quinta-feira, 12 de fevereiro de 2015

Guns are only half an answer for Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has agreed to a ceasefire in Ukraine. Past experience says the Russian president will not keep his promises. Mr Putin’s aim is to disarm the west. The west must decide whether to arm Ukraine.

For old hands at the Munich Security conference this month the argument about whether to supply defensive weapons to Kiev carried echoes of the 1990s Balkan wars. Then the Bosnians were overrun by marauding Serbs. Now Ukraine is buckling under the military might of a revanchist Russia.

The debate has simmered since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the dispatch of Russian forces to mobilise separatists in eastern Ukraine. No one could disagree with Angela Merkel, German chancellor, when she said Russian aggression was a profound threat to the European order. Where many parted company with her was in the conclusion that diplomacy and sanctions should mark the limit of the west’s response.

The should-we-arm-them argument was rehearsed when Serbian and Croat forces rampaged through the fledgling state of Bosnia Herzegovina. A UN arms embargo imposed on the former Yugoslavia locked in the military advantage of the Serbs. As the Bosnians were cut down, the west was split about whether to exempt them from the ban. Then, as now, US and Europe had resolved to keep their own forces out of the fight.

The Bosnians, one side argued, had the right of self-defence. If the west stood back, the least it could do was even up the fight. Bosnia, after all, had been recognised by the UN as a sovereign state. Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia had no incentive to come to the negotiating table while it was advancing on the battlefield. So ethics and realpolitik gave the same answer.

On the other side many said that arming the Bosnians would simply level up the killing field. The Serbs would step up their attacks and new weaponry would dissuade the Bosnians from negotiating. And could the west draw such a neat line between arming Bosnia and sending in its own forces? What about mission creep? This side too claimed to be on the side of ethical realism.
The parallels with Ukraine, of course, are inexact. Mr Putin’s Russia is not Milosevic’s Serbia. Some of the actors have swapped roles. If Ms Merkel is now a peacenik, her predecessor-but-one Helmut Kohl called in 1993 for the Bosnian embargo to be lifted. The US president Bill Clinton backed sending arms before later changing his mind. Britain and France, which had contributed to a UN peacekeeping force, led the opposition. Anticipating Ms Merkel’s words in Munich, John Major, the then British prime minister, said lifting the ban would be a “counsel of despair” calculated to widen the conflict.

For all the differences, the question asked of the west is much the same. European security depends on territorial inviolability. If states can expand their borders by invading neighbours we are back to a Hobbesian world of the early 20th century. The security guarantees offered in the Budapest memorandum in return for Kiev’s surrender of nuclear weapons were unequivocal. Russia’s revanchism reaches beyond Ukraine. But how far will the US and Europe go to defend the postwar order?

Not too far, says Ms Merkel. Her diplomacy collides with private acknowledgment that Mr Putin will not give up what he calls Novorossiya. The most likely outcome of this week’s agreement in Minsk is a temporary lull. The name of the German game is to halt Russia’s advance, setting the Donbass alongside South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria as a frozen conflict. The west must be patient, she says, just as during the cold war. The oil price collapse and sanctions will take their toll. To provide Kiev with weapons would invite Moscow to escalate the conflict.

The riposte is that the west has a duty to help Ukraine defend itself. To surrender to Mr Putin’s land grab would be to encourage his revanchism. A better equipped Ukrainian military would change the calculus in Moscow. Sure, Mr Putin could send in an army division, but at the cost of heavy casualties and an end to the threadbare pretence of a western conspiracy to encircle Russia.
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I lean towards this second course. Mr Putin sees the west as decadent and weak. The message from Munich was that Moscow inhabits a parallel universe. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, attracted audible derision as he rehashed the tired narrative that the Ukraine crisis is all the fault of US-
sponsored fascists. Faced with such self-serving fantasy a line has to be drawn.

It should be understood, though, that arming Ukraine is at best half an answer. Modern defensive weaponry will not overturn the military facts on the ground in Donbass. Ukraine alone cannot defeat the Russian army.

The lessons from the Balkans are salutary. The UN embargo was left in place and the slaughter continued apace. Milosevic was forced to the negotiating table by direct Nato intervention after the Serbian massacre of civilians at Srebrenica. President Barack Obama is not about to send US warplanes to Ukraine.

In one respect Ms Merkel is right. The west should play a long game: maintaining sanctions for as long as Russian forces occupy Crimea and the Donbass and providing financial and other resources on a scale sufficient to see what is left of Ukraine emerge as a successful, democratic state. My question is a simple one: does the German chancellor have the patience and resolve?

Philip Stephens

Fonte: FT