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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Defense & Security
Angry bear against the background of the Russian flag

Boil the bear: The risky path in the face of Russian aggression

by Enrico Tomaselli

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском According to the EU, Russia had set several red lines, but then allowed them to be crossed without reacting. Therefore, gradually increasing the temperature can be a good strategy... Whereas, throughout the first two years of NATO's war against Russia in Ukraine, the record of warmongering was almost equally shared between the US and the UK, more recently it has been attributed to Macron. The reasons are diverse, ranging from the great difficulty France is currently facing to the illusion of being able to take advantage of the German crisis to assume European leadership, including the political dwarfism of its president. But the underlying reason is that European leaders, almost unanimously, have essentially resigned themselves to carrying out the task left by the US: taking on the burden of the conflict in the East, supporting Kiev even beyond the last Ukrainian, if necessary. Also in this case, the reasons why Europeans have convinced themselves that they cannot escape this task are multiple. What matters is understanding how they believe they will do it, when they believe they will do it, and, obviously, if they really believe they can do it. Judging by how interventionist statements are intensifying, it seems that the timeline is not so distant; probably, in the European offices, they envision initiating an operational phase at least after the US elections, also to have a clearer idea of the White House's orientations and the timing of their public announcements. At the same time, the evolution on the battlefield does not seem very compatible with these optimistic forecasts: the arrival of good weather has already revitalized the Russian initiative along the entire front line, and the structural deficiencies of the Ukrainian army are evident. Events, therefore, could accelerate. Regarding the how, it seems quite clear that the idea is to boil the Russian bear like the proverbial frog. Step by step, counting on Moscow wanting to avoid an escalation, they will end up letting things happen without a strong response. In conclusion, it is believed that Russia had set several red lines, but then allowed them to be crossed without reacting. Therefore, gradually increasing the temperature can be a good strategy. Furthermore, the public discourse (the narrative used to prepare public opinion) is a mix of nonsense and half-truths, but reading them carefully, the design becomes clear. Macron puffs up his chest and makes aggressive statements, but then between Ukrainian requests and European readiness, the scheme emerges: start by training the Ukrainians in Ukraine (150,000 men...) so they are closer (and prepared) to the front [1]. After all, NATO countries have been training them for years, only the location changes... One imagines that such a debut would be more acceptable to European citizens, and that after all Moscow would not react beyond "strong protests." Then we'll see from there. Clearly, the weak point is the actual possibility of creating the design according to your own scheme. Firstly, the premise is that Russia behaves exactly as expected in Brussels, which, however, is not at all a fact. As always, caught up in their autism, European leaders do not listen, and even if they do, they do not understand. Here, in fact, we are beyond the light statements of Medvedev; when a diplomat like Lavrov clearly says that if Europeans want war they are prepared, it should not be taken lightly. Moreover, when Monti in turn says that "to build Europe" blood must be shed, he is simply more sincere and pragmatic than Macron. The problem, of course, is that a small-step scheme simply runs the risk of resulting in a series of useless steps. The critical problems of the Ukrainian army are basically three: lack of artillery ammunition, lack of personnel, lack of anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems. For the first one, Europeans are unable to remedy it. Even if the Russian industrial relative production did not grow (as it is happening) and remained at current levels, Europeans would take years and years to match it. As for the second one, the difficulties to solve it would be at least the same. Sending even 20-30,000 men would not have a decisive impact. Firstly, we would be talking about men with no real combat experience, let alone in a war of attrition like the one being fought. The logistic support would be very complicated, as the rear would have to be located in Poland and/or Romania, a thousand kilometers from the front. And anyway, even such a figure would amount to 5,000-6,000 men in combat. Irrelevant. It would be necessary to send at least 200 or 300 thousand men, practically the entire European NATO force, to have any impact. The Europeans could transfer almost all of their missile/anti-aircraft defense systems, leaving their respective countries almost defenseless, but this would also have a limited impact over time: the Russians would exploit the large quantities they have to saturate the defenses and destroy the batteries one after another (as Iran did with Israel). The only thing that could introduce an element of discontinuity would be the intervention of the air force. European fighter-bombers taking off from airfields outside of Ukraine, striking Russian rear areas. But this would inevitably bring the war to European soil, as it is clear that at that point the Russians would strike the departure air bases with their ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The same would happen if missile defense batteries from neighboring countries were used. Furthermore, if this level of intervention were to create problems for the Russian armed forces, it is virtually certain that at that point Moscow would resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Because for Russia, the risk of defeat in this war equates to an existential threat. And here Macron comes into play again, boldly promising the coverage of the French nuclear umbrella, the 'force de frappe'. Unfortunately, the comparison with the Russian Federation is ruthless, and the quantity of French nuclear weapons (as well as the aircraft carriers to deliver them to the target) is ridiculously smaller: At most, France can offer the shelter of a cocktail umbrella, and Moscow would turn Paris into a milkshake. Therefore, the European strategy of boiling the Russian bear slowly – though as stupid as a frog - cannot work. Gradualness simply runs the risk of exacting a very high price (in terms of casualties, wounded, destroyed weapon systems, etc.) without achieving any noteworthy result. On the other hand, an acceleration, by promptly engaging a significant force in combat, is practically equivalent to plunging Europe into a prolonged conflict, without equally managing to change the terms of the equation. Without direct intervention from the US, European countries alone are absolutely incapable of significantly engaging Russia [2]. But direct engagement is exactly what Washington shies away from, and they are very aware that once you put boots on the ground, there's no turning back, and the logic of war drags you deeper and deeper. Something they learned well from Vietnam, and they have never forgotten. Therefore, combat continues to present itself as a gamble. It's like having far fewer chips than your opponent and still betting everything without even holding a pair of twos in your hand. In all of this, of course, we have not taken into account at all the fact that there is no unified point of view - beyond the facade - among the different European capitals. Likely, there are countries - not only Hungary, or Slovakia, but also Germany and Italy... - that secretly hope for an immediate collapse of the Ukrainian army, to render any hypothesis of deploying their own forces useless. Although the scenario briefly described is very realistic, it is clear that there are those who believe that Europeans would have an excellent opportunity in a confrontation with Russia. That this is believed possible among political leaders, although dangerously disheartening, is also plausible; much worse is when it is supported by senior NATO military commanders, whose opinion cannot fail to influence political decisions. And quite a few generals, French, German, and from other countries, seem convinced that they can win the game (or perhaps just dream of a moment of glory, after a lifetime behind a desk or playing war games). [3] Certainly, what happens on the European chessboard also depends on what happens elsewhere, because this is a global game where everything is interconnected. The problem is that European leaders not only lack decision-making power, not even marginally, regarding this dimension, but they also completely lack global vision. The real one, of course, not the one that appears in the news. The coming months, therefore, will be full of consequences for the Europeans, but they will also be largely played as pawns, with their movements directed largely from outside, while the effects will be almost entirely at our expense. And it is clear that the interest of the US is to push the Europeans, but not NATO, to assume the risks and burdens of the conflict, which Washington would like to prolong indefinitely. [4] The inadequacy of leadership is another risk factor, in addition to the objectives. In this context, as we see, these leaders tend to curl up like a hedgehog; aware of their own weakness, both against the enemy they are confronting and their own citizens who do not wish to die for Kiev (not even for Washington), they are increasingly moving towards the militarization of public space, the restriction of democratic spaces, and an authoritarian shift. They wage war on the dissent of their citizens today so that they can wage war on Russia tomorrow. And if the European peoples lose this war, they will be dragged into another one, in which defeat could coincide with the extinction of European civilization as we have known it. Notes [1] According to The New York Times, due to the shortage of troops, the Kiev government has asked the US and NATO to "contribute to the training of 150,000 new recruits" within Ukraine so that they can be deployed to the front lines quicker. Obviously, this is a gigantic absurdity. However, these training camps should be located as far away from the front lines as possible to minimize the risk of being targeted (large troop concentrations are obviously an attractive target), and they would require adequate protection against air attacks; the risks and logistical efforts would far outweigh the minimal benefit of having recruits in training a little closer to the battle line. This is blatantly a ploy to bring NATO military personnel onto the ground. [2] A research done by the British newspaper 'The Daily Mail' established that in the event of an open conflict between NATO and Russia, NATO forces would not be sufficient. Although the strength of the Atlantic Alliance appears superior in numerical terms, this superiority is essentially due to the armed forces of the US, without which it significantly deteriorates. Additionally, the research does not consider, even marginally, factors such as industrial production, experience, combat capability, etc. [3] According to the commander of the combined armed forces of the Alliance in Europe, General Christopher Cavoli (USA), the Russian armed forces "lack the skills and capabilities to operate on the scale necessary to exploit any advances to gain a strategic advantage." [4] In this regard, a reputable American magazine like 'Foreign Affairs' has explicitly indicated this direction, and certainly not by chance. According to the FA, which is obviously closely aligned with the State Department, "European countries must do more [...] They should seriously consider deploying troops in Ukraine to provide logistical support and training, to protect Ukraine's borders and critical infrastructure, or even to defend Ukrainian cities. They must make it clear to Russia that Europe is willing to protect Ukraine's territorial sovereignty". After dismissing the idea that this could lead to World War III, the authors cunningly suggest that "a strictly non-combat mission would be easier to sell in most European capitals". However, they immediately stress that "Europe should consider a direct combat mission to help protect Ukrainian territory". In fact, "since European forces would operate outside the framework and territory of NATO, any losses would not trigger a response under Article 5 and would not involve the United States". And to reassure European leaders - to whom the message is clearly directed - they add: "At a certain point, European leaders must ignore Putin's threats, as they are nothing more than propaganda." The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

Defense & Security
Troop carrier and tank with Ukrainian flag, Ukraine

The War in Ukraine among contemporary Armed Conflicts

by Anton Bebler

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Abstract The war in Ukraine is the biggest, bloodiest and longest war in Europe since 1945. Its initial stage holds similarities with several other armed conflicts and wars in the last 50 years on Cyprus and in the territories of the former Soviet Union and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Among the cases in ex-Yugoslavia the greatest similarity is seen with the war in Croatia (1991–1995). These conflicts stemmed from almost simultaneous breakdowns of two multinational ‘socialist federations’ and their communist regimes. The dissimilarity of the second stage of the war in Ukraine and the war in Croatia is primarily due to the processes of NATO and EU enlargement coupled with the USA’s policy of using NATO enlargement and Ukraine as tools to harm and weaken Russia. The conflict about Ukraine developed into an indirect war between Russia and the US-led West, where Ukraine is the West’s proxy and the main victim. The final outcome of the war in Ukraine will be decided on the battlefield and not around a diplomatic table. Still, it will be very different from that in Croatia. Responsibility for the war in Ukraine and its consequences must be shared between the two direct belligerents, the co-responsible USA and other NATO members. Introduction Among about four dozen contemporary wars, the armed conflict in Ukraine since 2014 stands out as an exceptional event. It involves in its second stage four nuclear powers –one as a direct belligerent and three as providers of many-sided assistance to the second belligerent, with the presence of military personnel of all four nuclear powers on the territory of Ukraine. The war has been the biggest, bloodiest and longest war in Europe since 1945. It has also produced a strong impact on Europe and the broader international community. According to two measures (at least), the war in Ukraine has been exceeded by a number of other wars since 1945, namely those occurring in Asia and Africa. In terms of mortality, it has been exceeded by the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Iraq. In terms of duration, it is unlikely to be longer than the wars in Vietnam, Algeria, Sudan and Afghanistan. Among all these armed conflicts, the war in Ukraine may be sharply distinguished by the reverse ratio between military and civilian mortality. In the European framework, the central trigger of the first stage of the war in Ukraine was similar to what caused the armed conflicts and outright wars occurring between 1974 and 1999 on Cyprus, in Moldova, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan as well as on the territory of the SFRY. Among the former, the first stage of the war in Ukraine most resembled the war in Croatia (1991–1995). The war in Croatia, which started prior to its international recognition, and the war in Ukraine 22 years after its recognition as an independent state, display a number of similarities that not accidental. The second stage of the war in Ukraine has had several similarities with the war in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1999) which ended up with forceful separation of Kosovo from Serbia. The similarities The wars in Croatia and Ukraine involved two adversary pairs of neighboring and partly overlapping Slavic nations. These wars unfolded in the territories of two defunct ‘socialist federations’ – the SFRY and the USSR. The causes of both wars were closely related to the almost simultaneous breakdowns of these two federations in 1991 and the demise of their communist regimes that had preceded and caused the breakdowns. The institutional structure of the SFRY was modelled after and closely resembled the structure of the older ‘socialist federation’, the USSR. Shared features of the two included the division of each federation into full-fledged republics and autonomies. Most or all of these federal units were ethnically designated. The minorities of the biggest ethnic groups (Serbs and Russians) were not accorded autonomy within other republics. In both cases, war followed the declarations of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘autonomy’ and referenda organized by some members of the Serbian community in southwest Croatia and some members of the Russian and Russian-speaking community living in Eastern Ukraine. In each case, the central governments refused to negotiate with the insurgents and decided to suppress them militarily. The armed conflicts in Croatia and Ukraine developed into partly different combinations of civil and interstate wars. The civil war component referred to an armed conflict between the ultranationalist regime in the former second-most populous republic on one hand, and part of the biggest national minority related to the largest ethnic group in the former federation, on the other. The civil war deepened the divisions based on loyalty within both the Serbian community in Croatia and the Russian community in Ukraine. Each war was fought almost exclusively on the territory of the former second-most populous republic, which suffered the most. In both wars, the two sides were responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian law. International sanctions were applied in these two wars. The causes of each war were tangibly related to profound geopolitical changes underway in Europe about 35 years ago. These changes entailed the slackening and termination of the Cold War between two military-political blocs and the wave of liberal-democratic transformation of political systems in Eastern Europe. Over the span of 3 years, about 30 different state entities declared their sovereignty in the area of 3 ‘socialist federations’ (Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia). Of these, 23 entities survived and soon gained universal recognition as sovereign states, including Croatia and Ukraine. The specificity of the war in Ukraine Ancestors of today’s Russians and Ukrainians shared in the distant past close to 400 years of common history in Kievan Rus. In the XIII century this large state formation was destroyed by the invasion of Tatars-Mongols. The subsequent centuries-long domination of Lithuanian and Polish feudal rulers over the ancestors of today’s Ukrainians contributed greatly to their cultural and language distancing from the Russians. In 1648, the Cossack ancestors of some of today’s Ukrainians rebelled against Polish feudal rule, in 1654 begged for protection and voluntarily submitted themselves to Moscow Tsardom. For two and a half centuries, until 1917 they remained as part of the Russian empire, named Ruthenia and later Malorossiya. In 1918, an independent state was proclaimed under the new name Ukrainian People’s Republic. The name Ukraine remained under the Bolsheviks and in 1922 Soviet Ukraine became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. Over several decades, the territory of Soviet Ukraine was more than doubled by Moscow in several successive stages in 1920–1922, 1939–1940, 1945–1947 and 1954. This was accomplished by including into it the lands of Novorossiya, with millions of Russian and Russian-speaking people in the East and South, as well as annexed parts of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and part of Moldova in the West. In all of these cases, this was done without their population’s consent. In 1992, all these territorial gains became parts of independent Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, whereas the collective rights of the Russian and Russian-speaking population were left unprotected. From 1945 for more than four and a half decades Ukraine enjoyed Moscow’s symbolic gift – the status of a UN founding member although it had been a constituing part of another UN founding member (USSR). When Ukraine, at Moscow’s initiative attained independence it did not have to apply for UN membership which from then on it deserved. Divergent political and economic developments in the two independent states exposed a number of different interests and of problems unresolved at the time of separation. These issues, in somewhat different combinations during the two stages of the war contributed to three groups of conflictual relations: (1) between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, (2) inside Ukraine and (3) between the Russian Federation and the West, primarily USA. The non-recognition of collective minority rights by the Ukrainian authorities became a growing political problem with the rise of Ukrainian ultranationalism. Combined with divergent attitudes in Western and Eastern parts of the country concerning Ukraine’s relations with Russia, EU and NATO, language-related problems contributed tangibly to political explosions in Ukraine in February/March 2014. Since 1991, two processes have altered the geopolitical map of Europe. These are the Eastward expansion of the US-dominated NATO along with the closely intertwined enlargement of the European Union. The first stage of these two processes in 1990–1991 – the absorption of Eastern Germany into both organizations – had no impact on the internal crisis in Yugoslavia, including the conflict in Croatia. Two decades later, however, the process of NATO expansion had already reached the borders of both Ukraine and Russia, thereby adding a very real extra-regional component to the conflict in and about Ukraine. For over two decades, one of the USA’s geostrategic goals has been by fostering ‘color revolutions’ to bring about regime change in the post-Soviet space, including Ukraine and also Russia. By using Ukraine as a tool, the USA has endeavored to harm and weaken Russia. Under US pressure and notwithstanding German and French objections, at the NATO summit held in Bucharest in April 2008 Ukraine was promised membership in the alliance, yet without stating a date. Openly and strongly opposed by Russia, this decision unleashed a chain of events, 6 years later leading to a war in Ukraine. The European Union and its policy of Eastern neighborhood negatively contributed to these developments. The prospect of an association agreement with the EU deepened the internal political conflict in Ukraine and motivated a mass protest movement that was exploited in February 2014 to stage a US-guided coup d’état in Kyiv. The combination of Ukraine’s promised membership in NATO and the new regime in Kyiv fully dependent on the USA foretold that Russia would certainly lose its old naval base in Sevastopol, for which it had paid high rent since 1992. Moreover, as a NATO naval and air base, Sevastopol would pose a direct threat to Russia and its geopolitical position in the Black Sea and Mediterranean area. To thwart this threat, lightly armed detachments of Russian marines, already legally stationed on Crimea, were ordered to move in unmarked uniforms to take control of the entire peninsula. They did so without facing any resistance, on Kyiv’s strict orders, from the about 22,000 Ukrainian troops or inflicting any casualties. The Ukrainian officialdom then simply vacated Crimea. This takeover was soon followed by a successful referendum accompanied by international observers on approving Crimea’s legal separation from Ukraine and it rejoining Russia. Moscow thus took back Nikita Khrushchev’s present to Ukraine on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of its unification with Russia. First stage of the war in Ukraine Closely related to the dramatic developments in Kyiv, there were uprisings in several Ukrainian cities and proclamations of ‘‘sovereignty’’ and ‘‘autonomy’’ in Lugansk and Donetsk. These uprisings largely featured protests against the discriminatory measures adopted by the new authorities against the Russian and Russian-speaking population. The ultranationalist regime in Kyiv responded on 13 April 2014 by branding the protesters ‘‘terrorists’’, declaring a “wide anti-terrorist operation” and entrusting the Ukrainian Army to carry it out. This military operation launched the first stage of the war in Ukraine. In its attacks on the Donbas autonomists, the Ukrainian Army employed bombers, tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery while battalions of Ukrainian ultranationalist volunteers with neo-Nazi leanings and financed by Ukrainian oligarchs used artillery and light weapons. On the defending side, there were about 35,000 members of the territorial people’s militias of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as well as Russian and other (including Serbian) volunteers. The Russian Federation offered multi-sided support to the two besieged republics, encompassing financial, material, humanitarian and military assistance. Russian professional military personnel were integrated into the local militias and did not operate as separate and regular units of the Russian Army. At the same time, the US and British armed forces offered very sizeable material and other military assistance to the Ukrainian Army, also involving thousands of advisors and instructors. In numbers, they were comparable to the Russian military personnel on the other side of the frontline. By February 2022, this armed conflict had led to 14,000 to 20,000 dead. Two armistice agreements, Minsk 1 and Minsk 2, did not halt the Ukrainian shelling of Ukrainian territory, which was responsible for thousands of casualties among the civilian population of the two self-proclaimed republics. These attacks continued for more than 9 years, accompanied by gross violations of international humanitarian law. In February 2015, Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine signed the Minsk 2 agreement. It was co-signed by the leaders of Germany, France and Russia and unanimously adopted as a resolution by the UN Security Council, thereby becoming part of international law. The Minsk 2 agreement provided for peaceful resolution of the conflict in Donbas. Nonetheless, Petro Poroshenko and his successor Volodimir Zelenski refused to implement most of Ukraine’s 12 obligations, including the key provisions under which Ukraine was to grant constitutionally guaranteed autonomy to the Russian and Russian-speaking population in Donbas. In addition, Zelenski reneged on his pre-election promise that saw him win the election in 2019 and did not stop the war. Second stage of the war in Ukraine On 21 March 2021, Zelenski blatantly violated the Minsk 2 agreement and international law by ordering the Ukrainian Army to liberate the territories of the two republics and Crimea. The bulk of the Ukrainian Army was then relocated to their vicinity, clearly visible by Russian satellites. Instead of peaceful resolution of the conflict, Zelenski, no doubt with the USA’s full approval, thus decided on full-scale military suppression of the Donbas autonomists and on reconquering Crimea, well aware that it would provoke a strong reaction from Russia. On 16 February 2022, upon his order the Ukrainian Army initiated the second and much more violent stage of the war. From that date on, the intensity of Ukrainian shelling started to grow from several tens to 1,500 explosions daily. Combined with movements of Ukrainian troops, this strongly indicated that a massive attack was coming as part of implementation of the March 2021 order. It was very similar to the Georgian offensive against the self-proclaimed Republic of Southern Ossetia on 7 August 2008. This escalation was no doubt coordinated with US President Joe Biden, who publicly predicted that Russia would invade on 16 February 2022. Ukraine’s stepping up the level of violence successfully provoked a predictable Russian response. On the political and legal levels, this entailed the Russian Federation’s recognition of the two republics as independent states, signing two agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance, accepting their pleas for assistance and protection in line with Art. 51 of the UN Charter and invoking the Responsibility for Protect. In the latter the Russian Federation used a very similar justification as did NATO in 1999 for its aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On the military level, Putin was faced with the real prospect of Ukraine quashing the two client Russian-speaking parastates. This would have submitted their discriminated Russian and Russian-speaking majority population to retribution by the Ukrainian ultranationalist and assimilationist regime, causing it to flee en masse across the border. He later explained that moral duty is higher than legality. Putin could not, also for domestic reasons, afford a humiliating political defeat similar to that suffered by Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in August 1995. Unlike in August 2008 in Georgia, he did not wait for an all-out Ukrainian attack. Putin knew full well that stronger Western sanctions than those currently in place would follow, even if Russia’s response to the Ukrainian offensive were only moderate. Probably on the basis of a faulty assessment of both Ukraine’s capacity and determination to resist and the West’s response, he precipitously and knowingly in violation of international law ordered a ‘special military operation’ with an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by a limited contingent of Russian land forces. This move was combined with extensive destruction of the Ukrainian air force, the air defense system, and other military infrastructure. Ignoring an axiom of military science, an invading force of some 90,000 Russian land troops was sent against the Ukrainian Army thrice superior in numbers. It was also grossly insufficient and unprepared to accomplish the officially declared task of “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” entire Ukraine. In spite of its shortcomings, this force managed to swiftly occupy additional 15% or so of Ukrainian territory (some as a diversion and only temporarily) and effectively protected the two republics. It additionally established and secured a land bridge between Crimea and Donbas, made the Azov Sea part of Russia’s internal waters, took control of the largest European nuclear power station at Zaporizhie, and deprived Ukraine of its stocks of plutonium and uranium. These stocks would have been sufficient to make Ukraine the world’s fourth-strongest nuclear power. The latter was an effective response to Zelenski’s earlier declaration that Ukraine was intending to again acquire nuclear weapons. Preventing this dangerous prospect certainly served as an additional and important incentive for Putin’s decision. For USA, the by far most frequent transgressor of international law, provoking Russia into an act of aggression fitted nicely with the their strategic goal. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided a perfect occasion for demonizing and isolating it internationally and for uniting the West under USA’s guidance on imposing on Russia an unprecedented array of drastic economic and other sanctions. These punitive measures were expected to quickly ruin the Russian economy, hopefully bring down Vladimir Putin’s regime, defeat Russia militarily without losing American lives, and cause the fragmentation of Russia into several states (as elaborated earlier publicly by Zbigniew Brzezinski and the RAND Corporation). However, these hopes have not materialized. Moreover, the effects of the Western sanctions proved to be more harmful to the EU economies than to Russia while in no way helping Ukraine. The two wars compared Still officially undeclared by both direct belligerents, the war in Ukraine is already twice as long as the war in Croatia, and is still ongoing. There are also other important differences caused by the mismatch between Croatia and Ukraine in the size of their population and territory (approximately 1:10), and by the different configuration and extent of the theatres of war. Further, there are differences in the size and structure of the armed forces involved, in the disparities between Serbia’s and Russia’s military capabilities compared to the respective capabilities of Croatia and Ukraine. The war in Ukraine in its second stage is also unlike the war in Croatia due to the massive use of particular weapons systems (notably drones and missiles). Vast differences also exist in the direct involvement of international organizations and other external actors in the two wars. In the autumn of 1991, the European Economic Community (EEC) sent Croatia its first mission of white-clad and unarmed observers who as impartial intermediaries tried unsuccessfully to stop the armed clashes between the Croatian police and Serbian insurgents. The United Nations established UNPROFOR (UN Protection Force) in February 1992, operating from Zagreb. It was followed by UNCRO (UN Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia) in 1995–1998, UNTAES (UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Croatia) in 1996–1998, and UNMOP (UN Mission of Observers in Prevlaka) in 1996–1997. For several years, the UN-supported International Conference on Former Yugoslavia was active operating from Geneva. In comparison, there have been no UN or EU peacekeeping or observer missions in Ukraine. The UN General assembly has adopted a number of resolutions related to the war in Ukraine. In several resolutions it deplored and condemned Russia’s invasion with huge majorities for and only five votes against. The OSCE had no observer missions in Croatia, but deployed two such missions in Ukraine, notably the sizeable OSCE Special Monitoring Mission from 2015 until March 2022. In addition, the OSCE played an active role in facilitating the Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 ceasefire agreements. Extra-regional states were not openly involved in the war in Croatia. In 1991–1992, the Croatian forces included 456 foreign fighters (British, French, German et.al.), accompanied by about 2,000 private American military instructors. On the other hand, Ukraine has received huge support from several dozen foreign states, in particular the USA, as well as other NATO and EU members in the form of heavy arms, ammunition, training, intelligence, economic and humanitarian assistance. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, since 2022, 13.387 foreign fighters, mercenaries and volunteers joined the Ukrainian Army of whom 5.962 lost their lives. Polish citizens have been most numerous in both categories – 2.960 enlisted and 1.497 dead. They are followed by Americans and others. This strong external involvement transformed the local war into an extra-regional armed conflict between Russia and the US-led collective West, with Ukraine acting and sacrificing its soldiers and itself as the West’s proxy. The war in Croatia and its outcome were closely linked with the war in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, while there has been no similar regional linkage of the war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has also had by far a bigger international political and economic impact on other countries, not only in Europe, than the war in Croatia. Most importantly, there are enormous differences between the two wars in the number of dead (at least 1:25), number of refugees and displaced persons (approximately 1:25), and extent of destruction and amount of economic damage (at least 1:20). The war has inflicted considerably greater damage on Ukraine as a state and on Ukrainian society than the war did on Croatia. Since 2014, the population under Kyiv’s control has so far been reduced by at least one-third and the territory by close to one-fifth. It is estimated that the Ukrainian Army, National Guard and volunteers have suffered well over 400,000 deaths. Ukraine has also lost a good deal of its industrial capacity, agriculture, energy generation and critical infrastructure. The war’s continuation suits the USA’s geostrategic, chiefly anti-Russian objectives, whereas Ukraine is paying a horrible price for them. The dragging on war of attrition is sapping Ukraine’s ability to sustain itself, at least in its already rump shape. It increases the probability of Ukraine becoming (again) a landlocked country on less than a half of its territory internationally recognized since 1992. The first stage of the war in Ukraine and the war in Croatia revealed substantial similarities as far as their causes and destructive consequences were concerned. On the other hand the second stage of the war in Ukraine strongly differs by being predominantly an interstate war and the first interstate armed conflict in Europe caused by NATO enlargement. As a result, the war in Ukraine is sharply distinguished by its magnitude, destructive outcomes, violations of international humanitarian law, international impact, and the involvement of great powers. At the beginning of the second stage of the war in Ukraine, the Russian Army pre-empted the anticipated Ukrainian version of an offensive akin to the Croatian operations “Flash” and “Storm”. It not only prevented the possibility of Volodimir Zelenski’s triumphant entrance in Donetsk like Franjo Tudjman’s entrance in Knin. The Russian Federation also annexed four Ukrainian provinces with Russian and Russian-speaking majorities in their populations and the Russian Army occupied a good share of them. In 2014 and 2022, Moscow thus took back a considerable part of former Novorossiya given to Soviet Ukraine in 1920 and 1954. Unlike in Croatia, but like in Kosovo (1999) the war in Ukraine has extended the list of the more than three dozen new or de facto changed borders between European states since 1945. Responsibility for the war in Ukraine In a speech given at the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden ascribed Russia with full responsibility for the war in Ukraine. Yet, in fact, a number of states are directly responsible or co-responsible for its outbreak and continuation, including notably USA. First, the war was initiated by the Ukrainian Army in April 2014 according to orders of the Ukrainian interim Presidency. Under two subsequent Presidents Poroshenko and Zelenski, Ukraine violated two armistice agreements and sabotaged realization of the Minsk 2 agreement on peaceful resolution of the Donbas conflict. President Zelenski failed to fulfil his pre-election pledge to end the war, a pledge that had seen him win the election in 2019. On 21 March 2021, he ordered the Ukrainian Army to attack Donbas and Crimea in direct violation of both the Minsk 2 agreement and of international law. The Ukrainian leadership’s orders to steeply increase the artillery shelling of Donetsk from February 16, 2022 on, together with the movement of troops provoked an invasion by the Russian army. This led to the armed conflict transforming from an internal to largely an interstate war. In April 2022, President Zelenski reneged on an initialed agreement with the Russian Federation on resolving the conflict, as forged with assistance from the leaders of Israel and Turkey as intermediaries. Ukraine is responsible for the casualties and damage caused by its forces in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation. On the other hand, the Russian Federation has grossly violated the UN Charter, the Helsinki principles, and a dozen international treaties and agreements by which it guaranteed Ukraine’s security and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders. In February 2014, it committed an act of aggression by occupying and annexing Crimea. On 24 February 2022, it committed a second act of aggression by invading, occupying and annexing four Ukrainian provinces. The Russian Federation is responsible for the casualties and huge damage the Russian armed forces have caused on Ukrainian territory. The leading NATO members are co-responsible for the outbreak and continuation of the interstate conflict and war in and over Ukraine. This primarily applies to the USA, which knowingly unleashed a chain reaction in the conflictual relations between NATO and Russia. The USA used NATO to embroil EU in this conflict, even though that contradicts the objective economic and other interests of many EU members, notably Germany. This chain reaction led to the political conflict deteriorating into a war in which the USA is using Ukraine as a tool to harm and weaken Russia. Germany and France with their swindling signatures under the Minsk 2 agreement and with subsequent policies for 7 years allowed Ukraine’s sabotaging of peaceful solution of the Donbas conflict. As leaders in the European Union’s collective foreign policy, they encouraged and supported Ukraine’s active preparations for a war with Russia. The Western powers became co-responsible for the transformation from a relatively limited internal war in Ukraine into a wider, much more lethal, bloody and destructive, predominantly interstate war. In April 2022, the USA and Great Britain prevented the conclusion of an initialed Russian-Ukrainian agreement on resolving the conflict. The members of NATO and EU by politically encouraging and by providing arms and funds to Ukraine have been enabling the continuation of this war. Without this intrusion, the war in Ukraine would already be over and very probably on better terms for Ukraine than there will actually be. The NATO and EU members will certainly fail to achieve their main declared goal – Ukraine’s victory and hence Russia’s military and political defeat. This applies chiefly to the leader of the West. After that in Afghanistan, the USA will suffer one more political defeat. On the other hand, the USA has this time been rather successful in realizing several related goals. The USA has solidified its hegemony in the Western camp and in most of Europe, reactivated NATO, attracted two new members Finland and Sweden, bolstered its dominant role in the alliance, subordinated even further and simultaneously economically and politically weakened the European Union, for quite some time poisoned Germany’s and the EU’s relations with Russia, and inflicted very considerable economic and political damage on Russia. Conclusion Ukraine is today much farther away from accomplishing its cardinal strategic goal – to re-establish its sovereignty on the entire internationally recognized territory – than it was in February 2022, let alone in February 2014. Moreover, another goal remains unattained. It was stated in Zelenski’s decree as a condition for lifting the prohibition on any negotiations with the Russian Federation – to remove Putin from the position of President. However, with his mandate expired in May 2024 Zelenski himself will certainly be out of his presidential office much sooner than Putin will be from his. On the other hand, the Russian Federation has achieved some of its strategic goals, albeit not the two declared principal ones – Ukraine’s permanent “neutralization” and “demilitarization”. Due to the two sides’ mutually excluding objectives, the final outcome of the war in Ukraine will not be decided around a diplomatic table as a compromise. Like what happened in Croatia in August 1995 and very recently in September 2023 with the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, it will be decided on the battlefield. Still, the outcome will be very different from both cases mentioned above and certainly will not be viewed as just by both belligerents. Just like how almost all wars end. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Baud, Jacques (2023): Ukraine entre Guerre et Paix. Paris, Max Milo. Bebler, Anton (ed.). (2015): ‘Frozen conflicts’ in Europe. Opladen, Barbara Budrich. Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1997): Geostrategy for Eurasia. Foreign Affairs 76 (5): 56–68. Goldstein, Ivo (2008): Hrvaška zgodovina. Ljubljana, Društvo Slovenska Matica. Larrabee, F. Stephen, Peter A. Wilson and John Gordon (2015): The Ukrainian Crisis and European Security. Santa Monica, RAND Corporation. Maver, Aleš (2023): Ukrajina: Od Igre Prestolov do Vojne za Samostojnost. Celje, Celjska Mohorjeva Družba. Pleiner, H. (2023): Der Konflict um die Ukraine. ÖMZ 5: 571–583. Wien. Plokhy, Serhii (2022): Vrata Evrope: zgodovina Ukrajine. Ljubljana, UMCO.

Defense & Security
Josep Borell

Europe’s Demosthenes moment: putting defence at the centre of EU policies

by Josep Borrell

HR/VP blog – Defence was at the centre of the last European Union Council. This was the culmination of intense work on EU’s security and defence with the preparation of the European Defence Industrial Strategy and the creation of a new fund to step up our military support to Ukraine. We took stock also of the progress made in implementing the Strategic Compass. Power politics are reshaping our world. With the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the war that has flared up again in the Middle East, coups in the Sahel, tensions in Asia… we witness at the same time the return of ‘old’ conventional wars and the emergence of ‘new’, hybrid warfare characterised by cyberattacks and the weaponisation of anything, from trade to migration. This deteriorating geopolitical environment is putting Europe in danger, as I anticipated when presenting the Strategic Compass, the new EU Defence and security strategy, in 2022. Four years ago, when we were facing the COVID-19 pandemic, many said that the EU was living a Hamiltonian moment because we decided to issue a common debt to alleviate the consequences of this crisis as Alexander Hamilton did after the US independence war. We are now probably entering a Demosthenes moment, in reference to the great Greek politician mobilising its fellow Athenian citizens against Macedonian imperialism 2400 years ago: we are finally becoming aware of the many security challenges in our dangerous environment. What are we doing to address these multifaceted threats? The month of March marks two anniversaries: the third of the creation of the European Peace Facility (EPF) and the second of the adoption of the Strategic Compass. These tools have been central to our geopolitical awakening during the last years. It is the right moment to reflect on what has been done and where we are heading on security and defence. Supporting Ukraine militarily in an unprecedented way The European Peace Facility (EPF) is an intergovernmental and extra-budgetary EU fund. It was established in 2021 to allow us to support our partners with military equipment, which was not possible via the EU budget. We started with €5 billion, today the financial ceiling of this fund stands at €17 billion. While it was not originally created for this purpose, the EPF has been the backbone of our military support to Ukraine. So far, we have used € 6.1 billion from the EPF to incentivise the support to Ukraine by EU Member States and, with them, the EU has delivered in total € 31 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. And this figure is increasing every day. Thanks to these funds, we sustained our military support to Ukraine. Among other actions, by this summer, we will have trained 60.000 Ukrainian soldiers; we have donated 500.000 artillery shells to Ukraine and by the end of the year it will be more than 1 million. Additionally the European defence industry is also providing to Ukraine 400.000 shells through commercial contracts. The Czech initiative to buy ammunition outside the EU comes in addition to these efforts. However, it is far from being enough and we have to increase both our capacity of production and the financial resources devoted to support Ukraine Last Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council, we have decided to create a new Ukraine Assistance Fund within the EPF, endowed with € 5 billion, to continue supporting Ukraine militarily. I have also proposed last Wednesday to the Council to redirect 90% of the extraordinary revenues from the Russian immobilised assets into the EPF, to increase the financial capacity of the military support for Ukraine. Reinforcing our global security and defence partnerships But the European Peace Facility does not only help Ukraine. So far, we have used it to support 22 partners and organisations. Since 2021, we have allocated close to €1 billion to operations led by the African Union and regional organisations, as well as the armed forces of eight partner countries in Africa. In the Western Balkans, we are supporting regional military cooperation, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. We are also supporting Moldova and Georgia in the Eastern neighbourhood, and Jordan and Lebanon in the Southern Neighbourhood. Since the beginning of my mandate, we have launched nine new missions and operations under our Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The last one, Operation ASPIDES in the Red Sea and Gulf region to protect commercial vessels, has been set up in record time. With operations Irini in the Mediterranean, Atalanta near the Horn of Africa and our Coordinated Maritime Presences in the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean, we are becoming more and more a global maritime security provider. We launched also last year two new civilian missions in Armenia and in the Republic of Moldova. However, our missions in Niger had to be suspended due to the military coup and our military mission in Mali has been put on hold. We are currently reconsidering the form of the support we can offer to our partners in the region: in this context, we have set up last December a new type of civilian-military initiative to help our partner countries in the Gulf of Guinea fight the terrorist threats stemming from the Sahel. We have also reinforced our cooperation with NATO in various key domains such as space, cyber, climate and defence and critical infrastructures. We have broadened and deepened our network of tailored bilateral security and defence partnerships with Norway, Canada, as well as countries in the Eastern neighbourhood (Georgia, Moldova), Africa (South Africa, Rwanda), Indo-Pacific (Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia) and Latin America (Chile, Colombia). The first Security and Defence Schuman Forum in March last year, bringing together security and defence partners from more than 50 countries, was a success. We will build on this when we meet for the next Schuman Forum on 28 and 29 May. Enhancing the capacity to react to crises abroad One of the main deliverables foreseen by the Strategic Compass was the creation of a new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity to be able to quickly react autonomously to crisis situations, for instance to evacuate Europeans in case of an emergency like in Afghanistan in August 2021 or in Sudan in April 2023. It will become operational next year, but to prepare for it, we organised the first ever EU military Live Exercise last October in Cadiz, in Spain. It involved 31 military units, 25 aircrafts, 6 ships and 2,800 personnel form Member States’ armed forces. A second Live Exercise will take place at the end of the year in Germany. A new Crisis Response Centre is also now operational in the EEAS to coordinate EU activities in case of emergencies, including the evacuation of European citizens. We are also strengthening our military and civilian headquarters in Brussels. Investing more in defence together and boosting the EU defence industry At home, we need also to invest much more and help our defence industry to increase its production capacities. There is no other solution if we look at the magnitude of the defence needs for Ukraine but also for our Member States that need to replenish their stocks and acquire new equipment. EU Member States are already spending significantly more on defence with a 40 % increase of defence budget over the last ten years and a € 50 billion jump between 2022 and 2023. However, the € 290 billion EU defence budget in 2023 only represents 1.7% of our GDP under the 2% NATO benchmark. And in the current geopolitical context, this could be seen as a minimum requirement. However, the global amount of our expanses is not the only figure we have to follow carefully. To use our defence expenses efficiently, we have also to take care of filling gaps and avoiding duplications. As I have already said in many occasions, we need to spend more but also better, and better means together. In 2022, the European armies have invested 58 billion in new equipment. For the fourth year in a row, it exceeded the benchmark of 20 % of the defence expenses. However, only 18% of these defence investments are currently done in a collaborative manner, far below the 35% benchmark set by EU Member States themselves in 2007. Since the start of the Russian war of aggression, 78 % of the equipment bought by EU armies came from outside the EU. We are also lagging behind in our investments in Research and Development. That is the reason why I presented earlier this month together with the Commission the first-ever European Defence Industrial Strategy. We need to incentivise much more joint procurement, better secure our security of supplies, anchor the Ukrainian defence industry in Europe and organise a massive industrial ramp-up. We also need to catch up on new military technologies like drones or Artificial Intelligence. With its innovation hub, the European Defence Agency will continue to play a key role in these efforts. To succeed, we will need to ensure much better access to finance for the European defence industry, notably by adapting the European Investment Bank lending policies. We should also foresee issuing common debt to help finance the major necessary investment effort in defence capabilities and defence industry, as we did to face the COVID-19 crisis. However, we have still a lot of work to do to reach an agreement on that subject. Finally, we will also need to reinforce our defence when it comes to hybrid and cyber threats, foreign information manipulation and interference and resilience of our critical infrastructure. As detailed here, a lot has already been done in recent years, however I am very much aware that a lot more remains to be done to match the magnitude of the threats we are facing. We need a leap forward in European defence and European defence industry.

Defense & Security
11.07.2018. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. Official Opening Ceremony for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) SUMMIT 2018

Home alone: The sorry state of Europe’s plans for self-defence

by Nick Witney

With the possibility of a second Trump presidency looming, it is high time to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans Lest anyone had missed the point, Donald Trump has now provided helpful clarification of his attitude towards America’s NATO allies – and specifically those that fail to spend the benchmark 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. If elected he would, he declared at a campaign rally, “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to underspending NATO allies. Reacting to a storm of protest from European leaders, he was happy to repeat himself: “Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?”. Nowadays, it is less easy for complacent Europeans to shrug off such observations as typical Trumpisms. They have evidence that Trump redux would be likely to apply his malevolent instincts much more efficiently than he did in his chaotic first term as president. And the chances of him having the opportunity to do so are increasingly likely: he has now steamrollered the opposition in the early Republican primaries, and is ahead of Joe Biden in the polls. No one can any longer ignore the real possibility that in less than a year’s time the occupant of the White House could toss the whole responsibility for keeping Ukraine in the fight against Russia into European laps, whilst insisting that from here on in they see to their own defence. It would therefore hardly be premature if Europeans began to explore how each other views the situation; to make contingency plans; and even to take some precautionary steps. The two key challenges are obvious. The first is how to get more weapons, and especially ammunition and air-defence missiles, to Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion, Europeans have done better at this than might have been expected – but they have not done as well as the need now demands, and not nearly enough to support Ukraine if the United States withdraws its aid. The EU, and especially the European Commission, have played a prominent role here, providing financial incentives for member states to donate from their own stocks and to expand production facilities. But talk of moving European defence industries onto a war footing has yet to be realised; and although the commission will shortly unveil proposals for an ambitious European defence industrial strategy, this can only succeed if member states evince more enthusiasm for collective action than they have so far shown. Only three months ago France, Germany, Italy, and Spain jointly warned the commission to stay off their turf and respect national “prerogatives” on defence. The second key challenge that Europeans should be facing up to is how they would defend themselves without US backing against a Russia that had – the possibility can no longer be discounted – imposed a humiliating ‘peace’ on Ukraine. The “dormant NATO” plans being proposed by right-wing US think-tanks foresee a wholesale withdrawal of US ground forces from Europe. But Europeans have huge psychological difficulties in bringing themselves to discuss the US as they would any other foreign power, even in situations where their own strategic interests are manifestly different from those of the superpower. NATO’s disastrous involvement in Afghanistan, for instance, would never have dragged on for so many fruitless years had not its European members studiously avoided any collective discussion of a campaign which each saw exclusively through the prism of its own bilateral relations with the US. Compounding these challenges is the fact that there is no institutional setting in which Europeans could confer. Their task is, in effect, to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans, but this can hardly be discussed in NATO. That organisation, after all, is where European militaries gather to be told what to do by Americans, but the current US administration can scarcely be expected to lead a discussion premised on its own defeat in the November presidential election. The EU has neither locus nor credibility in military operational matters. The reality is that, if a strategy for defending Europe without the Americans is to emerge, this can only be on an ‘intergovernmental’ basis – through bilateral and minilateral discussion amongst Europe’s main defence players. At the alliance’s 2022 Madrid summit, NATO doubled down on its strategy of forward defence. Russia’s war on Ukraine has demonstrated that we are in a technological era in which defensive systems have the advantage over the traditional means of attack. Destroying massed Russian armour turned out to be relatively easy; getting Russians out now that they have dug themselves in is the devil’s own job. So in Madrid allies resolved to reinforce NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” – boosting in-place forces in eastern and central Europe. But predictably, Europeans have been happy to leave this largely to the Americans, who reinforced their presence in Europe with an additional 20,000 troops. The challenge for European chiefs of staff and defence planners now is to work out how, if the need arises, to substitute for US in-place forces in the frontline states; what capabilities and defensive infrastructure will be needed to halt any assault at the borders; and how to organise the communications and data networks necessary to form an effective system that ties together disparate sensors and missile, drone, and artillery assets. Such planning is now an urgent requirement, not just as a matter of military preparedness, but for psychological reasons. Europe’s frontline states have long felt their western European allies lack not only US military credibility, but also a serious understanding of the scale of Putin’s threat. Europeans will only hang together under a second Trump presidency if they are ready to trust each other, and specifically if the most vulnerable states see a real prospect of western European states putting many more of their bodies on the line as in-place forces. The last couple of years, in which predominantly eastern European states have agreed to purchase an astonishing $120 billion of weapons from American contractors, suggests a fatal tendency to believe that maybe Trump can be propitiated by such largesse. Fortunately, the return of Donald Tusk as Poland’s prime minister has substantially increased the odds of Europeans hanging together even in a Trump 2.0 scenario. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland (the Weimar Triangle) have just met to discuss strengthening Europe’s efforts. If, as expected, the British Labour party returns to government later this year, then the United Kingdom would be an obvious addition to this group. Indeed, a necessary one: it is hard to envisage a credible European defence of the continent that did not clutch in Europe’s second nuclear power. Keir Starmer has made clear his ambition to restore defence ties severed by Brexit. There is no time to waste: the prime minister-in-waiting could usefully make an early trip to Paris to initiate conversations with the UK’s closest continental ally.

Defense & Security
Map of the Baltic States with Russia and Belarus

The Baltic Defense Line

by Lukas Milevski

The three Baltic states jointly announced on Jan. 19, 2024, their intention to build a defensive line along their borders with Russia and Belarus. Initial details are scarce. The defensive line will not include coastal defenses — Baltic coasts will be defended against the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet in other ways, such as anti-ship missile capabilities and sea mines. Estonia, which divulged the greatest amount of detail, estimated that it would build 600 bunkers, together with support points and distribution lines, for a cost of €60 million starting in 2025. There are no plans to place mines, barbed wire, or dragon’s teeth (anti-tank defenses) during peacetime, although the necessary supplies are anticipated to be held in local reserve for quick deployment if and when necessary. At the very least, Estonia also anticipates some difficulties in situating bunkers on private land near the border, which will take time and negotiation with potentially thousands of landowners to resolve. A Baltic defensive line is a huge project. It is worth reflecting on its origins, challenges, and operational-strategic implications. The Baltic ministers of defense identified two primary points of origin for such a defensive line. First is NATO’s communiqué from the 2023 Madrid Summit, which confirmed that the alliance would fight for every meter of its ground. The proposed defensive line reflects a Baltic intention to take this pledge seriously. Second, the Baltic defense ministers also pointed to their lack of substantial geographical depth. The Baltic states believe that they cannot give up ground, which means recognizing that they need to be prepared to contest a Russian invasion from the first moments following the violation of Baltic borders. An obvious third point may also be added: In the face of Russian genocidal atrocities in Ukraine, Baltic governments cannot be seen to be abandoning their populations to the Russians, nor do they want to do so. In Ukraine, the Russians have committed multiple known mass murders (such as at Bucha and Izyum), they have kidnapped children and fast-tracked their adoption and citizenship in Russia, and they are already settling new colonizers on occupied land, especially in the cities. Any one of these is fundamentally unacceptable, and Russia is actively pursuing all three. For the Baltic states, giving up land means giving up people — especially for Estonia and Lithuania, which have substantial population centers on or not far from the border, such as Narva and Vilnius. In this specific regard, Latvia is slightly better placed as its easternmost province of Latgale is also one of the most sparsely populated, with an overall population density of 46 per square mile. Challenges for the defensive line are substantial. First are the lengths of each national border. Estonia’s hostile border is the shortest at 183 miles, most of which is covered by Lakes Peipus and Pihkva or strengthened by the Narva River. Latvia’s borders with Russia and Belarus are 133 and 107 miles, respectively, bereft of natural boundaries. Lithuania’s borders are the longest, reaching nearly 422 miles with Belarus and nearly 171 miles with Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast. These are substantial distances. Estonia’s planned 600 bunkers, likely to be concentrated on the 129 miles of border north and south of Lake Peipus, suggest a density of four to five bunkers per linear mile — yet defensive lines are not simply built linearly but also in depth. Nonetheless, Latvia would need to build 1,116 bunkers and Lithuania 2,758 at similar densities. Bunkers are stationary objects whose effectiveness decreases the better their exact positions are known. The defensive line is likely to incur a challenge to Baltic counterintelligence to prevent Russia from identifying bunker locations in overly substantial detail. However, bunker density is unlikely to be consistent along the entire combined Baltic border as not every part of the border is equally useful for Russian invasion, which necessarily requires roads and railways. Again, Estonia is best placed. North of Lake Peipus, there is only a single crossing point over the Narva River at Narva itself, although there are roads on the Russian side of the river that would enable some degree of near-and even cross-river Russian logistical sustainment. South of Lake Peipus are two major roads and one rail crossing, but also a handful of minor cross-border roads could be used to distribute advancing Russian forces across a broader front. Latvia has one rail and two major road crossings apiece with both Russia and Belarus, along with at least a handful of minor roads directly crossing the border and other Russian roads leading to or running alongside the border. Lithuania has two rail crossings apiece with both Russia and Belarus, along with up to seven major road crossings, two with Russia and five with Belarus, besides various minor roads as well. These are places where bunkers are likely to be concentrated. It is unrealistic to sustain major operations nearly, if not actually, totally off-road. The final challenge is bunker placement in a tactical sense. It seems unlikely for bunkers to be within line of sight from the far side of the Baltic borders, merely giving Russians a chance to scout them during peacetime without danger or even controversy. Higher ground is generally more tactically advantageous than lower ground, and bunkers positioned to generate enfilading fire and be mutually supporting rather than isolated from one another are preferable. While Russian logistical demands lead to a focus on roads and rail, the same is true for Baltic and NATO forces; units fighting on the defensive line have to be logistically sustained as well. These are all lower-level details that will be crucial to the success of the defensive line in case of actual invasion. Finally, what are the operational-strategic implications of the defensive line once it is built? First, it runs counter to the doctrinally preferred Western — and especially American — defensive posture, which is an operationally elastic defense premised upon maneuver warfare. In maneuver defense, terrain (and, by implication, the people populating that terrain) is not valued highly in an operational sense; the land is to be given up if necessary and then recaptured later in the course of counterattacks. The main premise is to engineer the best circumstances in which to destroy advancing enemy forces with as disproportionately few friendly losses as possible, all other considerations being secondary at best. A good in-depth defense premised on bunkers and trenches may provide tactical elasticity, but it clearly identifies operational elasticity as undesirable. There is clear incompatibility here, and in this Baltic case, NATO has politically positioned itself in a way that will require some sort of move away from maneuver defense, at least on a major geographical scale. An orientation toward an operationally static, even if in practice tactically elastic, defense will put emphasis on fires into the Russian rear and deep to attrite Russian forces and damage Russian logistics so that they experience difficulties deploying forces opposite the defensive line itself, let alone directly attacking it. Yet Western political leaders may be squeamish about such attacks — witness their present injunctions against Ukraine’s use of Western weapons against targets in Russia itself. The damage Russia has sustained inside its own borders suggests that the West’s fear of escalation is overblown and, given the combination of regime control over the media and the Russian population’s own considerable apathy, constant scenes of savaged Russian convoys and destroyed Russian transport infrastructure in Russia itself may contribute to turning the Russian population against a hypothetically ongoing Russian attempt to invade the Baltic states. Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian purchases of HIMARS rocket launchers and ATACMS (long-range, guided missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers) demonstrate that the Baltic states are at least serious about having the capability to strike deep. However, in the event of a major Russian invasion, Baltic artillery, and emerging multiple-launch rocket system arsenals — the HIMARS the Baltic states have ordered from the United States — would be unlikely to sustain such interdiction for long. The ultimate hope is that the increasing preparedness of the Baltic states and the wider alliance to fight Russia, among which the construction of the Baltic defense line would be counted, would be sufficient to convince the Kremlin to be deterred. Neither the Baltic states nor the West as a whole has any direct control over the outcome of such a decision. At best, all it can do is present an intimidating picture of negative consequences for Russia to consider. If and when the Baltic defense line is completed, the prospect of denying Russia plausible victory in the Baltic theater in a war against NATO should be stronger and may weigh heavier on the minds of Russian decision-makers. Unfortunately, we can almost never know for sure, as there is no way to know why someone has not done something — deterred, never interested, or is it simply not time yet? The Baltic defensive line is a totally logical response to the particular geostrategic challenges Balts face against Russia, even though it will incentivize ways of fighting against Russians with which, for varying reasons, their Western allies may find themselves tactically, operationally, strategically, or even politically uncomfortable. However, preferred Western alternatives — maneuvering defense and possibly limiting strikes into Russia — would be politically, strategically, operationally, and tactically counterproductive for a NATO that fights against Russia on the eastern flank. The Baltic defensive line should nonetheless contribute to a geostrategic picture of denying the prospect of victory in the Baltic, which will hopefully help induce Russia to choose to be deterred. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.

Defense & Security
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko answered media questions

by Vladimir Putin

Following the Russian-Belarusian talks, the two leaders answered questions from the media. Question: Mr Putin, a couple of questions? President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead. Question: Your comment and the one by the Vice-President of Laos [Pany Yathotou], which you made at the EEF plenary session, on the use of cluster munitions, is being widely discussed. The United States is now supplying such munitions to Ukraine. What is the latest information on the use of these weapons in the special military operation zone? Vladimir Putin: They are being used in the broadest possible way. But I have already commented on this, I have nothing to add. The only thing worth mentioning, perhaps, is that this situation, like a drop of water, reflects what is happening in the world as a whole. What I mean by that is that there is one country that thinks it is exceptional, and that country is the United States. That country even thinks it is allowed to do what it considers a crime – it is the United States that uses cluster munitions, using the Ukrainian army in this case. I mean the country considers this a crime, but does it nonetheless, and this is the main problem of today's international relations. This is the reason why the overwhelming majority of participants in international communication have joined us in fighting to create a multipolar world, since no one sees this situation as acceptable. I said almost because even those countries that appear to be allies of the United States, I can assure you, they do not like this situation either, where they are reduced to the role of extras. So yes, unfortunately, they are using them, they call it a crime and are still doing it. Question: If I may, one more question. A broad discussion arose – again at the Eastern Economic Forum – over the possibility of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken’s statement that “it takes two to tango” about Russia and Ukraine. How do you assess the prospects for talks? Vladimir Putin: As for the Americans, they do not even know how to tango, they have a tendency to – for all the wonderful, amazing music, and beautiful movements – the United States is trying to approach everything from a position of force: through economic sanctions, or financial restrictions, or threats to use military force, and actually using it. They are lecturing others even though they have no idea how to do it and do not want to. Most likely, they just do not want to. This is the first point. Second, I already said that we have never refused to hold talks. So, please, if the other party wants them, they should say so directly. I am speaking about it but the other side keeps silent. Finally, tango is good, of course… I think Ukraine should not forget about its gopak dance. It is important, otherwise they will keep dancing to someone else’s tune. And by the way, everyone will have to perform the barynya dance or, in the best-case scenario, the kazachok. Alexander Lukashenko: They sort of started dancing and held three rounds of talks in Belarus, then in Istanbul, and then [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and [US Secretary of Defence Lloyd] Austin told Zelensky… Vladimir Putin: Gave a command, and that was it. Alexander Lukashenko: Gave a command and he prohibited them to hold talks. The facts are on the table, they are obvious. So, they should not blame anyone. Vladimir Putin: He signed a decree prohibiting talks. Alexander Lukashenko: Exactly, they forbade themselves. Question: The last question relates to Kim Jong-un’s visit. Many in the West believe that the visit will aggravate tensions in the region. They say that Russia all but asked North Korea to send volunteers to take part in the special military operation. What can you say on this matter? Vladimir Putin: I can say that this is complete nonsense. A couple of days ago, I said that 270,000 of our men, our warriors signed contracts with the Russian Armed Forces. But it was old information. This morning it was reported to me that there were 300,000 contracts signed by people who – I want to emphasise this – are ready to sacrifice their lives for the interests of our Motherland, to protect Russia’s interests. Yes, we pay them some money, which is much, much more than the average monthly salary in the country. But can money compensate for a death or a severe injury? Of course not. So first of all, our men who sign these contracts are guided by the most noble patriotic sentiments. It commands respect. This is the first thing. Second, about some kind of provocations, escalations, and creating a threat to anyone. We do not threaten anyone. The largest threats in the world today are created by today’s ruling elites. They themselves say this. Several years ago, a former [US] Defence Secretary Mr [Robert] Gates, I think, said the greatest threat to the United States came from the territory where the Capitol or the White House is located. They talk about it themselves, while looking for a threat outside. Therefore, I want to stress once again that this is complete nonsense: Korea is our neighbour, and we must build good neighbourly relations with our neighbours one way or another. Yes, there are certain specifics associated with the Korean Peninsula. We discuss this openly; we never violate anything; and in this case we are not going to violate anything. But, of course, we will look for opportunities to develop Russian-North Korean relations. Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, the Westerners have to count first how many of their mercenaries they have sent there, and how many are fighting there. There are dark-skinned, Asian, and white Americans, all of whom are fighting on the side of the Ukrainians. Why blame Russia for inviting someone there? So maybe that is why they need to do it. Secondly, this is a dangerous statement on their part, because they dream about seeing their regular military units there, already lined up near the border in Poland. You have also talked about this. Military units have been formed and are ready to enter Ukraine. You need to look at yourself first and not reproach others. Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree. By the way, we have detected foreign mercenaries and instructors both on the battlefield and in the units where training is carried out. I think yesterday or the day before yesterday someone was captured again. We do not need to invite people from outside for combat operations. Moreover, I want to emphasise this again, 300,000 people signed contracts and came as volunteers. And moreover: the units that are now being formed are equipped with advanced types of weapons and equipment, and some of them are already 85–90 percent equipped. <…>

Defense & Security
Tank and Flag of NATO on the background

NATO’s Vilnius summit: the consequences for the Allies

by Dick Zandee

Ukraine was the major topic discussed at the NATO summit in Vilnius, the Alliance capital closest to Kyiv. President Zelensky’s call for a clear timetable for his country’s membership dominated the political debate. Less attention was given to the topic with the biggest impact on the Allies: the radically changed requirements for NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. The Vilnius summit has blessed the new defense plans, for which the member states “commit the necessary forces, capabilities and resources”. What does this imply for the NATO countries? This article analyzes the consequences of the new NATO requirements, broken down into four themes: budgets, force structure and capability requirements, readiness, and military presence on the Eastern Flank.  In 2014, at its Wales summit, NATO Allies committed to spending 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense no later than 2024. The forecast is that 19 of the 29 European NATO Allies will have realized the 2% target in 2024. As Iceland has no armed forces, the total number can be lowered to 28. It implies that approximately one third of the European Allies do not live up to the Wales commitment ten years on. Even worse, some Allies have already announced that they will not realize the target even by 2030. The Vilnius language – the 2% GDP target is “a minimum” from now on – stands in stark contrast to these facts. BUDGETS - MONEY SPENT ON DEFENSE  The input issue – money spent on defense – continues to present a divided NATO, composed of three categories of Allies: First, the underspenders that will not spend 2% GDP on defense in 2024 and in the years immediately following. The list includes smaller countries such as Croatia, Slovenia and Luxembourg. However, on the minus 2% list one can also find – from North to South – Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Denmark has set the aim of reaching the 2% target by 2030 and Belgium even later, by 2035. Second, the correct spenders: Allies that have taken measures to achieve the 2% target in 2024, thus fulfilling the Wales target. However, they will face the challenge of living up to a minimum of 2% after 2024. This applies to Germany, the Netherlands and others, who have not made firm commitments to live up to the Vilnius “minimum” target of 2% GDP. The third category is the overspenders, comprising Allies spending more than 2% now or in the future. This group includes the countries close to Russia – the Baltic states and Poland – but also major Allies such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The champion is no longer the US (3.49%) as Poland will spend 3.9% GDP on defense in 2023. Due to the mix of underspenders, correct spenders and overspenders, the overall European average will rise to almost 2.05% in 2024, but it is clear that the burden within Europe is not equally divided among all Allies. This sends the wrong signal to Russia and it undermines the European aim to become self-reliant for its security and defense. Furthermore, there is the issue of ensuring sustained investment over the long term. For restructuring the armed forces and realizing defense equipment procurement plans, more time is needed than the duration of an average government Atlantisch perspectief 21 term (4-5 years). A change of government after elections may lead to redrafting the defense budget and defense plans, in particular when economic circumstances are deteriorating as was the case in 2010 and in the years that followed. For defense investment, predictability and continuity are required. The solution is to agree on a long-term national defense investment fund for a period of up to at least 10 years. Naturally, parliaments would have a final say in the annual approval of the budget within the overall financial framework of a long-term defense investment fund. From the perspective of adapting and modernizing the armed forces of the NATO Allies, such a long-term financial commitment – connected to the defense plans and acquisition programs – should be connected to the political debate on the 2% minimum spending target. Such sustained and guaranteed financial input is absolutely required to achieve the output, based on the NATO requirements. FORCE STRUCTURE AND CAPABILITY REQUIREMENTS Although NATO’s three core tasks of deterrence and defense, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security remain in place, the Vilnius summit communiqué puts the first task “at the heart of the Alliance.” Based on SACEUR’s requirements, “the planning for our collective defense will be fully coherent with the planning for our forces, posture management, capabilities, and command and control.” The Allies will have to “deliver the full range of forces, capabilities, plans, resources, assets and infrastructure needed for deterrence and defense, including for high-intensity, multi-domain warfighting against nuclear-armed peer competitors.” Region-specific plans will be developed for three areas: Northern Europe (from the Arctic to the Gulf of Finland); Central Europe (from the Baltic states to the Alps) and Southern Europe (from the Black Sea to the whole of the Mediterranean). In terms of command & control (C2), Northern Europe will be covered by the Joint Forces Command (JFC) in Norfolk (Virginia, US), Central Europe by the JFC in Brunssum (the Netherlands), and Southern Europe by the JFC in Naples (Italy). For the NATO countries bordering Russia, this might not entail a great deal of change. The Baltic states and Poland have consistently campaigned for strengthening the Alliance’s force posture for collective defense with an emphasis on high-end warfighting capacities. Their own defense planning and force structures have already been tailor-made for that purpose, and investment is mainly channeled towards modernizing heavy land forces. However, for Allies in Western Europe NATO’s new force structure and capability requirements may lead to amending their defense planning, including taking into account regional plans. For example, the UK-NL Landing Force that has been training for years in Northern Norway, might also be deployed to Finland or Sweden. The Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), led by the UK, could become an earmarked early-entry force for the Northern Flank. In that case, it might require a more fixed composition of the JEF. In Central Europe, even more emphasis will be placed on strengthening land forces for high-intensity warfighting. Germany and Poland are two key European force providers. Other Allies – such as the Netherlands – will have to deliver dedicated contributions. From now on, NATO plans will ask for brigades, divisions, and army corps instead of the tailor-made task forces that were deployed to Afghanistan and elsewhere. Combined arms will be required instead of infantry-heavy forces for crisis management. More robustness and more firepower, less highly mobile and lightly armed troops are the new characteristics. Jointness and networked operations in all domains (sea, land, air, cyber, and space) are 21st century necessities, requiring high-technology capacities in the digital area and in space, in particular to ensure redundant communications for information-steered, networked operations. The NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capacities need to be enhanced and modernized, encompassing all layers of air defense – the importance of which has been shown in the war in Ukraine. Long-range firing delivered by rocket artillery, cruise missiles and other systems will become the norm of the ‘need to have’ for armed forces. This capability also requires a better and more robust C2 architecture and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare (EW) systems, and other sensors for target acquisition. The Vilnius communiqué refers to continuing “to invest more in advanced and interoperable capabilities across all domains, placing particular emphasis on combat capable, predominantly heavy, high-end forces and capabilities.” This sounds like an evolution, but for many Allies it implies a revolution in defense planning and investment or, in the words of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, “unparalleled integration of NATO and national military planning”. READINESS  The new NATO Force Model (NFM) was already agreed upon at the Madrid summit in July 2022. According to the NFM, Allies “are delivering a larger pool of dedicated combat-capable forces, including forces at high readiness, improving our military responsiveness, and harnessing regional expertise and geographic proximity.” In the past, the Alliance had the NATO Response Force (NRF) at high readiness (at 5-30-day notice-to-move (NTM)) with the first elements of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at very short NTM (within 48 hours). The 40,000-military-strong NRF will be replaced by the Allied Reaction Force (ARF), that can provide a quickly deployable NATO response option to threats or crises wherever they occur. Completely new are the tier 1-3 high readiness forces: over 100,000 in tier 1 with a NTM of up to 10 days; around 200,000 in tier 2 (NTM 10-30 days) and at least 500,000 in tier 3 (30-180 days NTM). With these new readiness requirements the number of forces that Allies will have at readiness levels up to 30 days has increased by almost a factor of 10. For the NRF, NATO Allies were making available, on rotation, companies, battalions, battle groups and comparable air and naval units. In the NFM, brigades and divisions, full squadrons and naval task groups will have to be ready to deploy within short timeframes depending on the allocation to tier 1 to 3. This will pose enormous challenges to Allies, not only in terms of personnel but equally in operationally ready-to-deploy equipment, enablers (such as transport capacities), and all necessary logistical support. Ammunition stocks will have to be built up to higher NATO norms. Military mobility requirements – all legal arrangements, infrastructure adjustments, transport means, available staging areas and so forth – need to be fulfilled. Naturally, all of this cannot be arranged overnight. It will take at least five to ten years to transform and modernize the Allied forces to fulfil these far-reaching military requirements. The NFM may look simple on paper, but it is the most challenging NATO demand since the end of the Cold War. PRESENCE ON THE EASTERN FLANK  Decisions to reinforce NATO’s military enhanced Forward Presence were already taken at the Madrid summit with the following two most important elements: (i) the deployment of battlegroups in four additional Allied countries (Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria), and (ii) scaling up the NATO battle groups to brigade-size formations where and when required. At the time, the UK, Canada and Germany announced that their battle groups in respectively Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be scaled up to brigades. The additional troops were not to be stationed permanently in the three Baltic states. Brigade headquarters would be established and the equipment for these brigades would be prepositioned in those countries. The model envisaged that troops would be transferred from their home bases in times of crisis or for exercises. Two weeks before the Vilnius summit, the German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced that his country would station a ‘robust brigade’ with 4,000 troops in Lithuania. Without openly saying so, Pistorius presented a change to the concept announced by Germany the year before. Not only will the brigade headquarters and the equipment be permanently present in Lithuania, the military personnel of a combat brigade are to be located forward as well. On the eve of the Vilnius summit, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his country’s military presence in Latvia would be increased to around 2,200 troops. The Baltic states have pressed strongly for the permanent presence of brigade-sized NATO forces on their soil. NATO itself has met its need by replacing the concept of ‘deterrence by punishment’ by ‘deterrence by denial’ – meaning that every inch of NATO territory has to be defended. The Baltic states have argued that the existing multinational battle groups – suitable for acting as a ‘trip wire’ in case of a Russian attack, but not being able to defend their territory until reinforcements arrive – are no longer suitable for that purpose. Lacking strategic depth, ‘deterrence by denial’ requires the permanent presence of combat-ready NATO forces, at least of brigade size along with the national army units of the three Baltic states. The same requirement would logically apply to the other five countries that house NATO battle groups. Infrastructure to house the troops and preposition the equipment of the NATO combat brigades will have to be built, which will take time and money. Training areas might have to be expanded. Transferring from ‘trip wire’ battle groups to combat brigades also raises the question of what to do with the smaller contributions – often of company size – from other NATO countries. For example, so far the Dutch contribution to the battle group in Lithuania has consisted of rotating companies – often of different compositions (air mobile, light infantry, mechanized). When Germany transforms its battle group to a combat brigade, Berlin might call on the Netherlands army to contribute a mechanized battalion or combat support (such as artillery). In that case, the issue of prepositioning equipment and permanently stationing troops in Lithuania also becomes a defense-planning topic for the Netherlands with financial and other consequences. THE WAY AHEAD  NATO summits come and go. Next year, Heads of State and Government will meet in Washington, D.C. for the Alliance’s 75th anniversary. In November 2024, American citizens will elect a new president. The years of strong commitment by the US to supporting Ukraine and NATO may turn into years of retreat, should a Republican president enter the White House. European Allies will be even more pressed to step up their defense efforts than in the current situation. But even should the Democrats win the presidential election, the European NATO countries will face serious challenges in implementing the decisions of the Vilnius summit. In view of the primary focus of the US on the Pacific/East Asia, the pressure on Europe to become more self-reliant is here to stay. Defense budget growth has to be sustained over the long term. Investment in combat-ready forces and logistics including larger ammunition stocks needs to be stepped up, which also requires industrial production to be ramped up. More military personnel will have to be on stand-by readiness, and a larger number of troops have to be deployed to the Eastern Flank. Equipment needs to be prepositioned in the area. NATO’s regional plans will direct national defense planning, investment, training and exercises. They will also channel multinational cooperation, clustering countries located on the Northern, Central-Eastern and Southern European Flanks with those Allies earmarking their forces for the collective defense task in those respective regions. The consequences of NATO’s Vilnius summit have yet to sink in within national political circles. The Alliance’s military authorities and diplomats have delivered an ambitious agenda for “modernising NATO for a new era of collective defence”. All presidents and prime ministers of the Allied countries have committed themselves to implementing the Vilnius decisions. History shows that words are not always followed by deeds, such as in the case of achieving the NATO 2% target. The Russian aggression against Ukraine – violating the principles and norms of the international order – should be more than a wake-up call. Europe now needs to stay awake and invest in its defense to fulfil NATO’s requirements as well as to become more self-reliant for its own security.

Defense & Security
President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko

Interview with Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an interview to Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko. In an interview the head of state said that the war in Ukraine was avoidable: "The war was avoidable. At any point in time. It can be stopped now and it could have been avoided then." Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that at one point he was actually at the epicenter of the events and facilitated the communication between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I was a liaison between Poroshenko and Putin shuttling between the two. So I was familiar with all the issues." The President recalled that the Minsk agreements envisioned to legislate a special status for certain districts of Donetsk Oblast and Lugansk Oblast and to hold local elections there: "There is something you do not know and no one does. We discussed these issues with Poroshenko, with Putin. Not three of them together, but separately. But I remember the conversation with Putin. I told him: ‘Listen, it's a good option. Why not? Gradually, over the course of a year, two or three, this territory will not be disputed and so on, as it was then. However, the then President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, refused to hold the elections. "Poroshenko told me: ‘Why should I hold these elections? They will be held under the control of Russia.’ I told him: ‘Petro, well, this year, supposedly, they will be held under the control of Russia. This is something we could agree on. This is negotiable. I suggested to them: ‘I will hold elections there, I will do as you, Putin and Poroshenko, agree. And I will conduct them as you decide.’ Poroshenko refused. Putin agreed to everything," the head of state said. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, if it had been done then, everything would have been quiet and calm. The Ukrainian hryvnia would circulate in the respective territories, and in general, the regions and the border with Russia would be under the control of Ukraine. "Donbass would have returned to Ukraine as an autonomy," Diana Panchenko said. "(Practically, yes. But he [Petro Poroshenko] was afraid that the wrong people would have been elected there," the President said. “I'm telling you frankly that there was such a conversation. Well, wrong people this year. But you would have the border there under your control. All of this would have been Ukraine. The wrong ones were elected. But it is people who vote. Next year, they will vote in the right ones. That was what we discussed. This issue must have been solved then. The Minsk agreements should have been implemented. We agreed on everything. What was needed was to comply with the Minsk agreements. But they were ignored. And, as I understand it, no one was going to comply with them. Answering the clarifying question of whether Russia was going to implement the Minsk agreements, Aleksandr Lukashenko said: "100%. You can't pin this on her. You don't have the facts for that. While there are many facts that Ukraine had not honored the Minsk agreements." In the interview, the President also answered a question regarding Russia's launch of the special military operation in February 2022. In previous statements and interviews, the head of state has repeatedly talked about how events developed, and recalled some facts. He recalled that he had recently put it “casuistically" by suggesting asking Vladimir Zelensky why Russian troops crossed the border between Belarus and Ukraine in the Chernobyl region. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled that at that time, even before 24 February, when Russia began its military operation, the scheduled Belarusian-Russian exercises were on in Belarus. Such drills are held alternately in the two states. "We saw the situation was escalating not even on the border of Belarus and Ukraine, not even on the border of Russia and Ukraine. We saw what was happening on the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Remember the migrant crisis, to which we had practically nothing to do," the President said. “Migrants walked in droves through the Ukrainian territory but it was not given as much importance as the situation on the border of Belarus and Poland. Remember the clashes and so on. We understood that they were starting to draw us in, to entangle us, to provoke us." "The exercise was over. Russian troops began to withdraw from the territory of Belarus. Hardware was being loaded. The troops were actually from the Far East. They were withdrawing," the head of state recalled. Belarus had always been very good in relation to Ukraine, which cannot be said about Ukraine in relation to Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. "We are accused of contributing to the start of the war here. No, the warfare was already underway. You started it. The Ukrainians started this warfare against Belarus. Economic warfare first of all. You have declared a blockade on us in the southern direction. You closed the sky to our planes even before the Europeans did. You did not let our goods through. You arrested thousands of wagons with mineral fertilizers that we loaded here in the port of Odessa," the President said. He also recalled the story of the Belarusian truckers captured in Ukraine, of whom several people were killed. After repeated warnings, the Belarusian side had to carry out an operation to free more than 70 people. "You didn't even notice that we  got them out. You saw it only when it was shown in Minsk. We acted very carefully. We did not commit any hostile acts against you, either economic, or political, or diplomatic," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "Why did Putin begin to withdraw troops to the Far East through Kiev? You ask Zelensky this question. He knows better. But there are reasons to accuse me of Putin going to Vladivostok through Kiev... Well, you can ask Putin," the head of state suggested. Diana Panchenko noted that she would very much like to ask Vladimir Zelensky but he is not as open to communication as the President of Belarus. "Well, he was open once, wasn’t he? Why isn’t he now? Let him answer the question to the Ukrainians. You can't reproach me for anything. There was not a single Belarusian solder there. We did not cross the border. But you did provoke us," the Belarusian leader stressed. He recalled that long before 24 February 2022, Ukraine deployed four units near the border with Belarus. They were mainly armed with Tochka-U missile systems. "We, our intelligence were tracking them. Once they came close, removed the tarpaulin - shelters from the missiles, deployed them in a combat position and turned them towards us. We had to deal with them during the Russian operation. The Russians destroyed them in the first place," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. In this regard, he asked a rhetorical question why Ukraine had to take these actions. The head of state was asked whether he and the Russian President had any disputes over Ukraine over the past year. Aleksandr Lukashenko said that they express different points of view when discussing various issues: “For example, there is a lot of talk about peace today. We voice different points of view on the issue. If there is an issue to discuss, we discuss it. It does not happen the way some people in the West try to present it. The so-called opposition says that Lukashenko does everything Putin says him to do. People who know me understand very well that this is impossible due to my character and my approach. There were times when we had argued really hard...” Diana Panchenko also asked what it cost the Belarusian President “not to recognize Crimea for eight years” although the Russian President could theoretically insist on it. “He never insisted,” the Belarusian leader replied. Aleksandr Lukashenko explained that such position was not about some benefits. “It did not give anything to us. We cooperated with Crimea and continue cooperating. They visited us, asked us for certain assistance - buses, vehicles, other things. We sold our goods to them. And the Ukrainian authorities later reproached us for selling buses there. Look, anything can be sold in our world today. But we did not hide this. Neither regarding Abkhazia nor Crimea. This is not as if I heroically stood my ground for all these eight years. It was simply unnecessary from the practical point of view,” the President said. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled how he and Vladimir Putin were going to visit Crimea. “It was my suggestion,” the Belarusian President emphasized. “I suggested going there together. I told him that I hadn’t been to Crimea for a long time, and after all there is the Belarusian sanatorium there,” the head of state said. The President noted that he always enjoyed visiting Crimea and Ukraine, admired local beautiful landscapes and had great respect for people in Ukraine, including the western regions. In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted he loves Ukraine and its people. He reminded that he has Ukrainian roots among other ones. “It is personal. I love and loved Ukraine very much. I remember when my eldest son was still little. I got into a car and drove along the Leningrad-Odessa motorway. I went to Odessa. I stopped in fields and looked around admiring the magnificent sights. In Soviet times. I sincerely love this country and its people,” the President said. He remarked that he likes even people, who live in western Ukraine and are believed to have more nationalistic attitudes: “When I was the director of an agricultural enterprise, they would come to me every year to earn money. They needed cereals. Because growing cereals is difficult in the Carpathian Mountains. Such hardworking people! I always used them as an example. I always used my own transport to deliver two times more grain to them, to western Ukraine than what they earned.” Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying: “The deepest respect for these people. And for western ones as well, I’ll have you know. And for Crimea. I went there. And I have always felt love for Ukraine. And I still feel exactly the same. Despite their trying to portray me as some bastard instead of Batka [father in Belarusian]. Time will come and people will sort out everything.” Aleksandr Lukashenko told the interview what Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks about the events in Ukraine and whether he is upset about them. "We touched on the situation again the last time we met (it was St. Petersburg, then Valaam). We conversed for a long time and he would say: "It's bad that we, the two peoples, clashed. You [Belarus] is involved. We are Slavic peoples!” He said thoughtfully [here’s the inside information): "No one was going to subjugate, enslave, and deprive Ukraine of independence. We didn't need it. But they should have behaved differently and should not have created problems for us," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "I had nothing to object to him. Although we usually argue a lot. But what is there to object to that? On the contrary, I supported him," the President said. “You see, he said this out of the blue. No one was going to deprive Ukraine of independence. Why did Ukraine need to behave like it did? I saw this happen starting with Leonid Danilovich Kuchma [the second President of Ukraine]. I am a unique person. For 30 years I have seen everything that has been happening and that had to do with these events. It all began, unfortunately, with Leonid Danilovich Kuchma." The journalist asked Aleksandr Lukashenko what he thinks about the narrative promoted in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin has imperial ambitions and the allegations that he has supposedly gone mad. "No, Putin has not gone mad. With regard the imperial ambitions, I have not seen them either. But I have this idea that the leaders of large states always have this sense of confidence. That’s how I see it. This also applies to the United States of America. Isn’t it so? There's no way to measure their ambitions and the things they are doing. Russia is a huge empire, what can I say? Of course, this leaves its mark on the character of a person. But it’s all empty words, fiction that Putin has imperial ambitions. Especially now," Aleksandr Lukashenko replied. Speaking about some feelings of the Russian President, the Belarusian leader noted that no matter how close they are, Vladimir Putin is still the head of one state, and he is the head of another. "The human heart is a mystery, as our people say. I can't go into detail. But he is taking these events hard. It is not an easy situation. As a person he is absolutely sensible, experienced, analyzes everything, tries to look ahead, calculates. His life experience was such. He is practically a military man. He had a job where he had to calculate a lot in advance. He really works everything out. But he never, I'm sure, ever had these designs to go and enslave Ukraine first, then Belarus, then others. This is nonsense," the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko also noted that Vladimir Putin is a very cautious person: "He never acts on a whim. He will take a step and will take a long, long time to see if it is worth taking the second step. Therefore, the assumption that he would have taken 10 steps at a time skipping) the previous nine and attack Ukraine is nonsense. He tried everything, step by step. These steps were visible." In this regard, the President recalled his conversation with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in the first days of the war. "We talked for a long time. He was huffing and puffing... I said: "You know, Volodya, we will not argue on the phone. But remember: the war is in your country. Sooner or later people will ask you why you let the war happen on your land, why you did not prevent it no matter how difficult it was," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “The war was avoidable. I was between you and Russia all the time and saw this opportunity. The most striking illustration is the meeting of the Normandy Four. The agreement was reached. Let's implement it since we agreed. Why didn’t you?" In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had not discussed the possibility of such a development before the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Russian leader voiced a request to his Belarusian ally a few days prior to 24 February 2022. “You watched his speech on TV [after the start of the special military operation]. So did I. This is the first thing. We had not had any discussions prior to the start of the operation. I swear to you that we had never had any talks about Russia taking any action against Ukraine. It’s just that a few days ahead of the operation we met at his country residence to discuss the situation,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “He told me then (I am telling this for the first time): “Listen, Sasha, you know what the current situation is. I hope we are allies no matter what may happen”. Of course, we are allies, everyone knows about our treaties: if someone goes against Russia, we enter the war, if something like that happens to Belarus, Russia sides with us. We actually have a unified army here. So Vladimir Putin said: “If anything happens…” I asked: “Listen, what can happen?” “Well, if anything happens, watch my back, please,” he said. The Belarusian head of state recalled that in the first days of the special military operation he made a statement that Belarus was not getting involved in the conflict, as Russia was capable of dealing with everything itself. “But we will not allow shooting Russians in the back. Do you remember that phrase of mine? It had to do with Putin's request to watch their back. Most likely, he was concerned about a stab in the back from the West.” The President explained how combat operations around Kiev truly happened at the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine in early 2022. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “It was definitely the matter of several days. If Russians had captured Kiev, can you imagine what war it would be? The war would have ended already.” The reporter pointed out that Ukrainians believe that Volodymyr Zelensky protected Kiev and that the Ukrainian army repulsed the Russian invasion. Aleksandr Lukashenko responded by saying: “Listen, it is a fairy tale and nothing else. But all of it was probably cooked up by mass media and Zelensky himself in order to demonstrate his heroism. Once again I happened to be between Putin and some forces in Kiev, who had already agreed to ‘Hande hoch’ as Germans say. In order to survive. And I had a conversation with Putin because of it. Putin told me: ‘You know, [Kiev can be captured], it can be done right away, instantaneously but a huge number of people will die’.” The President said that the Ukrainian army had deployed not only combat tanks but multiple-launch rocket systems in the streets. And they hid behind kindergartens, schools, hospitals, and other social facilities. “He wondered how one could fight them in a military way. He said: we organize a pinpoint operation, we are on the outskirts of Kiev, we cannot fire indiscriminately like they do. In other words, he worried about having to fight in a way that would leave nothing standing at the site of this school,” he said. Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the Ukrainian army acted exactly the same way in Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). Fighters of the Russian private military company Wagner confirmed it. “And I had a conversation with Putin. He said: ‘How can we fire at them in Kiev if they hide behind a school and kindergartens?’ I am nearly quoting. So there were fears. A different person could have told him: ‘Listen, a war is going on. If you started a war, fight it’. And he told the truth when he said: ‘We haven’t even started yet’,” the Belarus President noted. “I am not going to dwell on reasons. You probably know that the Russian troops, who were on the outskirts of Kiev, withdrew from there. And no Zelensky repulsed anything there. Putin withdrew these troops later on. How could he [Zelensky] have defended it? Did he destroy the Russian army there? No. This is why he says he committed a heroic feat that hadn’t happened. Putin withdrew these troops from Kiev,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “He was sitting in a root cellar at that time, Diana. Your Zelensky was sitting in a root cellar back then. He didn’t fight anyone and didn’t repulse anything. But the military saw how it would end.” “I often criticize Volodya Zelensky. For his lack of experience, ostentatious behavior. He has always been like that. It played a part. Yet, as I have already said, this trouble started from Leonid Danilovich [Ukraine’s second President Leonid Kuchma]. There was no clear strategy back then; it was a back-and-forth,” the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled his meeting with President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma that took place after the constitutional referendum in Belarus: “Leonid Danilovich started talking about Ukraine and Yeltsin said: “Listen, Aleksandr Grigorievich, why wouldn’t you help him draft a decent constitution and hold a referendum. I said, well, to be serious, I’m ready to pitch in.” According to the Belarusian head of state, a draft constitution was developed together with Ukrainian specialists. “It was more, so to say, democratic than that of Belarus and Russia. But it was similar to ours. This constitution would have saved Ukraine from that chaos that happened later. This constitution was ready. Opinion polls suggested (we did not hide the fact that I was involved in the process) that the Ukrainians would have supported it. But time was passing by and they were kicking the can down the road,” the head of state noted. “Why so? He [Leonid Kuchma] said that the Verkhovna Rada would not pass this constitution. I objected: Listen, you haven’t even submitted it to the Verkhovna Rada yet; and indeed, will it really go against people’s will? You can hold a referendum. You can put it to vote in a referendum, get it approved and then submit to the Verkhovna Rada,” Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled. “In other words, that was one of the options. That was where it all started. Kuchma, then Yushchenko, then Yanukovich... The problems were snowballing. Finally it all descended upon Volodya Zelensky, he was not a politician, he was inexperienced, politics was simply not his thing. But he promised (even in that movie Servant of the People) to deal with oligarchs, thieves, crooks and other problems and to sort out problems around Ukraine, a very beautiful and rich country. He saw it all. He has made his bed, so now he must lie in it. He is not exactly the right man for this job,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Again, Zelensky is not the only one to blame. It’s true, he was not up to the task. But was it easier for others? Was it easier for Putin when he became President? Or was it easier for Belarusians? Belarus was a basket case, we had no money, nothing. We were left in a pickle. We printed these banknotes depicting bunnies, remember?” the head of state asked. The head of state recalled how things developed in Ukraine under different Presidents. There was a chance to prevent war, but it was not used. The inexperienced Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who came to power with the support of the West and above all the United States, did not cope with the situation. "Does Russia share responsibility?" the journalist asked. “Of course. Russia is responsible for everything. For the collapse of the Soviet Union, for the then fight on a personal level. Now they say: ‘Well, the Soviet Union would have collapsed anyway. It’s good that it broke up like that, as not much blood was shed." But see how much blood we are shedding now! The wars happened along the entire perimeter. It remains to be seen how it will end. Therefore, Russia was the main state that glued, held everything together, bore responsibility as she is the successor of the Soviet Union. Of course, Russia is also to blame. We are all to blame. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine…," the Belarusian leader replied. "Poroshenko had a chance to turn everything around. Zelensky had this chance too. He was a new person, he had nothing to do with what has happened. Let’s sit down, think about what is best for your state, for your people. Why are you waging this war now?" Aleksandr Lukashenko. “A lot of people are starting to assess Zelensky in the right way. Hence this back-and-forth on his part. He cannot make up his mind whether to call the election (when are you having it - in a year or two?) or, using martial law, to postpone it. In other words, the situation is very unclear. And it is not a given that Zelensky will win this election, although you claim that he has a 90% approval rating. It is a sham. I will tell you, if the election was held in the near future, one of the military [would win]. Budanov or the like would become President. Someone from the military, but not him [not Zelensky],” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The head of state noted that the West, primarily the United States, seeks to weaken Russia and bring it to its knees with the help of military operations in Ukraine. At the same time, the interests of Ukraine are disregarded. “After all, the best people die there. Ukraine is losing almost everything. It is not in Ukraine’s interests,” the Belarusian leader said. “Who benefits from it then? Zelensky?” the journalist asked a clarifying question. “Yes, that’s right. Ukraine is not Zelensky, and Zelensky is not Ukraine. Zelensky ... Well, listen, he is a ‘hero’. He travels around the world wearing a trident T-shirt and displays his heroism. And they in the West know how to eulogize. Remember how they went into raptures about Gorbachev: “Gorbi, Gorbi, Gorbi!” And the Soviet Union collapsed. Exactly the same is happening to him: “Ah, Zelensky! Ah, a hero!” Whose hero is he? He is their hero, not a hero of Ukrainian people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. The head of state is sure that people in Ukraine, intoxicated by propaganda, will eventually be able to see things clearly. “It won’t go on like this forever. I am also following public opinion trends in Ukraine. Not the things that your opinion polls suggest, but what people really think. There is a growing understanding that Zelensky should find a way out of this situation, to put it mildly. People there should not die, mothers should not lose their children. It does not matter to a mother what ways and methods will be used to save her child. They should save not only their lives, but also the lives of their children. What kind of patriotism, what Motherland and so on can you talk about when your child’s life is at stake?” “Therefore, people in Ukraine are beginning to see things clearly. And millions of people who fled the country are raising their voices saying that they want to return home and asking why the war is still going on. I know for sure, they are sick and tired of your oligarchs. They want to save their billions and earn money there. But the war does not let them do it. What investments can flow in if the war is raging?” the President noted. Thus, only the United States benefits from the war. “It does not bother them that the Slavic peoples are fighting with each other, and killing each other. It is beneficial for them. Thus, having weakened Russia, they will get closer to China from this side. That’s their rationale. Zelensky is playing along. But in the end Ukraine - a flourishing, beautiful country blessed with natural resources - will cease to exist,” the Belarusian leader added. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Judging by all my contacts I’ve had this year (there were various contacts), I have to tell you that you shouldn’t say that the West wants [the war in Ukraine to continue]. Yes, for now they are dancing to the tune of Americans. But Western Europe is Germans, the French, and other ones. Except Englishmen of course. Those are dominated by the USA. Western Europe doesn’t need this war already. Their top people say that the war is not in America, this war is in our home.” “The war needs to stop. Europeans are absolutely intent on doing it but for now they are following orders. 15 Leopard [tanks have been given to Ukraine]. But they give military hardware unwillingly,” the Belarusian leader stated. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that one can no longer say that the West is cemented. “They convey these signals to your President Zelensky. Zelensky is stubborn. Why? Because his key sponsor is behind him. The United States of America. So Europe is starting drifting little by little. The public opinion in leading European countries about this war is very bad. More and more people are speaking up against it. Because they feel the damage of this war in their wallets. Americans don’t. They profiteer from it. And they support Zelensky in this regard. This is why there is no unity of Europeans and Zelensky about the continuation of this war,” the President said. In his words, once Americans want it and give this signal to Zelensky, he will start peace talks. “How can it be any other way? If there are no deliveries of weapons via Rzeszow and other border crossings, then there will be no war,” the head of state remarked. Why can the USA give this signal at some point? Aleksandr Lukashenko gave the following answer to this question: “Because they will understand that Ukraine will not win. It will lose. If Ukraine loses decisively and Russians manage to move forward, well, then the entire West will lose. This is why they need to give a signal to start negotiations when the time is right.” Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Negotiations have to start without preliminary conditions. It is a classic move of any diplomacy. This is what I think. It is necessary to start negotiations and discuss everything. Including Crimea, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, and Lugansk. Everything needs to be discussed there. But at a negotiation table. Sit down and work out the agenda. As it usually happens. A list of items. You can return to those items, which were worked out in the past [during previous rounds of negotiations, three of which took place in Ukraine and another one in Tьrkiye]. Then Russia was ready to discuss any matters.” The President went on saying: “Certainly, Russia will never ever return Crimea as you say. It won’t happen. I doubt for now that some agreement can be reached here, in the east. But Russia is ready to discuss any topic. I know it for sure. They are ready to talk about any topic and discuss any topic. But you [Ukrainians] are pushed by Americans and don’t want that for now. You don’t understand that there is nothing more precious than a human life. While you lose about 1,500 people in combat operations per day.” The head of state was asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin told him under what circumstances he would consider the goals of Russia’s SMO fulfilled. "You know, we did not discuss the topic with him in this spirit, but I dare to express my position. The goals of the SMO have already been fulfilled. Ukraine will never be as aggressive towards Russia after the end of this war as it was before the war. Ukraine will be different. First, there will be people in power who are more cautious, smarter, more cunning, if you like. Intelligent people. Who will understand that the neighbors are given by God and that you need to build relations with them," the President said. "I'm sure of it. The future Ukraine will not dance to the tune of the United States. This is my understanding. I am absolutely convinced that Putin thinks so too. I think that's how he understands the process. This is a big lesson not only for Ukraine but also for Russia. For us, for the whole world. That's a great lesson. We will learn from it. Russia will too," the Belarusian leader stressed. The head of state answered the journalist's question on the thesis of ever-increasing hatred between peoples, in particular Ukrainians against Russians. “Most likely, and I am expressing my point of view, all this was seen differently before. Today we have wised up, drawing lessons from these events. Yes, it is true and everything you said appears to be the case. We have angered nations against each other. Moreover, the position of Ukrainians and Russians seems irreconcilable to us. Belarusians are also involved in this,” the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that in this regard he always cites the example of atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War. “The wounds have healed. The Soviet Union had good relations with Germany. Both Ukraine and Belarus, which was practically wiped off the face of the earth, built relations with Germany. Why shouldn’t we build relations with Ukraine? We will,” the Belarusian leader emphasized. “If we talk about it and do not act, we are unlikely to achieve anything. We have to act. The first step is to sit down at the negotiating table. Well, we may spend the first day looking at each other with hatred. But then we will start talking. Things went the same way in Gomel, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in Istanbul [the rounds of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in 2022]. That is how it was. It started with everybody arguing bitterly. And then they started discussing specific issues. But the United States told Vladimir Zelensky to stop negotiations and continue the war, the President said. The President is sure that only at the negotiating table it is possible to find a solution to the situation, and it should be done with the participation of all the stakeholders and the world’s powers. “It should not be like it was in Saudi Arabia [ the negotiations on a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, which took place in early August 2023 with the participation of a number of countries]. Russia was not there. What kind of negotiations are these? What did you decide to negotiate without the presence of all the parties involved in the conflict? I mean that those who feel that they should be at the negotiating table, should be there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. In June 2023 Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov said that the talks were in the pipeline and pointed to Belarus’ possible participation in the negotiation process. “Is it some sort of a veiled invitation to you to join the talks if they take place?” the journalist asked the head of state. “You should address this question to Danilov,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The President added that he had heard the statement. “We border on Ukraine. We are ‘co-aggressors’ as your country and the West call us. Of course, we have our interests there, and our position should be heard. I believe that Belarus should be involved in the negotiation process (the level of its involvement is not discussed today),” the head of state said. In his words, Belarus’ participation in the peace talks will bring positive results. “I think our participation is quite possible,” the President said. In an interview with Diana Panchenko Aleksandr Lukashenko talked about contacts of the Belarusian side with Ukraine’s special services and about the topics raised during these negotiations. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “As for whether negotiations are in progress or not. They certainly are. We’ve met with representatives of your authorities about five times probably.” “When was the last time?” Diana Panchenko asked for clarification. “The last time was several months ago. These negotiations were initiated by the GUR [Central Intelligence Office of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry]. They focused on whether Belarus will join the war in the future, whether Belarus will fight or not on the side of Russia in the north. And many other matters,” the President noted. He also remarked that the Ukrainian side has been recently interested in matters concerning the potential use of nuclear weapons and the deployment of the private military company (PMC) Wagner in Belarus. “These questions accumulated. But we had these contacts and we talked. We don’t mind. Proposals have been put forward now: ‘Let’s meet in Istanbul or the Emirates’. I said: ‘Guys, are you crazy? We are just over the border from you. Feel free to come to Brest or anywhere you like. To Gomel, Mozyr, any place. To Minsk. And we will organize a conversation with you. Why do you suggest that we should go somewhere, to Turkiye or the Emirates?’ These are good countries. We don’t mid. But we can have negotiations here,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “Then Zelensky noticed some threat to those, who were organizing these negotiations (so-called political competition). He forbade them to have this dialogue. We know via intelligence agencies, special services, including military ones, they conduct these negotiations with Russians in Ukraine. And positions are explained. Russia’s to Ukraine and Ukraine’s to Russia. Ukrainians have contacts with us and contacts with them, with Russia. A foundation for these negotiations is available. Let’s talk. But your politicians will get themselves in trouble. Not Putin, not Russia but Ukraine’s military will overthrow this political elite led by Zelensky. You’ll see. Because the military see the futility of what is going on there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. The journalist asked the head of state what can force Belarus to get fully involved in the war in Ukraine. “If you, Ukrainians, do not cross our border, we will never get involved in this war. In this hot war. Yet, we will keep helping Russia - they are our ally. You know that 55 countries are helping you with coordination, training, ammunition, weapons, and so on. And only Belarus is openly helping Russia,” Aleksandr Lukashenko replied. Diana Panchenko, in turn, noted that they often say in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin is pushing the President of Belarus to get involved in the war. “It’s complete nonsense. Do you know why? Because it makes no sense. An additional 70,000 troops will change nothing,” the head of state emphasized. “They have enough manpower and firepower. Therefore, getting Belarus involved... How will it help them? You tell me what is the point of us joining the fight against Ukraine? There is no point.” Diana Panchenko recalled the recent statement by the head of state regarding possible plans for Ukraine’s admission to NATO in separate parts and the transfer of some of its territory to Poland. “Will Western Ukraine become part of Poland?” the journalist asked the President. “I don’t think so. I think that Ukrainians themselves will not let it happen. Zelensky is moving towards this: you have taken some decision to give Polish police officers or civil servants nearly the same rights as Ukrainian ones have,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Such narratives are circulating in the media landscape to prepare people for this,” Diana Panchenko noted. “Yes, that’s what I hear. Moreover, units have already been formed in Poland - a military unit to help Ukraine. If they come in, they will not go away, because Americans are standing behind Poland. Well, this will be Polish territory. Why would NATO not accept them in this case? It will already be Polish territory. They will use this as an argument. Therefore, everything is being prepared for this. And you, journalists, were the first to speak up about it. You said what we, politicians, had just started to see. Therefore, such preparations are underway. This is unacceptable for us and for Russians. It is necessary to preserve Ukraine’s integrity, so that the country will not be sliced up and divided by other countries. Negotiations come next. You see, that’s what should be done first. You, Ukrainians, need it,” the head of state emphasized. “We do. We need peace, everyone needs peace,” the journalist agreed. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “There can be only one threat: aggression against our country. If aggression against our country is launched from the side of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, we will immediately respond with everything we have. You see we have something. And the strike will be unacceptable. We don’t compete with them. NATO stands behind Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. We certainly understand that the forces are incomparable. But we will deliver an unacceptable strike against them and they will receive unacceptable harm, damage. It is what our security concept is based on.” The President went on saying: “The nuclear weapons deployed in Belarus will definitely not be used unless we face aggression. If only an act of aggression is committed against us, an attack against Belarus, we will not tarry, wait, and the rest. We will use the entire arsenal of our weapons for deterrence. Why? Belarus is not Russia. Belarus cannot observe and wait for something. There is a great distance between Brest and Vladivostok but our territory can be captured within a month and there will be nothing left. This is why we will not tarry and watch. Once aggression is committed against us, we will follow the plan. I have publicly approved the plans but, of course, I haven’t revealed their content. We will respond with everything we have. And we didn’t bring nuclear weapons here in order to scare someone. Yes, nuclear weapons represent a strong deterring factor. But these are tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones. This is why we will use them immediately once aggression is launched against us.” Yet Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that Belarusians are not crazy and would not like to use nuclear weapons. If no aggression is committed against Belarus, nuclear weapons will never be used. “Can the nuclear weapons be used against Ukraine under these conditions?” the reporter asked for clarification. “Not only the nuclear weapons [will be used] against Ukraine if it commits aggression against us. We have something else in addition to the nuclear weapons. And we will not warn you that we will deliver a strike on decision-making centers once you cross red lines. It will be done without a warning. This is why leave us alone. We leave you alone and you should leave us alone. I mean Ukraine least of all. I mean primarily those crazies in the West, who are already making preparations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. According to the head of state, the events in Ukraine have taught people a lesson and have shown that a clash of military blocs should be avoided. “Ukraine is showing that this is a terrible thing. And NATO’s war with Russia and Belarus would mean a world war involving nuclear weapons. It would be much worse than in Ukraine. Therefore, this must be averted. I know for sure that the West does not want a nuclear war indeed. Because no one will be able to survive in this war: Russia has the world’s biggest stocks of nuclear warheads, the United States of America has about the same. It will be an all-embracing war that will not spare anyone. No one wants to die, everyone wants to live at least the way we live now, and hope for the best. Even now, I do not see any reasons for such a war to begin,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Diana Panchenko said that the idea that the Russian government is weak after events involving PMC Wagner is being actively promoted in Ukraine. “I quote: Putin is no longer the person we used to know. There is another version claiming that all of it was staged. A performance designed to reveal traitors and give reasons to move PMC Wagner to Belarus for the sake of a consequent march on Kiev. What out of it is true?” the reporter wondered. “First things first. As for Putin is no longer the person we used to know. Putin is absolutely not the person we used to know. His personal traits have been multiplied. Recent times have taught a lot to everyone, including to Putin. He is no longer his old self. He is now wiser and more cunning, I’ll have you know. If someone thinks that Putin has been weakened by Prigozhin’s mutiny, it is total nonsense. Putin is now more mobilized, more cunning, and wiser. Our adversaries need to know it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Speaking about claims that the mutiny was staged, the President stated that only crazy people can call it that because the event did colossal damage. “This narrative appeared right away. But it is not promoted anywhere except for Ukraine. It was not staged at all,” he remarked. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the initiative to deploy PMC Wagner in Belarus had been his. It had not come from Russia’s leadership or anyone else. The possibility was discussed and decided on during negotiations with Yevgeny Prigozhin as one of the security guarantees. “It was my proposal. In order to quell this munity, to put out this fire, it was necessary to accept any conditions because the mutiny could have been devastating to everyone. You say that the West and Americans may have felt joy about this mutiny at first. But later on they came to their senses and say now: ‘Thank god, this variant didn’t come to be.’ Why? Because they were concerned about nuclear weapons most of all. Who will possess nuclear weapons? PMC Wagner? Yevgeny Prigozhin? Things could have been terrible. This is why even the most vicious enemies of ours didn’t want this turn of events and this mutiny,” he noted. Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that similar mutinies are unlikely to happen in Russia in the foreseeable future. “Russia could have quelled this so-called mutiny. At the cost of a lot of blood. But I think it could have handled it. Right up to removing army units from the front. But it would have handled it. But this very march indicates that it is impossible and unnecessary. Frankly speaking, the next mutineers will be afraid to make such attempts after they draw conclusions from this mutiny,” the President said. “As for Putin’s overthrow that Zelensky and his supporters desire, they may try. Let them try. If they don’t have enough problems as it is, they will get even more problems. Nobody will overthrow Putin today,” the Belarusian leader stressed. According to the journalist, Vladimir Zelensky was very upset by the deterioration of relations with Aleksandr Lukashenko. “He took it hard, despite the fact that Ukraine introduced sanctions faster than the EU, as you said then. Is there anything you want to tell him?” she asked. “I can tell him only one thing today. I would say to him: Volodya, the war is going on in your country, on your land. You must do everything to prevent things from getting worse. Yes, whatever happened, happened. Those who are to blame will have to face the music. But this should be stopped now. The developments should not take a further turn for the worse. It will be worse, first of all, for Ukraine. This is the only thing I want to say to him today. I want him to hear it. And that’s something to begin with,” the Belarusian leader replied. In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he has not yet decided whether he will run for President in the next election. “I haven't made any decisions yet, honestly. Perhaps it may look like some kind of couldn’t-care-less attitude on my part, but I have so many issues to solve right now. As soon as the time comes to make a decision, I will do it. Right now, I need to make sure the country holds out in the current situation, does not get involved in a mess, as people say. I have to guide my people on this very thin, fragile ice, so that we don’t fall through. This is the most important thing for me now. Both my future and the future of the next government depend on this. This is what I am doing right now. Honestly, I have not thought about it, and even in my family circle we have not discussed this topic. It is not the time to think about it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. During the interview Diana Panchenko shared her impressions of Minsk. She said that she liked the atmosphere of order and security in the city. She expressed her hope that Belarusians understood the main value and their main resource - peace. “I have a question (and maybe you have an answer): what will happen to all this without Lukashenko?” Diana Panchenko asked. Very soon the country will have elections to the parliament and the Belarusian People's Congress. The President said he would do everything to help Belarusians determine their future. “I will be persuading my people. I will be telling my people the truth. Our people themselves understand what can happen. They understand that we can lose this island of peace and tranquility,” he said. “Every time I come to Minsk, I see well-maintained streets and perfect roads. Walking around Minsk I sometimes get the impression of being in Kiev, the one it could have been and the one it once used to be. Although the cities may not be alike, but the feeling is exactly the same,” Diana Panchenko said. “Putting it simply, what and when did we do wrong?” “Things went wrong when you started plundering Ukraine. If you want to preserve the integrity of the country, there must be unity, there must be a core. First of all, a state one, like we have. We are always criticized for this vertical of power, ‘dictatorship’ and so on. But it is precisely this and, as you call it, dictatorship, discipline, and order that contributed to the consolidation of the entire nation. We managed to explain everything to our people, to tell them what should be done, including today. I often say: if you do not want to fight like Ukraine, let us work hard in the fields. People hear me,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Ukraine started to fall apart when oligarchs began getting the best pieces, the President said. According to him, this created numerous centers of power, including those supported by security and law enforcement agencies. It was difficult for the government to resist it. “Ukraine ended up divided. You began to play in democracy, elect all kinds of people, re-elect. You eroded the responsibility by such actions of yours. Everything however started with your thoughtless privatization. You dismantled Ukraine and hurt people. Ukrainians were terribly dissatisfied with that situation. Everything started from there. The economy was the backbone for everything,” the head of state is convinced. “You have destroyed the richest, most beautiful country.” Then the oligarchs went into politics and brought certain people to the country’s highest posts. “When a politician has a lot of money in his pocket, he is not independent,” the Belarusian leader said. “Haven’t you ever thought of buying a yacht and going to Monaco?” the journalist asked. “I have never had such thoughts. I am not that kind of person at all. A yacht, the heat, the sun – it is not my thing. It’s better to go to the mountains in winter. There is no better place than Sochi. We have a governmental base, a hotel there. I don't need anything else,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “I hate money, as I grew up in a poor family and always lacked it. I am a different person by nature. I can find my happiness at home, in Belarus.” Aleksandr Lukashenko said he believes that Vladimir Putin will be reelected as Russia’s President: “I think that Putin will be Russia’s next President. The election will be held in six months. No one can challenge Putin now”. The journalist quoted the head of state who said in a 2020 interview that Vladimir Putin would step down before 2036 and those who would take over his role would continue Russia’s development course. “Do you think there is such a person?” the journalist asked. “I think so. And I believe that if Putin does not see this person now, he will find this person in the near future,” the Belarusian leader is convinced. At the same time, the President of Belarus believes that Vladimir Putin is not focused on this matter now, because he has so many issues to deal with. “The country is big, there are many other problems that need to be addressed,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained. During the interview, Diana Panchenko noted that today Ukrainians blame the Russians for all their troubles. In her opinion, Ukraine was made a "country of hatred" long before the events of 2022. "They did it deliberately. It was a public policy. How can we make sure that this does not happen to Belarusians?" she asked the head of state. The President believes that it is important to fight the information space as hard as possible. "We fight on this battlefield as hard as we can. You know, I won't say that we are winning but we are not losing yet, because, probably, the truth always wins after all. If you tell lies, then you won't win," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "If we analyze everything that has happened between our peoples, between our countries in recent years, then we see that they worked persistently, methodically to make sure that Ukrainians learn less and less about Belarusians, about Russians and vice versa. It turns out that people who once lived in the same country know absolutely nothing about each other today. For example, many Ukrainians are sure that every Russian, waking up, thinks about how to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. Don't you think that today exactly the same process is taking place in relation to Russia and Belarus on the one hand and Europe on the other? Aren't they preparing us just as systematically for something big and terrible?" the journalist said. The President did not rule out that this is possible: "If you conquer other people's minds, then you will win any war in the future. Therefore, they might be preparing for this by waging this war on our minds. But it is the job of any government to counteract this, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how unequal the forces are. But it's better to fight like this than with missiles." "It is difficult to fight this information war but we must. Otherwise, we will have to fight the way Russia and Ukraine are doing. Therefore, we are trying, resisting, doing everything possible," the head of state added. “Tactic is to reach every person, reach out to them, and talk to them. This is the most important area of our work. People will appreciate it. In particular, I try to meet with people, talk to them, to explain things." In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Ukraine's first step towards the country's recovery should be a step towards peace. “There should be a step towards peace. Yes, you can fight for these territories. I am not saying that they should be left behind. A different tactic should be chosen however: while fighting for these territories, you may lose others,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The President is convinced that Ukraine will definitely recover: “It is a great country, with hardworking people. I often say to some of my colleagues to go and learn from the Ukrainians. The country has rich traditions. All this must be restored today. A lot must be done and they need to start. Ukraine will be Ukraine. The country cannot be poor on such a land, but they must take the first steps. And the first step should be the one to stop the war.” “The war must be stopped. When a war is raging, when you are distracted, when so many people are dying, your relatives, loved ones, what can you think about? What wealth can you think about? What kind of housing to build? Or maybe how to take care of your land plot? What can you think about when you know that tomorrow you can be grabbed in the street and sent to the front? You will only think about the ways to avoid that fate. Only those who can pay their way out of the military enlistment office do not fight in your country. Everything can be settled with the help of money in your country. It is awful. You need to restore order in your country,” the head of state emphasized. He believes that Ukraine needs to rebuild life from the very bottom, with the main principle - fair treatment of a person – to be at the core. “You need to rebuild your economy. But first you need to provide your people with food and clothes. It is that where we started in 1991. Our economy stalled then. We worked hard to save jobs, and we saved these enterprises. Ukraine needs to go through this now. Ukraine can do this. It has a much better location than Belarus in terms of natural resources and climatic conditions. The country can do this even in these difficult conditions. But they need to make the first step, and the first step is peace,” the Belarusian leader said.