Diplomatic uncertainties on Ukraine

Hussein Haridy
Friday 11 Feb 2022

The way the Ukrainian crisis is solved will have a lasting effect worldwide, with the resort to a military solution being disastrous for all concerned.

The UN Security Council met at the request of the US government on 31 January to discuss the security situation along the Russian-Ukrainian border. As expected, the meeting became a scene for the trading of accusations between the US and Russian delegations. 

US permanent representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield led the charge by stressing that Russian moves “strike at the very heart of the United Nations Charter” and that the Russian forces on the Ukrainian border are the “largest mobilisation of troops in Europe in decades.” She went on to say that such mobilisation is a “clear and consequential threat to peace and security.”

Russian permanent representative Vasily Nebenzya then accused the US of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and provoking escalation.”

China sided with Russia. Its permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun, said that what the international community needs is what he termed “quiet diplomacy” and not “microphone diplomacy.” 

The crisis over Ukraine has shone a light on the deepening relations between China and Russia, and one direct result of the confrontation between the West, led by the US, and Russia on Ukraine has been closer cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the official opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on 4 February and held a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In parallel to the Security Council meeting, the Russian government conveyed its written response to the two notes it received last week from the US and NATO regarding the security guarantees that Moscow asked for last December. According to the Russians, neither the US nor NATO have taken seriously Russia’s security concerns in Europe, particularly those concerning the eastward expansion of NATO in countries bordering or near Russia, including Ukraine.

In a joint press conference with Hungarian President Victor Orban in Moscow on 1 February, Putin said that Russian security demands had not been addressed as Moscow had wished. US President Joe Biden had previously declared two days earlier in a statement on 31 January that the US and its allies would “continue to engage in good faith” to address Russian security concerns, but warned that if “Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility and will face swift and severe consequences.”

One day later on 2 February, administration officials in Washington announced that Biden had approved the deployment of 3,000 additional US troops to Eastern Europe. The troops, including 1,000 already in Germany, will travel to Poland and Romania.

Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said that the purpose of the deployment was to “reassure NATO allies that…Washington would protect [its NATO allies]” from any “Russian aggression.”

He added that it is important that “we send a strong signal to Mr Putin and the world that NATO matters” and that the US is going to be prepared “to defend NATO allies”. 

It was not only the Americans who were raising the stakes last week, since the British government also announced on 31 January that it intends to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia, with some of them directly targeting Russian oligarchs that have close relationships with the Kremlin. 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the TV channel Sky News that oligarchs close to Putin and Russian firms involved in acts of support to the Russian government would have “no place to hide” from the sanctions once they were adopted.

The British government has also decided to double the British forces deployed in Eastern Europe and to provide Estonia with defensive arms. 

The British government has adopted a hawkish attitude towards Moscow, which some believe could be explained by two factors. The first is related to the political problems that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing because of violations of the Covid-19 lockdown at Downing Street and by him personally. The other factor is proving to the British public that Britain after Brexit has an independent foreign policy from the European Union.

The hawkish tone employed by Britain towards Russia has caused concern in both France and Germany, the two European powers taking part in the Normandy Process with Russia and Ukraine that was formed in the context of the Minsk Accords in 2015. While showing solidarity with Ukraine and supporting NATO moves to bolster the military capabilities of the Ukrainian military, both France and Germany would prefer a diplomatic solution to the present crisis. 

French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to Moscow on 7 February and conferred with Putin in an attempt to achieve a de-escalation between the West and Russia over Ukraine. The following day, he met his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky as part of his efforts to lead European efforts to de-escalate the crisis. 

Before his meetings in Moscow and Kiev, Macron made calls to Biden and other leaders in the European Union to coordinate Western diplomatic efforts. It goes without saying that most countries in the European Union want a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis out of the fear that if war breaks out because of a Russian invasion of Ukraine this would be counter-productive to European security and economic interests and harm European-Russian relations for many years.

The present Ukrainian crisis is deepening the alignment between Russia and China, and relations between the two countries are getting closer in security and defence matters in the framework of their converging world views.

After the Chinese-Russian summit meeting in Beijing on 4 February, a joint statement called for defending the international system with the UN at its core as well as the international order based on international law and for the “democratisation” of international relations. 

It was noteworthy that there was a call for “true multilateralism” in this statement in which the UN and the UN Security Council would play a central coordinating role. Such a show of solidarity between the two great powers may not mean that China would support a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the US administration and some of its NATO allies, Great Britain for instance, have been claiming all along. Instead, the Chinese support should rather encourage Moscow to negotiate a climbdown and a de-escalation in Ukraine from a position of strength.

The way the Ukrainian crisis is solved will have a lasting effect on the alignment of forces worldwide during the first half of the present century at least. Needless to say, the resort to a military solution would be disastrous for all concerned.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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