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Another international peace format? – Ukraine

August 17, 2015

At the end of last month an entry appeared that briefly mentioned the activities of domestic and foreign intelligence/security agencies active within the Odessa Oblast.

“Further, it gives the Ukrainian SBU, Moldavian SIS and Romanian SIE intelligence services all the more reason to simultaneously be poking about in Mr Cisse’s backyard a little more forcefully/overtly than usual – something that will not sit particularly well for very long.”

Whilst the mention of the Romanian SIE was fleeting, its activities are quite clear for those who care to look.  Romania, after all, has good reason to actively monitor events within Ukraine, and in particular events that are close to its borders – notwithstanding a large number of Romanian passport holders/citizens within Moldova.  A belligerent and truculent Kremlin with a truly dependent vassal in Transnistria is naturally a cause for concern in Bucharest.

Needless to say, relations both security/intelligence and political/diplomatic between Romania and Ukraine have significantly improved since the illegal annexation of Crimea.  It would seem, considering the “blind eye” being turned to SIE activity upon Ukrainian soil, those relations continue to strengthen.

Between 12th and 15th March, Romanian President Iohannis first met then President Komorowski of Poland, and then President Poroshenko (the first visit of a Romanian president to Ukraine for 7 years).  The upshot – “We must increase regional cooperation between Ukraine, Poland and Romania, and create a certain group of solidarity.” – President Iohannis.

To be sure, Romania, Poland and Ukraine (plus Lithuania) have a very clear-eyed understanding of their shared perceived threats – and are the most vocal about them compared to others in the immediate neighbourhood.  These threats it has to be said, are not shared to the same intensity, nor understood to the same degree, by the supranational entities these nations belong to.  Neither the EU nor NATO, consisting of many of the same sovereign parts, see the issues quite the same way as the Poles, Romanians or Lithuanians – not to mention the organisational outsider in both cases, Ukraine (the victim and current front line).

The shared position being to appease or accommodate the current Kremlin is not the answer unless reinforcing a truculent, belligerent, aggressive, unlawful attitude is the desired outcome.  Stand firm now, or stand firm later when the costs and difficulties will be much greater.  In no way should The Kremlin concerns become paramount, thus relegating everybody else’s to much lesser importance – issues your author has written about elsewhere.

It has also come to pass that the PolLitUkr Brigade, an entirely paper entity since its initial floating in 2007, is now a reality headquartered in Poland.  As historical entries relating to the PolLitUkr Brigade have stated – “The assumption by many that two NATO nations creating a brigade with a non-NATO nation would unnecessarily drag NATO into a confrontation with an aggressor against Ukraine is perhaps something of a leap – despite initial appearances.  NATO, like the EU, has no control over the foreign policy of its members – and its members can and do act unilaterally in the militarily sphere without doing so under the NATO flag. “Coalitions of the willing” and all that.”

There are numerous “push” and “pull” forces at work on many levels with regard to the creation of “coalitions of the willing” in the absence of consensus from the broader supranational entities.  The question of continued cohesiveness of the supranational “whole” the most fundamental of those questions.

The most ferociously guarded sovereign spheres within the EU by Member States are those of foreign policy and defence – hence the much (and perhaps rightly) maligned  EEAS is hamstrung from the start with regard to a common defence or common foreign policy that consists of anything more than a consensus driven lowest common denominator.  As almost (but not) all EU Members are NATO members, NATO suffers from similar issues to the EU when it comes to shared threat assessments and associated intensity with which those threats are felt by sovereign capitals.  By extension, the collective response is perhaps not what it could or should be to any identified threat.

Thus “coalitions of the willing” within, and including those without the EU and NATO that share the same threat perceptions with the same intensity and foreboding are an entirely natural result.

It so comes to pass that the newly elected Polish President Andrzej Duda has not only floated the idea, but via Krzysztof Szczerski is going to implement, a new format for “peace talks” relating to Ukraine.  Simply put, President Duda seemingly considers the Normandy Four format unsuitable, unrepresentative and unable to project the thoughts and concerns of the neighbours of Ukraine (and perhaps Ukraine itself).

President Andrzej Duda

President Andrzej Duda

He proposes and is instigating a group of the “strongest States“, including Poland, “to participate in talks on restoring peace“.

Move over France and Germany – Poland, Lithuania and Romania are sitting at the negotiating table too?

Does President Duda bring new ideas and possible solutions to the peace table in lieu of Minsk II? – An agreement that all seem to cling to, otherwise being devoid of other ideas.

If not, this raises the question about the usefulness of any “Duda format” – particularly as the Kremlin will see any new format as robustly (and rightly) in favour of Ukraine losing no more territorial space nor accepting any more political/diplomatic black eyes for organisational time it once needed, but no longer.  Manipulating a hawkish Duda will not be as easy as a dovish Hollande.

Why would the Kremlin entertain sitting down with a “Duda format”, particularly when it can continue to obstruct and obfuscate within the Normandy Four with impunity, whilst hoping to strike deals and talk to the US behind everybody else’s back?  Even downsizing to “Contact Group” talks under the OSCE gaze seeming implies no potential (geo)political gains for a Duda format – and sitting presidents don’t do downsized “Contact Groups” with unrecognised armed groups.

Does President Duda see this newly proposed format as a replacement for the Normandy Four when the Minsk II deadline at the year end passes without Minsk II implementation?  If so what positional shifts does he expect from those positions currently taken by the parties involved?  Who does he expect to shift from their current positions (and what are the ramifications if they do, not just for Ukraine, but for Poland, European and international order)?

Considering the specific Ukraine-centric US-Kremlin communication line, the Normandy Four, existing bilateral and supranational formal channels within numerous involved entities (UN, CoE, EU etc), notwithstanding “Track Two” and other less formal channels., some may wonder what yet another “format/communication/negotiation/diplomatic” platform is likely to achieve where others have failed.

There is no quick fix as long as the Kremlin doesn’t want/need one.

It takes no effort to see that Romania and Poland currently enjoy good strategic partnerships with the US – think missile defence, but it also takes little effort to see that the US is now front and centre leading the western response to the events in Ukraine – both inside and outside of the Ukrainian nation.

Once again, the glacial and inert supranational blob that is the EU is reliant upon a far more nimble trans-Atlantic partner to lead in the immediate matters pertaining to its own European continental security.  The US, in turn, can rely upon the inert EU blob to engage The Kremlin in many years of bureaucratic and technocratic lawfare over the medium term.

Would a “Duda Format” relieve the US of that baton it picked up when Germany ran out of room/desire within the EU constraints?  Is it about political and diplomatic energy?  Does President Duda feel Germany and France are simply flagging and paying grossly insufficient attention to The Kremlin, distracted by other issues?  Is it about Poland taking a lead role in its neighbourhood under new leadership?

The Kremlin has thus far played the game regarding the “Normandy Four” format as far as rhetoric goes – although certainly not as far as action is concerned.  As a result of rhetoric with deliberate lack of action, more importantly for the Kremlin it has publicly achieved its goal of a direct US-Kremlin communication line specifically with regard to Ukraine – exclusive of direct German, French and Ukrainian input.

Whilst the US is very unlikely to strike deals behind the backs of Ukraine, Germany and France, the Kremlin will nonetheless see the publicly acknowledged establishment of this communication channel as a diplomatic and domestic propaganda win when trying to present Russia as a “pole” of global influence to its domestic audience.  It will also, of course, try its very best to get the US to strike deals behind the backs of Ukraine, and the Europeans.

The Europeans collectively have gone as far as the can go being consensus driven, and the “coalitions of the willing” currently beginning to manifest in and of themselves, simply do not currently present the military, political or diplomatic weight to give the Kremlin any pause for thought.

Perhaps therefore, Presidents Duda, Iohannis, Grybauskaitė and others robustly aligned, believe they have levers that will make the Kremlin take note – levers that France and Germany for whatever reason would not use or did not have.  If so what are they?

What does the Kremlin, its inner circle, and the security apparatus that surrounds it care about that has thus far been spared any European attention?

If there is nothing left that has EU consensus, what of the “coalitions of the willing” and Kremlin shenanigans within their nations?  What impact would it have?

A coordinated seizing of Kremlin assets legitimately in line with the Yukos court ruling perhaps?  Reciprocity would naturally follow, but if as with sanctions, Poland, Romania and others are prepared for that, is that a lever worthy of consideration (over and above the legal obligation to enact the court ruling anyway).

What else?  What costs the Kremlin money and time that cannot be swiftly or easily replaced?

A coordinated, former Communist, multi-nation rolling up of Kremlin espionage networks?  Not spies under diplomatic cover that are swiftly and easily replaced, but the illegals where money and time has been spent both on training and integrating such networks in host nations for the purpose of years (perhaps decades) of espionage?

After all, every European nation hosts, and is indeed aware of, Kremlin networks on their soil – whether they roll them up or decide not to.  Rarely if ever has there been a coordinated, multinational rolling up of such Kremlin inserted espionage people.  It would be a major blow with long lasting effect.

Again reciprocity raises its head – but how many illegal networks exist inside Russia run by the Europeans vis a vis those run by the Kremlin within every European nation, and what is lost by who and to what extent if mass roll-ups occur in a coordinated effort?

The targeting and public exposure of all Kremlin sponsored (in full or in part) politicians, political parties, NGOs and media outlets in the European/international media?  Reciprocity is not really an issue here for the “5th Column” has long been targeted by the Kremlin inside Russia.

The coordinated seizing of dirty money/assets (and await the seizing of foreign owned legitimate assets within Russia in response)?  Is there enough dirty money to have an impact within the territory of the “strongest nations” President Duda intends to rally to the “peace” table?

Would the genuine will and ability to arm Ukraine with lethal weaponry tip the balance?  If so, which way?

A “squeeze” on Kaliningrad in some form or another?

What will the “Duda Format” bring to the “peace” table and effectively be able to progress, using what levers that have otherwise been unemployed/underemployed?

How many nations are the “strongest nations” he speaks of?  Too many people sat around the table can make matters worse, not better.  Sometimes less is more!

Perhaps the “Duda Format” it will bring nothing more than a willingness to pay the (additional) price for failing to reward  Kremlin truculent, belligerent, aggressive, unlawful behaviour.  Perhaps that alone will be enough.  It was Lenin who said “Probe with a bayonet; if you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push” after all, – and Soviet rehabilitation is currently en vogue in the absence of a genuinely accepted Russian identity.  Perhaps the “Duda Format” intends to be the negotiating/diplomatic steel rather than the preceding Minsk mush?

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