(Based on the available information as of March 14th, 2022)
Russia´s attack on Ukraine has spawned an unprecedented wave of solidarity among EU members as well as among political party across the ideological spectrum. Putin has succeeded in revitalizing NATO that had degenerated into soul-searching and internal squabbles. As a consequence, a new action space is opening for reforms that had been blocked and considered ultra vires before.
Barring options in the field of military action and support with weapons, the sea change we are undergoing can facilitate a sustainable solution of long-standing problems:
• Art. 122 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for emergency measures in case of supply difficulties or natural disasters. Nevertheless, no provision is made for the event of external threats and emergencies arising in the foreign policy arena. This article could be broadened to include the transfer of strictly defined emergency powers for a limited period to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who presently is the laughing stock for reckless autocrats and dictators. The “weakness” of liberal democracy as perceived by ruthless autocrats commanding rubber stamp institutions, is a consequence of its principle of checks and balances. The present challenge should trigger a discussion about emergency measures in democracies (in Clinton Rossiter´s parlance “constitutional dictatorship”).
• A court in Helsinki has recently ruled that financial transactions concerning individuals in the SDN list issued by the US treasury (in this specific case, Roman Rotenberg) could be refused on the grounds of the risk of secondary sanctions. The CAATSA act, passed in August 2017, obliges the US president to impose sanctions on any foreign bank involved in ‘significant financial transactions’ with sanctioned persons. Earlier, in September 2021, the British High Court of Justice had handed down a similar ruling concerning V. Vekselberg. The intensive lobbying of Russian oligarchs in Great Britain and other EU countries against the limitations targeting wealthy Russians (“oligarchs”) indicates the existence of a soft spot and a chink in the otherwise solid Russian armor. This line could be pursued by supporting European courts in similar cases. One way to do this would be a judicial opinion issued by the ECHR: Protocol No. 16 to the European Convention on Human Rights allows the highest courts and tribunals, as designated by the member States which have ratified this text, to request the European Court of Human Rights to give advisory opinions on questions of principle relating to the interpretation or application of the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention or its protocols.
(https://www.echr.coe.int/Docum…/Press_Q_A_Advisory_opinion). However, the fight against “dirty money” should not be limited to Russian oligarchs, but broadened into a general campaign against money laundering, financial fraud and tax evasion which could take the SDN list as a point of departure, but should also address European tax havens.
Since the Russian leadership has made clear that it is about to destroy the traditional international order and international law, the response of the international community must be resolute, firm and robust. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has started to consider the questions of war crimes in Ukraine and there are precedents in which jurisdiction for war crimes and grievous human rights violation is claimed by national courts. These efforts should be vigorously pursued.
• When it comes to the children and other relatives of Russian “oligarchs” who are residents in EU countries, they should be treated in a fair and courteous manner. In the emerging Russian quasi-aristocracy, they represent the generation of princes and princesses who will inherit the wealth and the political power of the ruling strata. The more exposure to liberal society they experience the less desirable will a return to a more and more illiberal and isolated society be and the less the temptation to attack European states.
• Media: The clampdown on independent media in Russia is almost total. Yet, it is utmost important to convey neutral information to Russian media consumers, the majority of whom get their information from the official TV channels. In order to avoid the impression of Western propaganda, TV stations broadcasting in Russian from non-Western countries would be a possible choice. This could be done by leasing commercial satellites, e.g. such run by Chinese or Indian companies. When it comes to China, Hong Kong is a suitable option because of its Westernized commercial law. Overall, both China and India could be expected to be interested in stability. It should be mentioned in this context that Chinese companies have been severely affected by the war in Ukraine. On top of that, China has strong reasons not to support separatist movements.
Anyway, Western – sponsored TV programs will reach specific strata only and will therefore not interfere with a scenario which at this time is broadly debated in Russia expert circles and which is gaining credibility in the light of recent events. Here, it is assumed that Putin will celebrate a “victory” in the virtual world only and will remain in a state of denial, while life in the real world will go the other way.
• Russian influencing: It is no secret that the Kremlin has tried to sway public opinion in its favor and to get footholds inside Western political, business, scientific and cultural elites across the ideological board. Some of these “Russian agents of influence” took direct or indirect bribes unabashedly, some acted in good faith denying Putin´s real intentions. ICEUR has consistently pursued a policy of maintaining contacts to officials as well as dissident individuals and organizations. Also, we minced no words to criticized human rights violations or other misconduct by the ruling regime much to the chagrin of Russian officials. Our publication on relevant strategies toward the EU is a case in point. The “agents” should of course be held accountable, but their positions should be addressed in discussions and debates, by political means and a witch-hunt such be avoided. European democracies shall not degenerate to a milder version of the Russian regime. From this vantage point, the wisdom to block RT and similar news outlets in Western countries is debatable.
• Support for civil society in authoritarian states: In the age of the smartphone, wars are also fought in the social media. In Russia, social media are mainly consumed by the young generation, which can be expected to oppose the war (among other things, since they are subject to the draft). This is a major reason why the regime avoids any reference to a “war” in the Ukraine or elsewhere. Putin´s drive toward a self-sufficient Russia (“sovereign internet”, import substitution) will remain a pipe dream. This is where European soft power comes in. It is, at least on the surface, a-political, and it gains strength as the isolationist crackdown grows in Russia.
• EU policy toward flight and migration: Since humanitarian crises can be expected to happen in the immediate neighborhood of the EU and the adjacent regions, explicitly prioritizing refugees from these areas will be inevitable. Stated policies to this effect will help to avoid chaotic situations. The EU as a “global payer” should deliver assistance and support on the ground in other areas.
• Slashing financial support for countries aspiring EU membership which side with Putin´s war: Russia´s attack on Ukraine has the declared objective to change the borders of a sovereign state by military force. Support for this war is therefore tantamount to a denial of fundamental values as stated by the OSCE and the EU (“The OSCE and the EU as proponents of rules-based multilateralism, the OSCE and the EU share similar values, and all 27 EU Member States also participate in the OSCE. The EU’s 2016 Global Strategy describes the OSCE, ‘a Europe-wide organisation stretching into Central Asia with a transatlantic link’, as ‘a pillar of European security’; cf. www. Europarl.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE). States violating these principles may not be entitled to receiving pre-accession assistance. This would concern, in the first line, Serbia and, in case of a separation of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina, its Serbian constituent.