The Ukrainian Transatlantic Solidarity Vaccine
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PhD in Political Science, Senior Lecturer, Department of Applied International Analysis, MGIMO University, RIAC expert
The Ukrainian crisis has strengthened transatlantic unity. The key element of the new consensus is the increased involvement of the United States in European problems and the consolidation of its allies. Unity has been achieved through the all-but-forgotten opposition of Russia to the Euro-Atlantic community. This is a worrisome situation for Moscow, because it reduces its room for manoeuvre. At the same time, the current compromise is contextual and exceptional, because the fundamental contradictions between the countries in the Euro-Atlantic space are still there.
The Ukrainian crisis has strengthened transatlantic unity. The key element of the new consensus is the increased involvement of the United States in European problems and the consolidation of its allies. Unity has been achieved through the all-but-forgotten opposition of Russia to the Euro-Atlantic community. This is a worrisome situation for Moscow, because it reduces its room for manoeuvre.At the same time, the current compromise is contextual and exceptional,because the fundamental contradictions between the countries in the Euro-Atlantic space are still there.
The aggravation of the situation in Ukraine has prompted an intensified transatlantic dialogue. Contact between Washington and the European capitals has increased in recent months under the slogans of opposing “Russian expansionism” and “the unity of democratic countries”.
The positions are drawing closer in two main areas. On the one hand, the United States is becoming more involved in European affairs. For the first time in many years, the region finds itself at the focus of Washington’s foreign policy. One the other hand, there is rare unanimity among the main European players. In spite of some specific differences of approach to the Ukrainian problem, they have managed to hammer out an agreed line of behaviour and follow it.
Considering the remaining contradictions that marked relations within the Euro-Atlantic community in recent years, one wonders how lasting the new Western “cohesion” may turn out to be. The question has practical implications for Moscow, which has repeatedly used the differences between the Western allies to draw attention to its own interests.
Transatlantic partnership in the 2000s
Contact between Washington and the European capitals has increased in recent months under the slogans of opposing “Russian expansionism” and “the unity of democratic countries”.
For nearly a decade and a half, the United States’ involvement in European affairs has been steadily declining. After the disintegration of the socialist bloc, Washington feared chaos and destabilisation in the vast Eurasian space as well as the possible emergence of a new geopolitical rival. By the early 2000s, both fears had largely been dispelled and the United States became more concerned with the spread of radical Islamist forces in the Middle East and the rapid growth of China. Interest in European problems began to wane.
European allies came to be seen more as a mobilisation resource that could be used to promote policies in other regions. It is not by chance that obligations of mutual assistance within NATO came to play a practical rather than symbolic role and were reinterpreted in the spirit of the Alliance’s new global role.
The paradox was that, initially, the basis for transatlantic solidarity was U.S. security guarantees to its European partners. In the 2000s, the situation was turned on its head and it was the United States that counted (not always realistically) on the support of its allies in implementing initiatives. With rare exceptions, the United States showed little interest in Europe’s problems.
In the past decade, one of the main subjects of bargaining between the United States and its allies has become the level of defence spending. The formal outcome of this discussion was the agreement that every NATO member should spend at least 2 per cent of its GDP on defence.[i] However, with rare exceptions, European countries fall short of this mark.
As a result, Washington has tried to delegate the maintenance of order in Europe and further expansion of the Euro-Atlantic community to the European Union. Even the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2008 Georgia-Russia Crisis only briefly brought the region back into the focus of U.S. foreign policy.
Alexander Yermakov: Fighter Diplomacy
The United States’ return to Europe
The start of protest actions in Kiev in 2013 dramatically increased U.S. involvement in regional affairs. Washington has asserted itself as the undisputed leader of the Western community. The United States exerted powerful political pressure on the parties to the political confrontation in December 2013 –February 2014 and was the first to promise financial aid to Ukraine after the change of regime there. During the last six months, high-ranking Washington envoys have visited Kiev almost weekly.[ii]
The United States initiated a practice of “political and economic deterrence” of Moscow by deploying an array of sanctions. Banning certain Russian politicians and businessmen from entering the United States, freezing their accounts and imposing restrictions on some Russian banks were the most documented.[iii] At the same time, the United States stopped issuing licenses for dual-purpose goods, renounced scientific cooperation, and cut short the dialogueon interaction in financial regulation.[iv] It managed to mobilise its partners, for example, by virtually bringing cooperation between Russia and NATOto a halt,[v]and by freezing Russian–Bulgarian cooperation on the South Stream.[vi]
While personal sanctions against members of the political and economic elite became the subject of jokes within the Moscow establishment, the freezing of cooperation in the economic and scientific-technical spheres will have long-term negative consequences.
The United States exerted powerful political pressure on the parties to the political confrontation in December 2013 –February 2014 and was the first to promise financial aid to Ukraine after the change of regime there.
By the same token, the United States has applied pressure to pacify those Central and Eastern European countries which have again tried to use “Russian expansionism” to grab international attention. During his visit to Warsaw in June 2014, Barack Obama expressly confirmed America’s military-political commitments to the Baltic countries, Romania and Poland.[vii]
The key component of the United States’ “diplomatic offensive” in 2014 has been the initiation of a dialogue on Ukraine with the Western European leaders. In recent months, Barack Obama has been in constant consultations with the heads of the United Kingdom, Germany and France in both bi- and multi-lateral formats. As a result, the European Union and NATOhave decided to curtail relations with Russia and step up cooperation with Ukraine, international financial institutions have adopted a policy of aid to the new Kiev authorities, and the revived G7has unleashed a harsh rhetoric against Moscow.
The crisis and U.S. “programme leadership”
Today, the United States’ involvement in European problems is more visible than it was even six months ago. For the first time in years, Washington’s diplomatic machine there is running in top gear.
At the same time, the United States has continued to adhere to the principles of economy of effort and money. For all its much-touted promise of support for the new Ukrainian authorities, Washington has allocated less than $200 million in aid.[viii]To a large extend, it relies on instruments that do not require direct financing, such as credit guarantees, and on the support of partners. Thus, the IMF has agreed to disburse $17 billion in aid to Ukraine,[ix] the World Bank has committed a further $3.5 billion in project financing,[x] and the European Commission has pledged 11 billion euros.[xi]
The key component of the United States’ “diplomatic offensive” in 2014 has been the initiation of a dialogue on Ukraine with the Western European leaders.
Furthermore, most of the talks on resolving the Ukrainian conflict are conducted without American mediators. Washington initiated negotiations only on planning and conducting the quadripartite talks in Geneva (the European Union, Russia, the United States and Ukraine) in April 2014.[xii] In all other cases it chose to keep a low profile.
The meeting between Viktor Yanukovych and representatives of the oppositionin February 2014 was organised by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France.[xiii] Angela Merkel and François Hollande are the key brokers in establishing dialogue between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents. OSCE representatives took part in creating a negotiating format on the settlement of the situation in south-eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine Needs an International Intervention
At the same time, the United States is maintaining the key role in coordinating the actions of Western countries in accordance with its strategy of “programme leadership”.[xiv] It seeks above all to lay down the overall agenda, formulate common goals and articulate agreed approaches. Meanwhile, its European partners bear the brunt of diplomatic efforts and financial outlays.
The current U.S. Administration has used this approach more than once, despite the criticism it receives from the Republican opposition within the country. The approach has not always been successful, as witnessed by other crises, notably in Syria. At the same time, it is less prone to dismal failures than the aggressive and costly strategy of the George W. Bush team.
The new European consensus
It is a feature of the current crisis that, for the first time in many years,the United States’ European allies have a common position.
The current unanimity is not typical. Since the debate on Iraq in 2003, international crises have repeatedly triggered acute contradictions within the Euro-Atlantic community. The fact that the United States’ recent attempts to consolidate the Western community have succeeded is to be attributed above all to the situation in the region.
That there may be differences even between close states on various international issues is not surprising. As the Russian analyst AlexeiBogaturov notes, an open manifestation of existing frictions may even be good for alliances as it helps to maintain “dynamic stability” in the relations between partners, preventing a build-up of mutual discontent.[xv]
Meanwhile, in recent years the differences between European countries have worsened and acquired a systemic character. Above all, contradictions have increased over the future of the European Union. While the Eurozone countries, led by Germany, have opted to deepen financial integration, the United Kingdom – one of the union’s key members – is threatening to pull out.[xvi]
London’s threats are unprecedented. None of the many previous EU crises has been accompanied by such moves.
However, by contrast with the serious contradictions on fundamental issues of cooperation,the EU member states have displayed singular unanimity with regard to the Ukrainian crisis. During the course of the recent meetings and discussions, the European heavyweights – Germany, the United Kingdom and France – have formulated common positions both on developing cooperation with Kiev and on the response to Russia’s actions. These have been reflected not only in country policies, but also in practice.
The consensus that emerged proved to be acceptable even for the states that take a more hard-line approach to the events in Ukraine (the Baltic states, Poland and Romania). Considering their limited military-political and economic potential, their strident criticism of Russia remains an element of diplomatic manoeuvring.[xvii] In terms of practical actions, they remain within the more moderate Euro-Atlantic consensus.
By contrast with the serious contradictions on fundamental issues of cooperation, the EU member states have displayed singular unanimity with regard to the Ukrainian crisis.
After Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev in February 2014, the new Ukrainian leadership almost instantly received assurances of European support.[xviii] This was symbolised by the signing as early as March 21, 2014 of the political part of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine.[xix] At the same time, the European leaders do not tire of demanding sweeping political and socio-economic reforms in Ukraine. The reforms are associated above all with the country’s new president Petro Poroshenko.
The European Union countries have backed the sanctions against Moscow. Seeking to avoid sanctions that would hit their own economies, the leading EU countries are resorting to diplomatic means of settling the situation without closing the door on the Russian Federation and doing everything to delay the introduction of painful measures that may have long-term consequences.
The sources of the “Euro-Atlantic concert”
The current rapprochement between the leading European states stems from their long-term interests. At the same time, their goals are more complementary than identical, as highlighted by the strategies of the two key European players, the United Kingdom and Germany. London has long regarded bringing Eastern Europe into the North Atlantic community as a priority. For many years now, it has advocated European Union expansion by including Ukraine,considering that process as an alternative to deeper integration.[xx]The United Kingdom believes that increasing the number of associated European Union members that are very different socio-economically and culturally should dilute the traditional nucleus of the association which is increasingly leaning towards federalism.
French President Francois Hollande
speaks with U.S. Secretary of State
John Kerry, French Foreign Affairs Minister
Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister
Frank-Walkter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign
Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov
By contrast, Germany views Ukraine – and indeed the whole of Eastern Europe – as a target for investment and economic expansion. Over the past decades, German companies have established a strong presence in the Central European markets.[xxi] They are also active in the post-Soviet space. They would benefit the most from the introduction of the European Union’s norms and standards, the lifting of tariff barriers and the strengthening of political relations within the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.[xxii] It would enable German business to further increase its presence in the region.
Thus, the interests of those who advocate opposite approaches turn out to be mutually complementary in the case of the Ukrainian crisis. This is not a unique situation in modern European diplomacy. Against the background of continuing debate about the future of integration, few eyebrows are raised by the coordinated actions of the United Kingdom and Germany in lobbying closer economic ties between the European Union and the United States, as evidenced by the talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. German industry and the British financial sector see eye-to-eye on the issue. The temporary German-British consensus greatly enhances the chances of an all-European and Euro-Atlantic accord.
As regards the situation in Ukraine, France quickly sided with the United Kingdom and Germany. Paris traditionally supports a greater role of the European Union and European diplomacy in international affairs. Passivity over a crisis close to the borders of the European Union would discredit these priorities.
However, France, while swimming with the general current, is less enthusiastic than its partners about implementing a deterrence strategy with regard to Moscow. For example, it has not given up earlier agreed deliveries of Mistral aircraft carriers to Russia in spite of the sanctions and pressure from Washington.[xxiii]
The limits of Western Unity and opportunities for Russia
The situational coincidence of the interests of the main members of the Western community and the aggravated situation in Eastern Europe are leading to consolidation of the European Union. There was a similar unity during the “Orange Revolution in Kiev in 2004 and over the issues of Transnistria and political persecution of the opposition in Belarus.
The US and Russia Need Each
Other Now More Than Ever
Past experience also shows that the Euro-Atlantic consensus falls apart just as quickly in the event of de-escalation in the region. The United States’ interest in Europe declines as Washington turns its attention to other problems. Similarly, some European states, notably France, but also the United Kingdom, become less engaged. Germany reverts to its policy of balancing its interests between Russia and Ukraine. The Baltic countries, Poland and Romania, deprived of allied support, have to tread more warily even when their rhetoric remains alarmist.
The past two weeks have already shown signs of changing tonalities in the behaviour of some members of the Euro-Atlantic community. While Germany and France have stepped up their mediation efforts, the United States is taking a more sceptical stand with regard to Russia while being increasingly worried by the destabilisation in Iraq, which threatens to divert it from problems in Eastern Europe.
Russia has to be mindful of the increased sensitivity of its partners even when they do not display a matching degree of attention to its priorities. Consolidation of the Euro-Atlantic community against Russia is not in its interests, while an early de-escalation in Ukraine – even if some of Russia’s tactical goals are not reached – would help to avoid a showdown with the Euro-Atlantic community.
De-escalation of the situation in Ukraine would not restore cooperation between Russia and its Western partners to its former level.
Moreover, it would create additional opportunities in the long term. A normalisation of the international and internal political situation would deprive the ruling elite in Kiev of the advantages it gets from the current mobilisation of Western support. As a result, it will again have to manoeuvre between the European Union and Russia, since its own resources for development are obviously inadequate.
Even more importantly, normalisation would create the prerequisites for renewed interaction with European partners in the more sensitive areas, above all on issues of trade and investment and scientific-technical cooperation. It would also help make the relations between Russian and Western companies more predictable and lead to a resumption of the dialogue between business communities. The outlook for the restoration of Russian-American cooperation is less certain.
De-escalation of the situation in Ukraine would not restore cooperation between Russia and its Western partners to its former level. Some of the changes appear to be irreversible in the foreseeable future. One such change is the possible expansion of NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe. Besides, the European fears about energy security awakened by the Ukrainian crisis would contribute to liberalisation of gas export from the United States. All this would have a negative impact on Russia, though the difficulties are not insuperable.
At the same time, if Moscow manages to establish a modus vivendi with Kiev over the situation in south-eastern Ukraine,we may see an erosion of the anti-Russian consensus in the West. The relations within the Western community will come tobe dominated by the differences over the direction in which the European Union should develop, the cost of defence in European countries, and the terms of transatlantic partnership in matters of trade and investments. Unlike the local Ukrainian narrative, these issues are pivotal for the Euro-Atlantic community.
[i]Apparthurai J. Press Briefing after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers. URL: http://www.nato.int/docu/speech/2006/s060608m.htm (visited on 19.05.2014).
[ii]U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has visited Kiev twice since the beginning of 2014 – in April and June. In the latter case, he represented the United States at the inauguration of the new Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. In March, Ukraine was visited by two high-powered delegations of Congress, and a group of Congress representatives visited the country in April. In May, Congress representatives observed the presidential elections in Ukraine. Senator John McCain represented the judiciary branch at the Poroshenko inauguration. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Ukraine in March, and CIA Director John Brennan visited in April. Two representative delegations of the U.S. Department of Defense visited Kiev in April and June. During the first half of 2014, there were about ten visits to Ukraine by undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and special representatives of the Secretary of State.
[iii]See Executive Order 13660 – Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributingto the Situation in Ukraine. March 10, 2014. URL: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/ukraine_eo.pdf(visited on 28.06.2014); Executive Order 13661 –Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine. March 19, 2014. URL: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/ukraine_eo2.pdf (visited on 28.06.2014); Executive Order 13662 – Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine. March 24, 2014. URL: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/ukraine_eo3.pdf (visited on 28.06.2014).
[iv]Belyaninov K., Safronov I., Dzaguto, V., ChernenkoYe. Doing space separately. URL: http://www.kommersant.ru/Doc/2444619(in Russian) (visited on 04.04.2014); Butrin D., Yedovina T. Conversation from the Height of Technology. URL: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2439451 (in Russian) (visited on 28.03.2014); Papchenkova M. United States Confirm the Suspension of FATCA Talks with Russia. URL: http://www.vedomosti.ru/finance/news/25155151/ssha-priznali-priostanovku-peregovorov-po-fatca-s-rossiej#ixzz374FZqrQn (in Russian) (visited on 10.04.2014).
[v]Measures following NATO Ministers’ decision to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_108902.htm?selectedLocale=en (visited on 07.04.2014).
[vi]Krasnikov N. Squeezing the Pipeline. URL: http://www.rg.ru/2014/06/09/potok.html(in Russian) (visited on 09.06.2014).
[vii]Remarks by President Obama at 25th Anniversary of Freedom Day – Warsaw, Poland [Electronic resource] URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/04/remarks-president-obama-25th-anniversary-freedom-day-warsaw-poland (visited on 24.06.2014).
[viii][viii] Nuland V. Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Russia and Developments in Ukraine. July 9, 2014 URL: http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Nuland%20Testimony.pdf (visited on 13.07.2014).
[ix]Rastello S. Ukraine Gets IMF Approval for $17 Billion Loan Amid Unrest. May 1, 2014. URL: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-30/ukraine-gets-imf-approval-for-17-billion-loan-amid-unrest.html (visited on 17.06.2014).
[x]World Bank Boosts Support for Recovery in Ukraine.May 22, 2014. URL: http://www.worldbank.org/ru/news/press-release/2014/05/22/world-bank-boosts-support-for-recovery-in-ukraine(in Russian) (visited on 12.06.2014).
[xi]European Commission’s support for Ukraine.European Commission - MEMO/14/279, 13/05/2014. URL: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-279_en.htm (visited on 26.06.2014).
[xii]Gordon M.R. U.S. and Russia Agree on Pact to Defuse Ukraine Crisis. URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/18/world/europe/ukraine-diplomacy.html?_r=0 (visited on 18.04.2014).
[xiii]Agreement on the Settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis. URL: http://ria.ru/world/20140221/996319889.html(in Russian) (visited on 07.06.2014).
[xiv]Troitsky.Trans-Atlantic Alliance.1991–2004.Transformation of the System of American-European Partnership after the Collapse of Bipolarity. Moscow: NOFMO, 2004.pp. 49–64.
[xv]Bogaturov A.D. Dynamic Stability in International Politics / BogaturovA.D. // Essays on the Theory and Political Analysis of International Relations. Moscow, NOFMO, 2002, pp. 145–171.
[xvi]Hunt A. David Cameron speech: UK and the EU. URL: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-21013771 (visited on 14.04.2014).
[xvii]Poland called for the deployment of two NATO brigades on its territory, which would hardly have pleased Moscow.
[xviii]European Commission’s support to Ukraine. March 5, 2014. URL: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-219_en.htm (visited on 07.03.2014).
[xix]Final Act of the Summit between the European Union and its Member States, of the One Part, and Ukraine, of the Other Part, as Regards the Association Agreement. March 21, 2014. URL: http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine/documents/association_agreement/final_act_text_en.pdf (visited on 27.03.2014).
[xx]See, for example, Minister for Europe David Lidingtonspeaks on the merits of EU enlargement during visit to Vienna. February 15, 2011. URL: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/eu-enlargement-a-uk-perspective (visited on 26.06.2014).
[xxi]Blokhina A. Aspects of the Activities of TNCs in CEE Countries: Problems and Prospects // Space and Time in World Politics and International Relations: Proceedings of the 4th Convention of the Russian Association of International Studies (RAMI). In 10 vols. / ed. Melvil A. Russian Association of International Studies.Moscow MGIMO-University, 2007.Vol. 1: Actors in the Space and Time of World Politics / ed. Lebedeva M., p.128.
[xxii]EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. URL: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/april/tradoc_150981.pdf (visited on 29.06.2014).
[xxiii]Birnbaum M. European countries are selling arms to Russia while condemning it over Ukraine. URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/european-countries-are-selling-arms-to-russia-while-condemning-it-over-ukraine/2014/06/16/6ad20143-ffce-4b45-a063-bea132fa0123_story.html (visited on 18.06.2014).