Apr 29th 2022

Russia’s long journey from partner of the west to pariah reflects a huge failure of its diplomacy

 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine two months ago, the world has grown used to the sight of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky’s diplomatic initiatives, initially from hiding in the besieged capital, Kyiv, and more recently in open meetings with a range of world leaders, have made him one of the most recognisable faces in this war.

Appearing via video link in his trademark camouflage green, Zelensky has addressed various national legislatures, including both houses of parliament in the UK and a joint session of congress in the US. In early March he was featured as the cover story in Time magazine.

But what about Russia? This whole episode can be seen as a failure of Russian diplomacy with Ukraine which stretches back nearly two decades, and has been matched with a similarly catastrophic cooling of relations with the west.

This has its roots in the EU’s expansion into what Russia had previously seen as its zone of influence, beginning in May 2004 when the EU welcomed ten new members, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This meant that Ukraine was now a direct neighbour of the EU. The enlargement required EU integration policies with Ukraine and numerous other former Soviet non-accession countries. Accordingly the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was launched in 2009, aiming at deeper EU integration with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Putin, meanwhile, was working hard to maintain close relations with Ukraine, particularly with pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovich, whose campaign he had supported in the 2004 election. One of the reasons for his interest in maintaining ties with Ukraine was his ambition to establish the Single Economic Space (SES) a free-trade zone including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

This was disrupted by the election of pro-western candidate Victor Yushchenko as president in 2004. Eventually, in January 2012, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the SES, which led to the launch of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015.

Meanwhile, in late 2013, Yanukovich considered taking Ukraine into a closer political and economic relationship with the EU via an Association Agreement (AA). But three weeks before the agreement was due to be signed at the EaP summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Putin offered the Ukrainian government both a loan of US$15 billion (£12 billion) and a one-third reduction in the price of Russian gas. As a result, Yanukovich decided not to sign the AA.

This was one of the key reasons for the EuroMaidan protests of 2014. These led to Ukraine’s “revolution of dignity”, which ousted Yanukovich and led to the election of Petro Poroshenko, a pro-European businessman.

Crimea annexed

As we know, Putin reacted badly to this development and, in March 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, holding a referendum in which a clear majority of people were reported to have voted for secession from Ukraine. The European Council responded with sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes against individuals who allegedly undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The planned EU-Russia summit in July 2014 was cancelled, as were bilateral meetings between heads of government of EU member states and Russia.

By and large, Russia belittled these sanctions. The chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, Fyodor Lukyanov, wrote that:

The west can put economic pressure on Russia, but no one – especially in Europe – is ready to consider truly serious sanctions, because they would cut both ways in this globalised world.

The sanctions’ lack of teeth and what appeared to be an unwillingness or inability to stop continuing Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine was a failure of coercive diplomacy, defined by Danish academic, Peter Viggo Jakobsen, as: “military threats and limited use of force (sticks) with inducements and assurances (carrots) in order to influence an adversary to visibly change its behaviour and do something against its will”. The sticks were not heavy enough and the carrots – from the Kremlin’s point of view at least – were non-existent.

Any attempt at western negotiations with Ukraine has ignored the stark reality that Russia sees any warming of relations between the west and its former allies in eastern Europe as – in the words of the first deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Leonid Slutsky: “a tactic of overt amputation of post-Soviet countries from the Eurasian project”.

From what Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have said in the run-up to, and since, February 24, when Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, it is this fear and resentment of an isolated Russia surrounded by pro-EU and Nato countries, that has led to the current conflict.

Lavrov’s world tour

In contrast to Zelensky’s much feted diplomacy, Russia’s attempts to represent its cause to the wider international community appear to have been far less successful. More than 100 diplomats walked out of a speech by Lavrov at a United Nations disarmament conference in Geneva in March. Lavrov had reportedly intended to deliver the speech in person, but had been prevented from travelling to Geneva by European countries’ bans on flights from Russia

Against a backdrop of abortive talks between various levels of representation of both Russia and Ukraine – initially in Belarus, then in Ankara in Turkey – Lavrov has continued to press Russia’s case.

He was welcomed to China at the end of March, where he held bilateral meetings not only with foreign affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin, but also with the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia, as well as Uzbekistan’s deputy prime minister. The beginning of April found Russia’s top diplomat in India, which has abstained from successive UN resolutions censuring Moscow and has increased its oil purchases from Russia, its biggest supplier of arms.

More recently the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, travelled to Moscow on April 26 and held separate meetings with both Lavrov and Putin, which reportedly resolved little. Putin is reported to have received Guterres at his famous long table, where other world leaders have found in recent months they get short shrift from the Russian leader.

The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues.

 

Anna-Sophie Maass, Lecturer in International Relations and Diplomacy, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."
May 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Monetary policymakers are talking tough nowadays about fighting inflation to head off the risk of it spinning out of control. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually wimp out and allow the inflation rate to rise above target. Since hitting the target most likely requires a hard landing, they could end up raising rates and then getting cold feet once that scenario becomes more likely. Moreover, because there is so much private and public debt in the system (348% of GDP globally), interest-rate hikes could trigger a further sharp downturn in bond, stock, and credit markets, giving central banks yet another reason to backpedal." ----- "The historical evidence shows that a soft landing is highly improbable. That leaves either a hard landing and a return to lower inflation, or a stagflationary scenario. Either way, a recession in the next two years is likely."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"