Opinion: York conference debates tough UK approach to Ukraine crisis

shekhovtsov_ends_468wAt our spring conference in York, there was an emergency ‘Topical Debate’ on the Ukraine crisis.

The debate reflected United Kingdom attitudes to the Ukraine crisis, but there were some far-reaching implications for some of the views expressed. Importantly, the UK was a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, whereby Ukraine gave up its massive nuclear weapons stockpile in return for full guarantees of its territorial integrity – an agreement now clearly breached by one of its other signatories, the Russian Federation.

Today, the UK has military surveillance aircraft flying along the Polish and Romanian borders with Ukraine, monitoring Russian military activity, and military assets also monitoring Southern Ukraine including Crimea, and its Russian borders. If diplomacy fails, the UK would almost certainly be involved in any military measures that follow.

Conference speeches by Robert Woodthorpe Brown and Jonathan Fryer emphasised the legal position – the 1994 Memorandum and breaches of international law, including Russian troops in unmarked uniforms (contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Accords).

Conference speeches also criticised the weak Russian justification for de facto annexation of Crimea – citing the absence of threat to Russians and the fact that the Ukrainian Parliament, including Russian speakers, removed Yanukovych from office.

The position of the British ‘left’ was also reflected in a couple of speeches – that the second Ukrainian revolution in 2014 was supported by US and European security institutions which provoked the Russian response in Crimea – since they feared the loss of their Sevastopol naval bases. Although no speaker refuted this directly, Western support for the uprising would hardly be surprising given the extraordinarily kleptocratic and brutal nature of the Yanukovych regime and its alleged theft of $70bn in three years and sympathy for all the people’s desire to join the EU as a way out.

In my own speech I made three additional points.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians in pro-Europe rallyFirst, that despite there being a pre-World War 1 West-East divide in the Ukraine, the problem for Putin is that even the Russian minority noticed that neighbouring Poland’s economy expanded rapidly after EU membership. Poland even grew 17% since the 2008 financial crisis. This is in contrast to a decline in median incomes in Ukraine over the same 9 year period, and worsening conditions since Yanukovych took over. A clear majority of Ukrainians want to join the EU, including Crimea which is only 58% Russian speaking.

Second, that Putin’s actions in Ukraine are part of a pattern. In Georgia Putin effectively annexed the Abkhzia and South Ossetia regions. In Moldova Putin reversed moves to contain the mafia-ised pro-Russian ‘Trans-Dniester’ region on the Ukrainian border, known for its illegal arms exports. The policy which these annexations support is Putin’s colonial pledge to keep the old Soviet Union republics under Moscow’s domination – creating pro-Russian areas as bargaining chips.

Third, I suggested that the UK should support measures to undermine Putin’s justifications, in Crimea – including multilateral guarantees over language and the Russian naval port.

Conference speeches in York mostly supported sanctions against Russia. Other measures under discussion were not mentioned. These include cancelling the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 – which pledged to keep NATO forces away from the Russian-facing borders of EU members –   and abolishing the NATO- Russia Council. Some experts have argued for a protection force in Western Crimea to ensure ethnic Tatars and other Ukrainians in Crimea are not ethnically cleansed.

Given Putin’s obsessive inability to let go of Russia’s former colonies, a firm stance is needed to prevent escalation.

 

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance. He is a member of the Lib Dem Federal International Relations Committee and an Executive member of Liberal International (British Group).

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25 Comments

  • Since neither Putin nor Yanukovych (nor Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator, for that matter) are in any sense “left-wing,” but rather support a xenophobic, authoritarian nationalism characterised by reactionary social policies and a tight embrace of (and by) the right wing of the Orthodox churches, one can only guess that any members of the “British left” who support them are doing so either because they are reflexively against anything they suspect the dominant political sentiment might be for, or because they dislike and distrust European solidarity and European norms, and would like to destabilise the European project. In which case one might suspect this so-called “British left” of not being “left” at all, but rather closer to the principles of UKIP — or, perhaps, just a straw man. There is, of course, no exact British analogue to the politics of Putin, but in many ways (social reaction, extreme nationalism, autarkic tendencies) UKIP comes closest.

  • Paul Reynolds states — ” If diplomacy fails, the UK would almost certainly be involved in any military measures that follow. ”

    Is this his personal view? Is it what was agreed in the vote on the debate?
    Could someone who was there and is less excitable than Paul Reynolds clarify what was actually agreed?

  • Paul Reynolds 12th Mar '14 - 6:55pm

    Thank you David. I am one of the very few ‘Western’ advisers who worked with Belarusian President Lukashenka and his guru Piotr Kapitula, and two Prime Ministers ….. work which involved meetings with the KGB and the military. Lukashenka is a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideologue and before being President he was an ‘ideology policeman’. Yanukovych is not quite the same animal, being a brutal mafia-esque senior kleptocrat, hiding behind socialist nationalism. But yes you are right – the old shorthand of left and right have become blurred. Perhaps this is because Socialism and National Socialism were always so similar in practical implementation. If Hitler had remained in power Germany really wouldn’t have been that much different from the Belarus of the last 70 years.

  • Paul Reynolds 12th Mar '14 - 7:10pm

    Thank you John. There was no agreement, since it was a topical discussion with no motion and no vote. Personally I would be stridently against any Western moves towards military conflict, which I believe would be catastrophic. I was merely stating what I believe to be true. Of course if Russia initiates major aggression, involving substantial loss of life, then the basis for the UK government’s decision-making may change. At present, prevention of escalation should be the key aim, alongside a settlement over Crimea. However if one looks at Russian actions in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester, extreme caution is justified in Ukraine.

  • It is certainly important to understand Russia’s motivation and its thought-processes. But the motivation and thoughts are surely not just those of a single person, but rather of a group around Putin. What is the evidence that there is a”colonial pledge to keep the old Soviet Union republics under Moscow’s domination”? And in what way would this create “bargaining chips”?

    I remain puzzled by Russian motives. South Ossetia, Abkhazia,Trans-Dniester, and Crimea seem to form what may be a defensive line against aggression from the South – Turkey and the Middle East. Can this be a driver? Or the geology there – oil and gas maybe?

  • “..A clear majority of Ukrainians want to join the EU,”

    Evidence?

  • Paul Reynolds 12th Mar '14 - 7:51pm

    Good question ‘Imbroglio’. I a not an academic Kremlinologist. My views of Russia’s motives rather come from working with the Russian authorities and in most of the former Soviet Republics. Indeed Angela Merkel implied that Putin might not have full control of the implementation of his Crimea policy. I don’t think that Putin and his bureau want to fully recreate the Soviet Union (even though he has lamented its demise), but he has made it clear his No 1 project is to reestablish it in a different way, still with Moscow’s control. In Georgia the Abkhaz and South Ossetia strategies seem designed to bog down and hinder Georgia’s EU ambitions (and pipeline deals), and in Moldova it was more obvious as a strategy to prevent Moldova from rejoining Romania.

  • It looks very much as though there will be military action between the EU and Russia. We should hope that it is limited to conventional weapons, and not go nuclear.

    The crisis in Ukraine has been precipitated by the desire of the people to join the EU, which Russia naturally enough feels threatened and annoyed by. A bear with a sore head!

    Our armed forces need to operate under ESDP and CFSP rules. My understanding is that our armed forces will be taking their orders from Brussels? I guess also that Baroness Ashton will be in charge of EU armed forces? Our nuclear deterrent too? Does anybody have a definitive answer to my questions? I am trying to get rapidly up to speed with what we have signed up to with our many and varied treaties.

    Quote:
    ‘The ‘Petersberg tasks’ form a central part of the CFSP. These are crisis management tasks named after the place where the Ministerial Council of the Western European Union, or WEU, met in June 1992, and where the tasks were defined. The Petersberg tasks are humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. The European Council has stated that, in this respect, the EU must ‘have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises without prejudice to actions by NATO’.’

    http://www.eu-oplysningen.dk/euo_en/spsv/all/95/?print=1

  • “..A clear majority of Ukrainians want to join the EU,”
    And let’s not forget,… that a clear majority of the UK want to exit the EU, but your deep concern for the Ukranian’s right to choose their future, seems unfortunately not to extend to our shores?
    Why is that?

  • “It looks very much as though there will be military action between the EU and Russia. We should hope that it is limited to conventional weapons, and not go nuclear.

    My understanding is that our armed forces will be taking their orders from Brussels? I guess also that Baroness Ashton will be in charge of EU armed forces? Our nuclear deterrent too?”

    I think it might be a good idea for you to seek some professional advice.

  • Interesting article. Wouldn’t an outbreak of bloodshed be extremely risky for Putin in terms of public opinion within Russia itself? One of the reasons that interfering with Ukraine is considered acceptable is that they are seen as ‘little brothers’, creating a bloody civil war and intervention among ethnic brethren could turn unpopular really quick.
    Anne Applebaum’s description of recent Russian media coverage (“There’s been a level of blatant dishonesty and outright lying that I didn’t expect”) perhaps shows Russian elites appreciate the danger.

  • I wonder if oil and gas might not have been a bad guess after all
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-11/losing-crimea-could-sink-ukraines-offshore-oil-and-gas-hopes

    Russia gets Crimean energy, AND has an excuse to renege on its gas deal with Ukraine and sell at world prices rather than a discount, AND has no more trouble with Ukrainians stealing subsidized gas and selling it on.

  • @Joe King: “The crisis in Ukraine has been precipitated by the desire of the people to join the EU, which Russia naturally enough feels threatened and annoyed by. ”

    No, the crisis in the Ukraine has been precipitated by Vladimir Putin being an aspiring dictator who can’t stand seeing a neighboring country oust a criminal buffoon with similar aspirations — the idea of this trend catching on gives him bad dreams. Imagine Russians wandering around *his* secret country palace snapping photographs of the tasteless kitsch he prefers in lieu of art — no, that won’t do at all.

    It’s not about the EU as a political structure — something which Ukraine couldn’t join for decades even if it had a clear desire to do. It’s about Europe as an ideal, a set of constitutional norms , human rights, and democratic values which Putin, Yanukovych, and Lukashenko don’t want to be bothered with. It’s this ideal which Putin refers to as “fascism.”

  • >The only thing you need to get up to speed on is that is it comes to military action then the EU will be nowhere in sight,

    I assume because if there was a whiff of EU military action, the energy pipelines to the EU would be turned off and the EU members would be too busy keeping the peace at home and securing their energy supplies from elsewhere to have time to organise a military campaign…

  • Jedi – “Where on earth do you get this stuff!”

    I get it in this instance from the Daily Telegraph. See this article:

    Quote:
    ‘British warplanes and other military assets will be handed over to European Union countries under sweeping plans to create what Conservative MPs believe will become a “Euro Army”.

    David Cameron is under pressure to block the EU’s growing military ambitions, which Tories say pose a threat to Nato and could undermine Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States.

    In what Conservatives fear could be an irreversible step, the Prime Minister is preparing to commit Britain to deeper military cooperation across the EU at a summit in Brussels later this month.

    The deal would pave the way for developing a new fleet of unmanned drones, promoting the deployment of EU rapid response “battlegroups”, and drawing up new cyber warfare and maritime security strategies next year.

    Under the plans, the RAF’s new Voyager refuelling aircraft is among the assets being earmarked for use by other EU countries under moves towards creating a European Air Force.’
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10503019/David-Cameron-risks-Tory-backlash-over-EU-military-plans.html

    And this article, Quote:
    ‘Britain has blocked EU proposals, backed by France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany, that would have paved the way for developing a new fleet of unmanned surveillance drones and a European Air Force comprised of heavy transport and air-to-air refuelling planes.
    A recent report by Lady Ashton’s EU External Action Service revealed that work had already begun on “remotely piloted aircraft systems”, known as drones. The drones will be known as Males, standing for “Medium Altitude Long Endurance” and under commission proposals would have been “directly purchased, owned and operated by the Union” along with military aircraft.’
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/10528852/David-Cameron-flies-to-Brussels-determined-to-fight-EU-drones-programme.html

    It is pretty obvious that the EU is dominated by Germany. Cameron is likely to do another of his famous U turns in order to do the bidding of Angela Merkel. She probably has already threatened him with something unpleasant, no wonder Cameron was looking deeply unhappy after their recent meeting.
    I have a guess that the blackmail is that she could effectively ground our Eurofighter squadrons unless we co-operate with the Euro Air Force integration. Look at the other countries who have already committed to its formation, they include Germany, Italy and Spain, the partners in the Eurofighter consortium.

    History has a habit of repeating itself more or less. Here we have the German dominated EU with expansionist ambitions, stirring things up in Ukraine and itching for a fight with Russia, cajoling a reluctant Britain to get involved in a fight which is not really our fight, but we will undoubtedly get dragged into it anyway. The difference this time is that we are on the same side as Germany against Russia. Last time we were allied with Russia against Germany. Nevertheless the common thread is the dominance of Germany over Europe, and the expansionist tendencies of Germany. I am surprised that more people do not see it clearly in these terms. It seems pretty obvious when you step back and look at the picture overall.

    Of course, the EU is starting with the Air Forces integration. Then it will be the Navys integration, there was already talk of sharing aircraft carriers with France. The end goal of course is for the EU to gain control of our Trident launch codes. My hunch is that Scotland will narrowly vote for independence, and will be offered a smooth passage to EU membership, subsidies etc, provided that the nuclear submarine base remains in situ and that Scotland does not try any funny business such as going nuclear free. Otherwise they will be outside the EU and heavily penalised with trade barriers and adverse currency exchanges (they would have to have their own currency) etc.

    So, we will get dragged into the expansion of the EU against our best interests, and no doubt with the blood shed of our armed services personnel. This will be something of a watershed moment for the EU, nobody so far has shed any blood for the EU, and this is a significant symbolic step towards federalisation.

    I hope that Nick Clegg understands the implications of his unquestioning enthusiasm for us being the party of IN. When the bullets and bombs start, and the public wake up, it is going to be extremely difficult for us to persuade the public regarding the benefits of EU membership. It will be too late then, and our party will be toast.

    A military EU is not what I was wanting either.

  • Paul, I stopped reading this thread last night when I could not quite believe what I was reading.

    You wrote — ” Paul Reynolds 12th Mar ’14 – 6:55
    Thank you David. I am one of the very few ‘Western’ advisers who worked with Belarusian President Lukashenka and his guru Piotr Kapitula, and two Prime Ministers ….. work which involved meetings with the KGB and the military. ….”

    And later you added — ” Socialism and National Socialism were always so similar in practical implementation. If Hitler had remained in power Germany really wouldn’t have been that much different from the Belarus of the last 70 years.”

    I am curious. Some very large and very successful, very capitalist businesses funded Hitler, helped him to power and provided the industrial might that enabled Nazi Germany to conquer the whole of mainland Europe.
    Why do you think those large capitalist interests were so keen to support a political party and state which you tell us was exactly the same as Socialism?

    I am also curious about the nature of your meetings with Belarusian President Lukashenka and the kGB and the military. Did these happen frequently? I assume you were not discussing history with them, I am guessing that is not your area of expertise?

  • @John Dunn

    What basis so you have for saying the majority of UK citoiens want to leave the EU??

  • It does look like the momentum for exit is gathering pace. Events in Ukraine will determine our future involvement in the EU I feel.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/30/britain-european-exit-poll-gulf-eu-attitudes

  • Let’s try re-connecting with reality. It’s unlikely this will end in a serious shooting war, unless the motivations are something as yet unknown. It’s unlikely that events in the Ukraine will determine our future in the EU; other things will do that, such as financial crises, unemployment, etc

  • @John Innes -“@John Dunn What basis so you have for saying the majority of UK citoiens want to leave the EU??”

    It is no doubt UKIP’s large overall majority in the House of Commons that forms the basis for John Dunn’s belief. 🙂

    After all, the electorate would be extraordinarily stupid to return a pro-EU majority of MPs were they convinced of the merits of withdrawal, wouldn’t they?

  • I have great difficulty in believing that the West would go to war over Ukraine. Should the Baltic republics be threatened, that would be a different matter. Military action could though include passing on information and advanced (conventional) weaponry.

    My guess is that Putin will not risk an invasion of Ukraine outside the Crimea, unless he can so destabilise the Russian-speaking areas that he feels resistance would be minimal. Ukraine is a huge country and could be his Afghanistan. I thought we were pressing for the strongest measures short of military intervention, to persuade Putin that the game is not worth the candle. Non-military aid to Kiev would also help the new government strengthen its authority and support, which again might persuade Putin to be cautious.

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