RD Exclusive: Experts in foreign affairs weigh in with their ideas on how Russia and the West can prevent long-term deterioration to the current system of international relations that dates back to 1945.

Is it time for political leaders to return to negotiating table and agree on the new rules of international relations? Photo: Reuters

Amidst Russia’s annexation of Crimea and mutual accusations between Russia and the West, the current system of international relations established after the 1945 Yalta conference seems to be coming apart at the seams.  

In a worst case scenario, the Cold War rhetoric around Ukraine could hamper any attempts to address relevant global challenges such as international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and ongoing instability in the Middle East (especially the situation in Syria).

It remains to be seen whether this growing confrontation will create an Iron Curtain that isolates Russia once again. With that in mind, Russia Direct interviewed both Russian and foreign experts in international relations to figure out what steps Russia and the West should take next – such as convening a new Yalta conference - in order to prevent negative consequences from the Ukraine crisis from spilling over elsewhere.

Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics, Head of School at University of Kent, Member of Comparative Politics Research Group

The crisis is not so much one of international law, but of the failure to achieve a viable post-Cold War security order after the end of the Cold War. The Western assumption of victory in the Cold War was never accepted by Russia. The failure to achieve a genuinely inclusive and pan-European solution now threatens the post-Cold War international order in its entirety.

The intense level of symbolic violence was evident before the Sochi Olympic Games, and, as in 1914, the world finds itself sleepwalking to disaster. The commitment to the Euro-Atlantic security system allowed Europe to forget that the European Union is above all a peace project, but today it has allowed itself to become an instrument of division.

One sensible way forward is the convocation of a pan-European peace conference to discuss the creation of a new pan-European security and economic order. All states, large and small, and existing integrative institutions, could come together to create a Union of Europe.

Only in that way can the unstable balance in international affairs be transcended, and the peoples of Europe can take control of their own destiny. Thus peace can finally arrive in the contested borderlands of Europe. I would not call this a new ‘Yalta,’ with all of its negative connotations, but a new Helsinki.

We are certainly facing one of the most dangerous moments since the World War II. As suggested above, the need at first is to reduce the level of symbolic violence.

For examples, the Poles and others need to understand that the endless reiteration of suffering and victimhood is the seedbed for future conflicts. The EU needs genuinely to become an instrument to transcend the logic of conflict, rather than becoming the instrument for the perpetuation of division.

Mikhail Troitskiy,  international affairs analyst, Moscow

What happened with and around Crimea is not a failure of the international system. This is a major crisis that resulted from Moscow's decision to incorporate part of an internationally recognized territory of another country into Russia. Any self-determination referendum in Europe, akin to the one that happened in Crimea, would trigger a similar crisis. Other international players have to react to the Russian move and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Negotiation is always better than looking at each other through crosshairs. It is easy to imagine defense blocs around the world conferring these days to determine their course of action, but a pan-European or a global conference is hardly conceivable amid tensions surrounding Crimea.

The boundaries of what is conceivably possible in international affairs have already been pushed by Russia's Crimea gambit. Few countries expected Russia to proceed with accepting Crimea into its fold in such a way. That was indeed a "black swan" moment for many people around the world.

We should definitely expect the world’s political and business leaders to factor the new level of unpredictability into their economic risk calculations, military postures, and security strategies. That does not bode well for international security as a whole.

However, the crisis that we are going through now occurs on a regional scale; the world is not so fragile as to come apart at this stage. That said, a military conflict in or around Ukraine could herald a much more serious challenge to regional and global security.

What elevates the risk of escalation at this moment is the clash between Russian and U.S./Western perceptions of the status quo reached after the incorporation of Crimea into Russia.

Russian policymakers may have become even more convinced than they were after the Georgia conflict in 2008 that a show of force is the most effective means of getting opponents seriously to negotiate about Russia's core interests in Eurasia.

Indeed, the reset in Russia-U.S. relations began less than a year after the Georgia war for which Russia was initially blamed by the West. At the same time, Washington is now determined not to vindicate this Russian perception and deter Moscow rather than announce readiness for a new reset. As a result of this discrepancy, we may end up much higher in the escalation spiral than we are today.

Vladimir Yevseyev, Director of the Public Policy Research Center

We don’t need a new “Yalta conference,” yet at the same time, we should overhaul the whole system of international relations and create a new one. And the problem stems not from Crimea, but from the fact that current international law doesn’t work anymore because of previous violations made by other countries.

We need a new system that will address the current imbalance between international actors. Today there are a lot of new geopolitical players. In fact, the dominance of Western countries might actually impair the system of international relations. That’s why we should come up with a new one that is not dominated only by the West, but involves other regional players such as India and China.     

Regarding Crimea and Ukraine, it is a particular case and there is no reason to focus on it much because it’s not the real reason of the current crisis of international relations. The reason is numerous violations of international law.

After all, if we talk about particular violations, we can fairly point out to the violations of the United States, which was the first to transgress international law [during their previous interventions]. In this situation, there is no need to look for those who outdid others in their violations. Instead, we should put aside these particular cases and deal with the question of a new world order.

Jeffrey Mankoff, fellow with the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program and a visiting scholar at Columbia University

Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty represents a challenge to the international norms established by the UN Charter and, in particular, the Helsinki Final Act, which affirms states’ sovereign equality and territorial integrity. It is hardly the first such challenge since 1945, but has the potential for especially severe consequences.

It also represents a challenge to the nuclear non-proliferation agenda in the sense that Ukraine gave up its legacy nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee of its territorial integrity only for that integrity to be violated by one of the alleged guarantors. Recent events are sure to make states more reluctant to give up or eschew nuclear weapons in the future.

Do we need a new "Yalta conference" to prevent the global instability from turning into another global war? No. We need the international community—however an amorphous concept that might be—to demonstrate that there are serious costs for violating established international norms. Again, the best way to tackle the challenge is to reinforce the international norms adopted to govern states’ behavior with effective sticks in the diplomatic, financial, and security realms.