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British Researcher: EU Policy in Ukraine Was ‘Stupidity on a Grand Scale’

Richard Sakwa, the author of the recently published book ‘Frontline Ukraine’, believes that the current crisis on the European continent is the result of the stupid and careless policy of the Old World leaders who let the Americans shape their foreign policy.

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The article originally appeared at German Economic News. Translated for RI by Anita Zalaldinova


The researcher of Russia and political scientist Richard Sakwa from Britain believes that the blame for the escalation in Ukraine is to be sought in Washington and Brussels. Putin has no interest in war – that is the last thing he needs. Sakwa calls the West for pressure on the government in Kiev as Ukraine as a federal state must also represent the interests of people in Donbass.

<figcaption>Who is behind the Ukrainian crisis?</figcaption>
Who is behind the Ukrainian crisis?

Jonathan Steele, a former correspondent of the Moscow newspaper, reviewed a remarkable book (the review was published in The Guardian): in his book ‘Frontline Ukraine’ Richard Sakwa explains a one-sided view of the West on the conflict in Ukraine, and errors of the EU and the United States are meticulously specified. He criticizes the lack of an independent European foreign policy as well as the undifferentiated criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Steele notes that even at the darkest times of the Cold War, Soviet politicians like Brezhnev, Andropov were not so massively insulted by the Western public and its leaders like Putin is in the current conflict.

German Economic News are talking with Richard Sakwa who is a professor of Russian and European Studies at the University of Kent. Sakwa is a Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House. Since September 2002 he has been a member of the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences. In his book, ‘The Crisis of Russian Democracy ', he presented a critical view on the transformation process in Russia.

German Economic News: In your book about Ukraine the current dilemma of the country's history is explained. Russians, as Gorbachev has repeatedly emphasized, abandoned their empire without war. They did that because they had seen this development as a success for both sides. They expected a partnership. Americans, however, considered the fall of the Soviet Union as a one-sided victory. Is it because of this historical background that the Cold War has returned to Europe?

Richard Sakwa: That's right. The watershed was conference in Malta in December 1989. There the new post-war system was immediately formed after the fall of the Wall. US President George W. Bush realized indeed that the power of the Soviet Union was on the wane but he failed to understand that Mikhail Gorbachev was planning to establish a new kind of politics, in which there was no winner or loser. Instead, the United States interpreted the events as a victory of their own policies. Today, 25 years later, we understand the depth of this strategic defeat. The bad thing about Malta Conference was that there was no European politician, like Churchill in Yalta, who would represent the interests of the West Europeans. Indeed, our fate on our side of the continent was determined without our participation.

German Economic News: Can such a different view of history also lead to a new Cold War now?

Richard Sakwa: It has already resulted in it, and I have warned about that for years. We have lived in Europe like in paradise for 25 years but none of the fundamental security issues have been resolved. Therefore, it was more of a period of the Cold peace. Now there has been a breakdown in order, resulting in a kind of Cold War.

German Economic News: NATO seems to be very careful to act. Is NATO's existence in its present form in a modular world is part of the solution rather part of the problem?

Richard Sakwa: One should have dissolved NATO since 1989 or must have included Russia in a reformed organization. Instead, we have the worst of all possible options – an expanded NATO, which now begins to encircle Russia from all sides but at the same time excludes Russia. It does not take a strategic genius to understand that Russia – a nuclear power – would sooner or later oppose this development.

German Economic News: You argue that Europe failed to formulate its own independent foreign policy at a historic moment. Has the EU initiated a new crisis accidentally, or do you believe that there were deliberate considerations that have led the escalation that far?

Richard Sakwa: The EU has a weak sense of strategy, and the consequences of its own actions towards the existing power relations proved that when it moved to Ukraine. That was stupidity on a grand scale driven by Poland and the Baltic States. I am speaking about the new Atlantic Pact in which NATO, the US and the EU are actually fused together. This does not mean that countries like France and Germany could not take single, independent actions. But all they do is closely linked to the transatlantic partnership. Germany has lost much of its former global independence under Merkel. That was the price of the Atlantic support to the fact that Germany has been a leader in the European policy and economic policy. I believe that the EU's foreign policy under Federica Mogherini has the potential to learn from the mistakes of history. But Mogherini has already come under enormous pressure from the Atlanticists who want her to adopt their views. The consequences are disastrous, as we can see now.

German Economic News: What do you think of the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Richard Sakwa: Putin is a great figure, and he has warned since Munich Security Conference in February 2007 that Russia is not happy with the current strategic situation. But nobody has listened to him. You must bear in mind that any Russian leader would not act much differently than Putin. It is not the case that Putin lives in another reality, the problem is that no one in the West has thought that Putin might get through the current situation in exactly this manner.

German Economic News: Doesn’t Putin take advantage of the conflict, presenting his own citizens an image of the external enemy?

Richard Sakwa: No, I think this is a false argument. He does not need this war. He has done everything to avoid it. The responsibility lies entirely on Washington and Brussels. Putin already has fantastic approval rates. He has successfully hosted the Olympic Games in Sochi. What is happening now is the last thing he needs. He is not a revisionist leader, and therefore, the Western assessment of his actions is usually completely wrong.

German Economic News: How do you explain that there is a very limited view on the situation in the West, namely, that there is a Russian aggression, although we have got significant evidence from the intercepted phone calls of US diplomat Victoria Nuland (‘Fuck the EU’) that there must have been an active involvement of Washington in the overthrow of the Yanukovych’s government?

Richard Sakwa: I think that the predominance of a completely unified Western point of view on the things is the most disturbing aspect of the whole crisis. It is frightening to see how the Western public and the elites have accepted this wrong view. It is always easy to put all the blame on Russia. Russia is certainly far from being perfect. But it is certainly not the evil power as it is represented in the west now. It is also shocking to me to see how easily Western business leaders have been misled by this false interpretation.

German Economic News: Can you explain what kind of state organization would be best for Ukrainians?

Richard Sakwa: The best would be a federal and not centralized state. While this is not very likely to be achieved in the short term but in the long run it is the only way for Ukraine. Donbass will never be part of a nationalist and centralist Ukrainian state again.

German Economic News: Does the West need to reassess its view on the ‘territorial integrity’ of existing states from the perspective of the existence of ethnic minorities in most states in Eastern Europe?

Richard Sakwa: That will probably have to happen. We need a big new conference, as in Yalta or Helsinki, to deal with all these issues. At the moment these problems are more urgent. This also applies to Transnistria and other regions, even Kosovo.

German Economic News: Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has stated several times that those who want to be Russians must emigrate to Russia. Is there the idea of ​​a kind of ethnic cleansing in eastern Ukraine behind this proposal?

Richard Sakwa: Yatsenyuk today is a dangerous man in Europe. I do not understand how such a resolute nationalist can ever be treated with respect.

German Economic News: Is this conflict a war for resources? Is it true that Americans want to gain a foothold of e.g. energy policy?

Richard Sakwa: That is certainly part of the problem. However, I believe that Americans actually miss the strategic perspective. Basically the same thing happens in Ukraine as in Libya or Syria or Iraq. ‘Empire of Chaos’ has brought a new style of politics to Europe, and we have done nothing about it. What is the point in the EU if it cannot even prevent war on its own continent?

German Economic News: What do you think of the presence of American citizens in the Ukrainian government, such as the Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko?

Richard Sakwa: This is shocking. A proud nation like Ukraine does not need such people. It has been a purely demagogic step of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk.

German Economic News: How will this conflict end?

Richard Sakwa: We are walking a fine line between a full-scale war and a kind of standstill agreement. The bold initiative of Merkel and Hollande in Minsk 2 could stabilize the situation. But we need to understand that this may be just the beginning of a possible peace process. The Kiev government must be put under pressure so they would design the country in such a way to create for the citizens of Donbass an acceptable form of returning to Ukraine. However, I believe that further division of Ukraine has become very likely. The current government in Kiev makes the problems merely worse rather than solves them.

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