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Rococo and Realpolitik – ASEM Milan

October 17, 2014

Today sees the start of the ASEM 10 Summit in Milan.

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A biannual forum created in 1996 for the Heads of State and governments to meet, set ASEM priorities, engage in dialogue and enhance to cooperation between Asia and Europe – and all that.

President Putin will attend after being guest of honour at a Serbian military parade today.  A Kremlin Trojan Horse in need of some friendly grooming every now and again.

Undoubtedly amongst the Rococo in Milan, there will be a good deal of realpolitik between and relating to, Ukraine – and gas supplies to, and through Ukraine.

Sanctions are seemingly unlikely to be lifted even in part, in light of no effort by The Kremlin regarding its agreements made in Minsk, no effort to undo the blatant disregard for regional and international law, and the veiled and not so veiled threats from The Kremlin ranging from playing the tired old gas card, to that of reminders of Russian nuclear capabilities.  The gas card may still have some weight – but ever time it is played, its effectiveness decreases with the expectancy it would be played.

Sanctions and low oil prices won’t help The Kremlin much either.  As time passes a weak Kremlin hand played fairly well thus far, will become weaker.  The strong western hand played slowly and reactively, no matter who badly it began the game, remains strong as long as unity remains amongst the western players.  The political structures created within the “People’s Republics” remain very weak, and the (often fatal) in-fighting between “separatist” groups when not engaging with the Ukrainian forces, is increasing.  A turf war is most definitely underway within the “republics”.  Currently, political control over these groups is getting weaker rather than stronger.

All that notwithstanding, continued Kremlin prodding and poking of neighbouring States and other western nations with niggling little incidents such as airspace violations, border incidents, trade threats and the stirring of social/ethnic divisions in the Baltics and Moldova.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing The Kremlin is the shattering of trust between it and the western world.  Trust may have no tangible dollar value, but the political capital literally thrown out of the window by Kremlin actions is immense.  It will be a decade or more, long after Mr Putin leaves The Kremlin, before trust levels begin to approach those so recently trashed.  It is, after all, not only Kremlin external actions that alarm the Europeans.  It’s internal actions cause concern as well – both politically and for any future investors.

So what to expect from amongst the rococo and realpolitik?  Some form of temporary and fudged gas deal perhaps.  The lifting of sanctions is unlikely, despite some European States muting the idea of a gas deal being sufficient to loosen sanctions – the likes of Mrs Merkel, Mr Cameron and the other significant “net givers” to EU funding/budgets will expect The Kremlin to fully deliver on its Minsk agreements before any serious consideration of such actions.  They seem unlikely to be prepared to link any temporary gas deal to sanctions that were imposed for reasons other than gas.  Thus the European “net receivers” will probably have to accept that reality.

Whether you consider The Kremlin to have now fully passed through the looking glass, and to now be inhabiting an entirely different reality to all its neighbours and beyond – or not – there are no quick fixes ahead.  Expect the rococo to be more enlightening and uplifting than the realpolitik as far as Europe, Russia and Ukraine is concerned.  Nevertheless, there are other pressing issues that may see more progress at the ASEM Summit.

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