Photo : NATO .intl
10 December 2021, Friday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #69
By Joeana Cera Matthews
Russia and Ukraine: Options for NATO, the EU, and the US
Russia in Ukraine
The alleged 100,000 Russian troops amassed along the Ukrainian borders has raised concerns of the West – especially that of the EU, the US, and NATO. In the face of Russian aggression, what are the options available for these actors?
Options for the US
The US-Russia relations have been on the downslide since the Crimean annexation. The bilateral ties only worsened with accusations being hurled over at Moscow for various reasons including interference in the 2020 US elections. The US has always been antagonistic about Russian interests in the eastern European region. On 20 November, while visiting Africa, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed this concern, saying: “We know the playbook of trying to cite some illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and using that as an excuse for what Russia plans to do all along.” On 01 December, visiting Riga in Latvia, Blinken warned of the imposition of sanctions on Russia that would be heavier than any imposed to date. Blinken stated: “Should Russia follow the path of confrontation, when it comes to Ukraine, we’ve made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past.” Later, holding a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, he warned of “serious consequences” if the Kremlin attempted to destabilize the already fragile status quo in Ukraine.
However, the US is not as concerned about Europe, in particular eastern Europe, as it used to be. The recent trends point towards Washington redirecting its attention to deal with the problem of a rising China. They do not intend to be dragged down by the distracting commitments the region holds. On 07 December, holding a meeting with Putin, US President Joe Biden was reported to have denied the possibility of Ukraine being provided with troops. Nonetheless, this does not by any means imply that Ukraine is being left unattended for Russian forces to devour it.
Options for the EU
The EU has primarily stuck to indirect dialogue, in the form of threats and harsh comments, attempting to scare Russia into staying out of Ukraine. The options in front of the EU include defining the sanctions the bloc intends to impose on Russia if Ukraine is attacked. Individual countries from within the bloc could also deal with the crisis. In the case of Germany, newly elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz leveraged the Nord Stream 2 that is yet to be authorized, to warn Russia of the possible “consequences” the pipeline would face if Russian aggression escalated. France has also been vocal with regard to its stance on opposing and warning Moscow of the repercussions of such aggression. Provision of market space, financial assistance, and backing on progressive institution-building could be other areas via which Brussels could contribute to realistically supporting Ukraine to deter Russia. Indulging pro-European Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova should also be among the top priorities for the EU.
Collective action: Options for NATO
Other than the individual options available, collective action can be undertaken via NATO. The Ukrainian military can be backed by NATO forces, essentially strengthening both the military as well as the society to withstand Russian aggression. Provision of training, supply equipment along intelligence sharing can also be considered. Such cooperation would enable Ukraine to resist and counter threats in the form of hybrid attacks. Patrols along the Black Sea, avoiding provocation, should be continued. NATO can act as an advisory or counsel for Ukraine, effectively reminding the country to maintain the status quo. Russia has always demanded NATO to stay away from Ukraine in order to avert unnecessary provocations that could lead to regional destabilization. In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about red lines, saying: “We’re constantly voicing our concerns about this, talking about red lines, but we understand our partners – how shall I put it mildly – have a very superficial attitude to all our warnings and talk of red lines.”
In 2016, when Crimea was captured by Russian forces, the only action is undertaken by NATO, the US and other Western forces was that of imposing sanctions. However, there exists a questionability about the impact of sanctions on Russia. The country has reduced its dependence on foreign markets via holding large currency and gold reserves since the Crimean invasion. This independence allows the Kremlin a breathing space even in the face of sanctions. There was no effort at providing military backing to the Ukrainian forces by NATO. As Paul Taylor states in an article on POLITICO: “The lesson was clear: Neither the US nor European allies are prepared to risk war with Russia over Ukraine or Georgia. To acknowledge this is not appeasement but realism. To pretend otherwise is a cruel deception.”
For those who claim that NATO or EU accession is the key to deterrence and end to the conflict, it is a dream too far away in the future to be converted into a reality. Also, Russia will not watch idly as Ukraine is taken away from them. The prospect of accession either into the EU or NATO is costly risk, the consequences of which need to be calculated at length. Nonetheless, intaking countries which fail to have complete sovereignty over their territories is detrimental when considering the ability to secure the North Atlantic region.
“Russia says it has 'right to defend its security,' as Biden warns of sanctions,” Deutsche Welle, 08 December 2021.
“US President Biden to speak with Russia's Putin on Tuesday,” Deutsche Welle, 04 December 2021.
Humeyra Pamuk and Sabine Siebold, “U.S. tells Russia to pull back from Ukraine or face painful sanctions,” Reuters, 01 December 2021.
“US top diplomat Blinken warns of 'serious consequences' if Russia attacks Ukraine,” Deutsche Welle, 02 December 2021.
Paul Taylor, “Ukraine: NATO's original sin,” POLITICO, 23 November 2021.
“Russia slams Western 'hysteria' over Ukraine,” Deutsche Welle, 21 November 2021.
Andrew Roth, “Biden says he won’t send US troops to Ukraine to deter Russian threat,” The Guardian, 08 December 2021.
By Ashwin Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan
French President reveals priority agenda for upcoming Presidency of the EU
On 09 December, French President Emmanuel Macron revealed the priorities of Paris for the upcoming presidency of the 27-nation bloc. The agenda covered six aspects: reforming the Schengen, defending Europe’s social model, reconciling climate ambitions and economic development, digital transformation, the rule of law, and the French presidential race. Towards reforming the Schengen, Macron said that he wanted Europe to control its borders and will introduce a reform of the Schengen free-movement area. He said: “….we must absolutely find a Europe that knows how to protect its borders and find a political organisation that puts us in a position to defend its values, which is why we will initiate, under this presidency, a reform of the Schengen area.” Another highlight of the schedule is the plan to introduce the EU's new border carbon tax. This plan aims to implement the carbon tax at the borders of Europe, which will enable transition in industries and promote competition. Macron said: “move towards a European tool to fight deforestation.” Apart from these, France's priorities also include transforming Europe into a digital power. (“Six takeaways as Macron unveils priorities of French EU presidency,” Euronews, 09 December 2021)
Germany’s new foreign minister to face the diplomatic rift between the US and Berlin
The new foreign minister of Germany, Annalena Baerbock, has been caught in a diplomatic rift between the US and Berlin. The issue is, the US has been levying back-to-back sanctions on the coalition government of Berlin, demanding to block Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline. While Russia has posed a threat for a military invasion in Ukraine and has also warned Germany to stop the supply of Gas as winter nears. Baerbock, a Greens co-leader, has been against the idea of a pipeline for a long time but has not voiced it out due to enduring support from the new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. According to her, the pipeline only benefited Russia by undermining Ukraine, negating the climate change targets of the EU and conflicting with Europe’s geostrategic interests. Along with French foreign minister, Jean Yves Le Drian, Baerbock said: "The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine are non-negotiable for us. Russia would pay a high political and economic price for renewed violation of Ukrainian statehood.” (Patrick Wintour and Philip Oltermann “Germany’s foreign minister under pressure over Nord Stream 2 sanctions,” The Guardian, 09 December 2021)
Putin's comments on Donbas
On 09 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "We see and know what is happening in Donbas," referring to the conflict zone; "It certainly looks like genocide." His comments highlighted the issue of discrimination against Russian speakers living in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, Putin commented, "I have to say that Russophobia is the first step towards genocide." Vladimir Putin spoke about these issues and concerns as US President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the background, more than 90,000 Russian troops have been speculated to be stationed near Ukraine's borders, and tensions are at an all-time high. Biden spoke with Putin two days ago regarding the escalating tensions over a video call, and the leaders discussed the security concerns around Ukraine. ("Russia Ukraine: Putin compares Donbas war zone to genocide," BBC, 10 December 2021; "Putin says the conflict in eastern Ukraine' looks like genocide',"FRANCE24, 09 December 2021)
Biden’s promise of support to NATO states of eastern Europe
On 09 December, US President Joe Biden called and pledged support to NATO states of eastern Europe and Ukraine if Russia attacked Ukraine. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to Biden about a “discussed possible formats for resolving the conflict”. Biden also reassured the NATO leaders that he would keep them informed of all the agreements with Russia. Lithuanian diplomat Linas Antanas Linkevičius said that Biden’s “transparency” regarding Russia’s buildup in the region had been appreciated by Lithuania. Biden’s talk with NATO leaders came after his video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The latter voiced concerns about Russia increasing forces around Ukraine. Biden also reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on call with Putin. (Andrew Roth,“Biden promises eastern Europeans support in event of Russian attack on Ukraine," The Guardian, 09 December 2021; Andrius Sytas and Joanna Plucinska, “Biden pledges more military support for Central Europe, Lithuanian official says," REUTERS, 10 December 2021)
Travel clearance for non-Irish EU citizens
On 09 December, a Nationality and Borders bill was passed in the House of Commons. The Bill stipulates Non-Irish EU citizens or non-British citizens from other countries to require a pre-travel clearance for crossing the Irish border. The Bill is similar to the system US-Canada have for inter-country travel. The House of Lords is yet to vote on the Bill, and if passed, it will be implemented into effect only in 2025. The new laws would hinder many non-Irish EU citizens living in the Republic of Ireland, who frequently cross the border for work or leisure. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the government in Ireland will raise their "concerns and our objections." The Bill is part of the post-Brexit renewal of the UK's immigration laws. (Shane Harrison, "Brexit: Non-Irish EU citizens could face Irish border travel checks," BBC, 09 December 2021; Freya McClements and Pat Leahy," Non-Irish EU citizens will need 'travel clearance' to cross Border under UK plan," The Irish Times, 08 December 2021)