Putin's plan for the WEST

Oct 15th, 2017 - by Derek Fraser, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria,  former ambassador to Ukraine

According to press reports, U.S. President Donald Trump, in his desire for reconciliation with Russia, was initially considering removing sanctions on Russia and recognizing a Russian zone of influence in Eastern Europe. In fact, Trump might not have achieved reconciliation through such measures. What Russia seeks is more than a zone of influence: It wants to be recognized as a great power with a veto on all questions affecting Russian security, including the activities of NATO and the EU.

To understand Russian goals, we have to look at the roots of Russian policy towards the west. European Russia, like France, Germany and Poland, lies on the North European Plain. Like these states, it therefore lacks geographical defences against attack, and has historically regarded its principal neighbours as its enemies.

The west European states, as a result of their experience during the Second World War, resolved after the war to follow a new course. By creating common European and Atlantic institutions, the west Europeans came to regard their neighbours as their friends, and to recognize that international relations did not have to be a zero-sum game.

For the Russians, however, the Second World War had reinforced their traditional view that their neighbours were their enemies unless they were under Russian control, and that the defence of Russia required pushing its boundaries as far west as possible.

According to this view, therefore, the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union were disasters not mitigated by any understanding with the west on future relations. The west promoted democracy and was open to the integration of East European states into Euro-Atlantic Institutions. Russia sought instead to recover its position as a great power, including a zone of influence.

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Spain and Catalonia : What Comes Next?

October 5th, 2017 - by André Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

The Catalan government held a referendum on independence on October 1. The Spanish government considered this referendum illegal, thereby sending a signal to opponents of independence that they should refrain from participating, and it used polices forces to actively prevent Catalans from voting. As a consequence, the results show a very strong support for independence (90%) but voter turnout was low (around 42%). The Catalan government has shown all signs of making good on its promise to pursue independence in the advent of a ‘yes’ vote. A declaration of independence is expected on Monday. At the same time, Catalan President Carles Puidgemont delivered a televised addressed on Wednesday where he expressed the need for dialogue and hope for mediation. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared there would be no dialogue and no mediation, and King Felipe essentially placed all the blame for the conflict at the feet of Catalan leaders in his own television address. 

The situation is therefore delicate and potentially dangerous. Both sides are boxed in by their previous statement and actions. After having treated Catalan secessionist politicians as outlaws (an approach which is not without support in the rest of Spain, especially in the conservative constituency of Mr. Rajoy’s Partido Popular), conciliation could be politically damaging for the Prime Minister and his party. Hence, the Spanish government is more likely to respond to the Catalan declaration of independence by charging various public officials with sedition or even invoking article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspend Catalonia’s autonomy than by accepting negotiations. The Catalan government, for its part, is unlikely to put a stop to the self-determination process after having chosen to push it this far. Such a move would surely lead to the fall of Puidgemont’s Catalan Democratic European party government, which needs the support of two more radical secessionist parties to govern.

How does this conflict end? It can end well only with dialogue, of course, and dialogue most likely would need to be spurred by some type of mediation. How we get there is, at this point, unclear.