The founder of the French Institute of International Relations, Thierry de Montbrial, will next week in Abu Dhabi chair the World Policy Conference, an annual meeting for exchanges on the international situation, which will be largely devoted to the war in Ukraine . He advocates a “realistic” foreign policy and confides in JDD his desire to see Westerners consider Russia’s vital interests.
Have we entered a phase conducive to negotiations to end the war in Ukraine?
No, because Ukraine currently feels almost unconditionally supported by the West and therefore maintains a logic that would consist in winning the war by driving Russia’s forces back behind the borders it violated in 2014. On the other hand, the Russians believe that the starting point for any negotiation should be based on territorial concessions from Ukraine, with at least Crimea, all or parts of Donbass and what to do Land connection with Crimea. And obviously the neutrality of Ukraine, which would not only be reduced from its 1991 borders, but also unable to join NATO. In other words, both parties consider that they can still win on their terms, and it is therefore impossible in this context to start a negotiation.
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 massively support Ukraine, although they do not supply weapons capable of reaching Russian territory, and could be tempted, given the success of the Ukrainian resistance, to continue in this way to further weaken Russia. In less than nine months, they have indeed succeeded in clipping the nails of the Russian bear and keeping Europe in their fold by increasing European dependence on American energy sources. All this at the same time as NATO is expanding with the accession of Finland and Sweden. But if the war stopped immediately, Europe could find itself supplying itself in Russia for its oil and its gas, but today there are actors in the United States who want the separation between Europe and Russia to be irreversible. On the other hand, the US is concerned about the risk of escalation. The proof of this is the speed with which Washington, but also the Poles and the Baltics reacted after the incident with the missile that fell in Poland. The US does not want slippage. In both cases, whether to continue or stop the war will largely depend on the position of the United States.
Winning a war is not losing it
And the Europeans?
They subscribe to this policy towards Russia. EU countries support the Ukrainian cause despite inflation and the risk of energy cuts in the coming winter, and their public opinion does not seem to be impressed by these prospects at the moment. As if they didn’t make the connection between the economic collapse they are experiencing and the war in Ukraine.
Isn’t negotiating with Vladimir Putin a reward for the aggression from Russia, especially if Russia ends up keeping Crimea, which it has annexed?
International law condemns changing borders by force, but not by negotiation. This is what has allowed the borders of Europe to change since 1945 and even after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is not questions of morality that will be decisive in deciding whether to trigger a negotiation, but the development of the balance of power. Ending wars through negotiations is the raison d’être of diplomacy. There is therefore no need to assess whether Crimea would be a gift offered 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 recovered militarily by the Ukrainians, he expresses the judgment of a war engineer. In the end, it is the relationship between forces, including the social, that determines its fate.
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Is it desirable for Europe’s security that Ukraine’s borders change to such an extent if we also include Donbass and Kherson?
I have long defended the idea that long before this war, Europe should have taken the lead in building a common security architecture with post-Soviet Russia. The issue of Ukraine would have deserved to be addressed better in this context. Regardless of the outcome of a possible negotiation, we will always have a Russian neighbor and we will need a new European security system. I just wish it wasn’t just the Americans flying it. The EU will come out of this war very weakened and all the more so since it will not have changed its way of working. However, the main long rush of enlargement with Ukraine and Moldova, but also with the Balkans, will not solve the issue of a deepening of integration, which requires a change in its governance to be faster and more effective than today.
Will new red lines be needed so that Russia does not start attacking its neighbors again?
The best way for a state not to violate its obligations is for it and its neighbors to respect a balance of interests. The Soviet Union collapsed suddenly, but what has happened since was largely predictable because the Russians signed up to something immediately as losers and regretted it afterwards. It was the last empire of the 20th century that did not crumble, but fell leaving behind ticking time bombs that continue to explode, as seen in Ukraine today. I am very suspicious of red lines when I think of all the ones that have been crossed with no consequences for those who have not respected them.
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In summary, would you say, like Emmanuel Macron, that the West has no interest in humiliating Russia when it comes time to negotiate?
Above all, the European Union has an interest in ensuring that its eastern and southern flanks escape chaos. We must therefore have neighbors with whom we can establish a balancing of interests, which requires that we recognize the essential interests of others, even if we do not like it. It is in this that I am a Kissingerian. It will therefore be necessary, sooner or later, to revise our European security architecture on both sides. In the great rivalry that will pit the US against China tomorrow, Europe must be able to remain autonomous and not be forced to choose sides, as more and more countries in Asia are showing. Unfortunately, I fear we are being forced, more than we would like, to follow the United States.