War, struggle, victory. Understanding Ukraine's wartime diplomacy

5 April, 02:23 PM
Volodymyr Zelensky in Bucha on April 4 (Photo:REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

Volodymyr Zelensky in Bucha on April 4 (Photo:REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

The front for diplomatic work and initiative on the part of Ukraine is now broader than ever.

An unprecedented wave of social solidarity and national patriotism is sweeping across Ukraine.  This morning, at 0900, when the whole country commemorates the fallen soldiers and civilians, I was walking along a little-known street in Kyiv.

Not a soul around. And suddenly a man appears on the balcony of the nine-story building and plays the Ukrainian anthem on the Hutsul sopilka (a flute-like instrument from Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains region). It was the best performance of the country's anthem that I have ever heard.

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For the current public solidarity, there is one key risk — disagreement about the strength, volume and scope of international assistance for Ukraine from Western countries. At the heart of this risk is dissent, or even simply a misunderstanding of how the global security architecture works and how world diplomacy works in a war.

We have all heard, and even sometimes agreed, that the UN is an “impotent organization”, and that the OSCE is “not pro-Ukrainian enough,” and that NATO has turned into a “discussion club.”

Let's break this down piece by piece. The UN is the ultimate frontier of world diplomacy. Not the first, I emphasize, but the last. Retreat to the last frontier is carried out when bilateral and multilateral diplomatic moves, including sanctions packages, fail for one reason or another.

The UN is the only global organization capable of building the broadest, worldwide consensus on the Russian war. And this will not be the usual consensus of the usual allies of Ukraine, but also countries like Brazil or Singapore, for example, with which Ukrainian diplomacy has not yet advanced too far in building bilateral relations.  Let me remind you that the UN has already condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine — almost unanimously, with the exception of countries from the Russian sphere of influence.

The OSCE is not the UN or NATO, so it is wrong to expect actions from this organization from the arsenal of the North Atlantic Alliance. The OSCE is primarily concerned with collecting data to analyze the nature of war with a view to using this information for humanitarian missions.  However, like the UN, the OSCE has a mandate to organize peacekeeping missions with the participation of "blue helmets” (peacekeeping troops).

However, it is generally agreed that the OSCE Ukrainian office under Alexander Hug was not a fully effective organization and could have achieved more in the Donbas settlement if it had used the principle “not the letter, but the spirit of the law.” At the same time, U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch awarded Hug with a high U.S. award for his efforts, because OSCE staff regularly show personal heroism in the occupied Donbas.

The next fact that causes discontent among many Ukrainians is the position of the German government. Let me remind you that the German Foreign Ministry is headed by Annalena Baerbock, a representative of the Green Party, and this political force has an emphatically pro-Ukrainian position.

Largely it was thanks to Baerbock that Nord Stream 2 did not start working, even at the stage of almost 100% readiness, which was a very calculated move. The Russians spent the entire amount of the declared funds on the construction of the pipeline, but the gas never flowed through it.

The second point concerns the formal refusal of Baerbock and the German government to provide Ukraine with German weapons, including supplies from third countries, on the eve of the start of the war on Feb. 24. Here I am inclined to see rather a cunning move by Baerbock than a lack of solidarity with Ukraine. 

By publicly refusing to provide weapons to Ukraine in early February, Baerbock helped the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in its calculations of the "arithmetic of war" — that is, the ratio of equipment and personnel of the attack group against the those of the defense group — with the subtraction of German weapons.

But by Feb. 26 Germany had sent anti-tank weapons and air defense systems to Ukraine, which was an almost unprecedented step for the country. The thing is that the legislation that the Bundesrepublik had to adopt after the end of the Second World War and as a result of the Nuremberg Trials severely limited this country in its defense policy, and in matters of military-technical cooperation. Japan has a similar pacifist legislation enshrined in the Constitution, in connection with which this highly developed East Asian democracy provides Ukraine primarily with economic assistance.

And in general, every time questions arise about the actions and statements of Baerbock or her boss, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, one must first assume that things can actually be much more shrewd on the part of the Germans than a superficial analysis of the facts and diplomatic rhetoric suggest. Neither Scholz nor Baerbock are bereft of proper European values, or from a misunderstanding of the importance of punishing Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

A few remarks on diplomatic rhetoric. In a recent TV interview broadcast by Ukraine 24 channel, Andriy Yermak, head of the President's Office, said the following: "We will end this war, and the world will never be the same."

Let's analyze what we should pay attention to in this phrase, said by a very important person in the system of Ukrainian politics. “We will end the war” is one of the options for a political forecast of the situation. The alternatives for this option are the "We will win the war" and "We will restore peace in Ukraine" scenarios. Such nuances play an important role in the rhetoric of politicians at the top echelon of power.

"The world will never be the same again." This statement, in my opinion, shows Yermak’s disappointment with those algorithms of the global security architecture that existed before the beginning of 2022 and even before the start of the accumulation of Russian troops on the Ukrainian borders in the spring and fall of 2021.

At first glance, both phrases are quite general, but both have an important diplomatic meaning. The ability to read subtext, several layers of meaning in each of the spoken words is an important skill for a person who genuinely wants to grasp the intricacies of international diplomacy.

The last, but not least, remark about the attitude of Ukrainian society to world diplomacy is the expectation of a reaction to the events in Bucha.  Let me remind you that, according to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Russian soldiers killed a large number of civilians in this city not far from Kyiv.

It is crucial to understand that the murdered inhabitants of Bucha cannot be brought back to life, unfortunately. But it is possible to prevent the repetition of the Bucha scenario in Kherson, Melitopol or Mariupol. That is why the West, in responding to the horrors that occurred in Bucha, needs to act asymmetrically.

Asymmetrically means not responding with the same scale of sanctions that would correspond to the scale of the tragedy, because the tragedy is akin to the genocide of Srebrenica or Rwanda. If the remaining arsenal of sanctions is used now, after the events in Bucha, then nothing will remain in reserve — and nothing will stop the Kremlin dictator Vladimir Putin from orchestrating Srebrenica in some other Ukrainian city or village.

However, sanctions, of course, must be imposed, and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on April 3 already announced that such a package of sanctions is already being prepared. In my opinion, we should above all consider the termination of trade relations between the EU countries and Russia.

This includes an end to purchases of gas, oil, and agricultural products from Russia. Russia, like Ukraine, is a fairly major supplier of corn to the EU, although Ukraine has a cutting edge in this segment. In addition, it is worth forgoing about any more purchases of Russian mineral fertilizers, on which Russia can earn a lot of money, because natural gas is needed for the production of nitrogen (nitrate) fertilizers. This technology, by the way, is used by the Odesa port plant in Ukraine, as well as by runaway oligarch Dmytro Firtash's enterprises, whose extradition from Austria is pursued by Washington.

The price of mineral fertilizers in European markets has already increased, so Russia is definitely able to make good money at such prices by producing nitrates for the soils and the agricultural sector. It is important not to let Russia replenish its state budget with proceeds from sales of mineral fertilizers.

The best measure for the long-term protection of Ukraine now would be the country's accession to the European Union, and, if possible, to the eurozone.

The EU has not only economic cooperation programs, but also security programs, which previously had support only from French President Emmanuel Macron, drawing criticism from former German leader Angela Merkel. Now the leaders of Germany — Scholz and Baerbock — support the ideas of Macron, as does the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

As for joining the eurozone, this would ensure Ukraine's financial and economic security, make loans cheaper, and limit inflationary risks.

But it is worth taking into account not only the interests of Ukraine in joining the EU, but also the interests of the EU itself in accepting Ukraine as a member. Brussels may be interested in expanding trade cooperation with Kyiv, in opening up the Ukrainian investment environment for the European capital through the large-scale privatization of state assets, especially in the energy sector and, possibly, defense production.

As for the interests of the European Central Bank of allowing Ukraine into the euro zone, it is very important for the ECB to create a historical precedent for how the single European currency changes the economy of a developing country for the better, so that EU member states such as Poland and Bulgaria also agree to introduce the euro.

It is precisely because of the reluctance to introduce the euro that the UK economy, for example, did not feel the positive effect of membership in the European Union. However, the British pound is not the Ukrainian hryvnia or the Polish zloty, but a very powerful currency that can not only exist separately from the ECB’s monetary authority, but must do so in order to be an alternative to such monetary authority in the event that the European financial market creating significant risks for the euro. However, at this stage, such risks are unlikely.

The victory of Viktor Orban's Fidesz party in the parliamentary elections in Hungary is likely to create friction for Ukraine's accession to the EU, but is unlikely to block or even significantly slow down this process. Orban is far from the most influential European politician. If, say, Scholz objected to Ukraine's entry into the European Union, then the country would definitely stand no chance.

Diplomacy is a sophisticated science. One needs to be able to seek gambits, and take risks, weighing the mathematics of risks and opportunities according to the formulas of international law. Diplomacy should not be treated superficially, not should diplomatic rhetoric be regarded as street slogans.

Ukraine and Ukrainians need to more actively fulfill their international role, paying heed, first of all, to their neighbors — Belarus and Moldova. In the Belarusian vector, the country should work with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and in the Moldovan, it should provide military-technical expertise to the Maia Sandu government in order to minimize the risks to Chisinau posed by the Russian contingent in Transnistria.

For the whole world, our country now serves as an example of how to defend your independence, territorial integrity and geopolitical interests. This opportunity must be seized with skill.

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