Linas Linkevičius: How many wake-up calls do we really need to wake up?, kyivpost.com, December 5, 2018
By Linas Linkevičius. How many wake-up calls do we really need to wake up?
History brims with examples of strong leadership. Contemporaries used to call the former Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito, a “benevolent dictator,: as Yugoslavia under his rule appeared a quiet and peaceful place. Yet, the Balkans, immersed in an unprecedented bloodshed following the collapse of communist rule, until this day reminds us of the perils of taking the imagined for real.
The Romanian communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, was also sometimes celebrated as “brave” for his decisions to ease press censorship and condemn the Soviet intervention of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But in the end, he too turned out to be just a paranoid dictator who sent armed forces against his people. He was ultimately overthrown and shot dead in a violent revolution.
The main value that dictatorships preach is stability. But their stability is often confused with stagnation, which is no value in itself. On the contrary, dictatorships are extremely fragile and once they fail – and they always fail, sooner or later – they risk the lives of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people.
Responsibility for these innocent lives lies not only with the dictators. Passive bystanders who just silently watch the crimes happening and tell others to shut up are no less responsible. Neville Chamberlain once brought home “peace” with Hitler, which resulted in the annexation of the Sudetenland and only made war even more feasible. Along with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, this “peace” is now treated as one of the most shameful pacts in modern European history.
The current generation of European leaders seems reluctant to learn from the mistakes of the past. Take acquiescence with Russia’s aggressive behavior as an example.
Vladimir Putin’s sporting of weapons and his “great power” claims have long ago given way to actual land grabs and other systematic violations of international law. Failure to withdraw Russian troops from Transnistria; occupation of the 20 percent of Georgia’s territory; occupation and annexation of Crimea; ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine… all these cases only point to Russia’s growing appetite. As a countermeasure, we present a statement, joint or independent, wherein we express our concern, sometimes our deep concern, and in particular moments our very deep concern over these hostile actions.
The Russian leaders couldn’t care less. The price we make them pay for the systemic violations of international law remains negligible. Once the initial outrage subdues, Western leaders start lining up for an audience in Kremlin. Oh, Kremlin not convenient? Right, we will come to Sochi… Not good? Perhaps we could come to Yalta, if only that makes you feel better, Mr. Putin! But the message remains the same: we need to talk, we need to trade, we need to write new rules of mutual engagement.
Such behavior offers the Russian leadership a golden opportunity to demonstrate its people that Russia cannot be isolated, that nothing in this world can happen without Russia’s nod or direct involvement. If someone wants to make a decision, he or she will have to come to the tsar and ask.
And the outcome is further aggression, further land grabs.
Russia’s activities in the Sea of Azov last week is just a case in point. Three Ukrainian ships have been seized and several Ukrainian sailors shot and wounded and illegally detained in the waters where the principle of free passage applies. Furthermore, Russia seeks to present this act of open aggression against Ukraine as the ‘violation of its territorial sovereignty’ by Ukraine, since the events took place off the Crimean coast, which Russia wants to be recognized as its territory.
The bloodshed in the Sea of Azov comes at a time when the initial outrage at the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea seems to be subduing and European leaders have renewed their efforts to rebuild ties with Putin. Some have even called the European Union to lift the sanctions against Russia. Indeed, if the leading European minds start accepting the illegal annexation of Crimea as a fait accompli, why not to take a step further and turn the Sea of Azov into Russia’s inland waters?
What matters now is not Russia’s next move but that of our own. As usual, we have issued a statement condemning Russia’s unacceptable behavior. But shall we stop here? Can’t we do anything more to make the aggressor pay the full price?
In 1948, the Berlin blockade failed mainly because Western allies confronted it with a massive airlift of supplies. Eventually, the Soviets had to remove the blockade.
This time it is hard to expect that the European Union will respond to the Russian efforts to obstruct the functioning of the Ukrainian ports like Mariupol by sending hundreds of European ships to ensure uninterrupted movement in and through the Sea of Azov. Claiming ‘global power’ ambitions, the EU still lacks the capacity to prove them.
But at least we could immediately impose new sanctions on the entire leadership of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, including the servicemen and vessels that were directly involved in the recent aggression. All scheduled meetings with Mr. Putin must be postponed. Such a response would be timely and much more justified than another working group or joint commission to establish the ‘true’ definition of aggression and whether it happened or not in the Sea of Azov. Failing to do that, we may one morning wake up to the televised images of Russian military ships docked in Mariupol.
Linas Linkevičius is foreign minister of Lithuania.