Mark Galeotti posted: ” This is a summary of the discussion at a workshop emerging from the Strategic Competition Seminar Series (SCSS) webinars, that was held in Berlin on 24 May 2022 by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) in Garmisch-Par” In Moscow’s Shadows
This is a summary of the discussion at a workshop emerging from the Strategic Competition Seminar Series (SCSS) webinars, that was held in Berlin on 24 May 2022 by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The summary reflects the overall tenor of the discussion, and no specific element necessarily should be presumed to be the view of either of the participants.Please note that Mark Galeotti is only hosting these summaries and can claim no credit for compiling them.
Session 1: Beijing-Moscow-Kyiv: Strategic Lessons Learned and Denied?
Russian blunders in Ukraine are rooted in pre-existing and deep-seated strategic, military and political cultures. These blunders result in a contradictory “fluid stalemate”, as well as exhausted and degraded Russian forces. Official “everything going according to plan” propagandist narratives do not allow for, let alone incentivize, innovative results-orientated approaches: Russia cannot learn from defeats that it does not recognize. In a “battle of resilience”, Ukraine is winning. If the war continues for 3 more months, there is no need for US troops to reinforce Europe.
Russia’s leadership cannot learn any potential “lessons” identified in Donbas operations between 2014 and 2022 as engagements here were officially denied. In Syria Russian Aerospace Forces operated in parallel with Syrian and Iranian, not Russian, ground forces and so there are no combined arms “lessons” to be learned and applied. Instead, Russia falls back on existing tactics and strategy which stress positional mass artillery barrages though Ukraine adopts a more dynamic fire and move approach. Greater Russian firepower cannot compensate for less Russian manpower. Kinzhal is not decisive as the arsenal too limited and targeting is uncertain; Russia lacks the essential ability to integrate different strike capabilities.
The orderly retreat from Kyiv – days ahead of what would have been a route – highlight some adaptive ability. Putin’s decision not to declare “special operation” as “war” on 9 May and order full mobilization also demonstrates an ability still to surprise, as does Russia’s “mellow” response to Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO.
From a Russian perspective, China’s footprint in its “special operation” is apparent in three respects: 1) poor equipment supplies which speak more to corruption than cooperation; 2) a degree of political trust that allows Russia to accept the risk of deploying ground troops from the Far Eastern Military District to Ukraine; and, 3) as Russia’s war in Ukraine is in part designed to causes the final collapse of the Western liberal international rules-based order so highlighting Russia’s great power – China’s withdrawal of support or the continued existence of that order challenges this foundational legitimizing Russian narrative.
The 4 February 2022 “no limits friendship” joint declaration noted that the “fate of states are interconnected”. This fits into the Chinese view that there is no existence without coexistence. It reiterated respect for statehood and non-interference in domestic affairs and stated that the liberal international order needed to be transformed, though within the UN framework and International Law. For China the end state is a “common destiny of mankind” which places US and China as peers, affording each other mutual respect and enjoying peaceful coexistence.
In reality, the CCP understands Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in terms of: 1) legitimate Russian security interests; 2) Russia’s need to suppress a “Nazi” Ukrainian regime – even if Putin wrongly assessed the Ukrainians themselves would perceive this as “liberation”; and, 3) as a proxy war which validates Chinese assumptions around a confrontational US and NATO wedded to Cold War thinking. China reinforces Russia’s social media framing of the invasion as a Western neo-colonial struggle which Russia resists, and while such traction is limited in the Middle East it has purchase more generally in the Global South.
China believes Ukraine is in no way analogous to Taiwan – in political terms Taiwan is considered internal to China and in practical reality an amphibious operations against a sea fortress harder than ground forces crossing contiguous borders. US increased security cooperation with Taiwan and its leverage of the AUKUS format will give rise to an arms race. More broadly, China sees western predominance eroding and its promotion of “follow your own path” to development garners support in the Global South. Volatility, rising energy and agricultural product prices, infrastructure connectivity and supply chain disruption are clear Chinese concerns.
Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the catalyst for a fundamental shift in today’s Sino-Russian axis in which the Xi–Putin relationship is central? Xi does not want to contemplate a post-Putin Russia. China’s current narrative is that two major powers – Russia and China – seek to change the Western dominated rules-based order. A war of attrition which weakens Russia irrevocably is not in China’s interest as it deprives China of a functioning axis that can act as strategic counter-weight to US hegemony. China has no interest in influencing Putin, nor is it clear if it has the means to do so should the interest arise. China will exhibit greater caution in relations with Russia, avoiding too great a dependence on the axis. However, it is not clear which other major power replace Russia. India’s behavior is a critical factor.
Session 2: After Ukraine: Russia, China and Regional Order?
We can identify three strands of thinking in Moscow concerning regional order in the context of the special operation in Ukraine – these in part represent ideas for action but also ad hoc rationalizations of possible pathways forward:
Liberal Commentators – “Russia in retreat”: Russia is in the process of losing the war and as it weakens it’s FDI and technological dependence on China is strengthened. Russia fails as a legitimate leader in post-Soviet space – it does not constitute an attractive socio-economic model. Sanctions cause a radical reshaping of Russian trade with China, but also its ability to invest in Central Asia, cutting economic growth across the region to 2.6% or less in 2022. Economic weakness and war in Ukraine diminishes Russia’s ability to be the security provider and guarantor of security in Central Asia (with spillover dangers from Afghanistan and actual instability in eastern Tajikistan) and undercuts Russian regional integrationist projects (EEU/CSTO). China becomes the dominant actor in Central Asia, Turkey in the Caucasus and the EU in the West – Russia is in retreat in post-Soviet space.
Pragmatists – “Russia muddles through”: Russia avoids isolation by engaging the Global South, western disunity returns, trade with China increases in some sectors (e.g. coal x2 in 2022). Russia still has a role to play in Central Asia: China supports the existing division of labor, with China focused on the economic and developmental sectors and Russia political-security matters. Even if Russia is a weaker player after the war, China is unlikely to want to fill the role of security provider. For example, if there is destabilization on the Afghan border, China is unlikely to want to manage a crisis alone: its preference would be for Russia to be in the lead. Central Asia can emerge as a “grey zone” for sanctions breaking and organized crime and other illicit transactions.
Ideological – “Ethno-nationalist revisionist Russia”: This strain of thought is revisionist, understanding Russia’s existential confrontation with Ukraine and the West a way of breaking the current international order and reshaping global order. Such “old political thinking” is based on balance of power, pluralism and a belief on the utility of military force. In that worldview, an alignment with China against the West is seen as vital. But this could be upset by the ideological strand of Russian ethno-nationalism that could be destabilizing (e.g. in relation to northern Kazakhstan). Central Asian states are not ideological but pragmatic, preferring multi-vector balancing to choosing sides in a bipolar confrontation.
China’s as “black box”: as access and contacts are cut, it becomes ever harder to distinguish rumor from conspiracy from opinion. It is though clear that China’s approach to Central Asia is different from Russia’s, both in terms of means and ends. Its formation demonstrates how China views its global role.
The SCO was the first of the China + X mechanism and the only regional organization China has created. China’s structuring and ordering of this region indicates its understanding of its role in world regions and so its vison of its role in global order. China’s primary focus has been on regional order and stable “neighborly relations”. An underlying Chinese assumption is apparent – Central Asia lacks internal agency, order is created on Chinese terms.
While the West had had a linear view of how relations with China unfold, multi-dimensional spatialization is a feature of Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping. China has a connective concept of “docking” or “linking”, including Central Asian transportation hubs linking China geographically with Europe as “end destination” but also Central Asia as the “in between space” with transnational digital payments systems, satellites and other layers of Sino-centric technology. Xi’s recent emphasis on global security, highlighting particularly the safety of global supply chains, underscores this approach – it is global, maritime and continental and digital. Currently more than 1000 container ships stand-off China’s east coast ports awaiting unloading, a zero-COVID policy and the disruption caused by Russia’s invasion, indicate that in 6-8 weeks the unpredictable knock-on impact will be felt globally.
Is China trapped by Russian geopolitical adventurism? CCP leadership took two weeks to issue a statement after 24 February invasion (which was not a “lame” MFA statement but CCCP leadership). As China reads across from Ukraine to Taiwan, an ideal outcome for China would be Russia claims victory, Ukraine remains as a neutral state, Russia controls Donbas. China reaps the strategic advantage of Russian energy at cheap prices. (Russia faces the challenge of explaining to itself Chinese control over its energy sector – investors, contractors, development).
Where are China-Russia red lines?What is the conflict potential between the two? The functional axis is interest based and once those interests no longer exist then “friendship” can fast fade. However, short of energy and unrestricted NSR access, China does not need much else from Russia.
China and Russia have different interests in the Northern Sea Route – the maritime dimension of BRI through Central Asia. With regards to such sea lanes, China and the US adopt a similar understanding, one which Canada and Russia oppose.
Russia tries to diversify links in the Indo-Pacific, supporting Vietnam and India – both strategic opponents of China.
China’s attitudes to sovereignty and territorial integrity in Central Asian SCO states may be much less flexible than in Ukraine or Belarus. Russian incursions into Kazakhstan may elicit different responses.
Hybrid threats activities as used by Russia and China are designed to 1) undermine democracies and democratic processes, 2) impact on their decision making algorithm and 3) saturate the capacity of the target and the create cascading effects. Such activity seeks to test and exploit vulnerabilities, can be short and long-term, are tailored to different regional contexts and very often leverage and weaponize history.
In Finland and Sweden the situational awareness of the potential hybrid threats activity from China and Russia in the context of NATO accession is high. One of the reasons for this is that with NATO accession the attitude towards the accession is clear. It is always harder to determine the actual threats to specific national interests. NATO accession and hybrid threats can be understood in terms of three phases:
1) Pre-application: given decision making in Stockholm and Helsinki was so quick and the decision to apply so sudden, hybrid threats did not materialize in opposition to this process – Russia and China were rendered reactive;
2) Grey zone: the period between application and actual membership provides the greatest opportunity to challenge and discredit membership.
In Finland, There are multiple ways this could be done and some things have been already detected; cyber and disinformation attacks, attempts to harness those that support the Russia agenda, threats by Russia to withdraw from bilateral projects (waterway); questioning of the Aland Island status as a demilitarized zone and the status of Finnish companies in Russia (this however is connected also to a larger context of the sanctions), and threats of unspecified military consequences on accession. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova states that “the Russian military will decide” what those consequences may be. China has reacted negatively but so far hybrid threat activity has not been visible. Previously China has used cyber tools to spy on the Finnish Parliament (trend that seem to have occurred elsewhere as well) and usage of United People’s Front especially it networks related to universities.
In Sweden the situation is a bit similar; more hybrid threat activity before then this spring; disinformation campaigns have been constant and there is also an example of infiltration into the Swedish Parliament and intelligence services by Russia. Chinese hybrid threat activities in Sweden have been vigorous. It is a larger and more active hybrid threat actor than Russia in Sweden, practicing “wolf warrior” diplomacy, threatening journalists, parliamentarians and experts and raising questions over Chinese investments in Swedish critical national infrastructure
3) Post-accession: probable normalization of hybrid threat activity akin to other NATO member states. Here Finland and Sweden will need to restart relations with Russia from scratch.
As long as Russia is waging a war in Ukraine its ability to do hybrid threat activity is lower. In the case of Ukraine, early conclusions can be made that Russia’s conventional military attacks from 24 February point to the lack of success of its aim to achieve strategic goals. There is also the question of whether the hybrid threat activity slowed democratization processes but strengthened Ukrainian sense of nationhood.
Both autocracies and democracies have the same practice of exerting influence over adversaries, however democracies are constrained by democratic practices like rule of law and inability of the state to compel independent media to undertake information operations or private companies to work for the state or individuals to be used to inform. The democratic states have different strategic culture to design influence operations and there is often openly declared aims. Therefore, the hybrid threat activity is what autocracies do against democratic states.
Russian foreign policy from perhaps as early as 1993, certainly 1995, has sought to attain 3 goals: 1) Russian Great Power status; 2) maintain a sphere of influence in neighboring states; 3) protecting Russia from encroachments from the West. These goals remain the same but Russia’s power has weakened and changed both relative to neighbors and the West. In terms of Russian threat assessment of the West, 3 elements can be identified:
1) NATO enlargement: the military dimension involved the proliferation of NATO military infrastructure; the geopolitical threat was encroachment into Russia’s sphere of influence;
2) Regime change: this was first perceived as a political threat following the Rose and Orange revolutions of 2003 and 2004, but by 2014 Russian military doctrine identified color revolutions as military threats, highlighting a perception in Moscow that legitimate regimes could be changed via secret plans, external western organization and the export of destabilization/chaos designed to promote anti-Russian hostile states to limit Russian influence and ultimately weaken Russia.
3) Negation of Russia’s nuclear deterrent: western missile defense and prompt global strike are designed to eliminate Russia’s nuclear deterrent and Russia discounts US promises these systems are not targeting Russia.
Role of China in Russian threat perception: Though historically the “China threat” is a feature of Russian strategic culture, this threat perception has dissipated as Russian Far East Military District ground troop deployment in Ukraine attests, though China’s economic threat potential to Russia has increased. Implicitly, while neither threatens the other, there is no expectation of direct mutual military support. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the assumption held that Russia could still, where interests aligned, cooperate with the West or even together build a new international order. This assumption is no longer valid. Russian efforts with China to weaken Western liberal international order and economic dominance are much harder.
Session 4: Ukraine, Strategic Competition and Policy Implications Roundtable?
Catastrophic success? In an ideal Western end-state, Ukraine and Russia emerge as democratic and the global economy prospers. However, might Ukraine and the West win the war but lose the peace? Russian strategic military-political defeat in Ukraine may lead to regime implosion. If crisis is opportunity:
Ukraine may emerge, in the words of President Zelensky, as “Big Israel”, a state whose identity is defined by existential threat, whose institutions are securitized and which is thriving, democratic and resilient.
More generally, Russian neighbours may express their agency: Moldova advances towards EU integration; Georgia contemplates competing impulses – reintegrate South Ossetia or trade with Russia on Georgian terms; Lukashenka attempts to instrumentalise a protracted war in Ukraine to re-establish Belarus’ multi-vector credentials and so regime continuity.
Russia elects to fight on two fronts: 1) a 20th C war in Ukraine that it is losing; 2) a 21st C confrontation and conflict with the ‘political West’ that it currently loses. Ukraine and the political West are in synch – but could over time diverge.
Putin’s Ukraine victory as a post-Putin regime change mechanism:
Did Putin plan on winning the war to secure an exit from formal politics: winning enables Putin to leaving presidential power as “untouchable”? If so, then a protracted conflict locks Putin further into the increasingly uncertain political realities of Russia, demanding he now, captive in the Kremlin, build an actual “power vertical” to survive.
Putinism exists but are there actual Putinists? Supporters of Putin are ruthless, opportunistic and self-interested pragmatists, loyal to the extent their interests are enabled by Putin in power. Tensions in Russia’s security services exist – Zolotov, Bortnikov, Shoigu are publicly absent. Rosgvardia members express disillusionment on vKontakte social media channels, resenting their perceived use as cannon-fodder in the “special operation”. Elite discussions acknowledge that “we are stuck”, the worrying (for Putin) step before, “unless…”. The momentum of elite defections in 1989 and 1991 a real factor: the more fragmented the elite the greater the potential for defections.
Radical nationalist Strelkov-type narratives around exterminationst actions necessary for victory are not yet expressed by Putin but this is the direction of travel. On the basis of Ukraine, the notion that what comes after Putin is much worse is unproven.
Sanctions and market realities: the economic damage inflicted by sanctions on Russia remains unclear: Russian GDP is expected to fall between 5-30% of GDP; trade between sanctioning states and Russia fall between 50-70%. Economic markets are spaces not actors and within these spaces companies are the actors. The economies of both Russia and China rely on the decentralized management of economic decision-making. Russia does not have the institutional capacity to control Russian companies and their private interests. The global economy is one common dollar denominated space that shares values and institutions. China is integrated into this space. It is an either/or proposition. If Russia is not integrated it moves further from China. Chinese – Russian trade was in decline before the war broke out and it is now the question how much trade will bounce back in light of Russia’s declining trade with the West. As a minimum, it would make it difficult for China to cooperate with Moscow when Russia is less than ever integrated in the world economy.
Sanctions float like a toxic cloud over Russia’s economy – acting as a clear incentive to disengage unless in sectors such as energy where the risk can be controlled. China will not take over the place of EU Europe in the Russian economy but will serve as partial replacement. Decentralized economies deal well with scarcity but are fragile in the face of uncertainty.
China can be opportunistic and find the appropriate risk-reward equilibrium in key sectors, but can only partially replace the West. China has a clear interest in trade and export but not in including Russia in its supply chains. Foreign (Chinese/Western) capital will not return to Russia as the trust upon which investments are bases are burnt.
GCMC, 27 May 2022.
Disclaimer: This summary is a synthesis by Graeme P. Herd of the presentations (Pavel Baev, Mark Galeotti, Nadine Godehardt, Dmitry Gorenburg, David Lewis, Janis Kluge, Hanna Smith and Falk Tettweiler) and extensive discussions at the SCSS Berlin Workshop on 24 May 2022 and is not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments or organization.
insbesondere in Italien, Spanien und in Deutschland hat sich in den letzten Tagen viel bewegt – es gab einen großen Zuwachs an Unterzeichnungen zur Europäischen Bürgerinitiative (EBI) Grundeinkommen. https://eci.ec.europa.eu/014/public/#/screen/home
Wir brauchen aber noch mehr. Am 25. Juni 2022 endet die Möglichkeit zu unterzeichnen.
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The European Union’s top border protection official has resigned following claims that years of rights abuses occurred under his watch, including alleged mistreatment of migrants who arrive in the bloc’s territory.
Fabrice Leggeri, a French national who headed up the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, commonly known as ‘Frontex,’ confirmed his departure in a statement obtained by several media outlets on Friday.
“I give my mandate back to the Management Board as it seems that [the] Frontex mandate on which I have been elected and renewed in late June 2019 has silently but effectively been changed,” he said.
While a European anti-fraud agency launched a probe into the abuse allegations last year, its findings have yet to be made public. However, investigations by a consortium of regional media outlets have indicated that Frontex was aware of at least 22 cases of migrant ‘pushbacks,’ when immigration authorities simply forced asylum seekers, arriving by boat, back out to sea.
The 22 ‘pushbacks’ were conducted by both Frontex and Greek officials and involved more than 950 migrants, all occurring between March 2020 and September 2021, the media outlets reported – among them Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, Switzerland’s SRF et Republik and investigative NGO Lighthouse Reports.
Frontex convened an emergency meeting on both Thursday and Friday to address allegations against Leggeri and two other staffers at the agency. The former Frontex chief has denied the charges in the past, and the European Parliament issued a report on the matter last year.
“The management board took note of his intentions and concluded that the employment has therefore come to an end,” Frontex said in a statement, adding that Leggeri formally resigned on Thursday.
Defined as any government policy in which “migrants are forced back over a border…without consideration of their individual circumstances and without any possibility to apply for asylum,” EU law prohibits ‘pushbacks’ over concerns they will place human lives in danger, as many migrants show up in unseaworthy boats and rafts following lengthy voyages. International law also generally bans “refoulement,” or the forcible return of refugees to a country where they may be at risk of persecution.
A magistrates court in London has issued a formal order to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face espionage charges there, and a possible effective life imprisonment. Wednesday’s ruling may be appealed.
The Westminster Magistrates’ Court decision reverses its previous ruling that denied the US extradition to the US based on Assange’s poor mental state and the harsh conditions in American high-security prisons. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel will need to authorize the extradition before it can be executed.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said the UK court was issuing a “death sentence” to Assange by passing its decision. He is facing up to 175 years in prison under the espionage charges he faces in the US indictment.
The legal team defending Assange said it will make representations to Secretary Patel, asking for a chance to make an appeal against the court order. The lawyers said they may appeal to the High Court, even if the secretary grants the extradition.
The previous British rejection of the extradition request was issued by the same court in January 2021. The American side successfully appealed the decision by challenging the testimony of defense experts, and by offering to give formal assurances that Assange would not be put under the worst security regime during his prosecution in the US.
Julian Assange: From liberal darling to public enemy no. 1
Julian Assange: From liberal darling to public enemy no. 1
Assange, who is best known for his organization’s pro-transparency activism and its publication of leaked classified documents, which has exposed the dark secrets of many governments, has been in British custody since April 2019. He is kept at the high-security Belmarsh prison, dubbed “British Guantanamo” for its role as the incarceration site of the most dangerous criminals in the UK. He had previously spent seven years locked inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, before a new government in Quito revoked his asylum.
During his self-exile at the embassy, the US unsealed its case against Assange and filed a request to the UK to hand him over for prosecution.
The prosecution in Britain has sparked international criticism against the British government by advocates of media freedom. Assange supporters see him as a prisoner of conscience, who is being persecuted by Washington and London for his work as a publisher. The precedent sends a chilling message to any journalist wishing to investigate misconduct by Western governments that their lives may be ruined in retribution, critics said.
On March 23, Assange married Stella Moris, with whom he has two children. The ceremony was conducted inside the prison, and only a limited group of people was allowed to attend.
READ MORE: Aim of Assange’s prosecution is to ‘scare others’ – Rafael Correa to RT
Julian Assange has been a target for the US since 2010, when Wikileaks published a trove of State Department cables and Pentagon documents that depicted alleged war crimes committed by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has been accused of attempting to hack Pentagon computers and has been charged under the Espionage Act, which prohibits obtaining information related to national defense which can be used to undermine US interests or benefit foreign nations.
Assange has denied all the charges against him, with his legal defense team arguing that he had not been under US jurisdiction and had engaged in completely legal journalism. They also deny allegations of conspiring to hack Pentagon computers, insisting that the case is based on discredited testimony of the convicted Icelandic criminal ‘Siggi the Hacker’.
This is a summary of the discussion at the latest workshop of the current series of online Russia Seminar Series (RSS) webinars held on 21 March 2022 by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The summary reflects the overall tenor of the discussion, and no specific element necessarily should be presumed to be the view of either of the participants.Please note that Mark Galeotti is only hosting these useful summaries and can claim no credit for compiling them.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears stalled, giving space for political negotiations. However, there are two wars that need to be addressed: Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s war with the West. In the first war, the issues include: 1) “neutrality”; 2) “security guarantees”; 3) de-militarization; 4) “de-nazification”; and 5) the nature of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s combat operations have stalled. Forceful breakthrough in several directions are unsuccessful. The siege of Kyiv incomplete, as the visit by three European prime ministers demonstrated. On 21 March President Zelensky stated that Ukraine will not bow to ultimatums from Russia and that Ukrainian cities under attack will not accept occupation. At the same time he urged direct talks with President Putin, saying: “Without this meeting it is impossible to fully understand what they are ready for in order to stop the war.” As a Ukrainian Jew whose relatives died in the Holocaust, his address to the Israeli Knesset compared Russian actions with that of the Nazi’s. Russian propaganda asserting the opposite fails to gain traction outside of Russia.
Russia’s ultimata to the US and NATO in December 2021 in the guise of diplomacy prefigured a recasting of the war in Ukraine as one between the “collective West” (‘Empire of lies’) and Russia (‘Truth and Justice’). In this telling, articulated by Putin at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on 18 March 2022, the West carries out “total war” against Russia using a “fifth column” consisting of “national traitors” with “slave consciousness”, as well as information warfare and economic sanctions. According to this understanding, Ukraine is a puppet, under “external control on the part of the West”. For President Putin, Russia is in an existential struggle for its sovereignty, its right to be itself, and so fights a necessary and heroic war of defense. Such military-patriotic mobilization through “total war” propaganda makes up for lost time: Putin had continuously asserted that Russia did not seek war and Russian society was not therefore mobilized to support war prior to the invasion.
Ukraine-Russia Political Settlement
Russia insists that Ukraine adopts a neutral military status, with Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky stating that Russia desires a: “peaceful, free, independent Ukraine that is neutral and not a member of a military bloc, not a member of NATO.” President Zelensky accepts non-NATO membership as a reality: NATO is “not ready to accept Ukraine for at least 15 more years”. The question then is which neutrality model does Ukraine adopt – the Swiss model of armed neutrality and territorial defence – or the non-aligned Finnish and Swedish models, that include EU membership, with its increasingly meaningful Common Foreign and Security Policy. Although the EU as a regulatory and normative geo-economic superpower united in sanctions against Russia poses the greatest danger for rent-based patronal ‘Putinism’, Putin himself may not understand this reality.
A second focus in the discussions is on security guarantees “for all participants in this process”. Thus a neutral Ukraine would seek guarantees for the “complete security for Ukraine for the time that NATO is not ready to accept us”. Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine’s chief negotiator, notes that this: “suggests that there will be no bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine, but rather a multilateral agreement, a package agreement that a number of countries will take part in — their number is still being discussed. [But it will be] five to seven countries.”States mentioned as guarantors include nuclear power states – UK, France and US – as well as Turkey, Poland, and Israel. However, how these guarantors punish potential future violators have yet to be defined, and given the failure of the generic Budapest guarantees, identifying specific responses for specific violations may help make the process more credible and reconcile Kyiv to it. Russia itself would need “security guarantees” – but guarantees of what and by whom? This factor does underscore that two peace processes are interlinked.
Russia seeks “demilitarisation” of Ukraine so that “no threats to the Russian Federation ever come from its territory”. The size and capability of Ukraine’s military is a topic for discussion. If Ukraine adopts armed neutrality with security guarantees, this suggests that Ukraine would be armed to the extent that it could defend itself from and so deter future aggressors. This in turn implies a range of air-land-battle capabilities and integrated air-defense systems in place. Limited and symbolic third party border monitoring missions might also ensure demilitarization and act as a security guarantee. All Russian military forces would withdraw from the territory of Ukraine, raising questions regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity and borders. Ukraine’s post-settlement model may well be Israel. That is, heavily militarized, with a sense of self based on military vulnerability, but with strong external guarantees.
President Putin continues to speak of “denazification” which supports his framing in terms of the Great Patriotic War, while Foreign Minister Lavrov referenced the “termination of nazification policy” in Ukraine. “Denazification” suggests regime change, with ‘regime’ understood in terms of current political and military leadership in Ukraine as well as policies. The “termination of nazification policy” may be understood in terms of alegal regime and refer to “discriminatory legislation” and restrictions on Russian language, education, culture, and mass media in Ukraine. Russia’s narrative around a “special military operation” to “protect the Russian-speaking population” against a Ukrainian Nazi regime encompasses both interpretations.
Territorial issues may be subject to de facto and de jure recognition compromises with regards to Donbas and Crimea but not ‘the South’. For Donbas, Russia has rrecognized both Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states according to their de jure 2014 administrative borders. Ukraine will likely insist on the de facto borders of 22 February 2022. Will it settle for the de facto borders by time of settlement? With Crimea, Russia would likely insist on the official recognition of Crimea a permanent part of Russia either immediately or through another referendum, this time with international recognition? President Zelensky has referenced a “Crimea compromise” which suggests that de jure the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (the ARK) is still legally part of Ukraine but de facto Ukraine would work with the current reality. However, in ‘the South’ Russia will seek to maintain the seized North Crimea canal (water security for Crimea) and the land corridor to Donbas, making the Sea of Azov a Russian lake. Russia has begun moves on creating a Kherson Peoples Republic and Mariupol Peoples Republic. For Ukraine trading Mariupol for a wider peace may be a bridge too far.
Progress in the war has an effect on the respective strengths and confidence of both sides. We can look to the culmination of Russian military and diplomatic tracks regarding its aggression in Ukraine and the knock-on effects for Russia’s economy and popular and “inner circle” support for Putin. Does Russia meet an impasse or stalemate where continuation forward is no longer possible? Does this then allow for an operational pause and regroup and provide time to mobilize support for a wider war?
If Russia suffered the isolation and destruction of several battalion tactical groups due to over extended supply lines, encirclement and annihilation, might this tactical defeat resonate on other Russian fronts, leading to collapse, compounded by steady military losses, exhaustion and low morale (as evidenced in the Kostroma 331st Guards Airborne Regiment and 138th motorized rifle brigade)? Alternatively, might Russia escalate to negotiate from a position of greater strength, seeking the formal capitulation of Mariupol or capture of Kharkiv, Sumy, or Mykolaiv as bargaining chips in the negotiations? Might an unexpected Russian break through lead to the belief that “just one more push” leads to victory? This mindset that brought ruin to the Russian army in World War I.
In Ukraine, 2020-2021 sociological surveys demonstrated public opinion leaning towards integration with the EU and NATO. War has increased Ukrainian support for pro-Western policies and the Ukrainian language, identity, self-belief. On 18 March 2022 Rating sociology group carried out a survey via Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews with 1,000 respondents above the age of 18 in all regions of Ukraine except those currently occupied: 96% believe that Ukraine will repel Russia’s attack. On 21 March President Zelensky stated that the final format for compromises on “security guarantees” and the temporarily occupied territories in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia may be put to an all-Ukrainian referendum. This mechanism may also facilitate implied changes to Ukraine’s constitution.
Might vertical escalation through the use of a non-strategic nuclear weapon(s) be used to break the impasse and improve Putin/Russia’s negotiation position? Russia appears unlikely to escalate in this manner for a number of reasons: 1) the impossibility for NATO allies not to have a direct military response and actively consider regime change; 2) the technical difficulties involved in the delivery; 3) a pragmatic Putin fearing his orders might not be carried out chooses not to; 4) the loss of external support – China being critical – as Russia moves from pariah to isolated rogue state status; 5) a staged nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya after withdrawal from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would have the same escalatory signally effect without the risks associated with Ukraine.
The spring 2021 conscription draft represents a tipping point. As Russia dragoons a new wave of conscripts, draft dodging may prove an indirect indicator of popular support for the war, or lack of it. In addition, once conscripts complete their one year service they are released into society as live witnesses of the realities in Ukraine. Might Russia be tempted to extend conscription and undertake “national mobilization of personnel and industry”? Would this emergency move cause societal backlash and unrest, as well as damage the narrative of a “special military operation” going “according to plan”? Does the deployment of Rosgvardiya for controlling the occupied territories leave too little capacity for managing anti-war movements in Russia itself?
Deficiencies in Russia’s way of war are evident. The Russian military was unprepared for a multi-axis attack against determined resistance. The centrality of Putin to Putin’s war is highlighted by his portrayal as a popular war leader, though this popularity may be Potemkin-like. Putin is selling “victory” to the Russian public and his “inner circle”, but are they buying? If so, at what price? Putin sought to restore Slavic unity. He breaks it, loses Ukraine and returns Russia to a 1970s “Brezhnev 2.0” construct, with differences: Russia is in open confrontation with the West not competition, is more ideological, weaker and less stable. Coups in Russia – Khrushchev in 1964 or Gorbachev in August 1991 – occur when there is a confluence of opinion in Russian military, KGB and political elites. Has Putin ensured through elite surveillance and a lack of collective institutions that this terminal culmination point is not reached? For now elite opposition manifests itself as passivity and lack of support rather than the active determination to be first mover in the removal of a paranoid and isolated but not yet a fully Potemkin-Putin: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. (King Richard IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1).
GCMC, March 22, 2022.
Disclaimer: This summary reflects the views of the authors (Pavel Baev, Mark Galeotti and Graeme P. Herd) and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.