Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally recognized the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of southeast Ukraine as independent states and ordered military forces to enter these Russian-controlled areas. The situation in and around Ukraine has thus reached a critical, albeit fluid, phase, a considerable escalation that signals a possible mortal blow to the Minsk agreements.
As was to be expected, this act is widely condemned as a violation of international law and has triggered a wave of sanctions announced towards Moscow by various Western leaders. It remains to be seen what it will incite in terms of the Ukrainian response.
But no war is inevitable and every effort must be made to prevent this situation from turning into a full-fledged military conflict. As the UN Secretary-General said at the recent Munich Security Conference, it is still rational to think that military conflict in Europe will not happen. But if it did, he concluded, it would be catastrophic. Miscalculation or miscommunication could escalate out of control, causing incalculable harm.
Some critical steps are needed immediately: shelling in Donbas should stop; Russia should take concrete steps to de-escalate; and international actors and the media should refrain from any statement or act suggesting that war is inevitable. It is not. All issues, including the most intractable ones, have to be addressed through diplomatic processes that need to include the following five points:
1. The parties to the Minsk Agreements should cease fire and, in particular, ensure that the civilian sites and infrastructure in the Donbas region are not affected by any future military activity;
2. The Normandy Four should meet without delay to define and craft the next steps towards the restitution and full implementation of the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council;
3. Russia, NATO, EU and their individual members should engage in intensive dialogue aimed at confidence building and risk reduction in Europe. Proposals to that effect have been made before, including by senior American, Russian and European experts. All future dialogue should draw on these past proposals and proceed with a view to reaching a balanced agreement soon;
4. The European Security Architecture should be improved in accordance with the legitimate security needs of all participating states;
5. The ultimate purpose of diplomatic processes in the coming weeks and months should be the improvement of human security for all, and the creation of a political climate that will allow effective and peaceful management of all future threats to human security, in all its dimensions. Particular attention must be paid to those threats posed by growing geopolitical interdependence; ongoing and far-reaching cyber developments; the use of artificial intelligence and digitalization in all spheres of human activity, as well as threats from the likely future infectious diseases.
Every crisis, including the current one, is both a danger and an opportunity. Let the latter dimension prevail. This is the moment for diplomacy. I am confident that the Members of Club de Madrid will support all efforts aimed at avoiding the escalation of conflict, building essential confidence and adopting non-military policy options, as deemed appropriate and necessary.
President of Club de Madrid