19 February 2022
by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group
Ultimately, a permanent member of the UN Security Council can undermine international peace and security with impunity so long as the other members of the Security Council do not consider their interests sufficiently affected to respond effectively. Such is the situation established by the UN Charter at the end of World War II, when no one had any illusions about the unity and cohesion of the allies. The inevitability of a new confrontation underlay the configuration of the post-war world order.
Of the five permanent members who have the right of veto, the United States and Great Britain are traditionally united on questions of global security. France is traditionally hesitant, but eventually accepts the Anglo-American position. That leaves only China, which also has a tradition of looking at the situation in a detached manner. China, the global economic leader and engine of the 21st century Mediterranean (the Pacific Ocean), does not really care about these Kremlin games. The only matter of some concern might be a slowdown in the plans to build highways to Europe.
At a certain level of escalation, someone will bring the issue to the UN Security Council. Russia will boast of its power of veto, diplomats will continue to juggle with wording. The Americans will show evidence of war crimes, citing intelligence data. The final resolutions will have no bite but urge the various parties to refrain from excessive use of force.
Neither the UN nor regional structures (such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization) will agree to the presence of peacekeepers due to a lack of mutual trust. At most, the OSCE will again try to deploy an observation mission in the framework of its former mandate. There was no legitimacy and trust in it before, and there will not be any this time either.
NATO cannot legitimately operate outside the borders of its member countries. Serbia in 1999, indeed, was enough for everyone. However, Ukraine can, in fact, without any restrictions accept military aid in any form and amount, including arms and soldiers. Therefore, the most likely scenario is an increase in armaments and troops on both sides of the boundary lines, including on the territories of NATO countries – Poland and the Baltic states. Symmetrically, on the other side, are Belarus, the LNR, the DNR, and Russia.
This could take a form similar to the confrontation on the Ugra River or the Dardanelles operation in Gallipoli (whichever you prefer), with an endless series of border skirmishes and provocations, accompanied by a deafening disinformation campaign from both sides, could last an extremely long time. Then would most likely gradually return to the frozen conflict around the DNR and LNR, of which there are already plenty around the perimeter of Russia (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh). The last one on the list revived a little last year, after 30 years, only as a result of the strengthening role of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s willingness to integrate with it, thereby moving further from Russia. There are many such frozen conflicts around the world, some that have been frozen for 40-50 years.
Given the size of forces involved, the likelihood of large-scale hostilities is small. But for every other kind of development, unfortunately, we have to be prepared.
We are all in a situation where the major powers are unable or unwilling to ensure security and a commitment to democracy and human rights (as set down in the UN Charter and to which all states have signed up in the blood of millions of their citizens) in this part of the world.
Those of us who have been trying to force the authorities to respect the rule of law and civil liberties inside Russia over the past two decades remain hostages to this new reality. And it is not impossible that we will be part of the same frozen conflict.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove