Europe Geopolitics – March 18, 2022

| March 18th, 2022

As Russia is having an increasingly hard time reaching strategic objectives in Ukraine, we look at how Ukraine needs to focus on winning “peace” as well, as Russia is known for its strategic exploitation of peace talks and negotiations. Meanwhile, the German government put itself to shame as it ignored Zelensky’s call for help. In France, Macron is winning as he benefits from one crisis after another. He knows he’s in a good position and he’s not hiding it anymore.

1.  RUSSIA

1.1 Ukraine forces ‘counter-attack’ as Russia loses estimated 7,000 troops and 230 tanks – The Times

President Putin’s military setbacks in Russia’s war in Ukraine are mounting, with evidence emerging yesterday that he has lost at least 7,000 troops and more than 200 tanks in the conflict so far.

The Ukrainian side also says that it is now counter-attacking against stalled Russian positions as the invasion enters its fourth week. Moscow is having to summon troops from other deployments.

Russian forces were being held off last night both east and west of the capital, Kyiv, as well as in the second city, Kharkiv, despite a ferocious bombardment. The besieged city of Mariupol was resisting the Russian advance in the south, and the Ukrainian military said it was counter- attacking east of Mykolaiv and around Kherson, which is in Russian hands.

• Britain said it would deploy its Sky Sabre missile defence system as well as 100 troops to Poland as part of measures to beef up security on Nato’s eastern flank.

• Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said Russian attacks on civilians constituted “a war crime” and that American officials had started to document allegations of atrocities.

An elite Ukrainian drone unit said it had destroyed dozens of “priority targets” by attacking Russians as they slept.

• A senior Russian security service official is thought to have been detained for leaking information about Ukraine, a sign that President Putin may be seeking scapegoats for his army’s failure to achieve a rapid victory.

An online monitor, Oryx Blog, which uses only open-source material to establish losses, said that 230 Russian tanks were confirmed destroyed, abandoned, captured or otherwise lost. That would represent the greatest loss of tanks by an army in conflict since the Second World War. It is also possibly an underestimate of total losses, put by the Ukrainian side at 400.

“It clearly is not going the way that Russia planned,” one western official said. “Not only is it not going the way that it was planned, but even as they have adjusted to a rather more grinding form of warfare, that is stalling as well.

[…] Russia has significantly not put out an official figure for military losses since admitting on March 2 that 498 soldiers had been killed. The Japanese defence ministry said it had seen four Russian warships carrying armoured vehicles sailing past its waters apparently on its way to Europe. Convoys have been seen heading west inside Russia from as far afield as Siberia. The Russians have also attacked civilian targets, increasingly in Kyiv, apparently as a scare tactic against the hundreds of thousands of residents who have stayed put there.

Comment (The Telegraph): […] The Kremlin treats ceasefires and negotiations as a part of conflict, not as something separate from it. They are highly skilled at hostile negotiations based on the use of aggression and power. In the Russian original, the ‘Kremlin School of Negotiation’ often has the word zhestkii – harsh or forceful – attached to it. It is a theory of negotiation based around manipulation, deprecation, flattery, uncertainty – and threat.

The Kremlin will try to split Ukrainian negotiators over Kyiv’s aims and red lines. They will do this to cause internal stress, both in Ukraine’s political leadership but in the armed forces as well, aimed to damage Ukraine’s martial spirit: “why fight if our leaders are selling us out?”

Ceasefires are clearly welcome but they will also present danger. The Kremlin will undoubtably use any pause in fighting to rotate forces, bring in tens of thousands of mercenaries currently being recruited, and to resupply.

If the Kremlin does not get what it wants, or thinks it can get more, it will suddenly make additional demands, feigning outrage based on an artificial pretext or provocation, and re-ignite a new phase of the conflict which it was planning all along. This has happened before in the sub-tropical region of Abkhazia in Georgia in the early 1990s where ceasefires and resupply were methodically used by the Kremlin as staging posts to victory. They will escalate up, take repeated concessions and then push for more, using psychological dominance and the threat of more bloodshed.

[…] A realistic and hard-headed approach now will help force the Kremlin to talk. If you want peace, prepare for war. Yes, Putin needs a route out, but not one that provides a victory that his forces failed to win on the battlefield, or enables future wars by disarming Ukraine now so that Putin can bleed it into submission using a series of small wars over the coming years.

Kyiv is winning the war, but it must also win the peace – and true peace will only come with a state that Ukrainians can defend. Our support to Kyiv must be realistic, but it must not sell Ukraine out.

2.  GERMANY

2.1 Ukrainian president tells Bundestag ‘help came too late’ – DW

‘Mr. Scholz, tear down this wall’

In Zelensky’s emotional address, he also appealed directly to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying “Dear Mr. Scholz, tear down this wall.”

By using the term “wall”, the president made a direct historical reference to a speech by US President Ronald Reagan standing next to the Berlin Wall in 1987, DW’s Chief International Editor Richard Walker explained.

The former US president famously pleaded with Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” an appeal Zelenskyy was making to Olaf Scholz.

“This was a theme Zelenskyy had in his speech, that there is a new wall in Europe,” Walker said, “suggesting that this was a wall Ukraine was on the wrong side of, that there is this in-group of NATO and there’s Ukraine on the outside, vulnerable to these attacks from Russia.”

The virtual address follows a series of direct appeals Zelenskyy had been making to leaders to drum up support after Russia invaded the country.

After speaking to the Canadian parliament earlier this week, the Ukrainian president addressed the United States Congress and called for tougher economic sanctions on the Kremlin and enablers of the invasion.

He reasoned that “Peace is more important than income.”

[…] In response to Russia’s invasion on February 24, the German government had approved supplying weapons to Ukraine. It had so far sent 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 500 surface-to-air missiles and reportedly 2,700 Soviet-era missiles to the eastern European country.

This weekGermany also announced it will buy F-35 stealth fighter jets from the US, considered the world’s most modern combat aircraft. This comes after Scholz unveiled plans to up its defense budget by €100 billion last month.

The country’s actions marks a major shift from its long-standing defense policy of not sending or selling weapons to war zones.

But Germany maintained it opposes NATO getting involved in the Ukraine war, stressing that de-escalation is vital.

Comment (WELT): Volodymyr Selenskyj, who truly has more important things to do, spoke not only to the German MPs, but with them. The President of Ukraine, who organises the survival of his people and the defence of European values, found time to empathise with German souls. He recalled the wall that divided our fatherland. The atrocities of the Second World War. The mass murder of European Jews committed by Germans on Ukrainian soil.

Only in traces could one sense his despair. About the German companies that remain in Russia. About the warnings, morbidly ignored for decades, to perpetuate dependence on Russian blood gas with new pipelines whose sole aim was to make Ukraine blackmailable. “Economy, economy, economy” was all he had heard from Germans.

The bricks with which the new wall in Europe was and is being built are being bought by German money, he stated: “We get it, you want to keep the economy going.” In almost unbearably unemotional matter-of-factness, he stated, “It’s hard for us to defend Ukraine without you doing what you’re capable of doing.” And concluded by pleading, “Please help us! Help us to stop this war!”

Coming to terms with the historically failed Russia policy of an entire generation of politicians will take years. But it could have begun that day. Instead, parliament refused to answer. The majority of the governing coalition used a procedural trick to do so. They scheduled a topical hour on Ukraine yesterday so as not to have to speak on Thursday, when the world was watching.

Olaf Scholz had been addressed directly by Selenskyj. Why didn’t he stand up and explain his dichotomy: wanting to do everything to support the freedom fighters and yet wanting to avoid the danger of a third world war at all costs? Why didn’t Robert Habeck talk about his dilemma: having to continue to transfer millions to the warlord every day because he fears that the German citizens will not share in the foreseeable collapse of economic growth and social benefits when the gas is stopped?

Any admitted helplessness and helplessness would have been better than the unbelievably embarrassing procedural debate that followed. It will haunt the traffic lights for a long time. The image of the Federal Chancellor, silent and grinning behind a large black mask. The absence of Bundestag President Bärbel Bas because of Corona, whose duty it would have been to defend the dignity of her parliament even against government majorities. The hollow pumping of emotions by her deputy Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who subsequently denied and disgraced herself in the routine reading out of birthday greetings. A black day for the traffic light. A disgrace for the parliament.

3.  FRANCE

3.1 Macron goes big on state interventionism in plan to reboot France – POLITICO

Posing as the safe choice in a period of great uncertainty, Emmanuel Macron offered French voters the comforting promise of predictability as he unveiled his reelection campaign platform in Paris.

Macron made the case that recent crises revealed “vulnerabilities” and that France needed a battery of investments and a heavy dose of state interventionism to guarantee its future independence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The French president detailed his full campaign platform Thursday in a speech and wide-ranging Q&A session that lasted nearly four hours after weeks of criticism from his opponents that he was trying to sidestep the presidential campaign.

With the war in Ukraine overshadowing the campaign and forcing Macron’s rivals to watch from the sidelines, the president played on the sense of insecurity brought by conflict and hinted at greater state involvement in the economy across the board, from industry to agriculture to scientific research.

Usually considered a liberal and market-friendly leader, Macron did not hesitate to talk about the need for economic “planning.”

“My conviction that France should be a more independent nation grew during a pandemic that showed us our vulnerabilities and dependencies,” he told an audience of reporters. “The war reminds us of this in the areas of energy and raw materials.”

“Independence is not cutting off oneself from others … but there are things we cannot delegate,” he said. 

Macron hinted at greater state participation in French energy companies and pledged he would invest in key areas to guarantee France’s future independence if he were reelected.

“I’m not afraid to say I want to plan the production of energy and the deployment of new industrial sectors,” he said.

[…] Macron’s call for more industrial investment is gaining consensus in Brussels but also in European capitals, as shown by the conclusions of EU leaders at a summit in Versailles last week, even if some member countries are worried that France’s interventionism is more of a way to shield local industry from global competition.

“Everybody agrees that we have to take a critical look at our dependency on certain countries, and Ukraine has made that even more clear … but the French interpretation is a more autarkic approach, which is building new walls,” a diplomat from a more economically liberal EU country previously told POLITICO.

Comment (L’Opinion): […] The crises, he pleads, have not prevented him from obtaining results: he has succeeded in reducing unemployment and cutting taxes by 50 billion euros. They reinforce the need for a “more independent nation in a stronger Europe”, one of the chapters of his programme. This allows him to recall his effort in favour of defence: “Since 2017, I have given means to our armies. We have kept our commitments. The budget of 39.3 billion in 2017 is 40.9 billion this year and 50 billion in 2025, according to the military programming law.”

Sovereignty is also expressed in economic terms. Independence must be agricultural. Emmanuel Macron is proposing an orientation law, in particular to respond to retirements: in the next five to ten years, many farmers will leave. He wants to facilitate the installation of young farmers. And to adapt the European Farm to Fork strategy. Before the war, a 13% drop in production was envisaged. “Under no circumstances can Europe afford to produce less.

Thanks to the crisis – if one dares to write – the climate emergency and the need for energy sovereignty are merging: consume less and differently so as not to be dependent on Russia. And he describes the French strategy, based on Prim’renov, of facilitated access to electric vehicles. The candidate adds cultural and informational independence for good measure.

The ills he deplored will find their solution. Yes, he did say that NATO was brain dead, but “Putin gave it a wake-up call”. He said he had never advocated France’s exit from the Alliance. “I considered that a strategic clarification was needed and we are in the process of carrying it out. We need to rebuild a European security order.

Even working more, a condition for strengthening our potential growth, is an element of independence. At the heart of the battle, full employment, which he believes is possible by the end of the five-year term, and pension reform. But also the RSA: he promises better support to encourage a return to employment.

But the best bulwark against crises is still him. “We are all shaped by events, I have tried to act in accordance with my commitments. Being ready for crises and protecting the French: these are invariables. He added: “Crises, presiding over a country is like that! The war is here, there may be [others] tomorrow.

Behind this theorisation of the permanent crisis, it is also his governance that the President details and assumes. Is he being criticised for deciding alone? He replies: “The decision must be subject to consultation and specific mechanisms. During the pandemic, our democracy was never paralysed. But “the worst thing is indecision. Our democracy is experiencing a crisis of efficiency”.

So he assumes both the overhanging posture, linked to the presidential function, but also to go down into the arena. “The President is the keystone of the institutions and a point of balance. We must assume the symbolic part and assume the executive part that it entails. Moreover, if the French consider that he has decided badly, they will decide to do without him. It is himself who says so.