Ni­co­las Ten­zer: “It makes no sense to ne­go­ti­ate with Putin”

“It makes no sense to ne­go­ti­ate with Putin”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Alla Lazareva

French po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist on the prospects of end­ing the war in Ukraine, global and Euro­pean se­cu­rity

French po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and pro­fes­sor of geopol­i­tics speaks to The Ukrainian Week about the prospects of end­ing the war in Ukraine, as well as global and Euro­pean se­cu­rity.

The world has been help­lessly watch­ing the tragedy in Aleppo, seizure of the Ge­or­gian ter­ri­to­ries and an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, just as it had watched bomb at­tacks in Grozny long time be­fore… Would it be fair to say that this is shared re­spon­si­bil­ity of Western and other politi­cians for crimes, wars and armed ag­gres­sions com­mit­ted by Rus­sia, among others? o

Pri­mar­ily, the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the de­vel­op­ments in Aleppo lies with As­sad’s regime, with Rus­sia that has been sup­port­ing it from day one, and with Iran. On another level, Pres­i­dent Obama bears sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity in this. His re­fusal to in­ter­vene in Syria in Au­gust 2013 led to the chain re­ac­tion that desta­bi­lized global or­der. France in­sisted on in­ter­ven­tion af­ter the chem­i­cal at­tacks in Ghouta, but could not act on its own. Fail­ure to take di­rect ac­tion has led to se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Had the United States and some Euro­pean and Arab na­tions in­ter­vened at the time to pre­vent mass slaugh­ter, had they stopped the regime’s air­crafts and he­li­copters from tak­ing off, hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives would have been saved.

When the U.S. showed later that it did not stick to its own red lines, it gave Rus­sia a free hand to seize the Don­bas and an­nex Crimea. Had the United States in­ter­vened, the Rus­sians would have prob­a­bly re­frained from start­ing the war against Ukraine. Then the U.S. dis­cred­ited it­self fur­ther: every time it was ex­pected to stop crimes - first in Syria, then in Ukraine - it merely, protested, con­demned, or even ex­pressed very deep con­cern. In other words, it used the lan­guage of diplomacy with­out any spe­cific ac­tions in or­der to mask its own in­ac­tion.

In Syria, the U.S. also fo­cused on ne­go­ti­a­tions just for the show. This fi­nally led to the strength­en­ing of Krem­lin’s po­si­tions. All this planted a seed of doubt and un­der­mined the trust of Amer­ica’s al­lies, in­clud­ing coun­tries in Asia. Even­tu­ally, the U.S. al­lowed in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions as the foun­da­tion of col­lec­tive se­cu­rity to lose ground. To­day, the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil is paral­ysed with six Rus­sian and five Chi­nese ve­toes and can no longer work ef­fec­tively. Then, on De­cem­ber 19, Rus­sia ac­cepted the French res­o­lu­tion on the hu­man­i­tar­ian truce and evac­u­a­tion –in fact, forced dis­place­ment– of the Aleppo’s in­hab­i­tants, but then we never heard any more about the UN ob­servers, who were sup­posed to mon­i­tor this evac­u­a­tion and the truce, and the slaugh­ters con­tinue in other places in Syria. On De­cem­ber 31, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ac­cepted the Rus­sian res­o­lu­tion on the truce in Syria, which was mostly a way to give in. Be­cause of their in­ac­tion, the Western pow­ers were stale­mated. To un­der­mine the in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions is the con­stant goal of Vladimir Putin. So, we can’t blame it all on the UN alone: it would not have in­ter­vened with­out a rel­e­vant de­ci­sion from the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. Rus­sia is re­spon­si­ble for this first and fore­most.

What in­stru­ments does in­ter­na­tional law of­fer to re­spond ad­e­quately to Rus­sia's ag­gres­sive ac­tions and the im­punity it finds?

I will make two re­marks here. First of all, in­ter­na­tional law of­fers a pro­vi­sion which the Western pol­i­tics un­for­tu­nately failed to use. They must have ap­plied it from the mo­ment Rus­sia started act­ing in­de­pen­dently in Syria, i.e. from the fall of 2015. Ar­ti­cle 27.3 of the UN Char­ter says as soon as any power finds it­self di­rectly in­volved in a con­flict, it can­not ap­ply its veto in the­ory. For var­i­ous rea­sons, mem­ber-states re­frained from en­act­ing that pro­vi­sion. This is why the UN is now paral­ysed.

My se­cond re­mark is about ac­tions that vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional law lit­er­ally. As soon as the United Na­tions is un­able to func­tion, the only pos­si­ble re­ac­tion is to de­fine “re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect” based on the hu­man­i­tar­ian law stan­dards. This has to be im­ple­mented be­yond the UN. A coali­tion should have been set up to pre­vent ag­gres­sive ac­tions of a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil per­ma­nent mem­ber, mean­ing Rus­sia. This is the only way. Sadly as it is, Western coun­tries have no other op­tion but to act that way in or­der to stop mass mur­ders. Re­fusal to in­ter­vene fur­ther dis­cred­ited in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

Sev­eral years ago, there was much talk about an ex­clu­sively Euro­pean se­cu­rity sys­tem. Where is that idea to­day?

There are two in­sights on the is­sue. Firstly, Ar­ti­cle 5 of the North At­lantic Treaty pro­vides for col­lec­tive de­fence guar­an­tees and re­mains at the core of col­lec­tive se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing in Europe. Yet, this ar­ti­cle on the au­to­matic use of military as­sis­tance in the case of ag­gres­sion ap­plies only to NATO mem­ber states. Thus, it is im­pos­si­ble to re­fer to it in case of ag­gres­sion against Ukraine which is not part of the Al­liance, let alone Syria, where "the le­git­i­mately elected gov­ern­ment" is killing its own peo­ple. One of the big­gest chal­lenges to­day is to launch a purely Euro­pean mech­a­nism of col­lec­tive de­fence. Many coun­tries, in­clud­ing France and Ger­many, are will­ing to fol­low this road. How­ever, this im­plies a lot of com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing do­mes­tic ones (bud­get, par­tic­i­pa­tion, pro­ce­dure of de­ci­sion-mak­ing, mech­a­nism of in­te­gra­tion, etc.), and ex­ter­nal ones (re­la­tions with NATO). If iso­la­tion­ism of the U.S. is to per­sist un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Europe will be obliged to re­cover its real fight­ing ca­pac­ity for the time when Amer­ica avoids ac­tion. Europe’s strate­gic de­pen­dence on Wash­ing­ton gets in­creas­ingly prob­lem­atic in case of non-in­ter­ven­tion, as proved by the de­vel­op­ments in Syria and Ukraine. It will get even more ob­vi­ous if Rus­sia dares to at­tack an EU mem­ber state, say a Baltic coun­try, and Amer­ica re­fuses to en­act Ar­ti­cle 5. Let us be re­al­is­tic, there is no short­term so­lu­tion any­way. Still, we should be on this track as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Barack Obama be­gan to step back from the con­flicts waged far from the United States. Don­ald Trump voices sim­i­lar in­ten­tions, even more loudly. What should be done in or­der to not let dic­ta­tors get away with killing peo­ple? Rus­sia openly abuses its seat at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. But there must be some so­lu­tion. It can­not be true that there is none...

In­deed, the so­lu­tion is to de­velop de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties and carry out ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tions, first and fore­most by NATO. The world needs it more than ever be­fore. If Amer­ica’s iso­la­tion­ism that started un­der Obama will grow un­der Trump, it will mean that Europe has to take things into its own hands. Mean­while, the Euro­pean Union is weak­ened by di­vi­sions on ide­o­log­i­cal, strate­gic and eco­nomic lev­els, which per­fectly suites Moscow’s goals. In April, May and June France will be hold­ing elec­tions. Ger­many will have its own in au­tumn. Will new lead­ers of the two coun­tries, let alone all the others, be able to be on the same page in their re-


sponse to the Rus­sian threat? We should give credit to François Hol­lande and An­gela Merkel for act­ing de­cently, in­clud­ing on sanc­tions. This al­lowed them to keep the op­po­nents, such as Hun­gary, Slo­vakia and Italy in a way, at the arm’s length. In the fu­ture, we will need dou­ble unity, first of all in terms of the com­mon doc­trine. The ques­tion is whether all the EU mem­ber-states ac­knowl­edge Rus­sia as the key threat and agree to coun­ter­act. Unity is also needed with re­gard to ac­tions. The ques­tion is whether all these states agree to in­crease their de­fence spend­ing? It is un­clear. This de­pends on who will win the elec­tions in, say, France and Ger­many. Dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal com­bi­na­tions are pos­si­ble.

In your ar­ti­cle pub­lished in The Con­ver­sa­tion, you wrote that it makes no sense to hold dis­cus­sions with Putin and take con­ces­sions. So, what is the way to stop the war in Ukraine? The Nor­mandy talks have no ef­fect. The Minsk agree­ments pre­vent Ukraine from re­cov­er­ing its own ter­ri­to­ries. It is thus true that talks with Putin are the road to nowhere. But how do we exit this war that has lasted al­most three years al­ready?

In­deed, I said that it makes no sense to ne­go­ti­ate with Putin. But it does not mean we should stop talk­ing to him com­pletely. No­body sug­gests break­ing off diplo­matic re­la­tions. I do not see how it is pos­si­ble to make con­ces­sions to the na­tion that de­spises in­ter­na­tional law, annexes Crimea, seizes ter­ri­to­ries of other coun­tries and com­mits war crimes in Syria. What is there to ne­go­ti­ate? Where is the room for ma­noeu­vre? Should we for­get Crimea? I’d say down­right no. We are not in a clas­sic ne­go­ti­a­tion scheme. In this sense, every con­ces­sion to Moscow will lead to a new at­tack of Rus­sians. The Krem­lin will take it as a weak­ness. I am highly pes­simistic as to the ef­fi­ciency of the Minsk agree­ments. Of course, they had an im­me­di­ate pos­i­tive ef­fect of some­what de­creas­ing the in­ten­sity of the con­flict (still, peo­ple in Ukraine die on a daily ba­sis). They were in­stru­men­tal in sav­ing sev­eral hun­dreds or thou­sands of lives, which is surely a good thing. Still, these agree­ments only al­lowed to gain some time. They don’t of­fer last­ing so­lu­tions. We failed to demon­strate to Putin our readi­ness to act and use force in Syria or Ukraine. Thus, he knows that noth­ing will hap­pen. We know that he can­not be trusted on no ac­count, as far as com­pli­ance with obli­ga­tions is con­cerned. So, the only way out is to demon­strate our will­ing­ness to act, pos­si­bly pro­vide the Ukrainian army with weapons and of­fer military con­sul­ta­tions to your na­tion. Un­der no event, will we ac­cept the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and seizure of the Don­bas. We should stick to clear and harsh po­si­tions and keep sanc­tions in force.

Sup­pose the world closes its eyes to events in Ukraine, will Putin go far­ther?

Ab­so­lutely. We have al­ready wit­nessed his at­tack against Ukraine and the war of ex­ter­mi­na­tion in Syria. We should re­mem­ber that part of Ge­or­gia’s ter­ri­to­ries is still un­der Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion. Who is next? The Baltic States? It does not seem like the Krem­lin is go­ing to stop. I con­sider it a threat for our col­lec­tive se­cu­rity and the fu­ture of Europe.

How can you ex­plain Putinophilia of the French po­lit­i­cal class? While in­tel­lec­tu­als and ex­perts mostly un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, from far right to far left ones, leave an im­pres­sion of fa­nat­ics. Why is that?


Many politi­cians are in­clined to anti-Amer­i­can­ism. This trend pre­vails not only amongst the rad­i­cals, but also amongst a large part of the con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans, and some So­cial­ists too. They have turned their backs on the U.S. and are look­ing to­wards the power that can coun­ter­weigh Amer­ica’s in­flu­ence. That power is Rus­sia. I don’t mean that we have to stop crit­i­cis­ing the US. I have done so my­self at the be­gin­ning of our con­ver­sa­tion. I did not sup­port the war in Iraq which was ini­ti­ated based on false in­for­ma­tion about weapons of mass de­struc­tion. I am crit­i­cal about cer­tain com­mer­cial prac­tices of the US, let alone the war in Viet­nam and some military in­ter­ven­tions in Latin Amer­ica. But when it comes to pro­tec­tion of the free world, it is worth be­ing on the team with the United States, rather than with Rus­sia. Let me also re­mind you of another is­sue, namely the cult of strong per­son­al­ity. Some of those peo­ple are charmed by dic­ta­tors, be­cause they like any­thing that looks pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial… It is alarm­ing that some po­lit­i­cal par­ties in­creas­ingly dis­tance them­selves from pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights which con­sti­tutes the glo­ri­ous diplo­matic her­itage of France. I don’t ex­clude that some peo­ple are in­ter­ested in trans­mit­ting Moscow’s pro­pa­ganda di­rectly, or are in­flu­enced by lob­by­ists and some pri­vate groups trad­ing with Rus­sia.

Does this mean that the French are in­ap­pro­pri­ately rep­re­sented by their politi­cians? Ac­cord­ing to the polls, 80% of French ci­ti­zens dis­like Putin, while the same poll among pub­lic fig­ures has given the op­po­site re­sults...

In­deed, there is a con­tra­dic­tion. Politi­cians do not share the jus­ti­fied at­ti­tude of most French peo­ple to­wards Putin and his threats. The thing is that, in­ter­na­tional de­bates are not cru­cial for the French when they vote. By the way, this trend is not specif­i­cally French. Just like in most na­tions, vot­ers pri­mar­ily no­tice their eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, pur­chas­ing power, un­em­ploy­ment rates and na­tional se­cu­rity… In­ter­na­tional is­sues are much less im­por­tant in elec­tions. That is why vot­ers do not im­pose enough sanc­tions on politi­cians for their Putinophilia.

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