Too much attachment to “sovereignty” could lead to a bad outcome

The UK’s Defence Secretary managed to behave it seems in a reasonably civilised way while in Moscow. Unfortunately, once safely out of the room he came up with what he presumably thinks is a clever reference to history, saying there is “a whiff of Munich in the air”. He is referring perhaps to Macron’s attempts at diplomacy. (Macron seems to have very slightly broken from the US-UK line of not listening to anything Russia is saying and proceeding by way of threats). Possibly Ben Wallace is unaware how a comparison to the Nazis is likely to go down in Moscow. Or maybe he knows only too well and it is yet further evidence that they really are trying to goad Russia into war – so they can cripple her with sanctions and end Nord Stream 2. (Which would be good for US gas exporters and US and UK arms companies in general). In any event it is obvious they are prepared to sacrifice Ukraine.

The wall to wall propaganda continues in the liberal media. This is the Guardian: “Scholz’s options for offering Putin concessions during his trip to Moscow are limited. The Russian president is demanding “security guarantees” from the west, which would effectively undermine the sovereignty of independent states in east-central Europe and the Baltics”. This line about “sovereignty” seems to be something they can rally behind. One of Russia’s demands is that NATO limit its military exercises in countries bordering Southern Russia (which they would match on their side of the border) and draw down its forces placed in countries since 1997. They have also asked that NATO formally state that Ukraine and Georgia will not be allowed to join the organisation. [1] Since 2014 NATO has been marauding up and down Russia’s borders, and, it seems, they’ve had enough. (The extent to which the forcing of the issue at just this moment is related to Putin’s retirement plans is an interesting political sub-story perhaps). Rational analysis shows that these demands are about what they say they are; securing Russian security and reducing the risk of war. Of course Russia has swallowed up Crimea and implicit in their current demands is that NATO accept that. This may partly explain the strength of the West’s reaction. One imagines that NATO has not accepted that they have “lost” Crimea. To a large extent the current crisis is part 2 of the annexation of Crimea. Unfinished business left over from that.

Leaving the question of Crimea aside do these demands “limit the sovereignty” of states in the Baltics and Eastern Europe? Obviously a mutual agreement about limiting exercises near the border does not. The other points seem to hinge on how you look at it. From Russia’s point of view NATO is moving into the border countries with its missiles and forces – all pointed at Russia. (In a way Russia’s current activity near the Ukrainian border and in Belarus could be a way of saying “see how you like it”). From the West’s point of view all these countries have asked to join NATO and have asked for NATO forces in their countries – so agreeing to Russian demands would be to “limit the sovereign choice” of these countries. But this is a little disingenuous. The main thrust of Russia’s demands regarding a pull-down of forces is simply about the presence of those forces. They address NATO because they are NATO forces. If Latvia was capable itself of placing missiles and serious military infrastructure on its territory aimed at Russia and did so then Russia might seek to negotiate a limit on that too. In other words; Russia is not trying to undermine anyone’s sovereignty. That is a false argument. The issue is about military infrastructure.

The one area in which the argument about “sovereignty” has some substance is in connection with Russia’s demand to effectively veto membership of NATO for Ukraine and Georgia. This would appear to be the sovereign choice of those countries. Here though perhaps one can look at the question pragmatically. Putin is simply stating the obvious when he lays out how Ukraine in NATO could very easily lead (for example via a war over Crimea) to war between Russia and NATO. Again the real issue here seems not to be “sovereignty”, or at least not primarily sovereignty, but a practical question. Is NATO indeed ready to go to war with Russia over Crimea or – are they willing to rule that out? I wonder if they have been asked! And I wonder if they themselves know the answer.

One of the problems with the Western response is that they seem to have lined up behind the barricades shouting “sovereignty” and “Russian aggression”. They feel safe perhaps with these familiar lines. (And, as we mention above, for the West a war between Russia and Ukraine is by no means a disaster). They are simply not listening. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling, that the Russian side is behaving with a typically Russian ‘directness’ – making their point forcefully and without softening the edges. Possibly they don’t quite understand how this kind of directness (100,000 battle-ready troops within striking distance of the West’s latest puppet) can unsettle the West. Before you undertake diplomacy it would be a good idea to receive guidance on the cultural norms and expectations of the country you are talking to – from a native of that country. (I offer myself to the Kremlin on this point; please use the contact form).

Notes

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/17/world/europe/russia-nato-security-deal.html

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer