NICOLAS TENZER – Director of the Paris Center for the study and analysis of political activities (CERAP) and a lecturer at the prestigious Institute of political studies Sciences Po. He is a specialist on geopolitics, geostrategy and political risks, the author of three reports for the French government’s strategy in international politics. In interview “” the French political scientist has predicted what to expect in world politics in 2019, and in particular, tell us what the challenges this year the focus should be Ukraine.
– What, in your opinion, are the main risks in 2019 in international politics? What are your “top 5” or “top 10”.
– I think the first risk is the more assertive behaviour of Russia, which will create a danger for the whole of Europe. First of all, of course, to Ukraine, because the war may escalate openly, as we have seen in the sea of Azov. It could also be new attacks on the Donbass new weapons. And the EU and probably the United States can respond poorly. It’s a major risk because he could really destabilize the situation. This is nothing new, but Russia will think that it can destabilize Europe without some response.
The second risk is also linked with Russia, but not only – also from Iran, Turkey… It is the events in Syria. I’m afraid that Russia, the Assad regime and Iran may think that you have the right to recapture Idlib province without a standing response by Turkey. This means a new death of civilians and the ability of the Syrian regime with the support of the Russians and the Iranians take control of the entire region, maybe with the exception of a small area under Turkish control. This means the failure of Western countries that we saw in 2013, 2015, 2016 and in subsequent years. From this point of view, the withdrawal of the US army from Syria is a negative step.
The third risk relates to EU. As you know, in 2019, will be the new European elections. And in some countries – unfortunately including my native France, we can notice the rise of right-wing and some left-wing radical populist groups. This can lead to significant confusion and uncertainty in European countries. And if the extreme right will gain more seats in the European Parliament, it may be more difficult to play an effective role, especially in security matters. For example, there were many resolutions of the European Parliament to condemn Russia, award Oleg Sentsov, a symbolic, but very meaningful. With the strengthening of the far right all this will be more difficult.
Another consequence of the EU, given the ingress of the populists in the governments of Italy, Hungary, etc., may be that sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine will not be extended and expanded. It would be a derogation of the EU in the security sphere.
This is one of the three pillars, in my opinion, risk. Of course, there are others. For example, we see that China has become harder in many parts of the different parts of the world, especially in the South China sea. The project “one belt, One road” which China is implementing in many countries, not only means a lack of control over large sectors of the economy in many Western countries, but also China’s desire to control all the ways that could build on this project, including with military support. It is, perhaps, the risk is not 2019, but I still think that he grows.
Chinese President XI Jinping at the forum
The fifth risk of terrorism. He’s not quite the same as the ones I mentioned earlier, but also important. With anarchy in the middle East not only in Syria but also in Iraq, Libya, partly in Egypt – new opportunities for the growth of cells of LIH and “al Qaeda” and other terrorist attacks around the world. The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates that this danger will not go away – in contrast to a recent statement by trump.
If you go back to the internal risks in many countries, especially Europe, and there are numerous protests movements like the “yellow jackets” in France, who will try to undermine the credibility of democratic governments, the strengthening of populist and anti-European forces that will be the game scenario is Russia. If democracy will be unstable and very dangerous international environment will be more difficult to resist risks.
In Europe there is a growing risk of the inability of the EU to move towards greater defense capability. Related to this is the seventh risk: the US become more isolationist. We have already seen this trend during the Obama presidency, but with trump in the White house, she received a new dimension. I don’t think that the U.S. can be considered a reliable partner. It’s a real risk not only for Europe, especially for Ukraine, not only in the fight against ISIS, Russia and Iran in the middle East, but also in some Asian countries, who doubt that can rely on the guarantee of the United States, her “umbrella” – of course, for Japan and even South Korea, because we don’t know what will the dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang in the coming months and years.
– What can be the reason that in 2019, Russia will become more dangerous?
– I think the main reason is that until now, there was a clear and strong response to Russia’s aggressive behavior in the international arena. It started with the Chechen war, which media is then basically almost not known and not remembered. I think none of the Western leaders did not pay attention to the war in Chechnya. In my opinion, this showed that we should expect something similar in other parts of the world.
There was not a single response to the events in Georgia in 2008 and the attack (the use of chemical weapons – “Apostrophe”) in Huta in 2013, which was Russia’s reason to think that we should support regimes that engage in genocide, like the Assad regime. And then – and the use of Syrian armed forces in the fall of 2015. And, of course, in the case of the war in the Donbas and the annexation of the Crimea in 2014. I think there are many events that demonstrate the West’s unwillingness to give a strong answer, but now the situation is even worse for trump, which is not concerned about the threats to the world. And it is fraught with Russia’s desire to move even further.
There is nothing entirely new, but I think this is a new step. I think the withdrawal of US troops from Syria may be a sign that the West has no desire and determination to fight against new forms of aggression, while trump holds the position. There is condemnation of Russia’s actions, but where is the answer? I think from this point of view, Russia has no reason to refrain from becoming even more aggressive.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
In my opinion, there is a misunderstanding about the goals of Russia. She wants only to seize territory, it does not have a traditional geopolitical interests. The Putin regime seeks to completely destroy the international role, international law, including humanitarian and all system values such as human rights, peaceful resolution of conflicts. I think Russia had a kind of ideological war which is not limited to the desire to seize territory and to freeze the conflict.
– The conditions under which Russia could make concessions in its aggression against Ukraine? Can the situation in Russia to be a reason for this?
– No, I don’t think Putin has reasons to back out. Of course, if he were a rational actor, he would have taken a step back. But I don’t think Putin is. He is not concerned about the welfare of Russians. I often hear the argument that for economic reasons and an increase in military spending, Putin may begin to pay more attention to the situation in the country, not foreign relations. Some used this argument for the case of Syria, but I don’t think that’s right. Unfortunately. From the point of view of the Russian economy, it will do nothing to Putin. Of course, there will be a full-scale war, the seizure of the Donbas. But maintaining and strengthening the destabilization of Ukraine – Yes. Would be very glad to be wrong.
– What are the challenges for Ukraine and its foreign relations you see next year?
– I consider that for Ukraine it is very important again and again to demonstrate the ability to reform, to fight corruption, to achieve greater independence of the judiciary. Since we know that very many Europeans, the inhabitants of Western countries do not question that Ukraine is a victim of Russian aggression, but I think that your power is very poor. It is therefore very hard to defend the interests of Ukraine, what am I doing in France and some other countries. It is extremely important, especially given the upcoming elections, to show that Ukraine is really a success of democracy. I know this is difficult because of the situation in Ukraine, sociology… but very important.
Also, as I said some of the Ministers and MPs in Ukraine Ukrainian diplomacy can and must do more to create a specific “Ukrainian faction” in European countries, the European Parliament. After all, if you look at all the efforts of Russian propaganda, they do not compare with the capabilities of Ukraine. I think it is very important to gather intellectuals and opinion leaders to do more to influence public opinion in European countries. To do this, not doing enough, Ukraine should be intensified.
– What are the main challenges for the EU in the next year, in addition to those you’ve already mentioned?
– A lot of them. First, you need to go to a reliable capacity of security forces and defense. Until we see the specific boundaries of this European strategic autonomy. Of course, the EU can not replace NATO. But the EU, many European countries must demonstrate a willingness to move forward.
Second, the ability of the EU to show greater unity in the question of values. I think that there are countries that advocate these values, and others say that they are not disturbed by liberal values, very much undermines Europe. It is important to demonstrate that Europe is not only about economic results, but also about values.
Thirdly, Europe needs to show the ability to reform. The EU has brought significant economic and social progress of member States. But he still needs to show the ability, maybe more specifically answer the desire of citizens and, as said macron, to protect people from the ills of life, especially in terms of unemployment, poverty, social insecurity. Europe can get a new project. In 2019 will be the new composition of the European Commission and the European Parliament, and we need a new step – a new project of Europe, a plan of what you can accomplish over the next 5 or 7 years.
– What to really expect from the European Parliament elections? What would be the results?
It is very difficult to predict anything, because, as I said earlier, may increase right-wing groups, which is a real danger. There are other problems. The European people’s party was split, inside it there are the new liberals. Since the EPP is a major party and, apparently, it will remain, the lack of unity is the real problem.
For the liberals in the European Parliament it is important that they could be heard better than now. But the problem is that the European MPs in many countries, including France, are not sufficiently known, people ignore what they do in the European Parliament. One of the challenges is to prevent the illegitimacy of the EU and the European Parliament, so that people knew better than do the deputies. It depends on communication and publicity of European leaders.
It is also important that it was stronger than the individuals who speak about the values and risks facing Europe, including geopolitical. The new leaders of the European Commission and EU Council must be not only technocrats, they must be Autonomous and visible. This is important for Europe’s success, in particular, to protect it.
– Do you think that the trend of the growing influence of populists and radicals in Europe has a negative trend?
– It depends on the country, but I think mainly in European countries, including France, there are such dynamics. It is supported by some other countries and their state propaganda. Of course, first of all, Russia. But there is a counterbalance. Look at the “Green” in Germany: in my opinion, they really are a force that grows. And they have nothing to do with Russia. I think such power can resist the rise of the populists.
The same can be said about Emanuele the Makron. Of course, now there is a problem of its popularity. But if you look at some recent polls amid protests of “yellow jackets”, we see that many people think there’s a real risk of populism in Europe, which is gaining momentum. Resort to it who had supported the extreme right and the radical left. In these circumstances, the liberals and macron have a chance for a greater support.
The President Of France Emmanuel Macron
Let’s see what happens in the next 3-4 months, but I think it is very important that these liberal forces in Europe are becoming stronger. Also see what happens in Spain. I’m a big pessimist about the future of countries such as Italy: in Italy we do not see any balances populist movements. It seems difficult to unite the liberal parties in Poland. And even in Hungary, where there was a powerful demonstration against the policy of Orban, the opposition is not well organized. I think that within 2-3 years the trend of populism may grow, but there are forces that provides hope. And maybe in five years they will be a power in the current “populist” countries in Europe.
– What is your forecast for the socio-political situation in France, given the protests of the “yellow jackets”?
– First of all, I think this movement is now fading away. Of course, there is still the desire and protests because of poverty, the purchasing power of specific social groups. But the movement is in decline. First of all, because it was completely appropriated mostly far-right and some radical leftist movements. The popularity of the movement of the “yellow jackets” falls. It is still popular, but people generally condemn the “yellow vests” for the violence. Many people lost their jobs, while French GDP fell by 0.1% or 0.2%.
So this is a real problem. But public opinion in France is slowly changing. Of course, much will depend on the ability of the Macron over the following months to restore the popularity. I think that this is very important, because in France there is no alternative. The only alternative is the extreme right. Perhaps, in a kind of Alliance with left-wing radicals, which we see now in the field. The socialist party completely disappeared, and the Republicans become truly right. So, I believe that the Makron in a sense doomed to success.
– Expect that the role of France in the EU will change in the next year?
– Something difficult to predict. France’s problem with the government of Macron is in a certain isolation within the EU. Of course, there are good relations with Germany, but also different positions on some key issues. Another example in the international arena may be that the French military remain in Syria, and the us to leave. It means that France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, must uphold its role, but limited means.
The opportunity is to increase the consciousness of European countries and France’s support, including in the security sphere, joint action, particularly in the middle East, especially in Syria. I think these things can change. However, there is a real desire of France in a certain way to represent the liberal tradition and mood. And this, in my opinion, can’t change.
– How will relations between the EU and the US?
Now there is distrust in the fields of security and trade and economic relations. It is difficult to predict, because while trump was in power, I see no way to improve relations. We have really contradictory views in many areas: the fight against climate change, against Iran and the Middle East, mainly in Russia. This is very bad. However, we must realize that the transatlantic relationship is vital for the EU and for the United States. I can only hope that a trump presidency is something of a SideShow. And that in 2021 or 2025, there will be a new President, who may again consider Europe as a real ally.
The US President Donald trump
As in the case of Russia, we, I think, we must distinguish between the country itself and the regime. I think in the long term, Russia is not a threat by nature. Because the risk is the government, and I think Putin’s regime is hostile. But Russia itself, I think, is different. If Russia’s new liberal government (I don’t know when this can happen), it will be possible and cooperation.
– I think, in 2019 before trump would stand a significant risk of impeachment?
– I’m a pessimist. I think for the first time in a long time have all the necessary legal instruments for impeachment trump. But because of the cowardice of the members of the Senate, particularly Republicans, the decision is not accepted. So I don’t see what can change. Need the votes of two thirds of the Senate to conduct impeachment.
As one well-known and respected American journalist, Mueller investigation continues and there may be some talks between trump and justice, a sort of exchange: trump decides to resign, but instead he and his children receive immunity. Because some of his children and his son-in-law Kushner can have very serious problems with the justice system. But of course, I am very cautious about such a hypothesis.
– Given the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria and partly from Afghanistan, do you expect that the middle East will become more stable, or Vice versa?
– Of course, more unstable, for many reasons. First, all serious analysts believe that ISIS is not yet dead. The Minister of defence of France, Florence Parlee and our other officials also feel that ISIS has not undergone a complete defeat – neither in Syria nor in Iraq. There is also a cell of ISIS in other countries, and “al-Qaeda”. So instability will be greater.
Second, if Assad remains in power, will grow frustrated by his dictatorial methods and the policy of terror. There will be completely frustrated, angry at the West, people who join terrorist movements. There is also the role of dictators who are trying to suppress the people; we see it in Egypt and the Sudan. I think these supposedly stable dictatorship just create more instability.
Of course, I’m not saying that during the stay of Obama on a post of the US policy in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been very consistent. There were many failures. The fact that in 2013 Obama decided not to intervene in a certain way was a turning point. Therefore, I do not praise Obama, but politics trump may be even more dangerous.