We hear that Europe is living in perhaps the most dangerous of times, certainly since the end of the Cold War and maybe even longer, since the Second World War. And why have we reached this extraordinary moment, when we think that there might be a dangerous conflict involving a nuclear power? Because Russia has been building up its armed forces outside the borders of Ukraine for some time and appears poised to attack and invade a sovereign country.  The world is aghast and there is much negotiation going on with world leaders phoning in or flying over for meetings with Putin. It is of course, Wednesday, 16th February, when Biden and others have forecast the invasion would begin. There does however, seem to be slight movement towards a lessening of tension as Putin is saying there won’t be an invasion and is pulling back some of the troops.

First of all, I’d like to say I am not in any way an apologist for Putin, who is exactly what he is, a dictator (a brutal one to any who cross him) dressed up with some feeble democratic processes. But even so I’d like to differentiate between Biden and his Billy Bunter, albeit marginal, side-kick Johnson, with their stern warnings and threats, which seem to amount to little more than shouting at Putin to cease and desist, plus don’t forget arming Ukraine with many different weapons, and I’m not even mentioning our little Foreign Minister. Contrast this with the far more conciliatory negotiating stance taken by France and Germany.  How very sad that the UK is not firmly in the midst of the diplomatic efforts from the EU (in the form of the French and German efforts) to defuse the crisis. After all, Europe and Europeans know, so well, how devastating it is to have a war within the borders of your own country.

At this point there are a lot of questions to ask, what does Putin want? And why now?  And why do this anyway? This being staging pretty much half of Russia’s land force on Ukraine’s border and looking fierce and dangerous to boot. And then, crucially is there anything that can resolve the situation?

Before I go into what Putin wants, note also that there is no strategic threat whatsoever to either America or the United Kingdom if Putin invades the Ukraine unless, that is, there are American or British boots on the ground, which there aren’t – at the moment. And if they ever got near to the Ukraine that would be very stupid. On the radio I caught the tail end of a discussion with our British Chief of Staff who said, any Western boots on the ground in the Ukraine would herald the Third World War and we don’t want that do we? No we don’t.

So, what does Putin want?  Well, he does mention NATO a lot.

NATO is a term we are all familiar with but if you’re like me, you might have a somewhat incomplete sense of exactly what it is and who is in it. NATO is, of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation set up in April 1949 as a system of collective security between its members whereby they agree to defend any member in response to an attack from another party or state. And the reason behind this treaty was very much tied up with Europe’s fear of attack from Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Putin’s constant refrain is that NATO has expanded way beyond its original members and as a result has become a huge hostile military entity that has expanded relentlessly eastward resulting in weapons and bases far too near the Russian border.

So first, let’s see who these NATO members are and, as a point of interest, when they joined.

In 1949 the founding members were: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States

In 1952 Greece and Turkey joined NATO

In 1955 West Germany

In 1982 Spain

In 1990 Germany (unified)

In 1999 Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland

In 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia

In 2009 Albania, Croatia

In 2017 Montenegro

In 2019 North Macedonia (Source* see below)

And has Putin any grounds for thinking that there has been a hostile expansion of NATO? Well, from their point of view, yes, as apparently, there was much discussion between the US and Soviet leaders after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the unification of Germany in 1990 about this, and indeed a US Secretary of State, James A Baker is quoted as saying  to Michail Gorbachev in February 1990 that “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east.” (Source: *see below) Hence according to the Russian view there has been a deep betrayal of that verbal commitment and NATO has expanded far too much and far too many times taking NATO to the very borders of Russia when the Baltic states joined in 2004.

This view is denied by many Western analysts who say that at that time NATO expansion was not discussed as the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union was still in existence and there was no indication that it would all dissolve so swiftly.

Another flash-point for mistrust between Russia and NATO happened when Clinton was manoeuvring the US’s position and sphere of influence after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. That is when hawks in the Clinton government began actively pushing for expanding NATO’s membership eastwards.  Interestingly Clinton plumped for an initiative called Partnership for Peace which would be open to all Warsaw Pact members as well as non-European members. And actually, amazingly, if you think about it, Yeltsin on behalf of Russia accepted this and even joined the Partnership when it was launched in 1994 along with Georgia and the Ukraine.

Sounds good? Well yes, but only for a very short while as the ever increasing expansionist views within the White House must have won as Clinton, only a few days later, went on to be quoted as saying, the question is no longer whether NATO will take on new members but when and how. (Source: *see below)

Apparently, Putin sees those years after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO as years of humiliation for Russia saying that the entire expansion is a provocation that reduces any idea of trust.

Did you notice I used the term ‘sphere of influence’?  I’m rummaging around in my brain (a thing I do a lot these days!) for memories of my degree in International  Relations, which I took as a mature student graduating when I was 40 in 1986. I remember taking a course on the Soviet Union and its satellites. I also heard numerous lectures on the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence and, and the US’s sphere of influence. Yes, although not much acknowledged, these spheres do exist. And just imagine if weapons were built up in the US sphere of influence which is in and around central and southern America? Oh. Wait a minute. That did happen, in Cuba in 1962, and was considered intolerable by the US and we nearly had World War Three, but didn’t thanks to McNamara, I believe. However, I  definitely remember Richard Dimbleby at the end of his weekly programme, Panorama saying he hoped to see us next week, not that I really understood it all.

So the US has a sphere of influence and so did Russia, and once a upon a time quite a large one in the days and years after the Second World War.

Now, why did that Iron Curtain come down so heavily and at such cost to those countries ringing around the Russian border?  Yes, of course, Stalin, and yes of course, Communism. Of course. But do not forget, the losses suffered by the the Russians.  Russia has a bloody history of invasion from Europe (not that it does the invaders any good) first, by Napoleon and then Hitler. Can I remind you of the Russian losses incurred during the Second World War, which were huge. In comparison to the UK, whose deaths for both civilians and military were 450,900, and the US at 418,500, the Soviet Union lost 24,000,000 (Source ** see below). What it thought then was Russia had to preserve an iron ring or curtain of countries that would be within their influence and ensure their safety.

Twenty four million deaths. It is an enormous number but one that is not forgotten in Russia, so any encroachment and push eastwards to their border is always going to be a tricky, sensitive issue. And could it not be said that the way NATO has expanded almost guarantees a paranoid and xenophobic response.

So what does Putin want? Well he has put forward some demands which, on the news, I always hear are to be instantly dismissed as non-negotiable, insupportable and too demanding.  But what are they?

First, there is a Treaty with the United States of which I summarise as:

Article 4 – an end to NATO expansion to the east, specifically the Ukraine, and a ban on establishing bases with former Soviet states (sounds fairly reasonable)

Article 5  – no military assets in areas that could be perceived by the other party as a threat (bit wooly that)

Articles 6&7 – are mostly about not deploying nuclear weapons (good)

Second there is an Agreement with NATO

Article 4 – is pretty wide-ranging and would ban NATO countries that were in it before 1997 from deploying military assets to any of the  other states of Europe without Russia’s consent

Article 5 – would ban parties from deploying missiles in areas that would strike other parties

Article 6 – would restrict further enlargement including Ukraine (which is currently a Partner)

Article 7 – would ban NATO members from conducting military activity in Ukraine as well as in other Eastern European states. (Source *see below)

Well, much of the above would be a step way too far for NATO and the US, but would it hurt to say that the Ukraine won’t be joining NATO in the foreseeable? As apparently, that is the consensus, that the Ukraine is not going to be a full member – not now anyway. For ever? Who knows. But has it been said?  Don’t think so, and correct me if I’m wrong. It wouldn’t hurt though, would it? Although, it doesn’t help when the Ukraine in 2020 was made an enhanced opportunity partner (along with Australia) – talk about ratcheting up the ante!

And why now? Well this has been brewing for some time. Not for ever, but certainly since the soft-revolution of 2013 (the Euromaiden protests), and then the fighting of separatists in the pro-Russia eastern region of Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 after his ally Vicktor Yanukovych was forced out of his presidency.

The fighting in 2014 ceased with the second Minsk agreement, which has 13 points including the cease fire, but many of these points were not adhered to because both the Ukraine and Russia interpret the agreement differently. Ukraine sees it as a way to re-establish control of its citizens and borders while Russia sees it as the way to grant autonomy to the rebel territories and consequently having some say in them.

There is some consensus that the implementation of the Minsk agreement is the only way out of this crisis.

Look at it this way, Putin appears so strong and dangerous, doesn’t he, with his build up of troops, but in actuality he’s weak and not just because everyone is against him doing this sabre rattling. Just look at an atlas, on that front he is surrounded  by hostile forces. So what do we do, rattle our sabres back at him? Declare that an invasion is imminent and shout, you better watch out, Putin, or else, because this is what we’ll do.

Or is strength something else? What about being proportionate, looking for a way through, negotiating with the man, and offering some concessions – yes I am saying that. Now, since yesterday there is some indication that Putin is reducing his forces on the border, but where is the ladder for him to climb down?  You don’t want to provoke a weak, paranoid man like Putin with shouts and threats albeit it’s good to let him know that he would be even more of a pariah if he did go into Ukraine. Btw, all the way to Kyiv? He might have the forces to do that but could he hold that city or the country – there’s the military question, that is not often asked. I think Iraq and Vietnam are useful lessons that you cannot hold a country with force.

Anyway, in conflict resolution a ladder is needed for people to climb down. I’d rather have Germany and France sorting out that ladder than others. Let’s hope this slight reduction in tension continues and that European leaders resolve this most dangerous of crises

Penny Kocher, Wednesday 16 February 2022

*Jonathan Masters, Why NATO Has Become a Flash Point With Russian in Ukraine, Council on Foreign Relations, 20.02. 2022 (NB There are other sources but I deliberately used an American source)

**The National World War II Museum, New Orleans, Starters for Research, Worldwide Deaths in World War II (Ditto to above)

Simon Jenkins, A measure of Autonomy is eastern Ukraine is the only way out of this crisis. The Guardian, 24.01.2022

Ukraine Crisis: What are the Minsk Agreements? The Independent, 15.02.2022

Andrew Roth, Putin continues to rattle sabre but with rare nod towards de-escalation. The Guardian, 14.02.2022

Gabrielle Rifkind, I’m a conflict mediator. This is the way out of Ukraine crisis. The Guardian 09.02. 2022

The Observer view on how Europe can step back from the brink of war. Guardian editorial, 13.02.2022

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Ukraine – which way will it go? And where’s the ladder?

  • 16th February 2022 at 15:29
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    It appears, to me, that Putin is using military threats as a negotiating tool to get an increased price for gas. In the past when Putin acts (eg Abkasia) it is quick and silent.

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    • 20th February 2022 at 12:07
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      You could be right. It’s so tricky – there he is on the border denying anything is going to happen and everyone else shouting back that something is going to happen! You’re right, he could just have gone in, like he did in the Crimea. All this hanging around has only made the Western countries more cohesive in their response to Russian aggression. Not sure what Putin is getting from this, as economically he’ll be absolutely screwed by the West, but I do think, Putin thinks of Ukraine as part of his ‘sphere’. We’ll see what happens in the next few days.

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  • 16th February 2022 at 15:35
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    Thank you!
    I think that both the US and UK hierarchy are worried about their stock shares in perpetuating the Military Industrial Complex, since withdrawing from Afghanistan there is no significant arms expenditure going on! Just saying.

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    • 20th February 2022 at 12:09
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      You are so right, the US and the UK is arming Ukraine big-time. There’s always profits to be made out of conflict like this, more’s the pity.

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  • 16th February 2022 at 16:50
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    Thank you for the detailed explanation and the history lesson.
    It all seems very scary for us all and I truly hope common sense prevails.

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    • 20th February 2022 at 12:16
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      Honestly, I don’t see common-sense coming into the equation at all! If only!!! And looking at it this way, where are the women in all of this? It’s all about white men in dark suits shouting at each other and saying ‘how awful everything is’. Yes, where are the women and I mean at a diplomatic leadership level. I greatly regret the loss of Angela Merkel who apparently (I read somewhere) did understand what was in Putin’s head. We seem to have lost any sense of proportion or any thought of resolving this crisis through diplomatic, conflict resolution means. For instance I trawled through many sources and the only article I read by a woman is the one about conflict resolution and the need for a ‘ladder’. Yes, I really really regret that Angela Merkel has left the scene.

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  • 17th February 2022 at 08:48
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    Thank you for a thoughtful analysis. I wish there was more of this in the public arena helping people to understand the complexities of these situations. Fat chance I guess.

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    • 20th February 2022 at 08:14
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      Thanks Penny. Just what I needed to make things clearer. Will be sharing your analysis with others as you make it so easy to understand. Let’s hope the main players come to their senses speedily. X

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      • 20th February 2022 at 12:36
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        Thank you Christine, I don’t see much about the expansion of NATO in the media and if it is, Putin’s fears are usually dismissed. But nevertheless if you look at the expansion from a Russian point of view it’s very clear that they are surrounded by hostile forces.

        Not sure if sense will prevail though, we’ll see what happens in the next few days. Somewhere I read that one should start worrying when the Chinese evacuate their embassy. They’re still there, which actually is good news.

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    • 20th February 2022 at 12:31
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      I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s going on within Ukraine and barely understand it all because there’s a lot more to be said about the current government in the Ukraine.

      And, yes, it’s rare to find anyone talking about the expansion of NATO. Ros Atkins On did one of his briefings a couple of weeks ago on the rising tensions around NATO and the Ukraine. But I can’t find a link? Not sure why!

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  • 20th February 2022 at 15:13
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    A very interesting discussion Penny. Him Indoors has also been doing a bit of research on the subject to get a broader perspective that which we hear and read about here. There is a big article about Putin in the Times today which may, or may not, be illuminating. I have said from the beginning that I don’t think Russia will invade Ukraine – if that was the intention why not use the element of surprise, like in Crimea? As you say, there has been a build up of NATO forces along the western border of the USSR so Putin is, in his view, only doing the same on his territory. No-one will get anywhere with him unless they understand that Russians have a very turbulent history, very long memories & bear grudges like few others. A regime that rigorously suppresses opposition can also play a very much longer game that European democracies.
    On TV this morning I was horrified to hear Johnson mention the possibility of WW111; he and others are talking this whole thing up in a cynical political attempt to deflect attention from domestic problems. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that I don’t think that the EU is speaking with one coherent voice, not surprising when you consider the disgraceful regimes of some of its members. I too regret the absence of Angela Merkel at this time ; Macron is no substitute.
    My overall feeling is that Putin is enjoying being the centre of attention & having the West, which he despises, dancing attendance on him. There is also the issue of the Nordstream 1 and, possibly, 2 and the extent to which most of Europe is dependent on Russian gas. Thankfully we only get a very minor proportion of ours from there.

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    • 24th February 2022 at 09:07
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      Thank you Lynda – and sadly events have moved on.

      I’ll be updating this over the weekend. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

      Reply

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