Moving forward

‘Стоим на краю пропасти. Надо идти вперед.’ (Apocryphal statement attributed to Leonid Brezhnev)

Russian-Western relations appeared to plummet even further into the abyss yesterday with the coordinated decision of around 20 Western countries to expel Russian diplomats as a response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in England. Leading the way was the United States, which is expelling 60 Russians. The next largest contingent of expelled Russians is in Ukraine, which announced that 13 Russians must leave the country. (I find it odd that Ukraine should take this act in response to something which happened in the UK, but not to what it regularly calls ‘Russian aggression’ on its own territory, but so be it.) Third on the list was Canada which is chucking out 4 Russians and refusing to accredit another 3 who had been due to arrive. Germany, meanwhile, is expelling 4 diplomats. Overall, about 100 Russians are getting their marching orders.

This is quite unprecedented. Diplomatic expulsions are normally a response to something which directly affects one’s own country. I can’t think of a precedent for a country throwing out diplomats for something unconnected to it. Perhaps such a precedent exists, but I doubt that there has ever been a mass expulsion across so many countries as this. It is a quite extraordinary act of diplomatic disapproval.

That said, it is largely symbolic. It will make it harder for Russian embassies to do what they were previously doing (which in some cases undoubtedly involves espionage), but in due course new personnel will arrive and get to work, and things will get back to the way they were before. Western diplomats will be expelled from Russia in response, temporarily messing up the work of the embassies in question, but likewise things will eventually get back to normal. People will be irritated. Mutual distrust will be stronger than ever. Attitudes will harden. It will have a decidedly negative effect. But real, concrete interests won’t suffer too much.

In this way, the refusal of the United Kingdom (and also of its allies) to take more radical measures against Russia is quite striking. It appears that the West isn’t too interested in hurting its own bottom line. And in that regard, Russia got some very good news today. Germany has granted all the permits required for the construction of the German segment of the North Stream 2 gas pipeline. A spokesman for the pipeline project stated that he was confident that the other countries involved – Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Russia – would similarly grant the required permits in ‘the coming month’.

Yesterday Germany expelled four Russian diplomats. But today it gave the go-ahead for North Stream 2 – a symbolic slap on Russia’s wrist, followed by a extremely valuable decision in Russia’s favour. If I was Russian, I’d be far more pleased by the latter than annoyed by the former. Perhaps, when it comes to what really matters, things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. The West is willing to stamp its foot and shake its fist, but it isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is. Real progress on real issues may be possible after all, and we can move back from the abyss and forward in another direction.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Moving forward”

  1. “I find it odd that Ukraine should take this act in response to something which happened in the UK”

    And Zoidberg the Ukraine! That’s right – it kicked out more “diplomats” (pan President Petro Poroshenko even made the “quote/unquote” marks with his hands while adressing the nation) then France, Spain, Finland, Sweden and Czechia combined. Because the Ukraine is the first Bastion on the way of the Russian horde.

    [gib monies, plox!]

    “Yesterday Germany expelled four Russian diplomats. But today it gave the go-ahead for North Stream 2 – a symbolic slap on Russia’s wrist, followed by a extremely valuable decision in Russia’s favour. “

    Hurray for the Greed! Hurray for the Capitalism!

    “It will make it harder for Russian embassies to do what they were previously doing (which in some cases undoubtedly involves espionage), but in due course new personnel will arrive and get to work, and things will get back to the way they were before. Western diplomats will be expelled from Russia in response, temporarily messing up the work of the embassies in question”

    And the Western embassies – do they spy on Russia or not?

    Like

  2. ‘And the Western embassies – do they spy on Russia or not?’ – Of course, but not ours as we are nice and we don’t have a foreign intelligence agency 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting comment from Indian ambassador (retired) MK Bhadrakumar on his blog – http://blogs.rediff.com/mkbhadrakumar/author/bhadrakumaranrediffmailcom/

    “Broadly, however, this is an Anglo-American move with which a number of EU countries and Canada display solidarity.” – “only less than half the 28 member countries of the EU have signaled support for the Anglo-American campaign over the spy incident. There is much reluctance or skepticism within the EU about what is going on. Surprisingly, though, Germany, which had voiced skepticism at an early stage, has now joined the pack. Which probably shows that there has been immense pressure from Washington and London.
    Nonetheless, curiously, the EU countries by and large made only ‘token’ expulsions. As many as 7 EU countries simply moved on by expelling one Russian diplomat each. Having said that, the pressure campaign is continuing and the likelihood of more EU countries joining the expulsion cannot be ruled out. Austria has point-blank refused to join. (So has Turkey, which virtually rules out a NATO stance, which requires unanimous support from all member countries.)”
    “To my mind, this entire controversy snowballed into a litmus test of the Euro-Atlantic partnership – in particular, the US’ trans-Atlantic leadership – at a defining moment when Britain is giving up EU membership”

    Like

      1. In the sixties the same statement was attributed to a Polish political leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. I suspect neither of them had said anything like that.

        Regards,

        Like

  4. Every analysis begins from the choice of relevant facts. A conclusion will usually follow from this decision. I agree with Mr Robinson on the choice of events he finds material: Germany expels four Russian diplomats, which is few, and grants final approval to Nord Stream 2.

    Reading these two facts is not difficult. I would even make a more general statement: Russian politics is easy to understand. Russians are very open, even loud, about it. Basically, Russia seeks a multi-polar world where several countries, not one or two, determine the world order. This, by the way, makes Russia the most consistent supporter of the international law. Yes, I did say that, in the long run Russia is the most consistent supporter of the world order determined by the balance of power between sovereign nations.

    From Germany’s perspective this means the opportunity to get its sovereignty back. It would be preposterous to think that the Germans, a truly great nation with deep sense of national identity, would refuse such an offer from the Russians. I, therefore, believe that Germany will continue the policy of gradual distancing from the US while avoiding steps that could be seen as demonstration of disloyalty.

    Like

    1. “I, therefore, believe that Germany will continue the policy of gradual distancing from the US while avoiding steps that could be seen as demonstration of disloyalty.”

      They are still military occupied nation with no such thing as truly independent foreign policy. Same with the rest of Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nor should they have it, ever – not after what they did with their independence the last time.

        Like

  5. Good points and Nord Stream II is more significant financially and politically than the ginned up UK farce and the going-thought-the-motions show of support from most of the EU membership.

    I assume that the expulsions do not represent a permanent reduction in staff. Would it also be safe to assume that those expelled can not simply return at a later date?

    Like

  6. Returning at a later point would depend on the direct modalities of expulsion. There is just expulsion (where they can return quietly after a while) and there is declaring people Persona non Grata which is supposedly permanent.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s