Posts Tagged ‘negotiations’


A lot more EU mush to push

June 5, 2015

These past few days have seen (unusually) some very insightful and indeed right-thinking commentary upon the EU, Ukraine and Russia.  Like London buses, nothing for ages and then three come along at once.

Lilia Shetsnova rips the stuffing out of the “humiliation syndrome” offered up by Kremlin apologists and “understanders” of which there are more than a few within EU capitals, as a reason for appeasing and accommodating the Kremlin whim.  She is absolutely correct in the point she makes.

There is then a very solid read (with recommendations) from my chums at Chatham House relating to Russia, Ukraine and the EU.  It is all very sensible – yet there must be serious doubt that the European political class have the political will to adhere to the advice of its academia and diplomats.

Lastly there is this piece by Andrew Wilson lambasting the EU for acting like a mega-NGO rather than a political animal – a charge your author has made regularly on twitter as any twitter followers will know.

No better reads have there been this week than those linked above, and none recommend a policy of appeasement or concession to The Kremlin – quite rightly if international law is to remain unsullied by political compromise and major shifts in interpretation by “The West”.

What exactly is there to negotiate regarding something so fundamental as the rule of law anyway?

It is not just Ukraine or the “East” where the EU acts like an NGO/third party, rather than the political beast it is.

Naval warships in the Mediterranean to catch human traffickers ferrying desperate people from MENA to Europe?  The human traffickers exist because there is a demand for them.  They are a symptom, but not the cause behind those fleeing MENA to Europe.   Dealing with the symptoms will not cure the disease, and as long as that disease is not confronted, the symptoms will continue (and possibly mutate).

It is all rather pitiful, shortsighted and expedient.

Yes there is Greece, Libya, Ukraine/Russia, Syria, the Balkans, other internal distractions of 28 domestic issues, common prickly issues to be solved with the TTIP, or CSDP etc.  But (half-heartedly) tackling the symptoms rather than robustly confronting the causes simply displays the EU inability to deal with the causes, and barely deal with/do the absolute minimum regarding the symptoms.  If the EU can only act effectively in fair weather, then it is not the regional/global actor it purports to be.

Rolling over the sanctions against Russia later this month is not exactly “job done” (regardless of whether The Kremlin is really hurting or not), and a signal to move on to something else – and neither is clinging to “Minsk” in the absence of doing anything else much of a policy, when Minsk was ravaged at Debaltseve before the ink had dried (with no response) and a further 28 villages have been lost since February (again with no response).  Both are strong indicators of EU limitations internally, and thus upon the regional and global stage.

It is not only Ukraine that notes the limitations of the EU – the entire globe can see its inability to deal with a single cause effectively – let alone robustly.  All look-on as it flails about thrashing ineffectively at symptoms east and south, despite its potential to do far, far better.


As a large inactive docile lump, it is by nature glacial in its action, but being a large inactive docile lump, it is also able to absorb shocks relatively well.  Clearly however, a large inactive lump is adverse to pro-activity or swift movement – which comes as no surprise for an organism that works on lowest common denominator consensus.  Why move an entire arm, when it can lift a finger and then wait and see what happens?

The problem being disproportionality is not only going too far – it is also not going far enough!

In the meantime, the nimble and swift actors – USA, China, Russia, India etc – by virtue of not working glacially by consensus at the lowest common denominator, expose the limitations of the EU as a robust, proactive regional and/or global actor.  Indeed their nimbleness identifies for all to see, the EU as a large inactive docile lump.

This statement yesterday by the EU regarding renewed serious fighting in eastern Ukraine reads like a statement from a disinterested NGO going through the motions – particularly in light of the US statement above.

This statement by German FM Steinmeier over the event is nothing short of humiliating – “could be deemed as a serious violation of the truce.”  If the last fighting in eastern Ukraine wasn’t a serious violation of the truce, the Baltic nations must be wondering what would constitute “an act of aggression” under NATO Article 5 from a German perspective.

In neither EEAS nor Steinmeier statement is the “an or else” – for there is no “or else” that can be threatened.  If an “or else” is threatened, then going through with that threat is required when your bluff is called.

The EU choice then, knowing it has reached its limitations (short of Russian air interdiction or fully overt action at major urban/metropolitan area), has the choice of making empty threats that it knows will be called if they do, or simply saying nothing by wording its statements about as a robustly as a disinterested and powerless NGO.  That, dear Russian readers, is genuine humiliation for those that hold dear the rule of law – no self-serving “humiliation” manufacturing required.

As written over on the Facebook page a few days ago:

“Probe with a bayonet if you meet steel, stop.  If you meet mush, then push.” – Vladimir Lenin. 
A lot more EU mush to push it seems.”


Rococo and Realpolitik – ASEM Milan

October 17, 2014

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


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.


Upping the ante – Wagons roll

August 23, 2014

Today it appears The Kremlin has lost patience with the either the combatants in eastern Ukraine, the ICRC insistence of safe passage assurances from both sides prior to entry, and/or a seemingly deliberate stalling by Ukrainian border guard and customs service of the Russian humanitarian convoy.  A stalling that enables Ukrainian military to continue to make advances in and around Donetsk and Luhansk.

Nevertheless the Russian humanitarian convoy has rolled into Ukraine regardless of permissions and assurances – and seemingly without ICRC personnel too – in what is clearly going to be interpreted as yet another escalation by The Kremlin.

Krasnodon border crossing 20 meters from Ukraine

Krasnodon border crossing 20 meters from Ukraine

Why now, after already waiting a week to carry out this mission within full accordance with international norms?

To insure Ukrainian forces are far more restricted in their military abilities during the days the humanitarian convoy is going to be in eastern Ukraine?

To create an incident against the humanitarian convoy for which Ukrainian forces will be blamed – despite their illegal entry and defiance of all agreed procedures prior to entry into Ukraine?

To create an incident for which the separatists will be blamed, allowing The Kremlin to disown them having fired on a Russian humanitarian convoy?

Perhaps to insure there is no absolute defeat of the Kremlin sponsored fighters prior to the visit of Chancellor Merkel on 23rd August – the 75th anniversary of the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact – insuring she pushes diplomatic solutions against an open door, as Ukraine already seeks and acknowledges “There is no solely military way to solve the situation” despite its current military ascendancy.  Maybe she can convince Ukraine to give a little more than it would do otherwise.

Is it to have a yet larger Kremlin-cast shadow over Ukrainian Independence Day on 24th August, this time via an entirely undeniable violation of Ukrainian sovereignty?

Maybe it is to insure that there is still a Kremlin sponsored fight to negotiate the settlement of in Minsk on 26th August, when Presidents Putin, Poroshenko, Lukashenko, Nazarbeyev, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton, European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger and European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht all meet?

Perhaps it is far more basic than that?  By upping the ante, is it simply a way to give the impression of negotiating from a position of strength when the Minsk meeting arrives?   Another act of Kremlin defiance prior to that meeting to insure all attending are well aware of The Kremlin ability to act unilaterally as and when it wants to?  An immediate retort to the statement of President Poroshenko yesterday, when he stated “We will not let anyone call into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state. Our state doesn’t threaten anyone. It is peaceful and doesn’t want to make war.”  This latest action immediately calling into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state again.  To be sure, President Poroshenko has been seeking to enter any negotiations from a position of strength too.

Maybe it has far more to do with the domestic Russian audience seeing that The Kremlin leadership will act in Ukraine within or without international norms and laws (again) prior to any negotiated settlements in Minsk – those negotiations clearly about far more than the situation in eastern Ukraine looking at the attendees.  Gas and trade are clearly on the agenda too.

The Russian domestic audience and domestic policy is certainly a major driver in Russian foreign policy – especially so in relation to nations on its periphery.  Domestic perception matters – and matters greatly.  A (perhaps final) act of “Russian power” in defiance of all international agreements prior to a negotiated exit in eastern Ukraine (as far as fighting is concerned)?

That said, it’s still not clear what The Kremlin will come away with from the Minsk meeting should it decide to end hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Time will very, very soon tell.



More haste, less speed – What to support in Ukraine?

February 24, 2014

Matters, unsurprisingly, are moving a great speed in Ukraine.  There now currently – but for how long – exists a super-majority sympathetic to the majority of opposition tactics.  I will deliberately refrain from using the word “strategies” as that infers far greater thought and a future trajectory of policy that currently is yet to make itself known.

A time for great care when controlling the euphoria of new found power.  Legislate in haste and repent at leisure.   Inclusiveness and tolerance must prevail – contentious issues allowed to be considered with far cooler and less emotive heads.

Following on from yesterday’s entry, it is both saddening and worrying that amongst the 3 candidates for Prime Minister of any new (interim) government (be it one of national unity or otherwise) Ms Tymoshenko is nominated together with Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Quite simply a disaster in the making should she get the post.  She has no concept of tolerance, inclusiveness cross cutting cleavages or compromise.  She understands nothing other than oligarchical/autocratic governance and Ukrainian society has outgrown such politics.

No sooner was she released yesterday did she announce her candidacy for president and immediately state that the people were right to refuse to accept the negotiated EU deal brokered the day before – a clear swipe at Messrs Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok who agreed it.

Heartening as it was that her reception in Kyiv was little more than tepid – few people do rhetoric better than Ms Tymoshenko and there is time for her to use that ability to make favourable gains amongst the electorate.  Fortunately most Ukrainians have good memories and will not forget she has been a significant part of a systemic political problem and not a viable solution.

The “West” will also remember their extreme “Tymoshenko fatigue” when she was last in power.  Whilst it may welcome her freedom, it will not relish her return to political power.

Thus returning to my entry yesterday and the necessary end to personality politics in Ukraine, there is quite obviously a need to create a new government – preferably one without Ms Tymoshenko in it.  There is a need for “the west” to be supportive of this government – and not individuals within it.

Once accomplished, there is an equally – if not more – important need for “the west” to support the Ukrainian institutions of state quite separately from the government.  Now is a time for those institutions to firmly plant a “keep off the grass” sign for the political class of Ukraine.  The “west” need to actively encourage the institutions to do so – now – immediately – today.

Now is the time for those institutions to demand the independence necessary for democratic vertical and horizontal accountability.  Now is the time for “the west” to offer robust,vocal and tangible support for any and every institution of state that comes under undemocratic and undue pressure from any new government.

Now is the time that “the west” should make this absolutely clear to the interim and future authorities and the institutions of state – for those that will now assume power and lead these state institutions also have assets in Europe, and Visas that can be revoked for acting against the democratic interests of the Ukrainian people.

Prevention is better than cure – and strategies to instigate immediately – and support – attempts by institutions of state to obtain genuine independence from government must be a priority for the western political and diplomatic class.


Yes 2013 – Most interesting statement was………

September 23, 2013

As the 10th Yes conference closed in Yalta, after some very entertaining exchanges, speeches, addresses and debates – in fact probably the most entertaining Yes gathering in its history – I am left looking for what, amongst the enormous amount live-streamed and reported dialogue, really framed the immediate core issue facing Ukraine – through a slightly different lens.

Not for the first time – the most interesting statement of them all was short, almost terse, and yet surgically accurate – and it came from Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski who stated:

“President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko know what to do in the next few days.”

Important because whilst all expect movement from President Yanukovych, and indeed he has the lead role to play here – Ms Tymoshenko must play her part in any negotiated solution – and agree to it.

The statement also clearly infers both know what they need to do and have been told as much by EU negotiators in clear terms.

Thus either President Yanukovych or Yulia Tymoshenko can still kill any Ukrainian hopes of EU signatures at the Vilnius Summit by simple belligerence or overreaching their respective positions when it comes to finding and accepting a solution.

As both have a history of belligerence and overreaching to the national detriment – whomever, and one supposes it will be Messrs Cox and Kwaśniewski – do manage to negotiate and implement a deal, then Nobel Peace Prize nominations should not come far behind.  That maybe somewhat sarcastic but it does underscore the difficulty they will have faced.

One also has to question what the EU’s position will be if it becomes clear President Yanukovych will go – or does go –  the minimum distance required and allow Ms Tymoshenko to be released to go abroad for treatment for “humanitarian” or even “national interest” reasons – and she then refuse to go, wanting “more” from any deal.

The question for both protagonists is whether Ukraine’s immediate future means more to either of them than any longer term personal ambitions (and retributions) they may have.

Though the answer would normally be “doubtful” – in both cases – lest there be those who foolishly consider Ms Tymoshenko a beacon of democracy in an otherwise dark place – (for that glimmer of hope we need look elsewhere) – such is the attraction to their egos of a place in Ukrainian and European history –  I do dare to hope.

But – Does the EU have a position should President Yanukovych offer Ms Tymoshenko a way out of jail as per the EU demand – for her to then refuse to go?

Would it still refuse to sign under such circumstances?

As the very astute  Radek Sikorski  makes clear – both of these Kuchma era hangovers can still screw things up for Ukraine……..again.


EU/Ukraine Association Agreement

December 12, 2012

I was pondering a blog entry on how the EU will deal with the next Ukrainian political term given the less than ideal way it was run and eventually concluded.

The answer it seems has been given before I thought too deeply about strategies, causal effects, lines of communications both overt and subtle and to whom most appropriate pressure could be applied to maneuver matters to the EU’s advantage if one method seems to get better results than another etc., etc.

The answer is though, more of the same.  Quite possible the best strategy – for now at least anyway.

Fair enough!


Free Trade Agreements – Ukraine

October 1, 2012

Turkey looks set to be the next Free Trade Agreement negotiated and signed by the current Ukrainian government – quite possibly by the end of 2012.

Quite rightly too.  If there is a star economic performer in the Black Sea region over the past few years to date, it most certainly is Turkey.

In all probability, despite a few bumps in the road that undoubtedly remain ahead, a Free Trade Agreement will become a functioning reality for Ukraine with regards to the CIS nations sometime next year as well.

Add to that the DCFTA with the EU that has been negotiated and initialed, effectively putting a seal on the contents of said agreement, regardless of when that will eventually be actioned, and for all the massive failings of the current government in many policy areas, the negotiations for market expansion in the immediate Ukrainian neighbourhood is something of a success story.

Please note that I say the successful completion of negotiations rather than successful implementation – as yet nothing of note has been implemented.  Nevertheless, such negotiations are always tricky and credit must be given, no matter how begrudgingly, to their successful conclusion and bilateral agreement – signed and ratified or not.

In fact, the FTAs that have been successfully negotiated match very neatly the geopolitical and economic area that is the BSEC.  Something that I suggested would be a reasonable plan almost a year ago and indeed should be looked out for on the horizon.

It seems that horizon is not so distant.  At least as far as the finalising of negotiations are concerned.

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