International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, Balkans and also around the world. Ambassador Ali Goutali, Director at the OIC General Secretariat in Jeddah, KSA, former Tunisian Ambassador to Russia, Ukraine and other countries prepared analysis entitled “Ukrainian Crisis – View from Tunisia” about the current conflict in Ukraine.
In view of the dangerous escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and the alarming turn for the worse it took as well as the hysterical war mongering campaign that accompanies it, I deemed it useful to bring some clarifications and personal views concerning this conflict – in addition to the frequent writings on the topic on the pages of the IFIMES International Institute.
I served for several years as Ambassador of Tunisia to both Russia and Ukraine. Hence, I hold in high esteem the peoples of either of the two. That is why, my point of view is meant to be objective and I am inclined to call earnestly for a rapid diplomatic settlement of this conflict with far-reaching and immeasurable consequences, if it is not quickly contained.
It is first of all worth of notice that this conflict, taking place in Ukraine whose people are being held hostage, is between Russia, which considers it a necessary response to an existential threat and a prelude to the emergence of a new multipolar world order on the one hand and the west under the leadership of the USA on the other. For the latter, beyond the declared objective of defending Ukraine against Russia's invasion, stakes of this conflict are strategic and decisive for the maintenance of their supremacy and their interests, in a post-Cold War world order which must remain unipolar.
The narrative carefully put forward in the USA and in Europe (officially and in the media) presents Russia as an aggressor country which aims to reconstitute its empire by annexing Ukraine first before invading other European countries. Hence the need to curtail the intentions attributed to Russia and to contain it by all means...
These claims, obviously unsubstantiated, conceal realities that can be summarized as follows:
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia respects Ukraine's sovereignty, but will not tolerate its territory being turned into a bulwark or springboard for possible Western aggression against his country's territory. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in the early 1990s, Moscow has not ceased to proclaim loud and clear its opposition to any extension of NATO towards the east towards its borders as well as to the accession of Ukraine to this Organization, considered as an existential red line.
However, despite its (unwritten) commitment to respect this request, NATO has not kept its promise by continuing to expand to the countries of Eastern Europe to include, among others, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic (1999), the Baltic countries (2004) and to grow from 17 to 30 members within it, currently.
In 2008, NATO announced at its summit in Bucharest its intention to integrate Ukraine into this Organization while the USA turned a deaf ear to justified Russian concerns and protests. Such a membership would indeed allow the installation on Ukrainian territory of a NATO anti-missile system as well as its missiles, including nuclear ones, on the border with Russia. Would the US accept Russian military bases with conventional or nuclear missiles on its borders in Mexico or Cuba?! The Monroe doctrine, still in force in the USA, strictly prohibits any deployment of weapons by the great powers in the western hemisphere (the entire American continent).
In 2015, ceasefire agreements sponsored by France and Germany called “Minsk 1 and Minsk 2” were concluded between Russia and Ukraine. They provide in particular for a status of autonomy for the regions with large Russian population and controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Donbas and a commitment to refrain from integrating Ukraine into NATO. This last condition was quickly rejected by the USA and NATO. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy was later received in Washington in 2021 by newly elected President Joe Biden to assure him of the US's keenness for Ukraines joining NATO despite the reluctance of France and Germany.
The annexation of Crimea, which has always housed the main Russian naval base, which was part of Russia before being annexed to Ukraine by former Russian President Nikita Khrushchev and whose population is mainly Russian, took place in 2014 in response to the coup d'etat by Ukrainian nationalists aided by the West, which overthrew the democratically elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. The annexation of this peninsula following a referendum, was to protect the Russian population and preserve the strategic interests of Russia.
The abuses since then against the Russian population in the Donbas by the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian militias are among the reasons that have pushed Russia, one of whose doctrines is the duty to protect the Russians where they are in the world, to annex this region.
This conflict, fueled by the West's massive military support for Ukraine, is taking place in the context of geopolitical rivalry around a new world order in the making.
The new world order advocated by Russia and its allies (the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa), exalted by the whole planet and fiercely rejected by the West, could be, according to some analysts, either multipolar (with various value, political, cultural and civilizational, economic, financial systems) or tri-polar (USA - Russia - China with their respective allies) or again bipolar (USA and its Western allies on one side, Russia and China with their allies in the East, on the other). No matter the form of the new order, its systems should from Russia's perspective with the approval of its allies including China, co-exist peacefully and in harmony, supplanting the current unipolar world order deemed unjust and coercive.
In short, Russia favors a Westphalian multipolar world order within the framework of what it likes to call “Sovereign Democracy”. The model of democracy of the West which represents only 12.5% of humanity and only 45% of the world GDP, is considered non-transferable and applicable to all the entire Humanity.
What could be the outcome of this extremely complicated geopolitical imbroglio whose direct and indirect victims include the Ukrainian people in the first place, then the European and Russian peoples as well as the whole planet threatened by the most diverse dangers...?
Most likely, the settlement of the conflict could be neither military nor through sanctions. NATO does not have sufficient military capacity and does not intend to engage directly in an armed confrontation with Russia, which has a strong conventional army and above all the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
Moreover, a recognized military failure is inconceivable for both sides, as its geopolitical consequences are extremely serious and far-reaching.
The economic sanctions will not have the impact sought by the West, given the multiple assets that Russia has thanks to its immense surface area (1/8 of the surface of the planet) which is full of minerals and natural resources (more 25% of the planet's natural wealth), its food self-sufficiency as well as in the industrial, defense, medical, technological sectors...
Thus, only negotiations that take into account Russia's concerns and claims (including Ukraine's neutral status) and imply guarantees of sovereignty and security demanded by Ukraine could put an end to this conflict and spare the peoples of the region and Humanity untold difficulties and suffering.
In the meantime, and unless “Mandela's wisdom” to engage in negotiations, perhaps on the initiative and under the aegis of China or the UN (the USA resolutely seeking to weaken Russia and prevent its return as the main geostrategic rival), the World will have to continue to hold its breath and hope that this confrontation does not degenerate into a devastating nuclear conflict or into an all-out world war...
About the author:
Ambassador Ali Goutali, served as Ambassador of Tunisia for over 20 years to countries on 4 continents including Russia and Ukraine. He held high ranking posts in Tunisia, particularly as Diplomatic adviser to the President of The Republic, and Director General of the Diplomatic Institute. He is author of a book on decision making in foreign policy as well as numerous studies on international politics. He lectured in Tunisia and abroad on world politics and is currently senior fellow at numerous national and international research and strategic studies institutions. He is holder of a Master’s degree and a doctorate in international Relations.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IFIMES official position.
Ljubljana/Vienna/Jeddah, 17 December 2022
 IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.