Europe's ex-ministers advise against abrupt unilateral steps amid Ukraine crisis

The former foreign and defense ministers of the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Germany, Turkey and France have voiced concern over the risk of further crisis escalation between Russia and West due to the current situation in Ukraine and have called on today's political figures to refrain from taking any abrupt unilateral steps and analyze the Cold War-era practices of crisis settlement.

The former foreign and defense ministers of the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, Germany, Turkey and France have voiced concern over the risk of further crisis escalation between Russia and West due to the current situation in Ukraine and have called on today's political figures to refrain from taking any abrupt unilateral steps and analyze the Cold War-era practices of crisis settlement.

The Greater Europe project includes former UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov, former UK Defense Secretary Desmond Browne, ex-director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service Vyacheslav Trubnikov, former Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld, ex-Defense Minister of France Paul Quiles, and other former officials.

The group issued a statement, entitled Crisis Management in Europe in the Context of Events in Europe, a copy of which has been made available to Interfax.

"There has been much Western speculation, for example, about Russia exercising a direct military intervention option in eastern Ukraine. Such an intervention is of course theoretically possible, though its intention is heavily disputed by the Russian signatories to this document and by the Russian government in Moscow. Such an intervention, even if it were to take place, would present very significant and potentially serious consequences for Russia itself. It would disrupt major economic ties between Ukraine and Russia; there would most likely be refugee flows to handle; and since many in Ukraine would blame Russia for inciting separatism it would also most likely mean a Ukraine hostile to Russia for the long-term," the statement says.

"Far more significant EU/US Sanctions on Russia on the other hand are possible and many of the non-Russian signatories to this document have not only supported their introduction but support their further strengthening. Such sanctions may well inflict costs on the Russian economy. But all signatories to this document also recognize that wider sanctions could have a negative effect on the economies of several EU countries too. There is also wide recognition that such measures could further incite more nationalist opinion in Russia and could harden pro-Russian opinion in eastern Ukraine, worsening the crisis there," the document says.

"In addition, neither Russia nor the EU has the resources or capacity to unilaterally bail-out the Ukrainian economy and support its transformation to a fully functioning state. It would be less costly and better for all, including for Ukraine, if a way could be found to integrate its economy with both that of Russia and of the EU," it says.

"Whatever our disagreements on other issues, the lesson the signatories to this document draw from all this is that none of the unilateral measures available to any of the parties are optimal as a way forward. If a more cooperative solution could be found on terms acceptable to all, that would be preferable," according to the statement.

The authors of the statement also believe that "this latter concern is a major one because both NATO-Russia and EU-Russia crisis management arrangements are inadequate."

"The NATO-Russia Council has barely met since the crisis in Ukraine erupted. Despite recent phone contact between senior Russian and NATO military officials, there are also currently few, if any, effective exchanges of information on military deployments in the Euro-Atlantic region. EU-Russia crisis management arrangements also do not exist," according to the document.

"We therefore call upon NATO, the EU and Russia, to:

Exercise full military and political restraint and to take steps to encourage and ensure the military and political restraint of all of their relevant allies and partners in the wider region;

Embrace increased military to military communication, information exchange and transparency measures in the interests of all and;

Engage in direct dialogue with each other as an accompaniment to dialogue between the parties inside Ukraine and between Ukrainian parties and other actors outside the country," the former ministers said.

"We therefore urge all sides participating in the Vienna Document process to support increases to the evaluation visit quota and to consider introducing regional military liaison missions - that is, reciprocal agreements between nations that would permit small numbers of officers to monitor activities in defined regions in the Euro-Atlantic area. Additional information exchanges and data on activities of military forces out of garrison, as well as clarity on the deployment of forces would also be welcome," the statement says.

"The NATO-Russia Council should meet more frequently, not less, given current circumstances," it says.

"Beyond that, there is a need for a fundamental dialogue on issues at the heart of the Helsinki Final Act," the document says.

"It is clear that on issues related to national sovereignty and the right to intervene on the one hand and on matters of territorial integrity and the right to secede on the other, a chasm of differing interpretations and understandings has opened up between Russia and the West. This needs to be discussed and debated seriously," the statement says.

The ex-ministers also believe that "the EU and Russia should continue a quiet dialogue on the future creation of a possible common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok."

"As we said in our initial Task Force paper, we believe this idea can be complimentary to, and not in conflict with, both the idea of a Eurasian Union on the one hand and a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on the other," according to the statement.

"It has been clear from the very beginning that concerns over violations of fundamental human and minority rights have been a driver of the crisis in Ukraine, and have featured as an element of disagreement between Russia and the West. We therefore urge all sides to display more sensitivity to, and respect for, basic human and minority rights in the context of the international frameworks and agreements to which all relevant parties are signatories," the document says.

"The current division between NATO, the EU and Russia will only increase economic costs to, and potentially damage the ability of, all sides to respond to other 21st century threats effectively. No matter how difficult the task, it is in all our interests to at least strive for a future that avoids that outcome," the ex-ministers' statement says.

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