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Edward Lucas, Senior editor at the Economist
It certainly looks that way. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 12 conveyed weakness, not strength. Russia has not stopped its proxy war in Ukraine and has not paid any significant price in economic or diplomatic terms.
However, the real culprit is the EU: the crisis in Ukraine is first and foremost one of European security, and the United States—with a lot of other problems on its plate—can quite reasonably expect the EU to deal with it. As the EU’s May 21–22 Eastern Partnership summit in Riga showed all too clearly, that expectation is unfounded.
Julianne Smith, Senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security
The United States isn’t necessarily wobbly over Ukraine, but it is divided, even in the halls of the State Department.
At the strategic level, Washington’s views are split on the degree to which Russian aggression in Ukraine poses a serious challenge to U.S. national security. Some argue that Russia’s flagrant violation of international norms and of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty merits a heavy response from the West. Others argue that while Russia’s actions in Ukraine are worrisome, they simply aren’t on a par with the threats stemming from the Middle East.
At the tactical level, one finds sizable divides on the question of lethal assistance, with some arguing that the only way to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin is by putting defensive weapons in the hands of the Ukrainians. Others, though, warn against escalating the conflict in ways that would potentially end all chances for the Minsk II ceasefire agreement to succeed…..
Federiga Bindi, Senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
There are at least two different visions for Ukraine (and Russia) in the U.S. administration, as the recent visits to the countries by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland testify.
In his press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on May 12, Kerry expressed an opinion about the future of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine that contrasts with what Nuland said less than a week later. Nuland’s stance on the Ukraine crisis was infamously revealed by a leaked phone call in which she said “F*ck the EU.” At the same time, Kerry is trying to save what is salvable in the relationship with Russia, a much-needed policy given that most of today’s world issues cannot be approached without Russia on board.
The Kerry-Nuland differences go well beyond a “good cop, bad cop” strategy and rather suggest a sharp divergence of views that can only weaken U.S. influence in the region and beyond.
The question is where the White House stands. …..
Anna Korbut, Deputy chief editor at the Ukrainian Week
Since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Sochi on May 12, there has been barely a signal of change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine or Russia. President Barack Obama has never stated any intention to fully isolate Russia for its behavior over Ukraine, as long as Moscow does not launch a full-scale war on Ukrainian territory. Instead, the West has demonstrated its willingness to maintain channels of communication with Russia. ….Ukrainians need clear signals of long-term support on their path to development and democracy, especially as they pave that road with their lives, not with murky assumptions and misinterpretations.
John Kornblum, Senior counselor at Noerr LLP and former U.S. ambassador to Germany
U.S. condemnation of Russian behavior remains clear and unequivocal. But the United States did not risk upsetting the existing East-West balance in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising or the 1968 Prague Spring, and it did not stop former East German leader Walter Ulbricht from building the Berlin Wall.
The same holds true today. Even worse, U.S. readiness to intervene in Europe has declined dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Europe’s substitution of an EU peace policy for a common transatlantic security strategy has convinced many that, in the view of the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, Europe is no longer relevant to the United States.
Many U.S. think tankers now seem almost ashamed of Western successes in Eastern European democracy building. They seem ready to buy Russian diplomatic support by compensating Moscow for the threatening growth of civil society on its Western borders…….
Kadri Liik, Senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent meetings with the Russian leadership in Sochi … sent unproductive messages to Moscow, caused incomprehension in Europe, and weakened a common Western stance toward Russia.
The Western interest in Ukraine is for the country to restore its territorial integrity, reform, democratize, and be free to make its own decisions. Moscow, however, still hopes to gain leverage over Kiev’s decisionmaking that would enable Russia to manipulate its neighbor’s geopolitical choices.….
The West must be aware that its problems with Russia are here to stay for years. Quick fixes are not available; the West needs a proper multidimensional strategy to manage the challenges as well as messaging that is consistent with that strategy…..
Marek Magierowski, Columnist for Polish weekly Do Rzeczy
Being wobbly doesn’t necessarily mean being inefficient. The two may appear to be the same if only the short-term effects of U.S. diplomatic and economic actions are taken into account. But I strongly believe that the financial sanctions imposed on Russia after its March 2014 annexation of Crimea are hurting … Waging an all-out economic war against Putin’s Russia right now would be not only counterproductive but perhaps even suicidal.
Nevertheless, there is one lesson the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama should draw from the Cold War era: deterrence worked thirty years ago, and it would in all likelihood work now. Putin is aware that NATO’s military capabilities are far superior to Russia’s. …RTWT
A new municipal poll conducted by the International Republican Institute found an overwhelming majority of Ukraine’s citizens reporting that corruption and nepotism were serious problems impacting their daily lives. Despite their concerns over corruption and the economy, Ukrainians also showed their strong support for the country’s decision to align more closely with Europe and the West.
IRI’s poll, the first-ever national municipal survey, was conducted in all 22 regional capitals of Ukraine not under the control of Russian or Russian-backed forces. It utilized an extensive sample size of more than 17,000 respondents—800 in each city surveyed—and was designed to ascertain views of local government, municipal services and a wide range of local issues.
“Ukraine is at crossroads in its democratic development,” said Stephen B. Nix, IRI’s regional director for Eurasia. “This new survey lays out the challenges facing communities across the country, and provides tools for citizens and leaders to chart a new course.”
The European Union’s fearful anticipation of an adverse Russian reaction was a major factor in the failure of its Eastern Partnership Summit to encourage the membership aspirations of Eastern Europe’s fragile democracies, analysts suggest.
Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Western democracy promotion over the past 15 years form a three-stage process of containment and rollback, according to Nicolas Bouchet, author of Russia and the Democracy Rollback in Europe. “The first relates to Russia itself, the second to the post-Soviet states, and the third and most recent to Central Europe and the Balkans,” he writes for the German Marshall Fund:
The debate over whether the West is embroiled in a new Cold War with Russia is simultaneously misleading and relevant as far as democracy promotion is concerned. It is misleading if we get bogged down in whether or not Russia has an ideology that it wants to spread, and a strategy and policy tools to export it, in the same way as the Soviet Union did.
The debate is relevant, however, because countering Russia’s anti-democratic agenda requires a better understanding of why and how it has been successful in containing and rolling back Western democracy promotion efforts, says Bouchet, a TAPIR research fellow with the Europe Program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Berlin:
First, the anti-democratic and illiberal political developments in Russia since the 1990s have gradually amounted to a coherent set of norms. They are not far from forming an ideology, even if one has not been formalized or expressed as such.
Second, the argument that Russia’s actions are purely geopolitical — rather than ideological — is also flawed. Moscow’s domestic norms are closely linked to its policy toward the post-Soviet states and to President Vladimir Putin’s vision for Eurasia. Russia’s leadership supports and encourages these norms abroad because it sees this as essential to its survival at home, as well as for driving back general Western influence in the region and rebuilding a Russian geopolitical sphere.
Third, the sum total of Russia’s actions abroad — however reactive, improvised, or tactical each may be on its own — indicates an embryonic strategy to support and promote non-democratic norms. The growing number of channels and actors that Russia uses to influence political developments in its neighborhood, while not as institutionalized as those in the West, is beginning to resemble a toolkit for engaging in regime competition.
“If EU and U.S. democracy promotion in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans is to have any traction, existing efforts need to be adapted by taking into account the specifics of Russian counter-policies, for example in the field of civil society support,” argues Bouchet:
New ones also need to be developed in less traditional fields — for example, socio-cultural initiatives — in which Russia has been active. The United States and EU also need policies that are more specifically designed for democracy protection where progress has been made, including wider diplomatic, security, and economic support for reforming governments. Finally, policymakers and civil society organizations on both sides of the Atlantic should look much more seriously at how they can collaborate better and overcome the obstacles that have so far prevented closer cooperation.
Burma’s shift from a reclusive military junta to an emerging democracy is a complex and even perplexing story, but one that has seen opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a catalyst for the country’s remarkable change.
In an official visit to Australia last week, she called for continued reforms and provided a glimpse into Burma’s economic changes. During one of her few public engagements, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at the Lowy Institute for International Policy to discuss the relationship between Burma and Australia as well as expand upon the story surrounding the country’s remarkable transition to democracy.
According to the Eurobarometer survey of 27 EU member countries, half of all citizens are pessimistic about the future of the European Union as an institution, and 69 percent express no confidence in it at all. Two-thirds feel as if their voice is meaningless in the decisions taken by the EU, analyst Moises Naim writes for The Atlantic.
These responses are as serious as they are easy to understand. Many factors feed the gloom and doom about the EU, notes Naim, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:
The continent’s five-year-old economic crisis has been deeply damaging, and the EU is widely perceived as being complicit in imposing the austerity policies that have created a strong social and political backlash. Moreover, European leaders are perceived as remote, bureaucratic, and opaque, not to mention lacking in charisma. To many, the European project now feels like a dull and irrelevant initiative at best—and a dangerous, intrusive, and expensive one at worst.
“The problems that are undermining the European project are numerous and well-known. But perhaps the greatest threat to the union is that Europe has lost its luster among its own people,” he asserts. “The European project needs leaders who are able to persuade voters that a grand and vigorous Europe is possible. The best antidote to the region’s depression may very well be a strong dose of integration.”