Monday, June 30, 2014

Brzezinski: How to confront Russian chauvanism

Seasoned Russia expert Zbigniew Brzezinski offered remarks on "the Ukraine problem" at the Wilson Center on June 16.  Here are the most important excerpts, [emphasis mine]:

It follows from what I’m saying that the Ukrainian problem is a challenge that the West must address on three levels. We have to effectively deter the temptation facing the Russian leadership regarding the use of force. We have to deter the use of force, simply put.

We have to, secondly, obtain the termination of Russia’s deliberate efforts at the destabilization of parts of Ukraine. It’s very hard to judge how ambitious these goals are, but it is not an accident that in that one single portion of Ukraine in which the Russians actually predominate, the use of force has been sophisticated. The participants in the effort have been well armed, even with tanks, and certainly with effective anti-aircraft weaponry. All of that is something that even disagreeable, disaffected citizens of a country to which they feel they do not belong would not be storing somewhere in their attic or in their basement. These are weapons provided, in effect, for the purpose of shaping formations capable of sustaining serious military engagements. It is a form of interstate aggression. You can’t call it anything else. How would we feel if all of a sudden, let’s say, the drug-oriented gangs in the United States were armed from abroad, from our southern neighbor, by equipment which would promote violence on that scale on a continuing basis? So this is a serious challenge. So that is the second objective.

And the third objective is to promote and then discuss with the Russians a formula for an eventual compromise, assuming that in the first instance the use of force openly and on a large scale is deterred and the effort to destabilize is abandoned. That means, in turn, the following: And I will be quite blunt regarding my own views on the subject. Ukraine has to be supported if it is to resist. If Ukraine doesn’t resist—if its internal disorder persists and the state is not able to organize effective national defense, then the Ukraine problem will be resolved unilaterally, but probably with consequential effects that will be destabilizing in regards to the vulnerable states and to the East-West relationship as a whole. And the forces of chauvinism inside Russia will become more strident. And they do represent the most negative aspects of contemporary Russian society: a kind of thirst for nationalism, for self-fulfillment, gratification of the exercise of power. Something which is not pervasive in the new middle class, which is the longer range alternative.

Importantly, he adds, 

There’s no point trying to arm the Ukrainians to take on the Russian army in the open field: thousands of tanks, an army organized for the application of overwhelming force. [...]

Accordingly, I feel that we should make it clear to the Ukrainians that if they are determined to resist, as they say they are and seemingly they are trying to do so (albeit not very effectively), we will provide them with anti-tank weapons, hand-held anti-tank weapons, hand-held rockets—weapons capable for use in urban short range fighting. This is not an arming of Ukraine for some invasion of Russia. You don’t invade a country as large as Russia with defensive weaponry. But if you have defensive weaponry and you have access to it and know it’s arriving, you’re more likely to resist. 

And finally, on Ukraine's eventual joining in the EU, and the future of NATO:

I think it’s relatively simple: Ukraine can proceed with its process, publicly endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Ukrainian people, of becoming part of Europe. But it’s a long process. The Turks have been promised that outcome, and they have been engaging in that process already for 60 years. In other words, it’s not done very quickly. Therefore, the danger to Russia is not imminent and the negative consequences are not so destructive.

But at the same time, there should be clarity that Ukraine will not be a member of NATO. I think that is important for a variety of political reasons. If you look at the map, it’s important for Russia from a psychological, strategic point of view. So Ukraine will not be a member of NATO. But by the same token, Russia has to understand that Ukraine will not be a member of some mythical Eurasian Union that President Putin is trying to promote on the basis of this new doctrine of a special position for Russia in the world. 

I guess it's so fundamental it goes without saying, but... Brzezinski doesn't mention that any compromise must allow Putin to save face, since his adventures in Ukraine are primarily about boosting his public support at home, not securing any strategic military or economic objectives abroad. There is no party, politburo, public or parliament behind Mr. Putin whom the West may appeal to, or appease.  To me this is the West's biggest problem, because in Putin we face a charismatic autocrat whose image as a "strong Russian standing up to the West" is more important to him than any stretch of land or increase in GDP.

By Zbigniew Brzezinski 
June 27, 2014 | The American Interest

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