Wednesday, December 23, 2015
X-Captive Nations Recognize Russian Treachery
Pain and suffering create long-term memory, knowledge and expectations. Reading about someone’s pain and suffering is indirect, mediated and inferential, and, consequently, when it is politically expedient, those who experience knowledge by description are likely to disregard first-person experiences.
That is the situation that all of the x-captive nations are facing today. They had been enslaved by Moscow for centuries but today they are free, independent and sovereign countries with varying degrees of democratic development. But each one harbors fresh memories of Russian repression, oppression, occupation and bondage.
The free world did not recognize the plight of all of the captive nations during World War II and since then it has demonstrated mild interest in their historical pain and suffering. It never truly comprehended their captivity as well as their desire to distance themselves as far as possible from Moscow. Free countries refused to hear the former captive nations. Then add to this mixture Russia’s vast nuclear stockpile and active militarization and the free world became paralyzed, long on superficial political platitudes but short on comprehension and action.
Consequently, the x-captive nations have been left to their own designs. They have been warning the free world about potential Russian revanchism that could lead to their re-subjugation. Their fears came true when Russia invaded Georgia and then Ukraine in February 2014. Their panic and their insistence on visible NATO presence in their countries spiked.
Individually and collectively, the x-captive nations have been striving to improve their armed forces’ capabilities to defend themselves against Russian invasion, which they believe has moved to the front burner. Last week Latvia said it is building a fence along its border with Russia while all captive nations are pointing to Ukraine as proof that their countries – and indeed and entire free world – are in danger of being overrun by Russian armies.
Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs, has been one of the outspoken critics of the free world’s political myopia. He shares this level of understanding with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. In a recent article in EurActiv he chastised the free world for paying too much attention to not provoking Russia and warned about the dangers of misguidedly acting in a “pragmatic and responsible manner” with Russia.
The Lithuanian official recalled that at the 2008 NATO-Russia Summit in Bucharest, Russian President Putin urged the West not to cooperate with Ukraine, claiming that the country is an artificial creation, rather than a state. “That seemed to have set off an alarm clock. However, it was not heard, or the West comfortably chose not to hear it. Ukraine experienced the impact six years later, while Georgia witnessed warfare on its territory soon after, in August,” he wrote.
Many countries feign deafness with regards to Russian explicit and implicit threats.
“With Russian actions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, areas of the sovereign country were occupied. The protests of the international community, NATO and the EU were forgotten within several months and the ‘pragmatic and responsible’ position had the upper hand, i.e. cooperation with Russia was going on as usual. Russia did not ask for anything; it was the West that took the role as usual because ‘isolation is harmful, not profitable,’ etc.,” Linkevičius wrote.
Today, too, with Russia invading Ukraine and occupying Crimea and the eastern oblasts, the free world is choosing perilous pragmatic and responsible actions such as limited sanctions while other activities that will isolate Russia or ban it from the global table have not been enacted. In reality, business with Russia goes on as usual.
Linkevičius noted in his commentary that Russia responds forcefully to signs of US and free world weakness. Sadly, Moscow has always been offered a range of weak reactions by its paper tiger opponents.
“We should have learned from our mistakes, shouldn’t we? As soon as we loosen the reins, the Kremlin sees it as a sign of our weakness, as another opportunity, or even an encouragement to act with more energy, to demand or negotiate on the new ground ‘gained,’” he opined.
Linkevičius pointed out that the key to ending the war with Ukraine is in the Kremlin but with new conflicts emerging, notably in the Middle East, some leaders are suggesting that Russia should be forgiven its sins. The military conflict in Syria, for example, could be meant to deflect attention away from Russia’s war with Ukraine.
“Suggestions are now being made that Russia could be readmitted to the G8 club, even though Russia does not ask for it. Investment is being made in projects such as Nord Stream, which can undermine Europe’s unity,” he wrote. “Nord Stream II has nothing to do with Europe’s energy security, and makes no economic sense, except the geopolitical ‘benefit’ of eliminating Ukraine and still heavier dependence of Europe on Russian suppliers.”
Linkevičius concluded that Russia has not changed its behavior and neither has the free world, which comes to play a pragmatic and responsible football (soccer) match with Moscow only to find the latter adding elements of wrestling and rugby to the contest. Game over for the West.
Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor, situated in harm’s way of a Russian invasion of western Europe, is another country that appreciates Moscow’s threat and has been calling for active global support of Ukraine. During a recent visit to Kyiv by Polish President Andrzej Duda, the first since his election last August, the Polish leader declared that Ukraine is his country’s strategic partner.
That was a significant admission in these difficult times and harkens back to an old observation that if Ukraine falls so too will Poland.
Also fearing Russian belligerence, Poland is seeking to reaffirm its role as Ukraine’s biggest EU ally with pledges of more financial and diplomatic support in an effort to reassure Kyiv that the West – or at least those x-captive nations that have been accepted into western structures – have not forgotten about its nearly two-year war with Russia.
“Ukraine is a great strategic partner of Poland,” said Duda at a joint press conference in the Ukrainian capital. “Ukraine’s sovereignty is one of the major issues for our country.”
Declarations such as this should send a strong message to Washington and other free world capitals as well as to Moscow that x-captive nations will band together.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Polish counterpart said Warsaw had agreed to open up a 1 billion euro ($1.09 billion) currency swap to promote bilateral trade and ease some pressure on cash-strapped Kyiv. Officials said Poland is also increasing diplomatic support for Ukraine’s intentions to achieve visa-free travel to the EU (which was granted last Friday), and providing advice on continued economic reform. Compared with Vice President Joe Biden who visited Kyiv earlier, Warsaw did not dwell relentlessly about the importance of squashing rampant corruption.
“Poland should be an example to other EU countries,” Poroshenko remarked, adding that Warsaw had agreed to help Ukrainian businesses and exporters preparing to enter the EU market.
Krzysztof Szczerski, Duda’s foreign policy adviser, was quoted as saying that the visit was primarily to reassure Poroshenko that Poland was still committed to its strategic relationship with Ukraine.
“We all know that in these big geopolitical games Ukraine has been somehow sidelined by the situation in Syria,” Szczerski said. “We also see that in the internal discussions within the EU in terms of extending the sanctions against Russia there is a shifting of the mood. You can expect big steps in terms of Polish aid to support the macroeconomic stability of Ukraine in the coming future.”
The difference in attitudes is striking, emphasizing have and have not experiences with bondage. The United States and old Europe do not understand this. If the x-captive nations are doomed to expect only tepid support from the free world, then they will have to seize the opportunity and create a sovereign alternative that will ensure them of their all-inclusive independence – political, economic, commercial and military.
Obviously, this regional, silo approach does not conform to a global environment that calls for partnerships. But new Europe may be left out in the cold with no alternatives if it doesn’t act on behalf of its own security.
After all, the x-captive nations are quite aware that Russia has not ceased dreaming of the day when it will restore its prison of nations.