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Ben Aris in Moscow -
We are in the middle of the worst political crisis since the end of the Cold War and there is a very real, albeit still remote, possibility of war in Europe.
Without attempting a detailed analysis of how we got here, in the broadest brush strokes Russia was on its knees in the 1990s and helpless to prevent the West doing anything it wanted to, such as expand Nato eastwards. But after an almost decade-long economic boom, Russia is now finding its feet again and starting to push back to protect what the Kremlin sees as its economic and strategic interests – especially, but not only, in Ukraine.
Following the West’s "victory" in the Cold War there are no effective rules governing relations in Europe. Like Germany following the Grunderzeit at the end of 19th century, Russia has enjoyed a rapid accumulation of economic clout, but its government remains immature and thin-skinned. On the other side of the fence, the long-standing Russophobia, also rooted in the 19th century, and a decade of being able to push the Kremlin around has not left the West in a mood to compromise with the Kremlin.
But as we have discovered after the two sides have started jostling each other, these attitudes lead to dangerous miscalculations that are manifest in the low Watt proxy war currently being fought in eastern Ukraine.
The problem is that unlike the Cold War, there are no rules to govern relations in the middle of Europe. As commentators such as Mark Galeotti and Professor Stephen Cohen have argued, despite its adversarial nature the Cold War was governed by a set of unwritten rules worn smooth by long use, which prevented the war ever getting hot. But all of those mechanisms were destroyed in 1991. It is time for Europe to sit down with Russia and draw up a new pan-European security pact.
And Russia is ready to negotiate. In 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the initiative and ordered the foreign ministry to draw up a proposal, which the newly elected President Dmitry Medvedev in June of that year took with him on his first foreign visit to Brussels.
Medvedev proposed enshrining in international law the "principle of security, a legal obligation, under which no state or international organization in the Euro-Atlantic area could strengthen their security at the expense of other countries and organizations."
Copies were sent to the leaders of the countries concerned, as well as the executive heads of international organizations in the Euro-Atlantic area: to Nato and its eastern counterpart, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), as well as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), among others.
The document was very specific, based on the Charter of the United Nations and grounded in international law. The preamble of the draft opens with: "Reminding that the use of force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other way inconsistent with the goals and principles of the Charter of the United Nations is inadmissible in their mutual relations, as well as international relations in general."
But at the core of the document is the recognition of mutual respect of national interests: "Parties, including in the framework of any international organization, military alliance or coalition, shall be implemented with due regard to security interests of all other Parties," the draft says.
The Russians also proposed a three-step mechanism culminating in an Extraordinary Conference of all the signatories to the pact to resolve disputes.
According to bne diplomatic sources, Medvedev's proposal was simply binned: Brussels was not interested in listening to Moscow's concerns and turned to the rhetorical device of Ukraine's "inalienable right" to choose its friends. Moscow's line is that of Realpolitik where small/weak countries have to take the interests of their larger/more powerful neighbours into account or face the consequences.
Refusing to even consider Medvedev's proposal was a huge missed opportunity for Europe, as the Russians themselves would have tied their own hands and prevented the Kremlin from sending troops or support to the rebels in eastern Ukraine. "Decisions of the Conference of the Parties shall, if it is attended by at least two-thirds of the Parties to the Treaty be binding."
The irony is that the three-way talks Russia called for in December 2013 have now started, although little progress is being made in the talks. These should be broadened and the Russian proposal taken up again, as the alternative is more tension and possibly war.
"Russia has always looked towards both the West and the East, and we will not abandon this tradition," Medvedev wrote in 2008 ahead of his trip. “But the whole system of European security is now under threat, as well as basic values, further globalization and, in essence, the whole concept of peaceful development."
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