Blog AnalysisRussia Caucasus Ukraine

A window of opportunity for Russia in Ukraine?

(BRUSSELS2) Listening to the various public positions one can get the impression of great determination towards Russia. The “de-escalation” advocated by the Europeans seems to be giving way more to “escalation”. The war of words and propaganda obscures political reality today. And it is difficult to see clearly in this permanent gesticulation. But isn’t it rather the reign of RealPolitik which is making a comeback? Let's take a look at the facts.

Unfolding of the facts

1st stage: the “liberation of kyiv”

Around February 20, the atmosphere became tense in kyiv, Europeans were “concerned”. After weeks of sometimes clashing demonstrations, deliberate shooting aimed at killing occurred. An agreement is finally reached. The current president Yanukovych fled, thus facilitating the takeover of power by the opposition in a parliamentary tour de force, peaceful for once. It's jubilation. End of the kyiv episode.

2nd phase: Brussels “observes”

When on February 26, Russia began to carry out “big maneuvers” in its various districts close to Ukraine, NATO kicked in. We say to ourselves “ of course warned of the maneuvers ". In the European Union, we wonder who these green men are deployed in several points in Crimea who guard the airport and certain public buildings. We are careful not to blame the Russians too much.

3rd time: Moscow accelerates on Crimea

Moscow decides to accelerate the absorption of Crimea, with a snap referendum, the military bases are taken one after the other, and the Ukrainians ordered to surrender their weapons and their ships. The USA and Europe are hastily drawing up some sanctions, which are more of a political, symbolic signal than a real one (*). End of the Crimean episode.

4th stage: “the sanctions warning

The European Union is moving on to the second phase of sanctions: blacklisting a few names, including people close to Putin. But that's all. Economic sanctions are postponed until later. We study". At the same time, NATO is frowning and suspending cooperation with Russia. To be sure, we announce it twice: once at the Council of Defense Ministers, a second during the Foreign Affairs Council. The measure remains symbolic; this cooperation was already not very dynamic. These measures are very symbolic. They aim above all to attract attention in political matters. We hope to bring Russia to its senses with the following argument: it will hurt Russia and its oligarchs. The argument is a little short on the strategic level. No matter... Our strategists are convinced: Russia will give in, the Kremlin is isolated on the international scene, its economy is in disarray, its army is poorly organized, etc. We highlight the flight of capital, the economic recession in Russia, etc. The reality is slightly different in reality.

5th phase: “dramatization”

Plans for the East are hastily reviewed. The United States is sending around ten more planes to the Baltic countries. We shout very loudly in a very “the Reds are back” atmosphere. There are 40.000, 60.000, 100.000 men massed in the East, ready to intervene, with field hospitals and engineers, etc. To be sure, the argument will be used repeatedly, to the point that it becomes blunted the more it is used. We persist in looking into the distance while the danger is within.

6th phase: the “alert” in Eastern Ukraine

The Europeans barely had time to say wow that Russia has already moved to a second phase. Eastern Ukraine. Europeans are beginning to realize that Putin and Russia will not give up their desire for Ukraine. They change position. Ok to associate Russia with the destiny of Ukraine.

 What lesson to draw from this: Putin has free rein?

Each time, Europe and NATO were taken by surprise. On this point the United States is not in a better position than the European Union. American President Barack Obama has stormed and threatened Russia with political and economic sanctions if it decides to destabilize Ukraine. But he is careful not to put forward any military threat. The reality is well known: NATO will defend the borders of the Alliance countries, period. Ukraine is not part of the Alliance. It will not be defended by NATO. Conclusion: Putin has free rein to act as long as he does not do it too forcefully. The continual maneuvers in the east are just another diversion, a way of increasing pressure, of attracting attention. The real destabilization is more insidious, very close. It is a question of recovering district after district of eastern Ukraine then the South then via Odessa, and of making the junction with Transnistria. While cutting off Ukraine from its entire coast.

(*) We will see in particular whether they will stand the test of time and will be deemed legitimate and legal by the European Court of Justice

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).