Written by Serhiy Herasymchuk, Project Coordinator, Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”
The last weeks of the troubled summer of 2016 have proven once again that safety and finding ways to guarantee it are the dominant topics on the international agenda. International terrorism is in first place amongst the major security challenges associated in part with Islamic fundamentalism and the activities of the Islamic state. Concurrently, the failure of international players to combine efforts to address existing threats is quite evident. Instead international fragmentation is increasing.
Along with the problems caused by events in Syria and the activities of the Islamic State, the problem of Russian foreign policy aggressiveness is of concern. In declaring its desire to exert effort to address global problems, Moscow often pours oil on the flames of smoldering and burning international conflicts.
Syria – new players and bleak chances for progress …
Although August is usually a period of political calm, this rule does not apply to the Syrian crisis. To the contrary, the Turkish army began its ground invasion of Syria on August 24 as part of operation “Euphrates Shield” (significantly, the visit of US Vice President Biden to Ankara was taking place at that time and during discussions such a scenario was certainly being considered). Turkey had already managed to achieve substantial progress in creating a security zone along the Turkish-Syrian border by September. However, it is not currently clear whether the emergence of a new player in the combat zone will lead to any substantial progress in resolving the Syrian crisis. The United States, Russia and Turkey each have quite different interests and therefore different strategies. Instead of progress, conflicts between these strategies can lead to further complications in the region (negotiations between Russia and the US regarding the ceasefire in Syria were already frozen) and in any case increase its militarization.
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Uzbekistan: is there life after Karimov?
Uzbekistan became another state, where the risks of fundamental Islamism emerged with new force. After the death of long serving nation leader Islam Karimov (officially announced on September 2) the state is on the verge of dramatic changes. Karimov hadn’t appointed an official successor. Also, there is no hope for a democratic election. The experience of the Arab Spring confirms that the death or fall of a dictator usually leads to a wave of radical Islamism in Muslim countries and, by extension, something similar can be expected in Uzbekistan. On the other hand, a new authoritarian leader can be an alternative to radical Islamism. Although at first glance this alternative seems to be the lesser evil, we can not ignore the fact that a new leader could change the policy of maintaining distance from major world players, which Karimov pursued. For example, if the head of state is a pro-Russian politician (and such persons are among the likely candidates), he could lead the country into the Eurasian Union and the CSTO. This would strengthen the current geopolitical ambitions of Russia and its influence in the region and on the international scene.
TTIP – on the verge of collapse, G20 – the lack of significant achievements?
At a time when the international system is faced with more challenges and the number of problematic regions is increasing, unity and solidarity between the key players in the international system is progressing poorly. For example, on August 29 the German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Gabriel stated that free trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States had actually failed. This announcement was denied by the European Commission, which noted that the negotiation process was continuing despite the complexity. However, more and more voices in the EU are in favor of ending negotiations. In particular, on August 31 the Austrian Minister of Economy Mitterlehner supported the view that the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US should be stopped. Before that, representatives of France had made similar statements.
The meeting of the US and the EU leaders didn’t improve the situation at the G20 summit in Hangzhou on September 4-5. Generally speaking, due to the efforts of the Russian Federation, the summit evolved into a security, but not economic event, which was contrary to the plans of its Chinese hosts. While discussing a number of economic issues, more attention was paid to negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Obama on Syria and Ukraine, as well as similar dialogues German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande with the Russian President (in accordance with participants’ opinions, negotiations were unsuccessful in all cases).
Despite the economic tensions in transatlantic vector, similar positions of American and EU leaders at least on security issues is inspiring.
Regional initiatives against the backdrop of the absence of global solidarity
Against this backdrop of thie failure of leading countries to respond quickly to new challenges and to find common ground in addressing global threats, as well as against a backdrop of the crisis of the international law system, there is a natural desire of smaller states to find their own safety prescriptions. This includes, first of all, the strengthening of one’s own defensive capacity. At a time when international agreements become ineffectiveness, states rely more on their own military strength. President Poroshenko said this during the celebration of the Independence Day of Ukraine. Lithuania also agrees with him; the proposal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier for arms control in Eastern Europe was categorically rejected. In late August, Steinmeier spoke about the need to monitor the build-up of forces in Europe. In particular, he proposed to limit and control the supply of weapons to the Baltic States. Lithuania believes that since Russia does not comply with its international obligations, it will be impossible to “restrict itself with additional limitations and the establishment of upper limits“. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, the discussion on arms reduction is currently irrelevant.
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Notable is the fact that at a time when they are unable to find common ground with major international players, the smaller states are trying to create regional groups of equal associates. One of the examples of this was the meeting of the leaders of the “Three Seas Initiative” in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 25-26 August. The meeting was attended by representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic. The initiative, as we see, brings together Central and Central-Eastern Europe, which are in the EU, with the majority of these states belonging to the so-called “New Europe.“
Within the Initiative the priorities for cooperation are energy, transport and telecommunications, but in the long term, such integration would become a platform to develop joint positions on other issues by likeminded states. The prospects for this initiative will become clearer during its next summit in Wroclaw, Poland.
“Through the prism of Ukraine …”
At first glance, neither the events in Syria nor the change of leadership in Uzbekistan have little to do with Ukrainian interests in the international arena. However, this approach is misguided. First of all, radical Islamism and the terrorism related to it are global problems and their consequences indirectly affect all of the countries of the world. In addition, Ukraine, which is currently faced with terrorism from a neighboring state, is among those who would oppose terrorism in all its manifestations.
Also dangerous for Ukraine is the fact that the Russian Federation is actively offering its services to the Western world in the fight against terrorism. At some point after the events of 11 September in the US Moscow delcared its readiness to join in the battle with terrorism led to the decision to “reset” relations. Russia expects that this option may become active now and really wants to use it in the negotiations over Ukraine. Although there is no reason now to believe that some Western leaders will sacrifice Ukrainian interests, however shortly there will be changes in the elites of the US, and in Germany and France, so and Ukraine should be ready for any scenario.
Ultimately, even if no one yields to Moscow with respect to to Ukrainian interests, the deepening crisis in Syria, the crisis in Uzbekistan, the failure of TTIP all shift the Ukrainian problem toward the periphery of the international agenda. Ukrainian leaders should bear this in mind.
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Thus, despite the fact that in Ukraine the political season just started, the international situation is such that Ukrainian politicians have no time during which to adapt to new realities. It is necessary to establish cooperation with global players and like-minded people from neighboring states (members of the Visegrad Group, as well as the Baltic States and Romania), create new platforms for dialogue and cooperation in order to develop regional security mechanisms which can contribute to the strengthening of global security and to counter the Russian threat.
How successful will Ukrainian steps be in this direction will become clear in following political season.