2016 Munich State Conference: failed ceasefire

Orkhan Sattarov, the head of the European Office of Vestnik Kavkaza
2016 Munich State Conference: failed ceasefire

The annual Munich Security Conference, which has been a platform for discussing key international crises and problems of international politics since 1962, has taken place in an especially tense atmosphere this year. In recent years the gap of the contradictions between the West and Russia has become so big that the sides directly speak about a new Cold War. Meanwhile, officials of the Baltic countries, which are very concerned about Russia’s role in the Ukrainian crisis, say that this is a hot phase of the war. “The concept of the Russian world” and “a hybrid war” are not just ghost stories of journalists and experts for the Baltic political elites, but a real threat to their state security, especially, considering the significant number of Russians in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The 'Eastern European faction', which includes not only the Baltic countries, but also Poland, has achieved certain results from their American allies. US Secretary of the State John Kerry announced a significant extension of the American military presence in Europe at the Munich Conference. There are no doubts about who the potential enemy is.

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Crimean issue and the anti-Russian sanctions by the EU, the war of all against all in Syria, as well as locating American missile defense systems in Europe are the main topics which have become a stumbling block in Russian-Western relations. The Americans and Europeans made it clear through the speeches of their top officials at the conference that the anti-Russian sanctions would be lifted only when Moscow fulfilled its part of the Minsk agreements. The key moment is the tenth provision of the Minsk agreements, which requires withdrawal of “all foreign armed groups, military vehicles, weapons and militants” from Ukrainian territory under OSCE monitoring. Russia strictly denies the presence of its units on Ukrainian territory. Therefore, there are not so many hopes for lifting sanctions; and the Ukrainian side has to fulfill its part of the ‘tasks.’ This was admitted even by Kerry.

However, experts pointed out that the Syrian topic has almost entirely displaced Ukraine on the international agenda. At the same time, during the first weeks of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian military campaign there was a view that Russia and the West would have destroyed the Daesh terrorists in Syria together (let’s remember the optimistic statements by the former Foreign Minister of France Laurent Fabius and President Francois Hollande in November 2015) and would have dealt with the problems of Ukraine in that context, today such a scenario isn't considered seriously.

The idea of a struggle against ‘a common enemy’ in the Daesh terrorists, which was voiced by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the MSC, sounded beautiful theoretically, but practically it is impossible due to the conflicting interests of regional and world powers. The anti-terrorist struggle in Syria hasn’t become a uniting factor which is able to consolidate the civilized world in the fight against fundamentalism and extremism. It has had the opposite effect: along with Ukraine, in the future Syria could become the second lever which the Western countries could associate with the anti-Russian sanctions.

Despite the fact that the day before the official opening of the conference the Foreign Ministers of the leading world and Middle Eastern states achieved an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria, it would be naïve to count on the implementation of the agreement seriously, considering all the circumstances. The continuing Russian bombing of Aleppo, which has provided successes for the Syrian government army that cooperates with the Kurdish militia, puts the strongest military regional power, Turkey, in an unfortunate position. Turkish artillery attacks on the positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the government units of Assad are not welcomed by the US and Europe, which are cooperating with the Syrian Kurds, which angers Ankara very much.

However, after the terrorist attack in the Turkish capital (according to the initial data, the law-enforcement agencies accuse the PKK and YPG of the attack), the situation may radically change, and Turkey will get the desired carte blanche for holding a cross-border military operation in the north of Syria. According to the Turkish media, a powerful Turkish armed unit of 80 thousand soldiers is situated near the Syrian border. President Erdogan has already announced in his emergency address that Turkey would fight terrorism outside the country; he also said that the cup of patience has overflowed. At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that any large-scale military operation by Turkey will mean a high risk of a direct military conflict with Russia – the scenario may have the worst fatal consequences outside the Middle East region.

Due to the unpredictable situation and the appearance of new elements in it, it is a thankless job to forecast scenarios of further developments. However, even today we can state that 2016 Munich Conference wasn’t fated to be a platform for dialogue and compromise. The world is deepening into an abyss of geopolitical contradictions, which are strengthened by the ambitions and internal political considerations of individual leaders.