Balancing at the Precipice

European Leadership Network has put together a good analysis in their new title Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014 (a free 20-pages PDF). It covers nearly 40 incidents between the West and Russia during 2014 that seem to be getting more dangerous. The incidents are categorized as “High Risk Incidents”, “Serious Incidents with Escalation Risk”, and “Near Routine Incidents”, with respective counts for the categories as 3, 11, and 25 incidents. The brief is compact and includes an interactive map included also here below. This publication is therefore something that is of the category: “Must read – No excuses”. I recommend a careful reading of this and also looking up the references.

I have previously blogged Swedish Skipper‘s praiseworthy summary of the events of last three years, now available in three languages: Swedish, English and Finnish. These two texts support each other well. Skipper’s take on the events is especially from the viewpoint of the Baltic Sea, Sweden and security policy.

Frear, Thomas ; Kulesa, Łukasz; Kearns, Ian . Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014. European Leadership Network, November 2014.

Frear, Thomas ; Kulesa, Łukasz; Kearns, Ian . Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014. European Leadership Network, November 2014. Direct link to the PDF.

I include the executive summary here:

Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, the intensity and gravity of incidents involving Russian and Western militaries and security agencies has visibly increased. This ELN Policy Brief provides details of almost 40 specific incidents that have occurred over the last eight months (an interactive map is available here). These events add up to a highly disturbing picture of violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.
Apart from routine or near-routine encounters, the Brief identifies 11 serious incidents of a more aggressive or unusually provocative nature, bringing a higher level risk of escalation. These include harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian ‘mock bombing raid’ missions. It also singles out 3 high risk incidents which in our view carried a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation: a narrowly avoided collision between a civilian airliner and Russian surveillance plane, abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer, and a large-scale Swedish ‘submarine hunt’.
Even though direct military confrontation has been avoided so far, the mix of more aggressive Russian posturing and the readiness of Western forces to show resolve increases the risk of unintended escalation and the danger of losing control over events. This Brief therefore makes three main recommendations:

  1. The Russian leadership should urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture, and Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction.
  2. All sides should exercise military and political restraint.
  3. All sides must improve military-to-military communication and transparency.

To perpetuate a volatile stand-off between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance and its partners in the circumstances described in this paper is risky at best. It could prove catastrophic at worst.

Map of the Incidents; shown in color codes:
High risk incidents in Red
Serious incidents in Yellow
Near-routine incidents in Blue
Miscellaneous incidents in Green

This is a translation of James Mashiri‘s blog post: Kuilun partaalla tasapainoilua


Europe the Powder Keg

Translation of Tommi Kangasmaa‘s blog post Eurooppa kytee posted on July 30, 2014.

An earlier post strikes on some of the same themes: Pay heed to history – Hitler vs. Putin

The reasons behind wars are less complex than is often thought. Humiliation, pride, revenge, negligence and otherness have resulted in violence the world over. This has happened in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and throughout history. We can see the mechanisms but we do not see the acting force or pressure. Right now Europe is very close to ignition.

The glowing spark in Europe is now with Russia. And it is not the only one to blame. Taking a look at the forcing chains of events leading to the world wars, one can recognize the simple mechanisms that inevitably lead to violence. The same mechanisms are connected to the Cold War.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union and its loss of the superpower status both economically and, foremost, mentally ate at the Russian pride. The West viewed Russia from a victor’s perch and the slipping of the eastern Europe to the western community completed the humiliation.

The chain of events follows that of the 1930’s Germany. The humiliation come from the West that dictated the strenuous conditions for peace after the terrible toll of the war. The pride came in the form of Hitler who lifted the psychologically downtrodden Germans back to a major power. The otherness was in the Jews. They were demonized as those befouling Germany. Lust for vengeance, negligence caused by propaganda and the ideology of otherness laid the groundwork for the war and the holocaust.

We are also reacting in the same way as people did before the big world wars. Before the first world war it was thought that because everybody is trading with each other wars are impossible. Before the second world war the delusion was that the horror of the WW1 made a new war impossible and that’s why appeasement and conciliation were considered the only reasonable approaches. We are repeating the same story again and again because we are unwilling to understand the fundamentally simple reasons for war. They are based on human emotions that work for entire nations the same way as for individuals. A humiliated person is angry and dangerous. When that is combined with repression, violent behavior can be expected. Economic sanctions are nothing but just that.


Economic sanctions are often only a tool of the domestic politics. It is a way to demonstrate to your own people that you have an active role in foreign affairs. The effects of sanctions are negative. They add to the humiliation. The never worked against Cuba or Iran, nor have they been effective against North Korea. Only the misery of the common people has increased.

The change must begin from within. This is what happened in South Africa. The sanctions are only fanning the spark. They increase the repression and force the state leaders to oppose the pressure evermore firmly. By now the demonization of the West is complete in the Russian media.

Despite the lack of understanding we have demonstrated, we can choose to act differently. To avoid Europe ablaze we must accept the facts, end the humiliation and build bridges across the otherness. This can happen if we become a strong and reliable partner. Life becomes easier with a strong partner that is open to dialogue. The psychology between nations is like that between people. After all, it is people at the head of all nations.

Part of accepting the facts is that we realize that wars have not disappeared nor is interdependency enough to prevent them. Strength comes comes though alliances that show that there is no military gains to be had. Countries that vow neutrality or are weak are only expansion chambers for the aggressive. Ending the humiliation would mean giving up economic sanctions against Russia and damping the echoes of the Cold War. Russia must remain a part of Europe. Ending the otherness happens through close interactions and a continuous, open dialogue that aims at mutual respect and understanding. Trust is build through cooperation.

Finland has a unique opportunity in this. We have always understood Russia better than the rest of the West. We have also been always afraid of our great neighbor. Fear is never a good starting point for negotiations. We must become a strong and compassionate neighbor. Only by taking our seat in all tables we can be a bridge builder. Only by being a part of a larger group, we can be equal partners and show that the West is not a threat to Russia. Only by removing our build-in fear we can have a dialogue based on equality and be taken seriously. We must choose the West that the East could come to understand it.