Studio guest Fyodor Voitolovsky, Deputy Director, Institute of World Economy and International relations (studio guest), Gerhard Mangott, Professor on International Relations at the University of Innsbruck, Matthew Hoh, Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, Don DeBar, Senior Producer at CPR News Radio, Journalist.
Fyodor Voitolovsky: I do not think that it is a proxy war, but you are absolutely right saying that the US are more and more engaged in this conflict. They are engaged in it from the beginning.
Do you think that the Americans really have guts and really wish to do this, or is this just rhetoric to antagonize Russia? The numbers of the military aid look obscure, so, probably, this is a type of psychological pressure.
Fyodor Voitolovsky: Of course, the psychological pressure is part of the policy towards Russia. And I can describe this attitude towards Russia as building and developing the thing which Obama himself has described as an unnecessary conflict. But America is getting more and more involved. And each decision based on this approach is having its own inertia.
Where does Europe stand between all of this? Right now it seems like the US is trying to usurp Europe as the main foreign actor in Ukraine?
Gerhard Mangott: Actually, there is no Europe acting in the Ukrainian crisis. It is basically the big nations within the EU and, first and foremost, Germany and France that are involved in settling the Ukrainian crisis. It is important that France is at the table as well, because Germany is very close to the US’s position, whereas France is more interested in finding a settlement with the Russian Federation to overcome this period of sanctions. So, having these two big nations – the powerhouses of the EU at the table, negotiating with Russia and Ukraine is the best that you can get at the moment. It is the best format available for the negotiations about the Ukrainian crisis.
Europe is split on the question of sanctions, as it was shown during this week’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. Do I get it right that we still see the division?
Gerhard Mangott: There still are many countries within the EU that are quite skeptical whether the sanctions are actually the right answer to the developments in Ukraine. We think of the countries like Hungary, Austria. My country is very skeptical about the sanctions. Greece is rather opposed, Cyprus is rather opposed, which is very seriously affected by the consequences of the sanctions. And also Finland is not very happy about the sanctions, because the direct and indirect effects of the sanctions have seriously harmed trade between Finland and Russia, which is very important for Finland.
However, even if we have different views on whether or not sanctions are the right answer, on whether or not sanctions actually work, so far it has been possible to get all votes when it comes to keeping up the sanctions. And it remains to be seen whether some of the more skeptical countries would change their positions when the decisions will have to be taken to prolong the sanctions against the black list of the personalities in Russia and Crimea. And that is even more important when it comes to prolonging the third level sanctions – targeted economic and financial sanctions.
I think Russia has a good opportunity to influence the European debate, if there is indeed some progress along the Minsk agreement line in dealing with the east Ukrainian crisis. The more cooperative Russia seems, the more influence it exerts on the separatists in Donetsk and Luganks, the more likely it is that those countries in the EU skeptical towards the sanctions will speak up and vote against the extension of the sanctions.
Lately the US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said that the war was at a “turning point”. What do you think he was referring to? Could it be the release of American military aid that was approved last month?
Matthew Hoh: I'm afraid that is what he may be implying. Unfortunately, I do not believe that a turning point that he suggests is a positive one for the people of Ukraine, whichever side of the conflict they may find themselves on. Unfortunately, as we saw with President Obama’s State of the Union address and the enthusiastic support he got from both parties in our Congress towards a very aggressive posture towards Russia, I'm afraid we are just going to be heading into more of a conflict between Russia and the US with Ukraine being a proxy for that conflict.
And talking about how far the US wants to go, what do you think the overall American endgame here is?
Matthew Hoh: This is all about us versus the desire to return to some kind of a bipolar world, to have return to the Cold War, because in the Cold War in the US things were very simple – the US was good, the Soviet Union was evil. Everyone could adhere to that foreign policy, both political parties. And there were people who wanted that, people who enjoyed that, people who profited of that. So, I think this is what they desire in both political parties.
They desire this contest with Russia. And the goal of this contest, of the “winning” in this contest would be Russia defeated in Ukraine, a pro-American Government in Ukraine, the separatists in the eastern Ukraine suppressed. And while having Ukraine as part of NATO or American military bases in Ukraine may be a bit far off, there certainly are those in the US who would like to see the American military bases and NATO military bases on the border of Russia to contain Russia – to use that Cold War phrase. So, the desire here is very much to embarrass and humiliate Russia, and defeat Russia in this geopolitical contest that so many in Washington see themselves engaged in.
We are talking about the Ukrainian conflict being reignited, why now? Are Ukrainians trying to provoke a Russian response, are they trying to get more American aid or both?
Don DeBar: First of all, it seems clear that there was a decision for this to restart now. You had the visit of General Ben over the weekend. And as it happened on numerous occasions before, as soon as the US officials show up in Kiev, another assault upon the east starts. But there has been something that is getting more noticed anyway. And there even was some discussion at the UN about yesterday, which is the irregulars that are fighting on behalf of Kiev in the east. And apparently, I saw a report earlier today that the Donetsk people had captured some of these irregulars.
In big geopolitical terms capturing or neutralizing Ukraine, if it can’t be captured, is a giant plus for any war effort that would be conducted against Russia or any pressure in coordination with some kind of provoked activity inside Russia. Having Ukraine not as an ally of Russia, where the army would help to defend against an attack coming in, but rather now pointed at Russia, and these irregulars on the ground doing who knows what – I get nervous that, perhaps, that is something closer to a hot war, than cold one.