Despite both sides issuing formal sanctions, neither Russia nor Japan appear intent on allowing the conflict in Ukraine to affect their interest in bilateral relations. Neither country wants to lose the opportunity to settle the issue of the disputed Ryukyu Islands (called Northern Territories in Japan) that in turn could lead to expanded cooperation on Russian energy exports, which is of increasing importance to Japan. How this relationship might affect Japan’s alliance with the U.S. is worth addressing. On Monday, in response to the news that the meeting between Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to be going forward, the U.S. state department’s reaction was minimal. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she “would not say we have any objections. We are in frequent contact with the Government of Japan, as well as our other G-7 partners, and we’re cooperating closely with them. I think, beyond that, I would refer you to the Government of Japan.” Russian Foreign Minister Segey Lavrov said Russia is still planning for President Vladimir Putin to visit Japan this fall as previously discussed. While stating that Putin had accepted Japan’s proposed itinerary, he said that the Russia-Japan relationship was separate from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. There is not necessarily any conflict of interest for the U.S. in its ally negotiating with Russia. Japan could prove to be a useful intermediary because it has very little at stake in Ukraine, yet would benefit from a reduction in tensions between Moscow and its Western allies. Alternatively, an increase in Russian interest in Northeast Asia that is tied to a U.S. ally is also beneficial to Washington, as it could balance against Russian ties to China, and also possibly help to check Beijing’s regional influence. As long as Russia and Japan’s negotiations do not negatively impact Washington’s current strategy in Ukraine it will probably remain quiet (Source: The Diplomat).
In advance of the NATO summit on September 4–5 in Wales, President Obama will visit Tallinn, Estonia, to meet with leaders from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This visit is a welcome announcement. Up until the recent events in Ukraine, the importance of the Baltic region to NATO and the threat Russia posed to it was generally overlooked by the Obama Administration. The visit sends an important signal to friends and foes alike in the region that the U.S. takes Baltic security and its obligation under NATO seriously. The U.S. should seize on the momentum of the President’s visit and push for concrete actions to bolster security in NATO’s Central and Eastern European member states. As the Afghan mission winds down and Russian aggression increases, getting back to the basics of collective security should be the top priority for the alliance. There is no better place to start than the Baltic region. Although small in absolute terms, the three Baltic states contribute greatly to NATO in relative terms. Estonia is the regional leader in defense matters and is currently one of only four NATO countries that spend the required 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. All three countries sent troops to Iraq and have troops fighting in Afghanistan. Estonian troops are serving in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, one of the most deadly areas in the country. In terms of economic freedom, the Baltic region is a beacon of hope for Europe and the rest of the world. The region is proof that pursuing policies of economic liberalization and growth works. Estonia ranks second in the eurozone and 11th in the world in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal (Source: The Heritage Foundation).
Western Europe would struggle to defend itself against Russia, a former Nato supreme commander has warned. General Sir Richard Shirreff told BBC Newsnight members of the alliance must re-arm to face the Russian threat. He also said the prime minister made a mistake by ruling out sending troops into Iraq to fight Islamic State (IS). David Cameron has said the UK would not get involved in another war in the country after IS jihadists advanced in northern Iraq over the summer. The general – until March the UK’s most senior officer at Nato – accepted that calling on western Europe to re-arm was not a popular thing to say in the current economic climate but said Nato had to “rebuild capability”. In the interview, the general said: “I’ve no doubt it’s an unpopular message but it’s a message that our political leadership need to take home and listen to and act on if they’re serious about ensuring that Nato has the means to defend itself in future.” He said there had been a “dismantling of military capability” and that European nations had to put their “hands in their pockets to spend more money on defence”. Next month’s Nato summit in Newport, south Wales, would be an opportunity to send a “strong message” to Russia, according to the general. He added that the “security framework” in Europe had changed as a result of Russia’s annexation of the southern Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March (Source: BBC).
While expectations of a breakthrough at Tuesday’s meeting between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, are extremely low, there is one person hoping to benefit from the talks: the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko. This summer marks the 20th year in office for Lukashenko, who has long had a reputation as Europe’s last dictator. But the negotiations in Minsk – the first meeting between the two presidents since a 15-minute conversation in Normandy in June – will allow him to wear another hat, that of the peacemaker. Lukashenko’s iron-fisted internal politics haven’t changed but he has always remained open to overtures from the west despite his close ties to Russia, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs and chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defence policy. “The geopolitical situation has changed and now Lukashenko doesn’t seem as awful as he did a year ago,” Lukyanov said. Because of its relatively neutral position with regard to both Russia and Ukraine,Belarus has become essentially the only place where leaders from both sides can meet without losing face. “Being a country that’s connected with Russia but can preserve fairly independent politics makes Belarus an important player between Ukraine, the EU and Russia,” Lukyanov said. “The EU is forced to relate to [Lukashenko] differently.” Sergei Musiyenko, a Minsk-based analyst and former adviser to Lukashenko, said the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other western leaders have previously tried – and failed – to set up a meeting between Russia and Ukraine. The Belarusian president was able to make it happen because of his good relations with Putin, Poroshenko and Kazakhstan’s leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, all of whom he spoke with before the summit, Musiyenko said (Source: The Guardian).
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised after late-night negotiations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to work on an urgent ceasefire plan to defuse the separatist conflict in the east of his former Soviet republic. The first talks between the two leaders since June were described by Putin as positive, but he said it was not for Russia to get into the details of truce terms between the Kiev government and two rebel eastern regions. “We didn’t substantively discuss that, and we, Russia, can’t substantively discuss conditions of a ceasefire, of agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk. That’s not our business, it’s up to Ukraine itself,” he told reporters early on Wednesday. “We can only contribute to create a situation of trust for a possible, and in my view, extremely necessary, negotiation process.” Poroshenko, after two hours of one-to-one talks which he described as “very tough and complex”, told reporters: “A roadmap will be prepared in order to achieve as soon as possible a ceasefire regime which absolutely must be bilateral in character.” Despite the positive tone, it remained unclear how the rebels would respond to the idea of a ceasefire, how soon it could be agreed and how long it might stick. And with Putin insisting the details were an internal matter for Kiev, there was no sign of progress on a fundamental point of disagreement: Ukraine’s charges that Moscow is sending arms and fighters to help the rebels, and Russia’s adamant denials (Source: Reuters).
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday not to escalate an offensive against pro-Moscow rebels, and threatened economic retaliation for signing a trade accord with the European Union. At the leaders’ first meeting since June, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko replied by demanding a halt to arms shipments from Russia to the separatist fighters. The pair shook hands at the start of talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk, only hours after Kiev said it had captured Russian soldiers on a “special mission” on Ukrainian territory. Responding to a video of the detained servicemen, a Russian Defense Ministry source told Russian news agencies that the servicemen had crossed the border by mistake. Moscow has long denied charges by Kiev that it has been sending weapons and fighters to help the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The United States and European Union have backed Kiev by imposing sanctions on Moscow in a standoff that has prompted both Russia and NATO to step up military maneuvers. Poroshenko responded by defending a peace plan he issued in June, when the rebels in the southeast Donbass region scorned his invitation to lay down their arms and leave by a safe corridor. “The prime condition for a stabilization of the situation in Donbass is the establishment of effective control over the Russian-Ukrainian border. It is vital to do everything to stop deliveries of equipment and arms to the fighters,” he said (Source: The Moscow Times).
Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe said joining NATO remained an option for the Nordic country as Prime Minister Alexander Stubb criticized Russia for what he characterized as an illegal incursion into Ukraine. “Russia has violated international justice,” Stubb said today in a speech in Helsinki. “We cannot bargain over territorial sovereignty. Russia did wrong. We have seen enough of the justice of the strong on this continent.” Niinistoe urged the European Union to step up its focus on defense spending amid an escalating crisis in Ukraine. Unlike its Baltic neighbors, Finland has so far opted to remain outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Yet calls to consolidate Finnish defenses have grown. General Jarmo Lindberg, commander of the Finnish Defense Forces, said in an interview this month Europe needs to be prepared for a sudden deterioration at its eastern frontier. Finland has the EU’s longest border with Russia. Russian state aircraft have violated Finnish airspace at least four times this year. “The possibility of military alliance through membership in NATO will remain as one option for our security policy also in the future,” Niinistoe said today. “European Union security and defense policy hasn’t developed as we had hoped.” Yet Finland’s economic fate depends to a large extent on its ties with Russia. Trade figures show Finland is more exposed to economic losses stemming from a weaker Russian economy than any other euro country. Stubb today described Finland’s economic plight as a “lost decade” and warned gross domestic product won’t reach its 2008 level until 2018. He underscored Finland’s commitment to European sanctions against Russia, which he said don’t constitute a “trade war” (Source: Forbes).
As talks involving Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, get underway in Belarus, evidencemounted that Russia is escalating its incursion of Ukrainian territory by sending troops and a column of tanks into eastern Ukraine. NATO was quick to condemn Russia’s actions Monday, Aug. 25, yet similar previous condemnations have done nothing to deter Putin. But the alliance does have options beyond harsh words to deter Russia’s insurgency in a key European neighbor. Ukraine doesn’t belong to NATO, so the alliance is not obligated by treaty to deploy ground troops or air support. NATO could provide weapons, but the fight would be the Ukrainians to win. The Putin doctrine – the belief that Russia has the right to act to protect Russian-speakers, no matter where they are — puts NATO nations such as Estonia, Latvia, and Poland at risk. Each of these countries has citizens who speak Russian; the Kremlin has suggested it would penetrate those borders if Moscow thought those populations were threatened. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, said the key to deterring Russia from using this leverage is showing that NATO can react quickly to a threat. “NATO is not going to put large numbers of troops in Eastern Europe on a standing basis, barring some specific threat,” he said. “The questions is, how do you put in place capacity for rapid response? There, NATO has a lot of work to do” (Source: Foreign Policy).
Ukrainian security services on Monday released video footage purporting to show Russian servicemen who were captured by Ukrainian government forces while fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine. The footage, which is likely to fuel allegations from Kiev and its Western allies of Russian involvement in the war, appeared on the day the Russian and Ukrainian leaders are to meet for talks in the Belarussian capital to try to end the conflict. Russia denies giving military help to the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s state security service said on Monday it had detained 10 Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory from Russia in a column of several dozen armed infantry vehicles. In footage posted on the official Facebook page of the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation,” the men were shown dressed in camouflage fatigues. One of them, who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov, listed his personal details, including the name of the paratroop regiment he said is based in the Russian town of Kostroma. “I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometre march over three days,” he said. “Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We’ve come as cannon fodder,” he said in the video. Another man in the footage, who gave his name as Sergeant Andrei Generalov, said: “Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war. And if we weren’t here, none of this would have happened. They would have sorted things out with the government themselves.” “Officially they are on military exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality they are involved in military aggression against Ukraine,” Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said in a Facebook post (Source: Reuters).