers of ISIS at this stage, increasing concerns on e.g cyber threats, issues in the South Chinese Sea what may be called territorial disputes and others. However the meeting is most likely to be dominated on the Ukraine crisis with the question as how far to take matters  in support of Ukraine against Russia challenging the political integrity of this nation, – the last by backing separatist fighter in Ukraine at a scale increasing over the last weeks.

Ukraine’s government in Kiev alleges with NATO support – which Moscow denies – that Russian troops are being actively deployed in the east and south of the country, this with the risk  of direct military conflict between the two nations with the potential of both NATO and the USA being pulled in.


The biggest challenge for NATO and the US is to balance both the pressure  but also providing Russia a gracious exit as one unbalanced step too far may trigger an escalating point of no return. Hence strategic discussions being more import than putting out fires. The crux will be NATO’s Clause nr 5 which says an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all members. Ukraine now is a “partner” but not an official member but it is anticipated that Ukraine will seek full NATO membership, which might be the desire of the Baltic states as well.


The US will needless to say reaffirm it’s commitment to NATO’s Clause 5. The problems as a result of this at the moment is as important as the response on the problems being faced. It’s a critical issue where Russia,  and both NATO &  US face each other “in the eye” on either compromise or an escalating devastating conflict. History learnt us that both past crisis around Berlin and Cuba had somehow a “last minute escape” from irreversible confrontation, and it is within reason to suspect that both US and Russia may come up with a solution reached under pressure amidst the risk of spiralling conflict.


One may look at the old Greek as how to face this in a broader context and it was Aesop who once said: “Lay not the blame on me, O sailor, but on the winds. By nature I am as calm and safe as the land itself, but the winds fall upon me with their gusts and gales, and lash me into a fury that is not natural to me.”..

In passing, this is what applies somehow to both parties in the current conflict. The “wind” is an unpredictable force and the “fury” of conflict could be immense. What Aesop says further is interesting as well and reflects some applicable wisdom:  “The north wind and the sun were disputing which was the stronger, and agreed to acknowledge as the victor whichever of them could strip a traveller of his clothing. The wind tried first. But its violent gusts only made the man hold his clothes tightly around him, and when it blew harder still the cold made him so uncomfortable that he put on an extra wrap. Eventually the wind got tired of it and handed him over to the sun. The sun shone first with moderate warmth, which made the man take off his topcoat. Then it blazed fiercely, till, unable to stand the heat, he stripped and went off to a bathe in a nearby river”…..Persuasion is more effective than force! –The question in Europe is how, how to do this as effective as possible without errors in calculation.

It is safe to say that it is sound to use pressure to prevent conflict but utter isolation may provoke war, this to  be considered as one of the learning experiences from both the processes leading up to both the 1st and 2nd world war. Obviously  Germany was both responsible for the start of both war’s but the Dual-Alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary made the Russians feel threatened, and as a response they joined a Rival-Alliance with France. This put Germany in a position of threatening peace in Europe, which may have provoked the First World War. It should be noted that Rival-Alliances should not be aimed to put Russia in a spot they see no way out despite their errors of judgement. Perhaps they already don’t see a way out, it’s hard to assess.

Furthermore, coming back on history and the dynamics before the 2nd world war, –  the Treaty of Versailles triggered strong currents of deeply felt cultural dissatisfaction in Weimar Germany, responsible perhaps for a climate in which Adolf Hitler was perceived by the Germans as the answer on their grievances, – not knowing what the man was lying ahead. We know from President Putin that he is prepared to “play hard ball” but not at all costs and he may have his assessment “on the West” ready.



Coming back to Aesop, who said (perhaps) at the personal level: “Once upon a time all the rivers combined to protest against the action of the sea in making their waters salt. “When we come to you,” said they to the sea, “we are sweet and drinkable; but when once we have mingled with you, our waters become as briny and unpalatable as your own.” The sea replied shortly, “Keep away from me, and you’ll remain sweet.”……. In other words within the current European scenario stick to your own country and your country will stick to you.  “Keep your place in life and your place will keep you”. The perceptions Of President Putin are clearly different than US President Obama and whilst Ukraine has its own autonomy, Putin still considers somehow Ukraine as the backyard of Russia, the previous USSR. Increasing connections at military level between Europe and Ukraine are considered by Russia as a security risk.

Prejudices work both ways and conversance in sustained ways may soften the views from bilateral perspectives with an understanding that since the fall of the USSR the underlying Russian current is with an intended reclaiming of Ukraine now, it may strengthen its position against an increasing NATO alliance where the US keeps a strong foothold.  If the Ukraine crisis may be considered as the symptom of a disease, one need to avoid a remedy which is worse than this disease. At the end of the day the US has had a history in both Vietnam, invading Iraq and Afghanistan (which could have been dealt with differently) and on which the mixed after effects are visible . In Iraq more dangerous than ever before with the rise of ISIS. The Russian leadership out of security reasons may perceive to have the same rights as the US where it comes to invading countries if the last fits a “security strategy”, – hence the dynamics being dangerous as due to a risk that both super powers are not willing to back down. Obviously every nation has a right to exist and Ukraine is no exception on this but history learns that in many occasions this is not a point of fact. The question is whether Russia has perceived both increasing NATO influence in Europe, supported by the US, as a threat for its national security and if this is the case whether this could have been avoided and whether those perceptions can be reversed. Hard to say at this stage but once the trigger for this change of direction can be found, knowing that it is not in Russia’s interest to be isolated, efforts can be made to wind down this process ultimately leading to forces within Russia to restore the old status quo of the USSR. As such Russia is better part of Europe , participating like eg Germany does in constructive ways, – and not being a frustrated isolated and destructive force outside Europe with different perceptions on national security and increasing antagonism with “the West”.

Every conflict requires its unique response and in Europe applies that it is important to take care that by preventing one evil, one may not fall in a far greater evil. And being in the process to try to bend Russia from its way “in”, it should not break it whilst seeking a way “out”.  National pride might be for some part at the root of  domestic perceptions and one needs to be careful not to break this pride by not playing a good card (the sanctions) far too often without a convenient way out for the other party. Losing national dignity at this level comes at a price of wrong chosen liberty with the conviction the battle is won by the strong. The last which is not always true as an unexpected poisonous bite, as part of a pointless tit for tat strategy without sustained “face to face discussions”, could make the shortcut on success a failure on the long term. The art of crisis management is to create a new reciprocal bond to prevent issues like this in the future, and Russia needs to be included in such bond if it seeks a way out. Russia is somehow cornered and the dynamics for constructive dialogue are by far not ideal anymore. Partners are able to reason but both the US and Russia are not seen to be partners anymore, if they ever were. They were closing in at some stage, however the relationship is worse than almost ever before since the Cuban missile crisis where the US did not tolerate Russian supported nuclear missiles on Cuba.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov  said Monday that his country’s military would not interfere with the situation in Ukraine and that he stood ready to “converse” with the West to reach a peaceful settlement to the crisis there. This gesture was supposed  to be embraced within the pending NATO conference in Wales with genuine creativity rather than increasing tensions and new potential sanctions. It would seem Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on Ukraine to start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.  Putin said Ukraine should “hold substantive, meaningful talks, not about technical issues but about the question of the political organization of society and statehood in southeast Ukraine, with the goal of safeguarding the legitimate interests of those people who live there.”


NATO meanwhile claims there are at least 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine and the EU is giving Russia a one-week ultimatum to scale back its intervention in Ukraine or face more economic sanctions. The question is how strong are both the words and the actions in a situation which has deteriorated the last couple of months with high level propaganda in the media, not to speak about the Malaysian plane being shot down in the airspace of Ukraine held territory by pro-Russian separatists. The last a most tragic and dramatic error of calculation in a real war zone.


The conduct of public business in politics has an obligation to preserve peace at all costs and not running the pathway of an unavoidable collusion by lack of diplomatic creativity and discernment. Every man of his nation should be a man of his time as well. A high measure of public service needs to be seen in light of pure principle centred leadership rather than cutting corners with each other on false propaganda. We are living in a time we  neither can afford ignorance to the past, nor to the present , nor to the future, – and those in public office at the critical moment of decision making now need to be aware of the huge responsibilities to future generations, superseding national interest and national security issues in some aspects , but not at a cost of the real dangers of our time. The last, and the real ones,  which seems to find its manifestation in eg Iraq and Syria at the moment. Hence reason enough to find a bilateral satisfactory solution in Europe as if Ukraine would be considered to be a partner in NATO why not as well Russia, – provided they solve their conflicts in a peaceful way, with an immediate cessation of all sanctions after such agreement. Lets put it this way, there are far more important issues to solve at this very present moment and it is most important not to get into inflated “Cold War” dynamics from the past. Leaders allowing this to happen with the backing of their own military advisers would do better to look beyond this with a clearer picture in mind to find a settlement which fits all parties, – as such preventing both pointless and repetitive patterns  in history.

We need to strive to make others see that those matters in both Iraq and Syria are the real issues and avoid an escalating conflict in Europe. Peace among more unified civilised nations is the most important issue on earth otherwise we may be the victim of the widespread violence of seriously uncivilised and brutal forces, – plenty enough here on earth. It’s the kind of peace which makes life worth living and this peace is under threat from far more greater and spreading dangers than we see now, which is the reason we need to reconcile our differences on the issues where we are able do this by reasoning and making deals. The new face of potential all out war, this time in Europe again,  may have life ending implications as such war once started can’t be controlled anymore. Such war can only destroy and never create and serious errors on misjudgment on reciprocal abilities to reason out conflict as part of a multilateral security arrangement in which Russia is involved as well is more effective than sanctions from the West, and Russia reminding the world that they still have one of the most advanced nuclear arsenals. It needs to be understood that Russia has a historical fear with roots to the second world war, and the existing military pacts are coming too close to Russia, – in their perception. The point is that perceptions not being changed by the reality of “inclusion” may lead to self-fulfilling perceptions and possibly war like we have seen under different dynamics in both the lead up to the 1st and 2nd world war.


Both Russia and NATO & the US need to speak in rational terms on the legitimate future of Ukraine with greater reference to the grave dangers in both Iraq and Syria, which is a task of civilised nations. This is not allowed to fall on deaf ears as history will judge those who make decisions in the present on how it worked out in the future. The option to help Russia on a more enlightened attitude towards Ukraine as part of a trade off deal can’t be missed. War is not inevitable among civilised nations but violence at larger than expected scale is inevitable from existing and spreading groups in both Syria and Iraq. We can be as big as we want as a human species but not in harmony with fast spreading evil who may destroy all human dignity on the places where they are allowed to spread their toxins by death, mutilation or worse.

Only the sum of many acts and the sum of the efforts of all civilised nations is able to turn the tide by destroying ISIS and their efforts to create an Islāmic state in Syria and Iraq.

To preserve  peace and avoid the threats of war will be a challenge for each generation anew in different identities and requires now to make a united stance against increasing sectarian violence across the borders of inflated perceptions on those which were earlier considered to be opponents. Relations between nations with frictions on relatively trivial issues need to change and new bonds need to be created against the greater dangers of our time. Communication  should be more than an exchange of threats and sanctions, where the options of a mature dialogue on the broader perspectives from both sides, including the anxieties from both sides, are not fully explored. And the last applies to the current issues in Europe where the risk is that people get too much fixed on their opinions, not always based on the facts. No nation suffered more on the battlefield of war than Russia during the 2nd world war and an increasing united alliance against it’s own state, including former parts of the USSR are perceived as a danger on their part. Reaching out in inclusive diplomacy may help a new bond. The last not being based anymore on underlying historic and  persistent ancient historic for a potential new menace,  from both sides however.

All what world powers have worked for could be destroyed in the devastation of war in the first 24 hours, giving way to the sectarian violence which will be the fruit of those endeavours if life proves still to be possible in some parts of the world.


Therefore I tend to say that nations in Europe and particular Russia need to evaluate their position to the long term desired dynamics and both Europe and the US need to help Russia a way out amidst the rumbling background powers this country has in terms of extreme dynamics, like the US has the same  in its own backyard, – all hard to balance. Certain buttons are not supposed to be pushed too hard where the other party has not a favourable image anymore. We know from both Russia and the US that there are mighty background powers, not to be under estimated, and when both the US President and the Russian President are unable to make a deal being satisfactory and long lasting, the background powers pushing for potential confrontation will get stronger.

The answer is to continue to reach out and look at long-term strategies to form new bonds based on different foundations than in the past, where the last is possible.


Massive amounts of money being spent on modernising the capacity for multilateral destruction is better spent on the common enemies we have, including terrorism, the last increasingly advanced, – but besides this a more unified struggle against the  roots of evil and hatred against humankind. At the end of the day violence breeds violence as a self-fulfilling prophecy and in our hands with God’s help lies the seed to unwind this ongoing process of what we may call a  self-destructive trait of humankind, – never ever solved since the creation of human beings.


We now have to avoid a remedy which is worse than “the disease” and too often in history it proved  we did do the last the last bit rather than the first one.  Whilst change of habit can’t change the nature of people, –  changing the nature of our response might change the habit and might change our culture, – the last which we need to watch closely  in our decision-making  at times of crisis.

For sure  we are lacking many answers but this is this is the  last option we have.


Paul 

Paul Alexander Wolf

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