The Ukrainian crisis continues to languish on the back pages of major newspapers in the West and beyond, not only because of the Syrian war and refugee crisis, but because active hostilities in Ukraine have experienced a lull over the past several months. Reports of shooting and death in Ukraine among both Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels occasionally make it into headlines, but overall media convey the impression that the outside world has ‘moved on’ despite the enormous social and psychological toll the war has taken on Ukraine, in addition to the damage to its infrastructure and economy that will take years to repair.
Western indifference plays directly into the hands of Russian President Putin’s revanchist designs. Ukraine is arguably the Russian regime’s most important foreign policy issue, and Putin would be happy if the rest of the world were to forget it. As reported here last month, Russia appears to be quietly blockading Ukraine by sea to cut off the critical port of Odessa from the outside world, thereby depriving an independent Ukraine of any maritime commercial outlet. This strategy appears to be going ahead, but it would be a travesty for the outside world to let Russia get away with it.
While the US is distracted by presidential politics, and the rise of Donald Trump—a man who has said he thinks he ‘would get along very well with Vladimir Putin’—continues to shock the political establishment by bucking political correctness, Moscow may well conclude it can pull off the isolation and strangulation of independent Ukraine without even resorting to stealth. It is a centuries-old story, whereby periodic large-scale Ukrainian rebellions against Russia-centric imperial hegemony are put down because the rest of the world simply isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. The biggest difference this time is that the world has the Internet, and Russia can no longer conceal its actions from the outside world the way it once could. Nevertheless, Europe’s current political turmoil and lack of leadership in confronting the Syrian refugee waves makes the shattering of the post-Cold War European order at Russian hands a real prospect.
European countries threatened by Russia may be taking action on their own to defend themselves. Trump’s dismissal of the annexation of Crimea as ‘Europe’s problem’ has probably resonated positively with much of the war-weary American electorate. As such, those most vulnerable to Russian aggression are sensing a need for greater self-reliance. One manifestation of this is the revival of a plan conceived between the two world wars—a project known as ‘Intermarium,’ meaning ‘The Land Between the Seas’—uniting central and eastern European countries including non-NATO members such as Ukraine and even Belarus in a collective defense agreement. A report on this project appeared on the Surma Cossack Journal blog and re-blogged by German political analyst Andreas Umland. Assuming Western countries and their governments are tiring of military interventions, the implications of local defensive initiatives such as Intermarium are worth contemplating. On the one hand, it is difficult to see how Intermarium could function as a proper collective defense pact without potentially pulling NATO into direct conflict with Russia. Third-party NATO member states would have an incentive to get involved in a consultative capacity, to make sure the scope of Intermarium was clearly and carefully defined to avoid destabilization and escalated conflict. On the other hand, Intermarium could fill a security void in areas of Europe where NATO is unprepared to engage substantively, by increasing cooperation and coordination of information exchange between regional security establishments.
Surma7 ~ 14 December 2015
Just look at this map. What do you think when you look at these countries in Eastern Europe? Yes, this is the territory ‘from sea to sea,’ where allies and friends live. The election of a new president in Poland will breathe fresh energy into Ukrainian-Polish relations, analysts believe. Perhaps this will be the first step in an ambitious project, the existence of which Britain supports—a project for a strong confederation of European states. The project—titled ‘Intermarium’—is becoming relevant again at this moment. If it is implemented, Russia will be physically isolated from the West.
The project for a confederative state—that would have included Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and possibly Finland—was first put forward by Józef Piłsudski after the First World War.
The proposed Confederation was meant to recreate the multi-national and multi-cultural tradition of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Piłsudski believed that its recovery would allow States to avoid the domination of Central Europe by Germany or Russia. At the time, the idea was opposed by the Soviet Union and all the Western powers—except for France, which surprisingly supported the Poles.
This confederation was to stretch from the Black and Adriatic Seas to the Baltic, as emphasized in its title. Plans at the time were rather more like a dream, but in the 30s active steps began to be taken in this direction. And if Stalin had not intervened, Eastern Europe would have looked different. There would have been no need for ‘Hungary-57’ and ‘Czechoslovakia-68.’ The countries would have remained free.
In the late 30s and early 40s, the idea of the union of land lying between the Baltic, Black, Aegean and Adriatic Seas was revived by the Polish government-in-exile under the leadership of Wladyslaw Sikorski. The first stage of its implementation were negotiations between the Greek, Yugoslav, Czechoslovak and Polish government in exile, which took place in 1942 under the patronage of Britain. They proposed the creation of the Polish-Czechoslovak Confederation and a Greek-Yugoslav Confederation. However, the other Allies perceived these actions and ideas negatively. The fears of France were mainly related to the role of the new government in post-war Europe, to the extent that ‘Intermarium’ could claim a part of the dividends in a defeated Germany—both in terms of reparations and territorial claims. Stalin was afraid of failure of his plan for control of Eastern Europe and exerted Herculean efforts to make ‘Intermarium’ fail, even sacrificing German indemnity merely for the sake of having a communist government sitting in Warsaw.
Britain then gave up but did not forget this project, just as it was not forgotten in Poland. In the 1960s, politician and publicist Jerzy Giedroyc and analyst Juliusz Meroszewski adapted the concept of ‘Intermarium’ to the geopolitical realities of the postwar world, in its doctrine ULB, set out in the pages of the emigre Polish magazine Kultura in 1974. In their conception, central importance was attached to de jure independent Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus (hence the name of the ULB: Ukraine-Lithuania-Belarus) as related entities under the control of foreign forces, with Poland in the role of regional leader.
Thus the idea of Intermarium was concluded in the 20th century
One of the initiators of the renaissance of the European Confederation was deceased Polish President Lech Kaczynski. It was he who proposed to hold a conference on Intermarium, using new features—changes in Ukraine related to the first Maidan. However, the plans could not be realized: on April 10, 2010, Kaczynski was killed suddenly in a plane crash near Smolensk together with a representative delegation from Poland, which in itself has caused a lot of questions. One suspicion is that the crash of Kaczynski’s plane was organized by the Russian security services.
Already in November 2010 an international scientific conference, ‘New Region of Europe: Regional Development Paradigms in the Baltic-Black Sea Region,’ was held in Vilnius (Lithuania). At the conference, academics, politicians, journalists, analysts and experts from Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary and other EU countries discussed the existence of a common regional space—the Baltic-Black Sea Intermarium.
A new impetus for the Intermarium plan appeared in 2015, associated with the change of leadership in Poland. The new president of Poland, Andrzej Duda called for a revival of the project of the confederation. Moreover, he noted not only that a key role in this project would be given to Ukraine, but that it would be based on newly discovered opportunities. This is about a watershed between Asia and Europe, as well as the creation of a new regional counterweight as a regulator of energy and a source of stability. This is being facilitated also by the mood in some political circles in Britain. Moreover, the inclusion of Ukraine in the Intermarium plan is likely to lead to a strengthening of the partnership role of the United States and Canada for Poland and Ukraine.
It is no secret that British policy in Europe for hundreds of years has been based on the concept of a ‘balance of power’ among the European countries where there is no single dominant center, but at a minimum two. And this is why the UK is not very fond of the economic and political strengthening of Germany, which is seeking out allies including Russia. Interest in the project may also arise suddenly in France, which believes that a powerful union in Eastern Europe will strengthen stability, as well as solve the problem of migration from Asia in the direction of the ‘old Europe.’
The limiting factor of this strengthening of Intermarium is that Germany and Russia will actively oppose it, and the fact that Russia is ready to go even to military confrontation has now been observed. But at the same time, against the backdrop of the war in the Donbas and Russia’s aggression in Europe, there is rapid convergence of Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states in the integration and mutual response to the new challenges posed by the common potential enemy. Belarus could also be drawn into the orbit of the confederative ‘Intermarium’ plan after a change of the political regime there, as Belarusians themselves say.
In March 1993, the book Intermarium by Tomasz Szczapanski was published in Poland and almost immediately translated into the Belarusan language. The author provides a thorough geopolitical characterization of the region and its history, and considers various options for the formation of Intermarium. And he also looks at how to build Intermarium’s relations with its geopolitical neighbors—Russia, Western Europe and Scandinavia.
What will ‘Intermarium’ give to Ukraine and Poland?
If in 10-15 years’ time Poland and Ukraine are able to unite politically and economically, and also created a military alliance, they will become an economy and state on a par with countries such as Germany, Britain and France, ahead of Russia. Why is that? It is easy to notice that Poland has a population of about 39 million and Ukraine—with a population of over 43.5 million excluding annexed the Crimea—has heavy industry and closed industrial production chains that can compete with European goods within the common market. Politically, the Ukrainian-Polish alliance will have considerable weight because of its geographical situation.
The fact is that this alliance with its territory will completely override the path from Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The only exception could be an unreliable connection via Turkey. But the inclusion of the Balkans in a general Union turns the region into a thriving one. The extensive transportation network in Ukraine and Poland will be a reliable support structure for the movement of goods, The whole of Asia, including China, the Central Asian republics, and of course Russia will depend on this end point in Europe for the ‘Silk Road,’ which is now being built by China. Politically, Russia will be thrown back to the position of the pre-Petrine era, having in its arsenal only outlets to the inland seas, where the straits are controlled by a third party—an intermediary in trade. It is also worth noting the important factor of the intellectual potential of the region and the land. Ukraine is already a matter of fact on the verge of major changes and nothing is preventing it from becoming the world’s biggest breadbasket. The potential of the Ukrainian lands allows for the supply of products not only to Europe, but also to Russia and China. In intellectual capital Ukraine occupies one of preeminent spots in Europe. Today, Ukraine is among the top five leaders in the outsourcing of IT products.
It is also important to note the increasing military importance of alliance. The military alliance implies a strong army, which has already been tested in battle with a serious opponent, and in the event of a military association and the transition to modern technology, the united army of Ukraine and Poland can play as important a role for NATO as France and Britain now play. The Polish army (140,000 permanent personnel) and Ukrainian (250,000), total defense budget (around $16 billion) plus heavy weapons, as well as the possibility of placing a missile defense system on the territory of the states will turn this region into a reliable protective border. The army of this union will be the strongest in Europe.
And so—a half-million army, full control of trade routes to Asia, industrial and agricultural potential, and the region has a population of over 120 million inhabitants. Truly not bad, eh?
The new Polish president promises to revive the Intermarium, indirectly alluding to the new prospects that have opened up. ‘This is a serious task that is before us, and I would like to take an active part in its implementation. I say “in front of us,” because I know what kind of position the president of Poland is in. I understand that in international relations, according to the Constitution, the president is obliged to cooperate with the government,’ said Duda.
‘I’m really looking forward to this cooperation, and for my part I offers activeness and actions—for example, a meeting with the heads of states of Central and Eastern Europe. Already signals are coming from them indicating a willingness to meet and negotiate,’ said Andrzej Duda.
The confederative arrangement ‘Intermarium’ can become a strong impetus for the development of the region, including through the involvement of new markets and logistical opportunities between Europe and Asia. Ukraine in this way receives its strong role—the role of one of the drivers of the confederation, the original ‘United States of Europe.’ When negotiating and entering into an alliance with equals, Ukraine may provide a future and sustainable development for its people, as well as the fulfillment of the dream of every Ukrainian: participation in European processes taking into consideration the interests of the nation.