The powder keg. Op-Ed by Victor Pelin

“These proposals of the President of Ukraine can lay at the basis of common European policies within the associated trio – Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine…”
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Effects of civilized divorce...  

On the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR, the CIS space plays the role of a powder keg that can cause a dreadful large-scale deflagration. The constitution of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) from the very beginning caused misunderstandings. For Russia, the given community represents a new formula for keeping the ex-Soviet republics under control. For Ukraine and several other republics, the CIS on the contrary represented the formula of a civilized divorce. So as not to allow a civilized divorce, with a series of republics, such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, Russia supported and fueled separatist movements, helping them to institutionalize and coordinate their activities within the so-called community of unrecognized independent states (CIS-2). This way, the frozen conflicts in these republics are aimed at serving as grantees that the former Soviet republics will no way be able to detach themselves from Russia.

Indeed, any attempt by ex-Soviet republics to come closer to the European Union (EU) or NATO caused virulent reactions on the part of Russia. After Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in 2005 signed action plans with the EU and after the GUAM summit was convoked in Chisinau, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin addressed the Federal Assembly with his famous speech about the geopolitical catastrophe caused by the dissolution of the USSR. Economic sanctions and bans were immediately imposed on the Republic of Moldova and Georgia. The story had a repeat on the eve of the EU summit held in Vilnius in November 2013, in which association agreements with the EU were to be initialed. On the eve of this, by specific methods, Russia pressed and discouraged Armenia from initialing the association agreement, while Ukraine from signing this. As a result, the Revolution of Dignity started and President Victor Yanukovych fled the country. Consequently, new sanctions and bans were imposed on the Republic of Moldova; Armenia had to renounce the association with the EU, deciding in favor of the protection of Russia, which informed it about the transaction with armament to the value of approximately $1 billion with Azerbaijan; Ukraine remained without Crimea and got a separatist war in Luhansk and Donetsk, which is a civil war, as they say.

So, there is no doubt that until recently Russia’s strategy for keeping control over the post-Soviet republics was based on the inspiration of separatism and imposition of trade sanctions. This arsenal was recently diversified. Russia decided to resort to threatening with military and technical-military measures as it does not want trade sanctions to be imposed against it for undermining regional security.    

In search of casus belli

Currently, owing to Ukraine’s efforts to claim sovereign rights over the territories annexed by Russia, the latter started a virulent offensive, threatening global security in case its demands are not satisfied: offering of security guarantees on behalf of the West, which is a return to the spheres of influence after World War II; imposition of a federalist formula for solving the separatist conflict in Donbas, according to the Minsk agreements, which are convenient to Russia.

The federalist formula has been standardized long ago, being invoked for solving the frozen conflicts and being now extended over the conflict in Donbas. The eventual federations should have the necessary number of subjects for inclining the balance of interests in favor of Russia: Transnistria and Gagauzia in the Republic of Moldova; Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, until Russia recognized the independence of these in 2008. In this regard, it is not accidental that the separatist republics in Luhansk and Donetsk do not merge into one structure – the subjects with equal rights should ensure the inclining of the balance in favor of Russia or federalization loses meaning.

Returning to the threats against the West, we should note that they are related to the energy crisis, which can be escalated or relaxed by Russia through amounts of hydrocarbons supplied to the European market. It goes to a very powerful instrument with a major impact on the Western governments, which can concede to the pressure of the citizens interested in paying less for energy. For this not to happen, the spread of the Russian propaganda to the EU states had to be limited. The West in fact was placed in front of the dilemma – abandonment of the own principles and support for the states from the alleged sphere of influence of Russia in favor of energy cooperation and access to the exploration of Russia’s natural resources. This is a game with a big stake. For now, the West is more or less solidary, resisting the energy blackmail and sticking to its principles and obligations. If so, Russia should only focus on the destabilization of Ukraine – its invasion is ultima ratio. The preparations to this effect started long ago. The Russian troops had been massively mobilized last year and at the start of this year practically along the entire border with Ukraine.

The apogee of the pressure is to be reached on the last week of February. After the approval, on February 15, 2022, of the State Duma’s request to President Putin to recognize the independence of the separatist republics in Donbas, there was announced the convocation of the Federal Assembly - a joint meeting of the two chambers of Parliament, which can be empowered to use the armed forces outside the county. Under such circumstances, they are feverishly looking for casus belli – a pretext for war, a virulent propagandistic campaign about the steps taken by Ukraine to attack the separatist republics being launched. Surely, why not to offer Russia a pretext for invasion if this concentrated military equipment and 150,000 troops on the border?

Better dramatic ending than drama without an end...

The annual security conference held in Munich could have served as a platform for discussing the crisis caused by Russia. But the representatives of Russia avoided taking part in the conference even if President Putin 15 years ago namely from this rostrum pleaded for a multipolar world. Since then, Russia has been tried to become again a pole of this multipolar world, but it only managed to destabilize the world. In this regard, the speech of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich conference is symptomatic. He addressed the states that in 1994 signed the Memorandum of Budapest – Russia, the U.S. and the UK – that guaranteed Ukraine’s security instead of the abandonment of the nuclear arsenal inherited from the USSR. He asked rhetorically – “Which were the results of the conciliatory policies? As the questionWhy die for Danzig?” turned into the need to die for Dunkirk and dozens of other cities in Europe and the world. At the price of tens of millions of lives? ”. The conciliatory policy means commission of crimes by some against the interference of the others. That’s why it is necessary to switch over from conciliatory policies to the ensuring of security and peace guarantees.

It’s a pity that the representatives of Russia haven’t taken part in the conference. This would have helped them to better realize what “indivisible security” is when President Putin insistently asks this from the West. If security should be indivisible, we should admit that Ukraine has the potential needed to become against a nuclear power and it is highly improbable that this will contribute to strengthening Russia’s security.

The part of the Ukrainian President’s speech concerning the concrete steps that the West should take to neutralize the powder keg in eastern Europe: support with armament for discouraging an eventual Russian invasion; offering of a clear European perspective with clearly shaped horizons; creation of a stabilization and support fund; guaranteeing of common energy security, etc. These proposals of the President of Ukraine can lay at the basis of common European policies within the associated trio – Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine. 

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