For centuries Europe remained the world’s main battleground. But the number of casualties of the two world wars, occurring within four decades, dwarfed the losses and devastation of the past conflicts. And as the Second World War ended, the Iran Curtain descended across Europe.
With the war in Ukraine, “the emerging world order” has become a current topic with conflicting opening gambits.
The West argues for the rules-based international order, the body of rules, norms, and institutions that govern relations. Among those are treaties, international law, formal structures, institutions, and values at the center of which are democracy and respect for human rights.
In another ten days, it will be six months since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The news of the war no longer makes the headlines. Because it only takes time for the most unexpected, for the worst to become the new normal, like in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The following was my summing-up of the Ukraine conflict seven years ago:
“News from Ukraine and Ukraine-related developments are not encouraging. The Minsk cease-fire remains fragile. Political and economic difficulties facing Ukraine show no sign of abating. The Government does not appear strong and determined enough. There has been no progress on the level of autonomy to be recognized to the separatist regions. The conflict between “federalization” and “decentralization” continues. Ukraine troops are now being trained by American officers. Russia’s naval deployments and air activity are becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Cold War. NATO is holding joint exercises in Poland, Lithuania, the US in Georgia. The Treaty on Alliance and Integration between Russia and South Ossetia has been submitted to the State Duma for ratification. The flow of immigrants and asylum seekers from Ukraine into EU countries is on the rise… The West continues to see Mr. Putin as an unpredictable leader determined not to allow Ukraine to chart its future. He says that he wants as close interaction as possible with the US, based on equal rights and mutual respect of interests and positions of each other. Both the West and Russia seemingly desire to put the Ukraine conflict behind and move forward but words and deeds do not match.” [i]
On January 26, the US and NATO delivered their written responses to Russia’s security demands in Eurasia. A day later, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media that the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance; that there is no positive response to the main issue which is continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to Russian territory.
In mid-December 2021, Russia handed the West two draft documents, “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”[i] and “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees”[ii].
In their phone call of December 30, Presidents Biden and Putin agreed to the sequence of Strategic Stability Dialogue starting on the 9th and 10th in Geneva, a NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting on the 12th, and an OSCE meeting on the 13th. The three sets of talks are now behind.
The top foreign and security policy item of 2021 was the strategic competition between major powers. Its subtitles were “China’s ascendancy”, “Russia’s resurgence” the “waning of American power”. The rise of authoritarianism, democracy’s decline, the failure of multilateralism, and climate change remained subjects of philosophical debate. Needless to say, Covid-19 is still the common enemy but the world failed to close ranks against it.
On December 7, 2021, Presidents Biden and Putin had a two-hour video conference.
According to the White House readout of the meeting, “President Biden focused on what he described as “threatening” movements of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and outlined the sanctions the United States and its allies would be ready to impose should the situation escalate any further.”
Kremlin readout of the virtual summit said, “In response, Vladimir Putin warned against shifting the responsibility on Russia since it was NATO that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border. It is for this reason that Russia is eager to obtain reliable, legally binding guarantees ruling out the eventuality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in the countries neighboring Russia.” (Emphasis added)
The standoff over migrants on NATO’s and the European Union’s eastern flank is turning into a wider political conflict. For Belarus’s EU neighbors this is a deliberate retaliation for EU sanctions. Ukraine is reinforcing border guards to prevent any attempts by migrants to enter the country since it shares a 1084-kilometer border with Belarus. According to the Kremlin readout of a call between President Putin and Chancellor Merkel, the former supports the restoration of contacts between the EU and Belarus with a view to resolving the problem. It appears that parties most directly involved in the conflict also have domestic policy considerations in mind. Most of the initial reporting on the crisis referred to “a standoff at the EU-Belarus border”, but this is the NATO-Belarus border as well. And Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia are now considering asking NATO to hold emergency talks under Article 4 of the treaty which says that “the Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”