West Now Resolved to Confront Moscow on Ukraine and Moscow is Frightened, Illarionov Says

July 12, 2015
Andrei Illarionov

Staunton, July 12 After 15 months of uncertainty, the West has resolved to stand up to Moscow on Ukraine and demand a return to the status quo ante before relations between the West and Russia can be restored, according to Andrey Illarionov. And that resolve, he says, has “seriously upset” the Kremlin.

This represents “a qualitative shift,” the Russian analyst told the Gordon news agency yesterday, one in which during the last two months, “the West have given the Kremlin to understand the following: ‘You want a confrontation with us? You’ve got it!.’”

Illarionov says that the shift in the West’s position began at Brisbane and was sealed by the declaration of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow on May 10 when she referred to Crimea and insisted that Russia’s “illegal occupation” be ended, that the peninsula be returned to Ukrainian control, and that Russian aggression elsewhere in Ukraine be stopped and reversed.

From February 2014 to that point, he continues, that is “almost a year and three months, not a single Western leader made reference to Crimea in such a context.” Consequently, there was an implicit suggestion that “if Putin stops military actions in the East of Ukraine, the West either de jure or de facto would agree that the peninsula would remain under the control of the Russian Federation for the foreseeable future.”

Please note, Illarionov says, “Crimea was not mentioned orally or in writing in one document signed as a result of negotiations in Geneva in April 2014, in Normandy in June 2014, or in Minsk in September 2014 or February 2015.” Now, it has been, and that shows how far the West’s position has shifted and hardened.

According to the Russian analyst, “an important role” in this shift was played by three reports on Russian forces in Ukraine: Boris Nemtstov’s Putin. War, the Atlantic Council’s Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian intelligence service study, Russian Aggression Against Ukraine.

The sea change in the West has been marked not only by Merkel’s words but also by NATO’s actions and “what is most important,” changes “in the opinion of the political elites of the West.” For a long time, “the West slept, having convinced itself that Putin’s aggression against Ukraine was a mistake, an accident, or ‘Putin’s emotional outburst’ that it would disappear with time.”

Indeed, there appeared to be “a serious danger,” Illarionov says, that the West would continue to occupy “approximately the same position it did in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 when three months after the Kremlin’s aggression against Georgia, the West continued relations with the Russian Federation in the style of business as usual.”

But instead, the West has adopted a tough line and is demanding as the price of restoring normal relations “the restoration of the status quo before February 2014” when Russian forces began their attacks on Ukrainian institutions in Crimea and ultimately occupied the Ukrainian peninsula while beginning their attacks on Ukraine’s southeast as well.

“The Kremlin is seriously frightened,” Illarionov says. It didn’t expect this show of toughness, and it is sending signals that it doesn’t want because it cannot sustain confrontation with the West. “Putin has said that Russia has not pans for an attack on NATO countries, including the Baltic countries,” he points out.

And in words even the Kremlin’s opponents would be unlikely to use, Sergey Ivanov, head of the Presidential Administration and a possible Putin successor, compared NATO’s forces with Russia’s as those of “a behemoth and a house cat.” Given that, Moscow isn’t going to attack: “Are we suicidal?” he asked rhetorically.

Ivanov’s words were a clear signal to the West. They appeared only in the English-language version of “The Financial Times” but not in the Russian version.” In this way, Illarionov says, “the Kremlin send the West a clear message: we do not intend to fight with you; we are frightened, and we do not want that. Please stop your military preparations.”

Illarionov even opened the door to the possibility that there will be an international tribunal on the shooting down of the Malaysian airline in July 2014. The Netherlands and Malaysia have called for one, although the Russian Foreign Ministry has denounced such calls as “untimely and counterproductive.”

Whether such a tribunal will be convened depends on the attitudes of Western governments. “If they support it,” he says, “such a tribunal will take place independent of the opinion of the Russian Federation. The details depend on the degree to which the West will maintain that line of behavior which it has chosen over the last two months.”