1. EUROPE’s EAST Faces an Unsettled West

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*Einleitung aus der DGAP-Gemeinschaftspublikation Eastern Voices: Europe’s East Faces an Unsettled West 

Der anhaltende Krisenmodus in den Beziehungen zwischen Russland und dem Westen ist zur neuen Normalität geworden, der Krieg in der Ostukraine befindet sich bereits im dritten Jahr. Die neue Gemeinschaftspublikation der DGAP und des Center for Transatlantic Relations der Johns Hopkins University untersucht die Lage mit Sicht auf die gemeinsamen Nachbarstaaten. Lesen Sie hier die Einleitung und Zusammenfassung des Buches. Dieses entstand mit großzügiger Unterstützung der Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Crisis: The New Normal

As of this writing, the war in eastern Ukraine is now in its third year. Ongoing conflict between Russia and the West has become the new normal. Yet the ability of Europeans and Americans to address the Russia challenge is now questioned by turmoil within the West itself.

The decision by the United Kingdom to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, an anti-establishment economic nationalist, as the 45th president of the United States, have rocked the very foundations of the West. These and other challenges, such as terrorism, refugee streams, and economic and populist pressures at home, have left the United States and west-central Europe with less confidence and readiness to respond to tensions with Russia or to reach out in any significant way to Europe’s east.

The consequences have become particularly clear with respect to Russia. Vladimir Putin has succesfully upgraded his international role through his involvement in the Syrian war. Despite ongoing Western sanctions, Putin has sought to break out of his isolation by positioning himself as an influential leader with whom one must talk if one wants to solve international conflicts.

His ability or even his interest in conflict reduction remains questionable, however, and his record of engagement points more to his desire to use such conflicts as opportunities to upgrade his role at the cost of others. Putin’s influence stems more from his role as a spoiler than as a responsible leader. The 2018 presidential election in Russia will be a stress test for the Putin system, but it is unlikely to challenge Putin’s position in any substantial way.

Despite Donald Trump’s reluctance to criticize Russia and his hints that he might recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and review Ukraine-related sanctions as ways to pursue warmer ties with Putin, there has been no improvement in relations between Russia and the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and U.S.Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley have all called Russia’s claims on Crimea “illegitimate,” stated that the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable to its Minsk commitments, and that U.S. sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions it has taken there.

They have also criticized Russian activities in Syria and in Afghanistan, and Mattis has called out the Putin regime for “mucking around” in other people’s elections—a particularly notable claim coming at a time when federal and congressional investigators are probing alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Trump administration has extended current sanctions to encompass additional Russian individuals and companies, and the U.S.Congress has also become even more assertive with regard to Russia, including efforts to impose even further sanctions.

The best that may be expected is agreement to reduce the risk of inadvertent incidents that could lead to major conflict; to manage differences in ways that do not allow them to erupt; and to contain other potential disruptions from third issue areas. After initial hesitations, PresidentTrump has affirmed the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, has reinforced U.S. participation in NATO’s forward presence in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, and increased U.S. funding for the U.S. military in Europe.

As the U.S. administration’s approach to Russia continues to evolve, it is likely to be further influenced by the question whether to supply lethal defense aid to Ukraine, for which there is strong support in the Congress, and by debate over Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty.

In short, despite much rhetoric about a new dawn in U.S.–Russian relations, bilateral ties are arguably the worst since before the Gorbachev era. U.S. and Russian leaders share limited interests and very different world views of what drives the international system.

EU–Russian relations also remain tense, with no signs of change, as exemplified by the EU decision to extend sanctions on Russia until at least mid-2018 without any controversial discussion. Russia’s meddling into the French and German elections has further alienated the relationship. With Emmanuel Macron, a EU-friendly president has been elected in France who will strengthen the tandem with Germany and who has a critical view of Russia’s role in Europe.

In March 2016 EU foreign ministers agreed on five guiding principles for EU-Russia relations.1 They include full implemenation of the Minsk agreement; closer ties with Russia’s former Soviet neighbors; strengthening the EU’s resilience to Russian threats like cyber attacks and disinformation;  selective engagement with Russia on issues such as counter-terrorism; and increased support for people-to-people contacts. These principles show the limited ambitions of the EU with Russia at the moment. There is still no regular exchange between Moscow and Brussels; EU member states are still searching for a new approach to Russia.

* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:

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7 Comments

  1. As the U.S. administration’s approach to Russia continues to evolve, it is likely to be further influenced by the question whether to supply lethal defense aid to Ukraine, for which there is strong support in the Congress, and by debate over Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty.

  2. it looks over the shoulders of the musicians, even during difficult moments in rehearsal, and shows the performances acclaimed by the public.

  3. Moldova, which lacks sufficient economic and human resources to change the rules of the game while an oligarch owns the country, is the “bad practice” example of state capture in the region. Corrupt Moldovan politicians claiming to be “pro-European” have discredited the term among the broader public, and the EU accepted this charade because it needed a success story

  4. Third, greater co-ownership in the post-Soviet conflictsis crucial.That means not only more investment in person-to-person contact with the inhabitants of occupied territories, but also more U.S. and EU member state responsibility in international effortsto address and relieve such conflicts.

  5. Moldova, which lacks sufficient economic and human resources to change the rules of the game while an oligarch owns the country.

  6. Third, greater co-ownership in the post-Soviet conflictsis crucial.That means not only more investment in person-to-person contact with the inhabitants of occupied territories, but also more U.S. and EU member state responsibility in international effortsto address and relieve such conflicts.

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