Rostislav Ishchenko: The Munich Security Conference Highlighted the Failure of Washington’s Strategy

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The latest International security conference was very rich in events and poor in political leaders, notes the columnist of Sputnik Rostislav Ishchenko.

In 2007 at a similar event in this same Munich Russia was represented by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned the West that the aspiration to not play by the rules won’t lead to anything good, and that the existing world order – in which, by the way, the West dominated – will be simply destroyed.

Back then this speech caused furor and a squall of negative assessments. It’s not that someone contested the fairness of the facts given by the President of Russia — the leaders of the West were mostly outraged by the fact that someone in general dared to call into question their right to have the leading role in the modern world. Russia actually was offered to reconcile with the unfair and violating international law, but well-established (as it seemed to Russia’s “friends and partners”) world order.

The Russian majorant

In 2018 Russia was presented in Munich by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lavrov didn’t make any epoch-making speeches. He conducted routine negotiations, and his speech at the plenary panel was the usual bringing of the State’s position to all who, in a timely manner, want to be incorporated in new world architecture. Lavrov frankly dominated the conference, without making visible efforts for this purpose.

A big delegation of the US – the main global rival of Russia – came to the conference. There was the Deputy Secretary of State, the Assistant to the President on national security, the chief of the Pentagon, and senators. The only ones missing were the main persons. Trump and Tillerson didn’t come to the conference, realising that the US, contrary to their wont, will not be able to speak in Munich as the leader of the united West. And Washington isn’t used to being just one of many.

At the conference all key problems of the modern world were discussed. The Syrian crisis, Korean crisis, and Ukrainian crisis, and Turkish-Kurdish and Iran-Israeli problems. The US is involved in all these crises. At the same time, the only two persons who are authorised to formulate the US’ foreign policy position were absent at the conference. I.e., the old position of Washington already isn’t in effect, and so far it is impossible to formulate a new one.

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It’s not surprising that in these conditions the conference benefitted Sergey Lavrov. It is precisely he who the delegations of clashing States came to in search of support and requests for mediation. Thus, it is necessary to take into account that Washington didn’t just simply leave the field for Russia. The US initially understood that it won’t be able to force through the position of the EU that they need, and considered it to be better to play at the level of representative offices than to publicly admit their helplessness.

And it was a correct decision. Here it is necessary to pay tribute to the experience of American diplomacy. They conceded to Lavrov an important platform, but kept the opportunities to continue the game.

Nevertheless, the fact itself that the US, which got used to dictating, was forced to make diplomatic manoeuvres demonstrates that the late Washington world order doesn’t work any more. The Munich conference is a platform organised by the West. The retreat of the US from it looks approximately the same as Russia giving to the US the opportunity to dominate at the SCO summit.

The Ukrainian kaleidoscope: Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, Klitschko

The failure of Washington’s strategy was emphasised even more distinctly by the flapping around of the Ukrainian delegation. In recent years Kiev was proud of the acquired status even not of a US protectorate, but of a State under the direct control of Washington. But in 2016 the scheme began to glitch. In 2017, financing definitively stopped. And the Davos summit in 2018 showed that Kiev moves towards international isolation.

The failure of the regime patronised by America is a failure of the America. And this failure is visible, at least because, besides Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, his main opponent, and Klitschko, who is looking for an opportunity to remain in the outlined new configuration of the Ukrainian government arrived in Munich, and somewhere at the local airport Saakashvili, who was recently thrown out of Ukraine, was found.

In general, if the Ukrainian President came to Munich to rescue the situation after the Davos failure, the others arrived to reach an agreement over how power in Ukraine after Poroshenko will look.

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It is interesting that on the eve of the conference Poroshenko called Putin and asked him about something. By all accounts, the former didn’t get what he wanted, because the meeting in the Normandy Format announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine didn’t take place on February 16th. Formally it was disrupted by the Germans and French, but I think that if Paris and Berlin weren’t sure of the hard and uncompromising line of Moscow, and if the Kremlin sent a signal that it is ready to play along with Poroshenko, then the meeting would’ve taken place.

The fact that on February 17th and 18th, when the conference was still ongoing, the Rossotrudnichestvo building in Kiev was stormed, also testified to who Poroshenko considers to be guilty of disrupting the meeting. Petro Poroshenko obviously decided to show Moscow what dangerous people will come to power after him. His senseless Russophobic speech at the conference, which practically nobody came to listen to, also testifies to the rare irritation of Poroshenko.

In turn, Tymoshenko, together with her “shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs” Nemyrya, was noticed paying compliments to the Russian ambassador. The press service of her party, of course, stated that it was a provocation, and that Yulia Tymoshenko simply didn’t know who she was speaking to. But the justification doesn’t sound convincing. It’s not only that Tymoshenko is extremely careful and would hardly begin to smile just like that to a Russian-speaking person with a Russian name on their badge. Nemyrya also knows all leading European diplomats by sight. And in principle, when a person approaches for communication at an international conference, they present themselves. Even if the Russian ambassador suddenly decided to speak privately, then this same Nemyrya would ask (was obliged to ask): “With whom do we have the honor to speak?”

So the joyful meeting wasn’t incidental at all, just like Poroshenko’s call to Putin wasn’t either. Whoever will seize (or hold) power in Ukraine will need Russian support. The US and Europe washing their hands is too obvious, and Ukraine can’t survive just on the internal resource [without external financing – ed].

Ukrainian politicians, as always, want to receive too much without giving anything in return. Judging by how they rage and try to frighten Moscow with their nazis yearning for power, so far Russia has disregarded their feeble efforts. And how now to live?

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Nazis in power in Kiev is, of course, very bad. But under Poroshenko they all the same dictate their agenda to the authorities, and they will do the same under Tymoshenko too. So a horrible end is better than horror without an end.

Europe, Syria, Israel

Meanwhile, the total, definitive, and irrevocable failure of the American policy in Ukraine was recorded in Munich when Germany and Austria didn’t just simply once again express themselves in favor of Nord Stream-2, but also made it clear that all attempts to include it in the sphere of the EU’s Third Energy Package will be ignored, because this is good business for Germany and Austria.

Europe also tried again (via the lips of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany) to report that it is ready to lift the sanctions as soon as the issue concerning the peacekeeping operation in Donbass is resolved. But Russia traditionally ignored this hint, understanding that: firstly, in the near future in all likelihood a peacekeeping operation will become actual not in Donbass, but in Kiev; secondly, the EU itself is interested in ending the sanctions epic, so let it wriggle out itself. There is absolutely no reason to help, and even more so, there is no need to make concessions.

Besides this, during this conference the priority role of Russia in defining the format of resolving the Syrian crisis was once again confirmed. Moscow was also able to intercept from Washington control over the Kurdish issue. Unlike America, Russia succeeds to act as an “honest broker” when moderating the Kurdish-Turkish conflict and forcing the sides to search for a compromise solution.

Moreover, even Israel, which also overplayed in the American game in the Middle East, and which just now realised the danger that threatens it (the most serious during its existence), tries to obtain security guarantees from Russia.

However, meanwhile Israel wishes to solve its problem without giving anything in return. Earlier, maybe this could work, but over the last 10 years Russia learned how to negotiate very well, especially since it’s not in a hurry.

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