Former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow
About the main dangers that threaten international politics in 2019 “Apostrophe” said ALEXANDER VERSHBOW, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. In addition, the us diplomat expressed his vision of the situation in the United States in connection with the government shutdown and predicted that soon the Trump will have to change course.
– What are the biggest political risks in the international arena this year and what are the dangers primarily the focus should be Ukraine in 2019?
– A lot of them. Perhaps we should call further tension between the United States and China as the most disturbing in its geopolitical importance. I have no optimism that trade disputes will solve. The talks this year can break that will lead to a further exchange of sanctions and mutual pressure. However, more importantly, the expansionism of China is likely to be unimpeded. And we will see the beginning of a long confrontation between the U.S. and China, which could be destabilizing for the world.
Second on my list is the further tension between the United States and Russia, and between Europe and Russia. Ukraine will remain a Central issue, but the situation will continue to worsen because of the investigation of Muller and the potential confusion that may arise because of domestic politics in the United States. And that could lead to further conflict in US relations with Russia.
And all this will happen against the backdrop of continued tension in the transatlantic relationship. For the first two years of the administration of the trump has so many questions: trade, climate change, Iran’s nuclear agreement, Jerusalem… Until now NATO has been separated from it, at least in terms of policy. But I am concerned that there may be problems for U.S. relations with allies in NATO, particularly in 2019.
These are just a few risks this year. I think in General, experts are very concerned that international stability to keep will be much more difficult than in recent years.
– Are there any security threats that you would like to call?
– Can you think of Ukraine as a potential hot spot. It is obvious that Russia will try to use all their tools to interfere in the Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections. At least to sow confusion and chaos. And as a maximum – to bring to power flexible leaders who can be ready to accept the dictates of Russia. I don’t think it’s possible, but they can assume that this can be achieved. This means that Ukraine can expect the escalation of violence, as it was at the end of last year. At the same time, the West is diverted for domestic calls in the US and Europe.
There are many other global challenges – in particular, the danger of cyber warfare. Of attack on the institutions and critical infrastructure will likely become more serious in 2019. Due to the development of technologies to protect themselves becomes more and more difficult.
– A full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, in your opinion, possible?
– I think a direct confrontation is possible. Although, maybe it’s not very likely, because the Russians can achieve many of its goals more intricate forms of aggression: cyber-attacks, disinformation, incitement to separatism, corruption and other means of creating instability in Ukraine. However, we must be ready for a new direct military attack – or, again, in the sea of Azov, or to capture territory along the coast of the Azov sea.
I support the efforts of the US and other countries to assist Ukraine, including the provision of military assistance, to try to deter direct Russian aggression. At the same time, also to help Ukraine defend itself against cyber and hybrid threats.
– I think, in General, Russia in 2019 will be more dangerous?
– We see that Russia continues to increase military potential, hear very demonstrative statements about new sophisticated weapons systems, more aggressive rhetoric about its readiness to consider the possibility of limited use of nuclear weapons, aware of the increasing nuclear capabilities in Crimea, Kaliningrad. All of this points to further danger in the relations with Russia and, I think, will not leave NATO and the United States with no other choice but to continue to modernize their defense systems to ensure that our forces and deter Russian aggression, remain reliable.
Russia will continue to seek opportunities to use its influence in the middle East and North Africa. And I am concerned that the lack of unity between the United States and Europe, their internal challenges, will give Russia a lot of opportunities to use this long-term confrontation with the West. Then there is Russia, which is trying to expand its influence, can have more opportunities to use these differences.
– You think that the West is more prepared to resist the aggressive policy of Russia?
– I think this is a classic situation of a half-empty glass. Since the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the West did a lot, including militarily, to restore a policy of containment, spending more on defense, to enhance the readiness of its forces to direct aggression of Russia was Moscow’s very risky. Even with all the skill of its hybrid methods and the use of “little green men”.
But the rest of the West still have to do a lot to reduce its vulnerability to Russian efforts at destabilization and disinformation, to bring the dirty money out of our economies, deal with social problems that Russia exploits using social media and other tools of disinformation to undermine our democratic society.
Therefore, from a certain point of view, non-military threats from Russia should be given even more attention than direct military. In military terms also need to do more: we need to implement many programs, including those on which the decision was taken at a summit last July. But more my concern is the non-military threats.
– Russia has some serious internal challenges that could affect its foreign policy?
– Sanctions impact on the Russian economy. Perhaps not so critical, if there would be additional measures by the U.S. and the EU. However, the Russian economy is stagnating, is still heavily dependent on energy prices. So Russia is vulnerable. But she, alas, manages quite successfully to divide the West, and to reach a political consensus on new sanctions against Russia is not easy.
But the situation in the economy, I think, leads to a decrease of support for the people of Putin and his dangerous foreign policy. I think the Russians are still very sensitive to the price of the Russian intervention in Ukraine and the middle East. Therefore, the vulnerable points that the West is able to use to influence the course of Russian politics, is possible. But, unfortunately, economic decline are not strong enough, was bound to bring some changes in 2019. The most likely scenario is a continuation of the confrontation and the challenge of Russia to the West and our perseverance respecting the rule of law.
– What challenges, except Russia, you see for Ukraine and its foreign policy? And how important are elections to be held in Ukraine in ethat year?
– Of course, Russia is the biggest threat because she’s trying to undermine the stability of Ukraine and undermine its agenda of Euro-Atlantic integration. Nevertheless, Ukraine needs to find a way to reduce the degree of tension in relations with Hungary. Unfortunately, this tension, at least, has little impact on Ukraine’s relations with NATO and its ability to cooperate with NATO on the full.
In addition, the main challenges, I think, internal. Need to start a new phase of reforms – and this is another situation half full or half empty glass. Of course, in 2014, Ukraine has done a lot in terms of macroeconomic stability, the establishment of structures for the fight against corruption, improving transparency through things like e-Declaration, the implementation of reforms in some areas – for example, the health care system, in the gas market. But in Ukraine there is no such rapid economic growth that needs to be 6-7% per year.
Regardless of who wins the election, the effectiveness of anti-corruption institutions will be decisive for Ukraine. But these elections is a chance to join forces that support reform, and not to give Russia the opportunity to disrupt Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine.
– What challenges do you see this year for the United States presidency and trump?
The main challenge for the President – to adapt to a democratic majority in the House of representatives under a variety of investigations that is likely to run the House of representatives on a range of issues: from relationships trump with Russia to violations of the laws on campaign Finance and preserving even as President of private corporate interests, instead of placing them in a blind trust. There will be many internal challenges.
At the same time, his trade war with China and, potentially, Europe can lead to economic problems that is likely to affect the chances of trump’s re-election in two years.
And, of course, as I said at the beginning of the interview, the continuation of the geopolitical rivalry with China, to further conflict with Iran at the same time with a partial exit from the game in the middle East can lead to international crises as a result of the retreat with the leadership of the US position in the world.
The transatlantic relationship with the trump of steel, of course, extremely problematic, since the United States turned away from many traditional allies and threaten Europe trade war, their position is often extremely anti-European. In 2019, this area of our foreign policy can be unmanageable.
– And how, in your opinion, U.S. relations with the EU will develop in the near future?
– This year is very important, as the EU itself is faced with internal problems, is engaged in the process of Brexit, which apparently in some form still held… Brexit without an agreement can lead to internal problems in the EU, which he probably digs in. And, of course, the problem of populism can lead to significant changes in the European Parliament and less attention to the transatlantic relationship on the part of EU leaders, which will be replaced later this year.
That is, taking into account the occurrence of all these contradictions in the transatlantic relationship – on trade, climate, the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear deal – this could potentially lead to significant tensions between the US and the EU, and even a serious split within NATO that would be an invitation for Russia to continue to strengthen its intervention in the Affairs of our countries.
– What do you think, what the problem is now standing in front of trump: to stay until the end of the current period or leave the chances for re-election at the next?
– I think he will try to stick to the course and its agenda on America first, which, in his opinion, necessary in order to keep their support base, which is nearly a third of the population. At the same time, he wants to improve chances for reelection. It means we need to win back the electorate, which, it seems, lost in the midterm elections.
So he will have to decide whether to double the bet on the radical agenda of anti-establishment, or to compromise with Congress at least on several issues such as infrastructure or health care – with the hope to provide enough of the votes of the independent voters or those who are undecided, to achieve re-election. Now it seems that it increases the stakes, but the government shutdown showed its disadvantage. And I expect pretty soon the trump will change its policy, because they painted themselves in this corner.
Given recent events, the course trump on the Middle East will make the region more stable or less stable?
– I am concerned that the exit from Syria, although it may take several months, will have the same effect, which warned critics of trump: will encourage Russia and Iran to strengthen its position in Syria, will increase the threat to Israel and the Gulf countries. Trump also can cause the collapse of the coalition against ISIL, which was successful, at least by destroying the Caliphate, the territorial basis of ISIS. But the ISIS as an international threat are not yet fully destroyed. So I’m afraid that the output from Syria and the prospect of a premature exit from Afghanistan will accelerate the resurgence of ISIS and undermine our ability to maintain a coalition to fight ISIS and resist the expansion of influence of Russia and Iran in the middle East.