France plans to reset relations with Russia. It will work?


France is once again pushing for improved relations with Russia. At a meeting of EU officials this week, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, pushed to expand Europe’s engagement with Russia, which followed the Munich security conference in February, when French President Emmanuel Macron called for better long-term relations between Europe and Russia. The French are not the only ones trying to get Europe to move towards a type of post-Crimea accommodation with Moscow – politicians in Hungary, Germany, Greece and perhaps elsewhere would like the relations with Russia are returning to normal. For this to happen, however – and for Europe and the United States to end sanctions – Moscow would have to make significant concessions, given its forced change of European borders in 2014. Although this may seem unlikely, the The form of such an agreement is not too difficult to flesh out – and the benefit of reducing tensions between Moscow and the West is worth the effort.

From Russia’s point of view, a return to normal relations with the West would firstly end economic sanctions against banks and finance, the energy sector and defense industrial trade. Macron claims that these sanctions do not work, and he is right and wrong. Admittedly, the sanctions did not push Moscow to give up its grip on Crimea or to end its intervention in the Donbass. However, the sanctions– along with falling oil prices – have clearly and negatively affected the Russian economy. In part, due to economic stagnation, the popularity of Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a hit. In sum, the sanctions have affected Russian power, both hard and soft, and Moscow is anxious to end it.

If the West agreed to end the sanctions, would Putin agree to return Crimea to Ukraine? Probably not. But would Putin at least agree to leave the Donbass? Perhaps. Such an exchange – ending Western sanctions in exchange for Russia’s withdrawal from Donbas – would not, however, be equal for the West. To acquiesce in the annexation of Crimea by Russia, even with Russian forces outside Donbass, would not justify the end of the sanctions. After all, Russia not only violated standards of behavior when it invaded and seized Crimea in 2014, it also violated international law and its own treaty commitments.

Macron’s efforts to hire Vladimir Putin and negotiate with Russia have has yielded few results. The so-called Norman format of negotiations between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France has resumed under the leadership of Macron, but little progress has been made so far. As a result, the EU is expected to soon approve a further six-month extension of the sanctions against Russia.

To progress and get the West—A lot less from Ukraine – to look away from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Moscow should soften the deal considerably. It could start by speeding up the ongoing campaign to destabilize Russia across Eastern Europe. More specifically, Moscow could propose to denuclearize Kaliningrad, its enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Denuclearization should include the withdrawal of all Russian SSC-8 missile systems, which the United States and its NATO allies consider to be extremely destabilizing because of their mobility. In recent years, Kaliningrad has experienced a steady but gradual increase in nuclear infrastructure and related delivery systems like the SSC-8. To enforce all of this, Moscow would have to authorize some sort of inspection regime – fortunately, the West and Russia have long been successful in negotiating and implementing intrusive arms control inspection arrangements.

Although the drop in temperature in Eastern Europe must start with Kaliningrad, it will also have to include other measures to increase stability and security. For example, Moscow should stop violating NATO airspace regional allies and partners. He will have to end large-scale exercises on short notice in areas close to NATO and he will have to return to full respect for the trust treaties he signed a long time ago. And it would have to stop and reverse its buildup of warships in the Black Sea.

Finally, even if there is strong public support in Ukraine to end the war in Donbas, it is unlikely that Kiev will embark unless Moscow accedes to Ukraine’s desire to tighten political, economic and military ties with the West. Consequently, Russia will also have to end in an appreciable manner its support for the separatists of Donbass and to recognize the sovereignty of Ukraine in the choice of its international relations.

All of this seems incredibly impossible today. However, there are several reasons why offering the Russians a road map is not so crazy. First, with each passing year, it becomes more evident that it is unlikely that Russia will abandon Crimea. Kiev and its western friends must accept this geopolitical reality, but at the same time, they would be stupid to turn around without getting something in return. The West must be explicit about its price.

Second, as previously suggested, the impact of the sanctions on the Russian economy could make Moscow increasingly willing to negotiate a way out of the impasse. To do this, Moscow must understand what it will take for the West and the Ukraine to swallow the bitter pill to accept the Russian annexation of Crimea. It is certainly a high bar, but Moscow must know how high.

Third, Western solidarity– its center of gravity vis-à-vis Moscow – has long depended on offering Russia an open hand as well as a closed fist. Dialogue and defense have together formed NATO’s two-track path to security and stability during its seven decades. As the West increases defense spending and strengthens its military posture, it must simultaneously offer Russia a path to follow, otherwise what appears today as minor cracks in Western unity could gradually become impassable divisions. .

Make no mistake, this is not just another western reset with Russia, which in any case is a non-runner during this US election year. Nothing that has been suggested will address the ongoing war in the gray area led by Russia against the West, including manipulation of the media, electoral interference, aggressive cyberattacks and politically motivated assassinations. The West can and must continue its efforts to defend itself, fight back when and where appropriate, compete with Moscow in all areas and reduce Russia’s ability to threaten vital interests.

Just as the arms limitation treaties of the 1970s and 1980s did not end espionage between the United States and the Soviet Union or their proxy fighting around the world, solving the Ukrainian puzzle did not will not make Putin a friend, or even a partner. However, an agreement to reduce the risk of the most catastrophic security scenario in Europe is in the interest of both parties.

Dr. John R. Deni is a research professor at the U.S. Army War College, and the author of NATO and Article 5. The views expressed are his.

Image: Reuters


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here