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August 2, 2021
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Is this the “swan song” of the Three Seas Initiative? In an unfavorable international situation, we must focus more on working at the grassroots level

Alina Hetmanchuk, director of the New Europe Center in Kyiv, former head of the Ukrainian Institute of International Policy, shared her opinion on Joe Biden’s policy towards Ukraine with the readers of the Mirror Weekly one of Ukraine’s most influential analytical weekly-publisher newspapers.

 

Her opinions are essential not only because we are dealing with the observations of a well-known and respected Ukrainian commentator but also because she recently visited Washington. While there, she spoke to officials of the new administration and is, therefore, able to assess what kind of mood is dominant there, which is particularly important ahead of Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the White House next week.

Hetmanchuk writes that she has a “depressing impression” of a deja vu about Washington’s policy towards Kyiv. In her opinion, it essentially resembles the Obama administration’s policy, although there are also new, worrying trends. This depression is also present since there was reason to count on much more when this administration came to power.  Compared to previous administrations, which had the best grasp of the situation in the East, for many months, the current team in Kyiv resisted pressure from Trump advisers who wanted to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. So there was hope for some gratitude for it. The Ukrainian commentator notes that Washington has not yet built a coherent strategy towards Ukraine. The same can be said about the White House strategy towards Russia, which does not yet exist. The only mature “directional” element of US foreign policy is its policy towards Europe, or more precisely, towards Germany. In her opinion, Washington’s primary goal is now to “compensate” Berlin for years of despondency and criticism from the Trump administration and the president himself. This “blank check” policy implemented so far, as she soberly notes, has been dismal, as she states  “none of my Washington interlocutors have been able to answer the question with what concessions Berlin has responded to the gestures of goodwill from the United States.” This one-sidedness of Biden’s policy towards Berlin, the manifestation of which were concessions to the Nord Stream 2 issue, is just one of the features of the political agenda of the new administration. The second is the question of NATO enlargement. As she notes, “after the talks in Washington, I got the impression that the issue of Ukraine’s integration with NATO did not exist.” Of course, we can talk about joint programs in the field of reforming the Ukrainian military sector, about the fact that there is a readiness to consider the prospect of a bilateral strategic partnership agreement between Ukraine and the United States. Still, about integration with NATO, even in the form of obtaining the Membership Plan for Kyiv (MAP ), there is nothing in the present reality. Hetmanchuk even got the impression that raising this issue caused irritation rather than substantively justified opposition among Ukraine’s friends, which, in her opinion, proves that the situation is worse than what is assumed in Kyiv. In this sense, she notes, the decision to freeze $100 million in US military aid to be provided in connection with the Russian aggression was quite symbolic. As we can see, the view of Jack Sullivan won in the White House. It was decided that the support would be stopped and activated only if Moscow crossed the “red lines” as concerns Ukraine. Only that, in the opinion of Hetmanchuk, when Ukraine will be struggling with Russian aggression, there will be no such aid needed then. In her opinion, the White House is now dominated by the “do not irritate Russia” approach. The professional career path of Mike Carpenter, for many years Biden’s foreign policy advisor, a supporter of Washington’s active policy towards Ukraine’s Atlantic integration, is symbolic. The fact that he was appointed the American ambassador to the OSCE and took up a post of marginal significance from the point of view of US foreign policy is, in her opinion, all too eloquent. “The difference between the Obama administration the Biden administration is” – the Ukrainian expert argues – “that in the latter, the deepening cooperation with Germany will play a much greater role: government structures are still being filled by specialists for whom the development of relations with Germany is a priority. The desire to heal the trauma inflicted on Germany by the Trump presidency is really serious.”  As a result of this approach, Ukraine’s “American friends are already advising” Kyiv to “actively cooperate with Germany.”

Mosbacher and Brzezinski

The article on the Three Seas Initiative written by ambassadors Daniel Fried and Georgette Mosbacher, and Ian Brzezinski, possibly the future US ambassador to Warsaw, should be treated similarly. As in the case of Hetmanchuk’s interlocutors in Washington, an article full of friendly council regarding Poland and the countries of the region was released, although its meaning probably irritated many analysts and politicians from our region. The message in this article is quite apparent. Washington will treat the Three Seas Initiative primarily as an EU undertaking, which means that countries such as Ukraine or Moldova should not be invited to this group. Secondly, seeing this initiative in terms of building a political counterbalance for the countries in the region to the dominant position of Germany will not be supported in Washington. They even advise suppressing the geostrategic dimension of this venture and concentrate on the infrastructural and economic dimensions of the undertaking. The proposal to build a Three Seas secretariat based in Berlin, Amsterdam, or London is only a consequence of the perception of the role of this project. Finally, Washington, which is also worth noting, will not be financially involved in infrastructure projects (communication, energy, gas, and oil transmission systems, etc.) beyond what has been declared so far. It is obvious that the promised amounts are not even a fraction of the investment needs. In the language of politics, the message is all too clear – Washington is not currently risking the slightest move to support the project, which could be received in Berlin as an attempt to building a regional alternative to Germany’s domination. Therefore, we are dealing with friendly council addressed to Warsaw. It does not take any political action that could be critically received in Berlin because such action would not win Washington’s sympathy. Whether Warsaw will accept this advice is a separate issue, but the signal has been sent. In this situation, it is also worth rethinking our attitude towards both the idea of the Three Seas Initiative as seen by American ambassadors and Ian Brzezinski and, perhaps above all, the issue of basing our nuclear energy program on cooperation with the Americans. What is our guarantee of its implementation, in the face of the opposition to it already expressed by Berlin, if Washington wants to listen to the voice of Germany above all?

And Ukraine? There doesn’t seem to be much choice. Warsaw, Vilnius, and Kyiv indeed issued, in connection with the meeting of the Lublin Triangle in Lithuania, two statements that refer to the common historical heritage of the three countries. This basis will also be a seed of future integration and the deepening of cooperation within the Lublin Triangle. Still, Kyiv must already resolve today’s problems in the field of national security. Yuriy Lapayev writes about it in the Ukrainian Weekly. In his opinion, in connection with the refusal of NATO countries to grant Kyiv a Membership Plan (MAP) in the Alliance, Ukraine, caring for its security, must perform a “bypass maneuver,” which is also the title of the article.

What could this new policy be? Its aim should be to continue the current positive trends, which is to adapt the procedures and capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces to NATO standards and solve two basic security problems. The first is the issue of the imbalance of power in the Black Sea due to the significant advantage of Russia, the second is the condition of the Ukrainian military aviation sector, which requires urgent investments. While much good is happening in the first case: the signing of £ 1.5bn contracts with Great Britain and constructing a frigate in Turkey for Kyiv, not forgetting about the Sea Breeze 2021 military exercises, the situation is not as bright in the second case. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense calculations show that to rebuild its aviation potential, Kyiv should spend 320 billion hryvnias (about PLN 44.8 billion) over the next 15 years, which, as it was soberly stated, “exceeds the current financial capabilities of the Ministry of Defense.” Intermediate solutions, such as buying used equipment or small batches every year, do not solve the security issue. The article’s author refers to a proposal by Lieutenant General Mikhail Zabrodsky, a former commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, now a member of the Verkhovna Rada, who believes that the issue can be resolved differently. Namely, by concluding an agreement with the United States on the accessibility of Ukrainian airfields to US forces. This would have to be preceded by Kyiv obtaining the status of a privileged US ally, and in return, Kyiv could count on American equipment, both purchased at preferential prices and on loans. Of course, this does not resolve political issues, including Washington’s approach of “not irritating Moscow,” which means that the idea, while interesting, may turn out to be less real than it looks on the surface. Nevertheless, it seems that Kyiv does not have much choice and will accept the loss of the illusion of obtaining the NATO Membership Plan to solve the problems that have partially surfaced today.

Two security systems in Europe

In practice, this will mean the emergence of two security systems in Europe – the Eastern European and the Black Sea ones, of course not in conflict with each other, but interrelated and complementary to each other.

From the perspective of Poland and the Polish elites, both the current ruling camp and those aspiring to power, there remains the question of developing a policy in response to the new realities. At the same time, they both must take into account emerging trends and our interests. A step in this direction, it seems, was the recent declaration of Minister Rau about a “security vacuum” encompassing both Ukraine and Poland and other countries in the region, which should be filled by the involvement of Germany. Most likely today, we do not have a chance to count on anything more in Washington, so it seems prudent to go down this route. Furthermore, what we can do on our own, i.e., build a network of regional agreements, even without emphasizing that we are building a Three Seas Initiative. This means not abandoning the Three Seas project and shifting attention to what we could call the Intermarium, but devoting a little less attention to this first project without giving up implementing projects beneficial for Poland. In unfavorable international conditions, we need to focus more on working at the “grassroots” level.

In an unfavorable international situation, we must focus more on working at the grassroots level

Alina Hetmanchuk, director of the New Europe Center in Kyiv, former head of the Ukrainian Institute of International Policy, shared her opinion on Joe Biden’s policy towards Ukraine with the readers of the Mirror Weekly one of Ukraine’s most influential analytical weekly-publisher newspapers.

Her opinions are essential not only because we are dealing with the observations of a well-known and respected Ukrainian commentator but also because she recently visited Washington. While there, she spoke to officials of the new administration and is, therefore, able to assess what kind of mood is dominant there, which is particularly important ahead of Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the White House next week.

Hetmanchuk writes that she has a “depressing impression” of a deja vu about Washington’s policy towards Kyiv. In her opinion, it essentially resembles the Obama administration’s policy, although there are also new, worrying trends. This depression is also present since there was reason to count on much more when this administration came to power.  Compared to previous administrations, which had the best grasp of the situation in the East, for many months, the current team in Kyiv resisted pressure from Trump advisers who wanted to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. So there was hope for some gratitude for it. The Ukrainian commentator notes that Washington has not yet built a coherent strategy towards Ukraine. The same can be said about the White House strategy towards Russia, which does not yet exist. The only mature “directional” element of US foreign policy is its policy towards Europe, or more precisely, towards Germany. In her opinion, Washington’s primary goal is now to “compensate” Berlin for years of despondency and criticism from the Trump administration and the president himself. This “blank check” policy implemented so far, as she soberly notes, has been dismal, as she states  “none of my Washington interlocutors have been able to answer the question with what concessions Berlin has responded to the gestures of goodwill from the United States.” This one-sidedness of Biden’s policy towards Berlin, the manifestation of which were concessions to the Nord Stream 2 issue, is just one of the features of the political agenda of the new administration. The second is the question of NATO enlargement. As she notes, “after the talks in Washington, I got the impression that the issue of Ukraine’s integration with NATO did not exist.” Of course, we can talk about joint programs in the field of reforming the Ukrainian military sector, about the fact that there is a readiness to consider the prospect of a bilateral strategic partnership agreement between Ukraine and the United States. Still, about integration with NATO, even in the form of obtaining the Membership Plan for Kyiv (MAP ), there is nothing in the present reality. Hetmanchuk even got the impression that raising this issue caused irritation rather than substantively justified opposition among Ukraine’s friends, which, in her opinion, proves that the situation is worse than what is assumed in Kyiv. In this sense, she notes, the decision to freeze $100 million in US military aid to be provided in connection with the Russian aggression was quite symbolic. As we can see, the view of Jack Sullivan won in the White House. It was decided that the support would be stopped and activated only if Moscow crossed the “red lines” as concerns Ukraine. Only that, in the opinion of Hetmanchuk, when Ukraine will be struggling with Russian aggression, there will be no such aid needed then. In her opinion, the White House is now dominated by the “do not irritate Russia” approach. The professional career path of Mike Carpenter, for many years Biden’s foreign policy advisor, a supporter of Washington’s active policy towards Ukraine’s Atlantic integration, is symbolic. The fact that he was appointed the American ambassador to the OSCE and took up a post of marginal significance from the point of view of US foreign policy is, in her opinion, all too eloquent. “The difference between the Obama administration the Biden administration is” – the Ukrainian expert argues – “that in the latter, the deepening cooperation with Germany will play a much greater role: government structures are still being filled by specialists for whom the development of relations with Germany is a priority. The desire to heal the trauma inflicted on Germany by the Trump presidency is really serious.”  As a result of this approach, Ukraine’s “American friends are already advising” Kyiv to “actively cooperate with Germany.”

Mosbacher and Brzezinski

The article on the Three Seas Initiative written by ambassadors Daniel Fried and Georgette Mosbacher, and Ian Brzezinski, possibly the future US ambassador to Warsaw, should be treated similarly. As in the case of Hetmanchuk’s interlocutors in Washington, an article full of friendly council regarding Poland and the countries of the region was released, although its meaning probably irritated many analysts and politicians from our region. The message in this article is quite apparent. Washington will treat the Three Seas Initiative primarily as an EU undertaking, which means that countries such as Ukraine or Moldova should not be invited to this group. Secondly, seeing this initiative in terms of building a political counterbalance for the countries in the region to the dominant position of Germany will not be supported in Washington. They even advise suppressing the geostrategic dimension of this venture and concentrate on the infrastructural and economic dimensions of the undertaking. The proposal to build a Three Seas secretariat based in Berlin, Amsterdam, or London is only a consequence of the perception of the role of this project. Finally, Washington, which is also worth noting, will not be financially involved in infrastructure projects (communication, energy, gas, and oil transmission systems, etc.) beyond what has been declared so far. It is obvious that the promised amounts are not even a fraction of the investment needs. In the language of politics, the message is all too clear – Washington is not currently risking the slightest move to support the project, which could be received in Berlin as an attempt to building a regional alternative to Germany’s domination. Therefore, we are dealing with friendly council addressed to Warsaw. It does not take any political action that could be critically received in Berlin because such action would not win Washington’s sympathy. Whether Warsaw will accept this advice is a separate issue, but the signal has been sent. In this situation, it is also worth rethinking our attitude towards both the idea of the Three Seas Initiative as seen by American ambassadors and Ian Brzezinski and, perhaps above all, the issue of basing our nuclear energy program on cooperation with the Americans. What is our guarantee of its implementation, in the face of the opposition to it already expressed by Berlin, if Washington wants to listen to the voice of Germany above all?

And Ukraine? There doesn’t seem to be much choice. Warsaw, Vilnius, and Kyiv indeed issued, in connection with the meeting of the Lublin Triangle in Lithuania, two statements that refer to the common historical heritage of the three countries. This basis will also be a seed of future integration and the deepening of cooperation within the Lublin Triangle. Still, Kyiv must already resolve today’s problems in the field of national security. Yuriy Lapayev writes about it in the Ukrainian Weekly. In his opinion, in connection with the refusal of NATO countries to grant Kyiv a Membership Plan (MAP) in the Alliance, Ukraine, caring for its security, must perform a “bypass maneuver,” which is also the title of the article.

What could this new policy be? Its aim should be to continue the current positive trends, which is to adapt the procedures and capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces to NATO standards and solve two basic security problems. The first is the issue of the imbalance of power in the Black Sea due to the significant advantage of Russia, the second is the condition of the Ukrainian military aviation sector, which requires urgent investments. While much good is happening in the first case: the signing of £ 1.5bn contracts with Great Britain and constructing a frigate in Turkey for Kyiv, not forgetting about the Sea Breeze 2021 military exercises, the situation is not as bright in the second case. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense calculations show that to rebuild its aviation potential, Kyiv should spend 320 billion hryvnias (about PLN 44.8 billion) over the next 15 years, which, as it was soberly stated, “exceeds the current financial capabilities of the Ministry of Defense.” Intermediate solutions, such as buying used equipment or small batches every year, do not solve the security issue. The article’s author refers to a proposal by Lieutenant General Mikhail Zabrodsky, a former commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, now a member of the Verkhovna Rada, who believes that the issue can be resolved differently. Namely, by concluding an agreement with the United States on the accessibility of Ukrainian airfields to US forces. This would have to be preceded by Kyiv obtaining the status of a privileged US ally, and in return, Kyiv could count on American equipment, both purchased at preferential prices and on loans. Of course, this does not resolve political issues, including Washington’s approach of “not irritating Moscow,” which means that the idea, while interesting, may turn out to be less real than it looks on the surface. Nevertheless, it seems that Kyiv does not have much choice and will accept the loss of the illusion of obtaining the NATO Membership Plan to solve the problems that have partially surfaced today.

Two security systems in Europe

In practice, this will mean the emergence of two security systems in Europe – the Eastern European and the Black Sea ones, of course not in conflict with each other, but interrelated and complementary to each other.

From the perspective of Poland and the Polish elites, both the current ruling camp and those aspiring to power, there remains the question of developing a policy in response to the new realities. At the same time, they both must take into account emerging trends and our interests. A step in this direction, it seems, was the recent declaration of Minister Rau about a “security vacuum” encompassing both Ukraine and Poland and other countries in the region, which should be filled by the involvement of Germany. Most likely today, we do not have a chance to count on anything more in Washington, so it seems prudent to go down this route. Furthermore, what we can do on our own, i.e., build a network of regional agreements, even without emphasizing that we are building a Three Seas Initiative. This means not abandoning the Three Seas project and shifting attention to what we could call the Intermarium, but devoting a little less attention to this first project without giving up implementing projects beneficial for Poland. In unfavorable international conditions, we need to focus more on working at the “grassroots” level.

 

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