'NATO anxious to move towards de-escalation over Ukraine' - former UK ambassador to Russia
RT:President Poroshenko says he hopes a ceasefire will be signed by Friday. Are you confident that will happen and more importantly be maintained?
Anthony Brenton: We all hope that it will happen, but there is a really sad history of previously negotiated ceasefires not actually succeeding or even when they have been agreed not sticking for very long. So I don’t think anybody, and particularly at the NATO summit, are calculating on an effective ceasefire in the near future.
RT:What's the long-term solution there? Are the interests of the West and East Ukraine reconcilable?
AB: It is pretty clear to me and to anybody who looks close at the situation that there is going to have to be a negotiated solution. What Russia is looking for, which is non-NATO membership for Ukraine and some sort of protections for the Eastern Ukrainian Russian-speaking citizens ought to be negotiable. Mr. Poroshenko has already moved some distance in that direction and it’s a matter of the two sides sitting down, beginning to talk this out. A ceasefire is a necessary precondition for that negotiation and that is exactly why it is so important.
RT:Barack Obama and David Cameron stressed yesterday that NATO needs to keep its forces permanently in Europe. What’s your stance on this?
AB: It is not very surprising really. The Russian seizure of Crimea and Russian support for what is going on in Eastern Ukraine have made a lot of NATO members very nervous – Poland, Estonia, Latvia. So quite a lot of what is going on in Cardiff today is reassuring those people by establishing some bolstered military arrangements to protect them. But the things to look out for from this summit are not so much about that which is a done deal really. It is about the questions of whether Western nations are going to move towards massive rearmament on all sides, whether they are going to arm the Ukrainian army, and again, the signs are probably are that they are not going to do that, there will be logistical support and non-lethal material, but there will not be a move towards direct confrontation with Russia by a Ukrainian army supported by the West fighting the Eastern Ukrainian army supported by Russia. The most interesting thing will be what NATO says about the expanding of its membership and in particular, whether Ukraine will be encouraged to join. I suspect on that the language, if there is any at all, will be very cautious indeed.
RT:In the joint newspaper editorial, David Cameron and Barack Obama put the alleged Russian threat on the same page as that from the Islamic State in the Middle East. What do you make of their comparison?
AB: I did read the editorial. Obviously there are very different sorts of threat. There is undoubtedly great anger in Western Europe that Russia broke international law and broke its international commitments by seizing Crimea and by fermenting the problems in Eastern Ukraine. There are understandable reasons for that but nevertheless, the offences are clear and NATO, the EU as well, feels the need to react vigorously to that. That explains a lot of rhetoric and what will come out of the NATO statement. Nevertheless, behind that, as I say, if you look at the question of Ukraine joining NATO, if you look at the question of the West getting closely involved in supplying arms to Ukraine, what I am reading is a willingness there to compromise if the right deal can be found.
RT:What sort of compromise do you see?
AB: First of all, support for a ceasefire and secondly, a willingness to encourage Ukraine to talk through with the Russians the question of autonomy for the east and the question of eventual NATO membership for Ukraine.
RT:Russia says it is being unfairly blamed for events in Ukraine. In fact former US intelligence officers say they are concerned about the lack of evidence being put forward by the West of Russian involvement. Are you concerned by that rhetoric of the Western leaders?
The Russian government is denying any involvement in military action in the east of Ukraine, including arms support, as well as a connection to the flight MH17 tragedy.
AB: I do not think there has been lack of proportion on purpose. In fact, Obama and Cameron who has been very careful to avoid to using the word invasion as another sign of a willingness to look for the process of de-escalation. There is no doubt in the minds of NATO, and evidence is actually very strong, that there are serving Russian soldiers and equipment actually in Ukraine helping the rebels. That is part of why NATO is so anxious to, first of all, get that situation under control and secondly, move towards de-escalation. So the rhetoric isn’t exaggerated and is indeed quite carefully framed given the seriousness of the problem as NATO sees it.
RT:Is that fair to talk about Russian involvement when there were no orders for the Russian army to enter Ukraine and those who are fighting there say they are volunteers?
AB: Of course we all have seen Russia's claims. The evidence in terms of satellite photography and all the rest of Russian involvement is pretty strong. The supply of weapons like the Buk which probably brought down the Malaysian airlines' flight, like tanks, those are not volunteers - they are coming from an armed outside state. And I have to say that Russian’s credibility was significantly damaged after the annexation of Crimea, where again Russia firmly denied that there was any Russian military involvement, and afterwards, Mr. Putin gave out a lot of medals to Russian soldiers who have been involved in the annexation.
RT:Russia didn’t see satellite images from America; it saw them from a commercial company. Russia claims the images are blurred and that it’s not substantial proof. But it is taken by the Western media to be so. What do you think?
AB: I have seen the arguments and counterarguments. When I was in government I used to see these arguments from inside. There is no absolute proof; there is never any absolute proof in these cases. You built up a reasonably convincing case, and what I can say is that the American government, NATO, the British government, other Western governments are really quite cautious about the claims they put into the public domain precisely because they do not want to be proven wrong. The fact that they have been so categorical about Russian military involvement on the ground in East Ukraine is quite strong prima facie reason for believing that there was such an involvement.
RT:What are the possibilities for a ceasefire? What is next? What reaction can we get from Obama and Cameron?
AB: They will cautiously welcome it. First of all, actually getting a ceasefire is complicated because neither side has complete control of what is going on on the ground. Whether or not there are Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine, there are certainly Ukrainian dissidents who have their own agenda and who are not entirely under control of the Russian government. From the Ukrainian side, there are also militias fighting alongside the Ukrainian army who are not directly under control of the Ukrainian government. So getting a ceasefire to hold is a rather complicated business. The worry in the West will be that if we establish a ceasefire, and we all hope that we will, we will then have what will quite rapidly become a frozen conflict, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia as they were after the Georgian war many years ago. Where what starts out as a fluid ceasefire lines on the ground quite rapidly turned into solid frozen lines and you end up with a chunk of Ukraine not under Ukrainian control, a frozen conflict which then becomes a political sore causing continuing tensions in years to come.
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