“Stopping the war in Ukraine will depend on the United States”
Thierry de Montbrial, founder of the French Institute of International Relations, will chair the annual exchange meeting on the international situation in Abu Dhabi next week and the World Politics Conference, which will focus mainly on the war in Ukraine. A proponent of a “realist” foreign policy, he admits to JDD his desire to see the West consider Russia’s vital interests.
Have we entered a favorable phase for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine?
No, because Ukraine now feels almost unconditionally supported by the West and therefore maintains the logic of winning the war by withdrawing its forces behind the borders that Russia violated in 2014. On the other hand, the Russians believe that the starting point for possible negotiations should be based on territorial concessions of Ukraine, at least on what to do with Crimea, all or part of Donbass and the land junction with Crimea. And obviously, Ukraine’s neutrality will not only decrease compared to the 1991 borders, but it will not be able to join NATO. In other words, both sides believe that they can still win on their own terms, and therefore it is impossible to start negotiations in this context.
Why do you say that the answer to the question of ending the war lies in Washington?
The United States is caught between two conflicting considerations. On the one hand, they support Ukraine massively, even if they don’t provide weapons that can reach Russian territory, and given the successes of the Ukrainian resistance, they could be tempted to continue doing so to further weaken Russia. In less than nine months, they will indeed be able to clip the nails of the Russian bear and keep Europe in their fold by increasing its dependence on American energy sources. All this while also expanding NATO with the addition of Finland and Sweden. However, if the war were to stop immediately, Europe might consider sourcing itself from Russia for its oil and gas, but today there are players in the US who want the separation between Europe and Russia to be irreversible. On the other hand, the US is worried about the risk of escalation of the situation. The speed of reaction of Washington, as well as the Poles and the Baltic countries, after the incident of the missile falling on Poland, is a proof of this. The United States does not want a slide. In any case, the continuation or termination of the war will depend very much on the attitude of the United States.
Winning a war is not losing it
And the Europeans?
They join this policy against Russia. Despite inflation and the risks of power cuts in the coming winter, EU countries support Ukraine, and their public opinion is currently unaffected by these prospects. It is as if they did not make a connection between the economic degradation they are experiencing and the war in Ukraine.
Isn’t negotiating with Vladimir Putin a reward for aggressiveness? Russia, especially if Russia keeps its annexed Crimea?
International law condemns changing borders by force rather than by negotiation. This is what has allowed borders to change in Europe since 1945 and even after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The evolution of the balance of power, not moral issues, is important in deciding whether to start negotiations. Ending wars through negotiation is the main reason for diplomacy. Therefore, there is no reason to judge whether Crimea will be a gift to Putin or a bonus for aggression. Clausewitz said that winning a war is not losing it. When the American Chief of Staff says that Crimea cannot be returned militarily by the Ukrainians, he is expressing the judgment of military equipment. In the end, it is the attitude of forces, including social relations, that decides his fate.
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If we include Donbass and Kherson, is it desirable for the security of Europe to change the borders of Ukraine so much?
I have long argued that Europe should take the lead in building a common security architecture with post-Soviet Russia long before this war. The Ukraine issue deserved a better resolution in this context. Whatever the outcome of possible negotiations, we will always have Russia as a neighbor and we will need a new European security system. I wish it wasn’t just Americans flying it. The EU will come out of this war much weaker and will not change its modus operandi any more. However, the rush to expand with Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the Balkans, will not solve the problem of deepening integration, which requires a faster and more efficient change in its governance than is currently the case.
Will new red lines be needed to prevent Russia from attacking its neighbors again?
The best way for a state to not violate its obligations is to respect the balance of interests between it and its neighbors. The Soviet Union collapsed suddenly, but what has happened since then has been largely predictable, as the Russians, like losers, immediately signed up to anything and then regretted it. It was the last unbroken empire of the 20th century, but this fall it set off ticking time bombs, as seen in Ukraine today. I am very suspicious when I think of the fruitless crossings for those who do not respect the red lines.
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Like Emmanuel Macron, will you briefly say that the West has no interest in humiliating Russia when the time comes for negotiations?
The European Union is primarily interested in ensuring that its eastern and southern flanks are freed from chaos. Therefore, even if we don’t like it, we should have neighbors with whom we can establish a balance of interests that involves recognizing the basic interests of others. I am a Kissingerian. Therefore, sooner or later it will be necessary to review our European security architecture from both sides. In tomorrow’s great competition between the United States and China, Europe must be able to remain autonomous and not have to choose sides, as more and more countries in Asia are showing. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’re being forced to follow the US more than we’d like.