Putin and Putinism are not foreover

There are things that are difficult to write, even when obvious.  People all too often mistake analytical statements for normative ones.  They fail to recognize that I can think something is likely to happen without wanting it to happen.  Let’s be clear:  what I am about to write is not what I want but what I think likely if the Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine continues.

Russian speakers, in an effort coordinated by Moscow, are seizing key government and police sites.  But most people in eastern and southern Ukraine before this crisis considered themselves Ukrainian, not Russian, even if they spoke Russian better than Ukrainian.  Anyone even remotely attached to Ukrainian identity will take offense at what Moscow is up to.  Maintaining that sense of Ukrainian identity has to be a primary objective for those who want the country to remain united.  If ever Kiev gets the upper hand, those who are today supporting the Russian takeover will find themselves unwelcome.

We’ve seen this happen in the Balkans, where Milosevic sponsored supposedly local Serb takeovers in parts of Croatia and Bosnia.  Both had ample backing from Belgrade, including from its army.  Once the Croatians got the upper hand several years later, 180,000 or so Croatian Serbs ended up leaving and entering Serbia.  In Bosnia, the 500-600,000 Serbs who lived during the war in Republika Srpska were saved from a similar fate only by the Dayton agreements.  In Kosovo, many Serbs left Albanian-controlled areas south of the Ibar once Serbian troops withdrew.

Someone more erudite than I am could extend the analogy to the Sudetenland, where Hitler’s takeover ended not so many years later with expulsion of German speakers.

I am trying in what I say above to avoid the fraught question of whether people were expelled, left of their own volition, or were summoned out.  More often than not, such mass movements of population have multiple origins.  Having mistreated others during their time in control, some people expect, justifiably or not, similar mistreatment when power is given to their enemies.  Others are expelled.  Still others respond to calls from their “homeland.”  The mix is different in different places, and exponents of opposing sides won’t readily agree on what happened.

But I can be pretty sure that if Kiev ever regains control of the sites Russia is now seizing that an outflux of Russian speakers will ensue.  Some will justifiably fear arrest or mistreatment.  Others will be expelled by hotheads on the Ukrainian side of the ethnic divide.  Still others may respond to an invitation by Moscow, which no doubt will be passing out passports to those who want them, as it did in Crimea.

The only real doubt I have is whether Kiev will ever regain control.  It seems unlikely.  Russia will always  be much stronger.  Even with a well-equipped and well-trained army that would take decades to create, Ukraine is not going to be able to defeat Russia in a slugging match.  So long as it is prepared to devote the resources required, Russia should be able to maintain control.

There’s the rub.  Moscow has a lot of problems other than maintaining dominance in Russian-speaking Ukraine.  Russia is not much different in this respect from the Soviet Union.  Its internal difficulties, both economic and political, are challenging.  While today Russians are enthusiastically backing the takeovers, they are likely to feel differently when the bills start coming in.  Putin and Putinism are not forever.

Peace Picks April 14 – 18

1. Terrorism, Party Politics, and the US: Expectations of the Upcoming Iraqi Elections

Monday, April 14 | 12:30 – 2pm

Room 517, SAIS (The Nitze Building), 1740 Massachusetts Ave NW

Ahmed Ali, Iraq research analyst and Iraq team lead at the Institute for the Study of War, and Judith Yaphe, adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, will discuss this topic.

For more information and to RSVP, send an email to: menaclub.sais@gmail.com

Read more…

Shooting yourself in the foot

I’ll be on Al Hurra this afternoon discussing the American failure to give an Iranian diplomat a visa to come to New York to represent his government at the UN.  Yesterday, Eli Lake and I exchanged barbs on the subject:

An Iranian diplomat participated in hostage taking in 1979, 35 years later he can’t get a visa. Typical neocon, guilt-by-asociation smears.


What if the Vietnamese had taken your approach to Pete Peterson as US ambassador there? Would you have supported Hanoi?

The roles and limits of international courts

Friday morning the US Institute of Peace hosted a discussion about the role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Featured panelists were Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (ICC), Judge Joan Donoghue (ICJ), Judge Xue Hanqin (ICJ), and Judge Julia Sebutinde (ICJ).  Abiodun Williams (President of the Hague Institute for Global Justice) moderated.

Judge Donoghue emphasized that it is important to distinguish the ICJ from the ICC. The ICJ, also known as “the World Court,” has been part of the UN apparatus since WWII. Its role is to decide contentious cases between two states.  The court also considers whether a state has met its obligations under international law. Neither function involves making a decision about whether an individual is accountable for a specific act. The ICJ is composed of 15 judges from the major legal systems around the world. Three of the 15 judges are women. The ICJ does not automatically have jurisdiction; states must first consent. Two recent cases brought to the ICJ were the whaling dispute between Australia and Japan as well as the maritime boundary dispute between Chile and Peru.

Prosecutor Bensouda agreed that it was important to distinguish between the two courts. While the ICJ deals with disputes submitted by states, the ICC deals with individual criminal responsibility. This includes war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The ICC can only intervene in territories of state parties or over citizens of state parties that committed a crime.

Established in 2002, the ICC is not an organ of the UN. It is a treaty-based institution. Currently 122 states have signed and ratified the Rome Statue. The ICC can exercise jurisdiction when a state requests ICC intervention or the UN Security Council refers a situation to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. An ICC prosecutor can intervene if a state party is not already prosecuting and investigating. However, the primary responsibility falls on the state.

Judge Xue explained the jurisdictional issues both courts face. There are three ways for the ICJ to have jurisdiction. Article 36 of its statute makes it compulsory for states to accept ICJ jurisdiction.  International agreements may also provide for jurisdiction.  The third way is through agreement by two states. If states do not accept going to court, it weakens the role of the ICJ.

Bensouda added that the ICC has limitations. It operates in a political environment. There are many priorities for states.  A judicial mandate is not always a top priority. The effectiveness of the ICC depends on cooperation with states. It is only through this cooperation that the ICC can function as a judicial institution.

Another limitation is a double standard. For states that are party to the Rome Statute, the ICC can intervene on behalf of victims. Non-member states are not able to subject to this intervention unless the UN Security Council refers to or accepts the ICC’s jurisdiction. For full judicial effectiveness, all countries should be parties to the Rome Statute.

Judge Sebutinde noted how both courts depend on states and the international community to enforce judgments. When states are hesitant to implement a ruling of the courts, it is easy to turn on the institutions and accuse them of ineffectiveness. But the international community should turn on itself and wonder why the institutions they created are not fully functioning.

Bensouda said that the ICC can play a preventive role. Knowledge of the existence of the institution and its application of the law can act as a deterrent and stop would-be violators from committing crimes. This has been demonstrated in empirical academic work.

Williams brought up the issues of Syria and Crimea. Neither the ICC nor the ICJ is playing a role in either matter. Does this suggest that these courts have nothing to contribute when stakes are especially high and the international community divided?

Sebutinde replied that before looking to the courts it is necessary to look at the international community and the UN Security Council. The judges as individuals may be interested in these issues. But unless a case is presented, they can only be spectators. The ICJ can only settle disputes where states allow.

Judges Donoghue and Xue agreed that it can leave a feeling of frustration when one looks at disputes and wonders why they are not in an international court. Sometimes an affected state decides that the best way to make progress is not to come to court for resolution, but to pursue other avenues.

Bensouda concluded by saying that in her opinion the ICC should intervene in Syria. But it can only intervene on territories of state parties. Neither Syria nor Ukraine are state parties. Therefore, the ICC cannot intervene. It is a matter of jurisdictional limitations.

What to do about whoppers

The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted this today:

: Active Russian involvement in European affairs has always brought long periods of peace and growth to all European countries.

He must have lived through a different Cold War than the one I experienced, along with millions of Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians.  Not to mention Ukrainians.  In another whopper, he denies that there are Russian agents in southeast Ukraine.

NATO today gave the lie to Moscow’s claims that it has not built up military forces on the Ukrainian border by publishing satellite photos.  Moscow appears to be hesitating to use them, because it knows as well as any Ukrainian that invasion (and its aftermath) will not be a cakewalk.  Instead it is bargaining for a federal Ukraine, one that affords the eastern and southern provinces a wide degree of autonomy. That is not the worst idea I’ve heard, but Kiev will have to be careful to ensure that the result is not a kind of stealth independence.  Americans may have forgotten where and what Republika Srpska is, but the Russians know and no doubt see it has an attractive model.  They are even offering it hundreds of millions in euro loans.

But Ukraine is different from Bosnia.  Residents of eastern Ukraine identify as Ukrainians even if relatively few say it is easier for them to speak Ukrainian than Russian.  A pre-crisis Bertelsmann Foundation study of language, identity and politics in Ukraine found:

Nothwithstanding any linguistic, political, or cultural differences, the vast majority of Ukrainians consider Ukraine their motherland.  Even in the south of the country, 88% believe that Ukraine is their home country.  This conviction is even more popular among residents of the allegedly pro-Russian east–93% share this belief, in comparison to the traditionally patriotic west and centre (99%).

Nor is there much difference between Russian and Ukrainian speakers in Ukraine on the importance of democracy (both rank it close to 8 on a 10-point scale) or satisfaction with how democracy has performed in Ukraine (4.6 on a 10-point scale).  Crimea was “poles apart” from the rest of the country on whether Ukraine should favor a Russian or European orientation.

The question is what can be done to prevent a Russian invasion and to make one unsuccessful if prevention fails.  Moscow is working hard to polarize opinion in eastern and southern Ukraine, trying to ween Ukrainians from their Ukrainian identity and promote the Russian alternative.  Kiev has to be careful not to make that task easier.  This means caution in dealing with Russia-supporting protesters, who are occupying government buildings in several eastern cities.  It also means avoiding legislation or other moves that would infringe on existing rights to speak and use Russian.  The right posture if Ukraine wants to avoid invasion is one that is welcoming and friendly to Russian speakers, ensuring as much as possible that they retain their Ukrainian identities.

But invasion may not be avoidable.  Some have talked of an armed insurgency against any Russian takeover in the east or south.  The trouble with that idea is that insurgencies take a long time and are far less often effective than nonviolent struggles, as Maria Stephan and Marciej Bartkowski discuss this morning.  Nonviolent resistance succeeds quicker, better and more often, regardless of the character of the regime against which it is used.  Violence would compel Russian speakers in Ukraine to make a choice between speaking Russian and being Ukrainian.  That’s what Moscow wants.  Kiev, as well as Brussels and Washington, should not.

Lavrov’s whoppers are advantageous.  The more he says things that can be readily and definitively disproved, the less appealing the Russian alternative will be.  If Moscow invades, presumably claiming to protect Russian speakers from alleged abuse, the West and Kiev will need enormous self-control to avoid making things worse.  Washington should be supporting pro-Western civil society groups in eastern and southern Ukraine even now.  They will be the nucleus of any nonviolent resistance that emerges later.

A potent symbol

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Djukanovic is in DC today (and yesterday) to plump for his country’s NATO membership.  His talking points were good (extrapolated from what he said):

  • Montenegro has prepared well and meets the membership criteria, even if its population is still more or less evenly divided on the proposition;
  • an invitation to NATO at the September Summit in Cardiff will have a positive impact on Balkans regional stability, including by encouraging Bosnia and Serbia to move in the same direction;
  • the Alliance needs to send Russia a strong message about its willingness and ability to expand and defend its members in response to the Ukraine crisis.

The trouble of course is that Montenegro is tiny (Google says 621,081).  However meritorious its candidacy, it is hard to see Montenegrin membership in NATO as a serious response to Russian malfeasance or even to regional instability.

Cardiff requires a broader vision , with an invitation to Montenegro as one component.  How to frame this broader vision is the issue.  Here are some possibilities:

  1. the Alliance could explicitly state its intention to invite, when they are ready, all the remaining Balkans non-members (Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia in addition to Montenegro) to join;
  2. the intention could be broadened to all European democracies, including not only the Balkans but also Moldova, Sweden and Finland as well as Ukraine and Georgia;
  3. it could even include some non-European democracies, like Colombia, which cooperates closely with the Alliance.

3. is a stretch.  2.  risks provoking further Russian reaction in what it regards as its “near abroad,” even if much of it has been said before.  It would also potentially saddle NATO with members whose defense would be difficult (especially Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia).  In this era of constrained resources and retrenchment, the Alliance should be looking for members whose net contributions will be positive, not negative.  I’d plunk for 1., which is neither a stretch nor likely to provoke the Russians, who will campaign against NATO membership for Serbia and Bosnia (as they are already doing in Montenegro) but can do little more than that.

The Balkans owe their current democratic institutions to NATO action.  Kosovo in particular sees things that way.  More than ninety percent of its population supports NATO membership, which isn’t possible right away because the six-year-old country is just now beginning to build its armed forces.  The Albanians of Macedonia are likewise heavily in favor of NATO membership, which they regard as a guarantee of Skopje’s continued adherence to democratic norms (and decent treatment of its Albanian citizens).  The ethnic Macedonians are not far behind.  The only thing that holds Macedonia back is Greek refusal to accept it as an Alliance member.  Bulgaria’s echo of Greek objections will fade quickly if Athens changes its mind.

Serbia and Bosnia are more equivocal.  NATO bombed Serbs in both countries–notably Bosnia towards the end of the war there and Serbia in the 1999 conflict over Kosovo.  Nevertheless, the current leadership in Belgrade seems to be ready to at least start down the path towards NATO.  Membership for Montenegro would encourage them to do so.  Once Serbia embarks, it will make no sense for the Serbs in Bosnia to hold back, especially as the Serb units of the Bosnian army are reputedly highly professional and won’t want to suffer exclusion from the club.

So far as I am aware, Montenegro and Macedonia are the only fully qualified NATO aspirants at the moment.  Macedonia would have to enter as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as provided for in a 1995 interim agreement between Athens and Skopje, whose applicability to NATO membership has been confirmed by a decision of the International Court of Justice.  The merits of the case aside, getting The FYROM into NATO will require some heavy political lifting by the United States and Germany, which will need to convince Athens to drop its objection.

In addition to stating its intentions, the Alliance should add substance to its vision by advancing each of the Balkans aspirants as far as possible along the path towards membership.  What this means for each country would vary, but the clever bureaucrats at NATO headquarters can figure it out.  If Sweden or Finland wants to take some additional steps towards membership, that would be icing on the cake.

A substantial Balkans/Scandinavian move towards NATO would shore up the Alliance’s flanks.  It would be a serious diplomatic blow to Moscow, one for which it has no ready diplomatic or military response.  All the countries involved would be net contributors to the Alliance.  The move would help stabilize the Balkans and give Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia hope for the future.  It would demonstrate that aggression in Ukraine has real costs and give contemporary substance to traditional US sloganeering about “Europe whole and free.”

Montenegro is tiny, but wrapped in the right package it could become a potent symbol of an alliance prepared to pursue its ideals, come what may.

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