Saturday, 21 May 2022

Looking at a possible UN role in Ukraine

UN: a roadmap for peace in Ukraine

Victor Angelo


More than a month has passed since an open letter was sent to the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Ukraine, signed by former senior officials. Meanwhile, António Guterres has been in Moscow and Kyiv, and has managed to push forward the UN humanitarian response. The political dimension, however, continues to be determined elsewhere. In general, words coming out of the West have been accentuating the possibility of a Ukrainian victory. Statements of this kind tend to aggravate the confrontation. It is true that there has been a considerable increase in arms support to Ukraine and that this is positive, as it allows for a redoubling of self-defence efforts. But in public, we should only talk about self-defence and, in tandem, the urgency of peace.

In this context, it makes perfect sense for the Secretary-General to stand up for a political process that recognises both the right to self-defence and war reparations, and the imperative of a peace agreement, guaranteed by the United Nations.

A new open letter should now insist on this line of action. A draft was prepared this week. I was one of those who found the text too vague, when the moment demands clarity and a firm assumption of responsibilities. So, for the time being, there will not be a new missive from us. The important thing is to show that the political pillar of the United Nations has the necessary authority to propose a way out of the crisis which will counter the escalation of military aggression and prevent the destruction of Ukraine.

The UN's political agenda could be built around four converging lines of intervention.

First, by seeking to establish temporary pauses in the fighting, in various localities deemed vulnerable, in order to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance. In this vision, the pauses would be monitored by a contingent of UN observers, with a mandate from the Security Council. The proposal to create a group of international monitors would be appreciated by many, although it is acknowledged that it would encounter immense obstacles to be approved.

Second, by maintaining a constant call, repeated until heard, for an end to hostilities and acceptance of a UN-led mediation process, which could include the preparation of a conference on a new framework for cooperation and security in Europe. 

Third, by continually recalling the Geneva Protocols on the limits of war. The major concern is the defence of civilian populations. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited; acts of military violence to create terror are a war crime; infrastructures essential to the survival of communities must be spared; certain types of munitions are absolutely prohibited, including cluster bombs, chemical and biological weapons. It is also time to underline the rules on the treatment of prisoners of war, now that the defenders of the last stronghold in Mariupol have surrendered to Russian troops. This surrender is a highly political and symbolic event, which calls for a special reference, in defence of the rights of these prisoners. And of all the others, of course. 

Still under this heading, it seems essential to me to reiterate that the UN is already engaged in documenting possible war crimes and will seek, as far as possible, to increase its efforts in this regard.

Fourth, bearing in mind the divisions within the Security Council, and considering this war to be the greatest threat in 77 years, the Secretary-General could try to set up a Contact Group on the conflict. Such a group would bring together several influential countries that would be in constant liaison with Guterres in the search for solutions. It is a way to multiply the Secretary-General's capacity for intervention and to create a circle of support to protect him from political attacks. It would also show that the crisis has an international and not just a European scope.

None of this would be easy. But the fact remains that the job of UN secretary-general is anything but an easy one.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 20 May 2022)






Wednesday, 18 May 2022

China's responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council

Ukraine: what are China's responsibilities as a P5?

Victor Angelo


Earlier this week, Olaf Scholz met by videoconference with Xi Jinping. A day later, it was Emmanuel Macron's turn. I imagine there was a prior settling of positions between the two European leaders, even though the face-to-face meeting between the two only took place a few hours after the German chancellor's virtual meeting with the Chinese president. Xi Jinping is convinced that strengthening European unity will eventually allow Europe to gain greater autonomy in relation to the USA. That is why he must have compared the statements made by Scholz and Macron to see if they are along the same lines.

The big issue, in an extensive agenda of issues to be dealt with between China and Europe, is that of the war in Ukraine. During the calls, Xi repeated phrases he had uttered before - Europe's security must be in the hands of Europeans; it is fundamental to build a new security structure in Europe that takes into account the concerns of all parties; China has acted diplomatically for peace to return to Ukraine, starting by insisting on a ceasefire and respect for the country's territorial integrity; it continues to promote multilateral solutions, because it recognises the central role of the UN; and, finally, China defends the globalisation of markets. At the outset, these declarations are positive. But what do they mean in concrete terms, when it comes to putting an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine and stopping the risks of the conflict spreading?

Scholz, Macron and the entire European leadership must go further and unambiguously confront Xi Jinping: what does China intend to do to contribute with all its political and economic weight to making Vladimir Putin's Russia cease hostilities and respect the sovereignty of its neighbour? The videoconferences need to be more demanding and explore what the grand declarations of principles mean in practice. The gravity of the international situation requires a dialogue that goes beyond make-believe.

China, beyond its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is a global power, however much that pains some Western leaders. Both realities, in New York and around the world, give China rights and responsibilities. And in the case of the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, China has a duty to actively contribute to the return of peace and international law. It cannot use the argument that this is only a European problem and that it is therefore up to the Europeans to solve it. Nor should we insist on this line of argument.

What we are facing is a conflict that could dramatically threaten international peace and security, particularly if non-conventional weapons are used. And which already has a widespread impact on food security, supply chains, energy prices and other dimensions that lead to the impoverishment of millions, and even more so in the most economically fragile countries.

In essence, my message is that Europe needs to talk more assertively with China. Xi says it is for peace and international order, for the centrality of the United Nations. So, ask him how he translates those admirable axioms into a peace process for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the annual summit between the EU and Japan took place yesterday in Tokyo. Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen led the European delegation. They began by pointing out that Japan is Europe's most important strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region, which must have attracted some attention in Beijing. The intensification of sanctions against Russia was one of the central themes of the discussion. There is a convergence of views between Brussels and Tokyo on the issue. But here too it would have been strategic to discuss how to involve China. This is now one of the big questions. It is not enough to write in the final communiqué that the EU and Japan will "deepen exchanges with China", namely in the political and security fields. That is mere lip service.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 13 May 2022)



Monday, 9 May 2022

Writing about the future of democracy

Democracy in the digital age

Victor Angelo


The Association for the Promotion and Development of the Information Society (APDSI), a civic institution that has contributed over the years to the growth of cybernetics in Portugal, organizes today, at the Convento da Arrábida, a reflection on democracies in the digital age. In other words, a debate on the future of the exercise of political power in the face of extraordinarily rapid advances in the area of ​​information technologies, which will further deepen the era of the instantaneous, as I call the period we live in.

Immediate access to information without reference to context, the abundance of data available at any given time, the truth in competition with the false, advances in artificial intelligence, all this will end up jeopardizing political representation as we know it. It could also seriously undermine the credibility of institutions of governance, the administration of justice, representation and the media, and create new opportunities for manipulating citizen opinion.

As always, it will be the question of control of power that will be at stake. It is only the technologies and methods of achieving this end that change. About ninety years ago, extremists mobilized populations thanks to the adroit use of broadcasting. Now, it is about the ingenious use of digital platforms and the repetition ad infinitum of what is convenient for those who hold authority or want to come to power, regardless of the veracity of what is told. This creates a biased reality, which in politics serves two objectives: the destruction of the adversary's integrity and image; and the consolidation of power in the hands of those who appropriated it. This appropriation, in our western democracies, takes place first through elections and then through the manipulation of information and mirror games. Viktor Orbán is a concrete example, among many. He knows that being in power and losing the elections should only happen to the naive.

The accessibility of digital platforms makes them fertile ground for the propagation of populist ideas. These movements, built around a leader who combines charisma, enthusiasm and personality cult with simplistic slogans, have at their disposal, in this digital age, the means that allow them to massively explore three lines of political action. One, which involves the creation and amplification of collective fears that later use as banners of struggle. Another is the discrediting of institutions and opponents, who are demonized as “professional politicians”. And the third, which tries to subvert constitutional principles by resorting to popular referendums on fracturing issues, using reductive questions, drafted in a biased way.

All this calls into question representative democracy. Even more easily, when democratic practice came to depend on and be dominated by the leader of each major party and parliamentary representation lost its meaning, as it resulted only from personal loyalty and unreserved flattery. There is, therefore, no connection between the deputy and his constituency, at a time when social networks promote exactly the opposite and make everything more personal and direct. This results in a growing disconnect between the voter and the elected, which explains a good part of the apathy that many citizens feel towards electoral processes. Paradoxically, a higher level of information, made possible by digital networks, leads many to abstain, as they do not identify with the ready-to-vote menus of choices made by the parties.

Another phenomenon linked to the abundance of information has to do with political fragmentation. Through social networks, each person tends to identify with only a small circle that thinks the same way and ends up closing themselves in this round of contacts. This leads to the proliferation of opinion movements. In the future, governance will have to take this trend into account. In other words, it will no longer be possible to govern effectively with 50% of the electorate plus one. I am convinced that broader and relatively disparate coalitions will emerge, but necessary to guarantee the representation of various segments of society and governmental stability. The digital revolution will eventually shake up the conventional political scene.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 6 May 2022)

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Antonio Guterres and his visits to Russia and Ukraine

Maintaining contact with the aggressor while supporting Ukraine

Victor Ângelo

 In a situation of conflict between states, every word counts. Experience has also taught me that it is better to start by asking questions and listening attentively to the answers before proposing any kind of solution. It is true that listening is a difficult art. Important people consider that their status is affected if they are sober in their words.

In the specific case of the aggression against Ukraine, the key is in Vladimir Putin's hands. Even if we know that we are facing a sly leader, we must insist that he tells us his proposal for ending the crisis, a proposal that will have to be realistic and respect the sovereignty of neighbouring countries. At the same time and without hesitation, it is essential that the question be accompanied by a crystal-clear reference to the basic principles that define good international relations, and which are perfectly enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

Telling him that one understands his obsessive concerns about his country's external security is not good politics. This phrase seriously weakens the person who utters it. We must respond to these obsessions with a reference to the existing international mechanisms, to which the Russian Federation is a signatory, which allow for the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. This is what António Guterres did when he was in the Kremlin, and he did it well.

On the other hand, when we speak of humanitarian tragedies, in Mariupol or elsewhere, the response must be equally clear: only the end of military aggression will make it possible to put an end to the immense suffering being inflicted on the Ukrainian people. In saying this, one is making the link between humanitarian issues, war crimes and political issues. For the United Nations, the ultimate goal is to promote a political framework that will restore peace and good neighbourliness. 

Careful with words also leads me to say that this is by no means a war between the West and Russia, nor even a proxy war. Statements made this week, notably in the context of the meeting convened by the Americans in Germany, aimed at strengthening logistical support to Ukraine, were ill-advised. They should not have stressed that the aim is to weaken Russia as a military power. What should be said is simple and needs to be expressed unequivocally: Europe, the US and the other allies are helping Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity, in a process of legitimate defence.

The governments participating in that meeting could have added something more: Putin's Russia represents a threat that needs to be contained. If support for Ukraine fails, the possibility that tomorrow they will be the next targets of a similar aggression is a well-founded fear.

We are in a crisis that will linger, with enormous risks and costs. As those costs accumulate, the tendency on the Russian side will be to resort to more violent and immensely destructive means. That option is already part of Putin's calculations, as he made clear again this week in St Petersburg. The best way to avoid the worst outcome of that scenario will be an exceptional increase in aid to Ukraine and the adoption of a new round of sanctions that would decisively reduce Russia's financial revenues and further isolate it.

In parallel, it is up to the UN Secretary-General to insist on the need for a political solution. His point of departure and arrival will always be the UN Charter. Then, he will have to stress that a crisis like the current one entails very serious risks for international peace and stability, clearly explaining some of these risks and the dramatic consequences that they would entail for all parties. Finally, it will be important to underline that the only reasonable way out is to organise a political process leading to a conference for peace, reconstruction and stability in Eastern Europe. By doing so, one will be strengthening the credibility of the political pillar of the United Nations and working to prevent us sliding into an abyss of unfathomable proportions.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 29 April 2022)


Sunday, 24 April 2022

António Guterres and the role of the UN Secretary-General

What to expect from the United Nations?

Victor Angelo


Charles Michel has just been in Kyiv. The visit followed those of other European leaders, including the presidents of the Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

One of the first to make the trip to Kyiv was Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who was in the Ukrainian capital on 16 March at a time when the city was under very close threat. And Pope Francis is said to be preparing a similar trip.

Regardless of the practical results of these trips, their symbolic importance must be recognised. In a conflict situation, the symbolism of certain initiatives is fundamental to reinforce the legitimacy of the cause one of the parties is defending, as well as to underpin its narrative. Legitimacy and narrative are essential in conflicts such as the one in Ukraine, which are taking place under the watchful eye of world public opinion, thanks to the courage of many journalists, Ukrainian and foreign.

Politically, each visit seeks to show solidarity with the country that is the victim of the war of aggression. It is thus underlined that the invasion decided by Vladimir Putin is unacceptable. At the same time, it makes it possible to reaffirm the will to contribute to a political solution to a crisis which can in no way be resolved by force. The time has come to show that the use and abuse of force is no longer accepted as a source of rights on the international stage.

In Maurer's case, it was a question of highlighting the humanitarian dimension. This is the raison d'être of the International Red Cross. Maurer, who has moved on from Kyiv to Moscow, knows that leadership means being tirelessly on the front line and in contact with those in power.

For the United Nations, the humanitarian response should also be a way forward. For two reasons. First, because we are facing a major humanitarian crisis. Second, because it can open the diplomatic bridges needed to mediate the conflict. This has happened so many times without compromising the independence and neutrality of the humanitarian work, whose ultimate goal is to save lives. I have always advocated that there must be a clear separation between humanitarian action and political initiatives. But I have also always advocated that a political process can be built on humanitarian intervention.

It is in this line that the letter sent this week to António Guterres, and signed by a group of about 250 former senior UN officials, fits in. The tragedy unleashed by Putin seriously undermines the political credibility of the United Nations. Based on this concern, the main message of this letter is to call for the maximum personal and visible engagement of the Secretary-General in the search for a solution to the crisis. Given the gravity of the situation, the role gives him the moral authority to do so and requires him to be clear, objective and resolute.

In the view of the signatories, the Secretary-General must repeat loud and clear, and unceasingly, that aggression of this kind violates the international order and dangerously destabilises existing balances.  It is not just a question of condemning the actions of a permanent member of the Security Council. It is essential to express an extraordinary level of concern and, at the same time, to show an insurmountable and tireless back-and-forth dynamic between the capitals that count. Firstly, to insist on a cessation of hostilities - of Russian aggression, as it were - and then to propose a peace plan.  A plan that allows the victims to be compensated, those responsible for the aggression and war crimes to be punished and the process of reforming the Security Council to be initiated. Basically, the challenge is twofold: to promote peace and to adapt the UN to today's world.

In signing the letter, I had three questions in mind. First, about the complexity of the function of Secretary General of the United Nations, which is, above all, an eminently political task. Second, about the need to have an up-to-date global organization that corresponds to today's world and the challenges ahead. Third, about good leadership, which requires a very astute balance between prudence and courage.

PS: After receiving the message and seeing how the Russian side reacted to it, Guterres moved and wrote to Putin and Zelensky.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 22 April 2022)

Sunday, 17 April 2022

The French presidential election

Macron must win

Victor Angelo


In the first round of the French presidential election, some 56% of voters voted in a radical way, against the system. Such a result reveals a deep social malaise in a country that is one of the pillars of the EU and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is worrying. A closer analysis reinforces our concern - one citizen out of three voted for the extreme right. In other words, they opted for a backward-looking vision of what the France of tomorrow should be, for xenophobic ultranationalism, and for an overbearing leader who considers herself/himself a redeemer of the homeland. And such citizen did it with the uncompromising conviction of those who see the world in black and white, without nuances or respect for ideas different from their own. Radicals are like that.

The first round highlighted, once again, the fragility of democracies. When Donald Trump came to power, it was believed that the threat he personified was very much peculiar to the American institutional system. A similar situation, in Europe, seemed unlikely. Meanwhile, now on April 3, autocrat Viktor Orbán was re-elected, for the third time, as Prime Minister of Hungary. But that fact was more or less swept into a corner, with the excuse that Hungary weighs little in the chess of European relations and that Brussels would know how to respond. This time we have France, a key piece on our chessboard, and Marine Le Pen knocking on the door of the Elysée Palace.

Le Pen has realized over the past five years that you can't catch flies with vinegar. She has moderated her discourse, designed attractive, though unrealistic, social promises, and, above all, bet on empathy, on personal contact with the voters. She has dressed up as a democrat, but she is still, in essence, a dangerous extremist. And, like all extremists, she is incapable of having an overall vision, incapable of interpreting the complexity of the problems, reducing everything to two or three simplistic ideas that serve as a stick for the whole work.

It is a mistake to consider that Orbán or Le Pen, or people with the same political beliefs, are only illiberal democrats. They are, each in their own way, real threats against democracy. Period.

Certain intellectuals like to talk about "liberal democracy". But this is a dull concept, used only to sound erudite. Either there is democracy, without any other qualifiers, but with all that this implies in terms of freedoms, diversity of opinions and separation of powers, or there is not. This is what Hungary is not experiencing today and what may happen in France tomorrow. The same should be said of the exaltation of populist and ethnic nationalism, which is an attack against EU consolidation. These people have a merely opportunistic and mercantile view of the common project. In the case of Le Pen, the measures she proposes would fatally lead to France's exit from the EU if carried out.

In the interests of democracy in France and European unity, it is crucial that Emmanuel Macron wins the election. To think that his victory is a foregone conclusion could lead to defeat. In France, as in other countries, this is a time of uncertainty, frustration, and vulgar criticism from the elites. The televised head-to-head on April 20 will certainly be very important. But it may not be as decisive as the equivalent debate five years ago, when Macron laid bare the ignorance that Le Pen brought with her. It is now necessary to go further. Macron must speak concretely and avoid vague ideas and verbiage. The verbose flow is one of his weaknesses. He, like other politicians I know, confuse loquacity with good communication. This is a mistake. Politics today is done by talking to real people about their problems and their aspirations, about the difficulties of the present and the future with optimism. All this with serenity and a deep human touch. Barack Obama has shown himself to be a master of this art. Let's hope that Macron can do so as well. It is vital to bar Marine Le Pen.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 15 April 2022)

Monday, 11 April 2022

Europe, China, India and Vladimir Putin

From Brussels to Beijing and New Delhi, in a time of atrocities

Victor Ângelo

In our part of the world, this was a week of turning for the worse. We are today in a much more delicate and dangerous situation. The atrocities committed in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, and in other places, shocked those who heard about them and seriously damaged the possibility of a dialogue between the Western countries and the regime of Vladimir Putin. Now, and without uttering the word that everyone fears, we may be in for a decisive confrontation between the two sides.

One of the two will have to give in. It would be a mistake not to think so. And, of course, backing down cannot be on our side. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to act consistently. This means that sanctions need to move to a new level, one that is aimed at decisively undermining the Kremlin's economic and financial capacity. It is essential to move beyond coal and stop importing all kinds of petroleum products. The statistics are clear: in 2021, the EU imported 74 billion euros worth of oil and oil products from Russia, while natural gas imports totalled 16.3 billion. There are those in the EU who oppose such sanctions, saying it would cause an inflationary wave and unbearable hardship for many of our businesses. Credible studies show that all this is manageable, given the sophistication of our economies and the resources that can be mobilized. But even more, it must be understood that achieving peace and safeguarding Europe's future cannot be achieved without some sacrifices in the short term.

It is also essential to isolate Russia further. That was the central issue of European concern at the summit with China last Friday. During the meeting, the message seemed to fall on deaf ears. The Chinese leaders insisted on the excellent cooperation that exists between them and Putin. But in the following days, the public discourse in Beijing evolved. It became more positive toward Europe. If you have money, you have friends, and the Chinese know that the EU has become their biggest trading partner. They cannot afford to lose the European market. Trade between them grew by 27.5% in 2021, despite the difficulties linked to the pandemic, rising shipping costs, disruptions in component circulation chains, and an unfavourable geopolitical climate. Nor can they miss out on investment from Europe. Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel have been able to play the investment card. The agreement on this matter, approved in Brussels in late 2020, has been frozen since then, which irritates the Chinese side. A greater distance between China and Russia could advance the thaw.

Besides the trade aspect, China wants a strong EU in the hope that it will be able to untie Europe politically and militarily from the US. This explains why it is constructive in the way it refers to the EU while at the same time following and amplifying Russia's rhetoric with regard to NATO. Regardless of that narrative, the important thing is to make Beijing see that excessive proximity to Putin plays against China's long-term interests. And it is not just economic interests, however important the raw materials extracted from Russia's vast territory may be. The deterioration of the Russian dictator's international image cannot be ignored by a country that aspires to be seen as one of the poles of the new global order and a beacon of peace.

In the midst of all this, it would be a serious oversight to forget India. Narendra Modi is investing in a close relationship with Russia, to prevent it from falling just to the Chinese side. Rivalry with China and enmity against Pakistan are the two main axes of Indian foreign policy. It therefore does not want to give China any opportunity to benefit from a comparatively more privileged relationship with Russia. In this regard, the EU must not neglect the dialogue with India, which must be frank and in parallel with the dialogue it must maintain with China.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 8 April 2022)

Saturday, 2 April 2022

They keeping echoing Putin's lies

The restlessness of confused intellectuals

Victor Ângelo


Some of our intellectuals are somewhat confused, especially when it comes to the war in Ukraine. They complain, for example, about the media and the political class, which are allegedly engaged in persecuting those who do not follow what they call "the one way of thinking". They even claim that there is an attack against "the faculty of thinking". It must be a very sneaky attack, because the TVs and newspapers are full of all kinds of opinions and the most foolish and biased theories, including some of their own.

This manifest confusion leads them to try to explain the unacceptable at all costs and with supposed geopolitical and historical approaches, which were developed during the Cold War and are now largely obsolete. And the unacceptable is the violation of international norms by the undemocratic and aggressor regime that Vladimir Putin personifies. And they also forget the war crimes and crimes against humanity that Putin's troops carry out on a daily basis, as Amnesty International reminded us of this week. Crimes that are already under investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as well as documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, based on a resolution by member states passed on March 4.

These intellectuals add to their ideological clumsiness several attacks against intergovernmental institutions to which Portugal belongs and which are fundamental to guarantee our defence, security and prosperity. In doing so they seem not to understand the gravity of the crisis in which our part of Europe finds itself, in the face of Putin's revanchism and his aggression against the people of Ukraine, including Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

I want to believe that political alignment with the adversary is part of a visceral attitude of opposition to the prevailing order and common sense, a philosophy of good-natured contrariness, proper to those who think they are smarter than the rest. At a time like the present, some may see in this positioning something close to a betrayal of national interests. I think it is an exaggeration to characterize these people in this way, because we are not in an open war against any state, and therefore it is not appropriate to talk about treason.

To understand the defence Europe of now, it would be good to remember that the countries of the former Soviet area of influence, which joined NATO in the late 1990s and already in this century, could have sovereignly opted for an alliance with Russia. Moscow had created a parallel military structure to NATO in 1992, currently known by the initials CSTO - Collective Security Treaty Organization. However, on the European side, only Belarus and Armenia made this choice. In addition to these states and Russia, only three Central Asian countries have joined, the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The other countries, and there are several, either stayed out or preferred the Atlantic Alliance. The so-called NATO enlargement was, in reality, the result of a series of sovereign national decisions. What authority does a Portuguese thinker have to tell the Polish, Latvian, Romanian, or any other people that they should not have made the choice they did? The same question can be addressed to Vladimir Putin.

To the theory of strategic zones of influence, an analytical construction dating from the early 1960s of the last century, but which had its origins in the colonial and imperialist movements of the 19th century, and which was consolidated at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the United Nations proposes a new vision. An alternative that has as its foundation the respect for human rights and universal norms, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and international cooperation. This may sound like idealism and geopolitical unrealism, especially when one bears in mind Putin's way of doing things or the strategic competition between the US and China. But this should be the banner of progressive intellectuals and all reasonable people.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 1 April 2022)




Saturday, 26 March 2022

Mr Biden is in Europe

Joe Biden’s urgent travel to Europe

Victor Ângelo


The American President is in Europe on an exceptional and urgent basis, which shows the gravity of the current crisis caused by the backward, criminal and imperialistic politics of Vladimir Putin. Regardless of the results of the meetings in which Joe Biden took part, at NATO, at the G7 and at the European Council, I see three central objectives in his trip, which seek to respond to the continuous worsening of the situation in Europe.

First, to send a crystal-clear message about the US commitment to the defence of its European allies. This warning is particularly relevant at a time when hostile rhetoric against Poland is beginning to be heard in Moscow. Dmitry Medvedev this week published a frontal attack against the political leadership of that country - and these things do not happen by chance. They are usually part of a plan of confrontation, which at an early stage seeks to create unrest within the targeted population, undermine the authority of its political class, and simultaneously format Russian public opinion itself. Thus, Biden's trip to Warsaw, after Brussels, is part of the American message. To think that Putin excludes the possibility of entering into an armed conflict against an EU or even NATO country would be a mixture of naivety and thoughtlessness. We are, unfortunately, in a spiral where anything can happen. The American umbrella needs to be recalled in an obvious way. Biden's visit serves that purpose.

A second purpose is surely related to deepening sanctions against Russia, while at the same time trying to avoid dissension among European leaders. The subject, namely regarding gas and oil, is very sensitive. Several European countries have expressed strong reservations, not to say opposition, to a possible suspension of energy imports. A few days ago, the German Chancellor again stated that such a measure would cause a deep recession throughout Europe. But now, with Putin deciding that these imports will have to be paid for in roubles, at whatever exchange rate he wants to set, the embargo becomes a pressing issue. There can only be one acceleration in that direction.

Thirty days after the start of military aggression and escalating acts of war, the approval of a new far-reaching sanctions package cannot be brushed aside. Europeans must accept that the risk coming from the Kremlin is very high and does not only concern Ukraine. It is essential to weaken as much as possible the economy that feeds the Russian war machine. This will naturally entail costs for us. But the biggest cost, growing and permanent, is keeping Putin in power. At the point where things have reached, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a peaceful future in Europe with the current Russian regime. Our peaceful coexistence depends on the democratization of Russia, something that is up to its citizens to resolve.

A third objective relates to the need to speed up material aid to the Ukrainian defence effort. The US has just approved $1 billion in defensive equipment and weaponry. This assistance needs facilitation from the Europeans so that it can reach its destination as quickly as possible. Moreover, it must be accompanied by additional means from European countries. On the eve of the Brussels meetings, the EU announced an additional military contribution of 500 billion euros. The provision of all this is extremely urgent. Resistance to invaders, which is an act of legitimate defence, is done with courage and sophisticated means. 

It pains me to have to write a text like this. But let's be clear: there is, I repeat, a risk of armed confrontation in our part of Europe. To avoid it, we must provide unreserved support for Ukraine, be strategic, and firm in our economic, financial, and political responses against Putin, and be ready to accept sacrifices. In short, the moment demands vision, realism, determination, subtlety, truth, and the availability of means.   

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 25 March 2022)



Saturday, 19 March 2022

Russia and the rest

Five theses around the crisis with Russia

Victor Angelo


1. It is not acceptable to make political gains based on violating international law. Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime have attacked the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by starting a war, in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter. Therefore, they have no authority to impose conditions on the country that is the victim of this violence. In today's world, force cannot be a source of rights. Therefore, following the condemnation by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 March, the immediate withdrawal of invading troops from all Ukrainian territory must be demanded. And to insist on this, even when recognising the reality on the ground and the need to negotiate with the invaders. I should add, given the seriousness of the aggression and the possibility of future threats, that the best solution for guaranteeing peace, now and in the future, involves the political defeat of Putin. Here, sanctions count for a lot. They must be as focused on political impact as possible. The EU cannot continue to transfer nearly 700 million euros to Russia every day in payment for gas and oil imports. European leaders must be able to explain to their fellow citizens that tomorrow's peace and tranquillity require sacrifices in the present.  

2. The protection of civilian populations in a situation of armed conflict is an absolute priority. International humanitarian and human rights rules, generally referred to as the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, are clear: all parties have an unconditional duty to safeguard the integrity of civilian populations and property. This includes hospitals, humanitarian convoys, cultural assets, and residential areas. The first guarantor of this duty is the UN Security Council. In the specific case of Ukraine, a draft resolution on this matter, proposed by a member other than Russia, should be put to a vote in the Council. It is obvious that Russia would use its veto. But the draft would also have the merit of putting pressure on China.

3. No-fly zone: the imposition of a no-fly zone contributes effectively to the protection of civilians. Under normal conditions, a decision of this kind should be taken by the Security Council, as part of the motion on the security of populations. If it is decided by a coalition of states alone, outside the Council, it will always be seen as a declaration of war by the country targeted by the ban. Thus, if the decision were to come from NATO, we would immediately enter into a direct conflict between our side and the Russian side. That is why NATO decided to respond with a categorical no to this request, made insistently by President Zelensky and repeated daily by some European political personalities, who seem to ignore the consequences of the issue. It is true that a small group of countries could declare, without going through NATO, the exclusion from Ukrainian airspace. But this is not a viable option. 

4. China must get out of its ambiguity and false neutrality and translate its grand declarations of principles into action. Communication with the Chinese leadership must be maintained. The US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, had a long meeting in Rome with the Chinese top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi. There was much disagreement, but both sides recognised the importance of keeping the lines of contact open. Europe's leaders should do likewise and be in continuous liaison with President Xi Jinping. The alliance between Xi and Putin must be weakened. This is possible. It is essential to strike a very sensitive chord in China, that of territorial integrity and respect for the sovereignty of each State. And to insist on the defence of multilateral institutions, an area where China wants to be a champion, at a time when the Kremlin is undermining the credibility of the UN. But, above all, it would be a question of combating the idea that prevails today in Beijing and which believes that the defeat of Putin would weaken Xi's power, in the year in which the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party is being prepared. Rather, it must be shown that Putin's continuation damages the international image of his main ally and adversely affects the economic prosperity of all. China holds one of the keys to solving the Russian crisis.

5. The geostrategic paradigm has changed. It is no longer relevant to look at international relations on the basis of the framework of analysis constructed in the last thirty years, in the period following the Cold War. Geostrategy now has a strong human dimension. It is no longer just about defending the state, the regime and securing zones of influence. People, their individual and collective security, their physical and spiritual integrity, have become part of the equation. Alliances between states must be based on ethical principles and values that respect citizens and allow them to be free and to live in peace, without fear or blackmail of war, and without hypocrisy.

(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper. Edition dated 18 March 2022)