Our Analytics 14 september — 09:09

Russian-Ukrainian Crisis: Between Fear and Hope

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BY DR. THEODORE KARASIK, EXCLUSIVELY FOR AZERI DAILY

As we know, the entire Ukraine debacle began as an internal Ukrainian crisis in November 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union, sparking mass protests, which Yanukovych attempted to put down. The country has been divided more or less between Ukrainians who see Ukraine as part of Europe and those who see it as linked to Russia.  Russia backed Yanukovych in the crisis, while the US and Europe supported the opposition. In February, anti-government protests toppled the government and ran Yanukovych out of the country. In March, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. In April, pro-Russia separatist rebels began seizing territory in eastern Ukraine. Western sanctions harmed the Russian economy, which is experiencing a hard recession and more than 3000 Ukrainians have been killed.  Over 100,000 have fled Ukraine for Russia where these victims have refugee status. This action for the past ten months has brought the relationship between Russia and the West to its lowest point since the Cold War. Today, more than at any time from the beginning of this crisis, there seems to be solutions and a certain will to end it.

The Western reaction to Ukraine is misguided and a historical mistake.  America, who is leading the campaign, does not understand Russia.  The Kremlin sees NATO enlargement over the past 10 years as a major threat and the absorption of Crimea as correcting a historical mistake.  In addition, the Obama Administration is pushing European allies to go against Moscow, launching wave and wave of sanctions.  The EU and the United States prepared another wave of sanctions targeting Russia's banking, energy sector, and defence sector. But among EU members, there is strong resistance to new measures from countries like Finland, Slovakia, Italy, and Cyprus which have deep trade links with Russia.

Many argue that sanctions will work against Russia, but in reality, sanctions never really work because states tend to work their way around sanctions such as Iran.  Moscow is already making alternative plans such as its agreement with the BRICS, closer ties with China, and empowering along with Beijing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Threats by the United Kingdom to cut off Russian from SWIFT will only force Moscow to launch a new monetary transfer system.  Simultaneously, Ukraine is suffering.  Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko may have been elected in a popular vote, but he is supported by some unsavoury characters, who harbour fascist tendencies.  In addition, Ukraine is practically bankrupted and with winter approaching it is not clear on the state will survive.  A third Maiden revolution may be on its way.

Currently, the ceasefire is holding and raising hopes towards the end of the conflict between the 'enemy brothers.' According to the Ukrainians, Russia seems to have removed the bulk of its forces from his country.  This event further strengthens the hope that the peace initiatives have good prospects.  However, Poroshenko said the ceasefire was not proving easy to maintain. Ukraine's military recorded at least six violations of the ceasefire overnight but said there were no casualties. Five servicemen have been killed during the ceasefire, Ukraine says. A civilian was also killed at the weekend during shelling of the eastern port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov in eastern Ukraine.  Clearly, information operations by the Ukraine side are in full swing with the Russians responding in kind. 

The NATO Summit in Wales is the further institutionalize of a major mistake. Indeed, NATO members used the summit for more belligerent talks. The goal seemed more preparing the NATO alliance for a new Cold War with Russia than exploring how to make peace.  Here, there were missed opportunities to end the conflict. And since Europe instituted new sanctions, Russia is using the gas weapon, on which the EU countries rely.  Some European countries have expressed fears that Russia could disrupt the flow of gas into Europe if relations between the EU and Moscow are further strained. For instance, Poland complained that it was receiving 20 per cent less gas than normal from Russia but Russian gas giant Gazprom insisted it had not reduced supplies.  Europe might experience a very cold winter and the European citizens will most probably react, not against Russia but against their own governments. The third element which can disrupt the ceasefire is the disagreement around the status of the Crimea.  President Poroshenko submitted a bill to parliament that would give separatists more autonomy but with 'a status that keeps these regions in Ukraine.' However, Andrei Purgin, the deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, responded to the comments by saying that the rebels "are not considering remaining part of Ukraine".

From the beginning of the crisis, everyone feared a new Cold War; this fear is comprehensible especially when we look at the latest military plans of the two parties. Among the important decisions taken during the NATO Summit, decisions were related to military strategy. NATO approved plan to create a rapid response force (which is part of the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) with a headquarters in Eastern Europe (with supplies and equipment stockpiled there) that could quickly mobilize if an alliance country in the region were to come under attack. The force will include several thousand land troops ready to deploy within just a few days.

Furthermore, NATO decided to raise military spending to two per cent of GDP. Russia reacted to the NATO Summit by announcing its country's defence and security plan to answer the new security threats.  Russian President Putin said, to keep up its containment potential, Russia needs to rearm strategic and long-haul air forces and complete establishment of the airspace defence, especially first-strike nuclear weaponry. He ordered the government by November to draft a 'balanced realistic option' of the state defence program for 2016-2025. Also by the year's end, the Russian government must present an updated military doctrine.  He stressed that Moscow has to undertake all kinds of measures only in response to external threats, including the theory of pre-emptive global strike advocated by NATO, deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defence in Europe and Alaska, as well as the militarization of space. The Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Russia will respond to the pre-emptive global strike theory by modernizing its Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), airspace force and warfare commanding systems. Also, Russia plans to upgrade 85 per cent of its strategic nuclear weapons by 2020. The government has earmarked 20 trillion roubles (about $600 billion dollars) for the massive rearmament program during that period.  These plans are reversing years of arms control developments at a dangerous time in other parts of the world.

Today at the end of the five-month crisis between the 'enemy brothers' seems to be close and far at the same time, all depending on the real will of the parties, especially the western side. The EU especially seem like pure bureaucracy and the the situation on the ground is irrelevant.  The main aim of policy for the US and the Atlantists right now should be to maintain the cease fire. Enacting new sanctions with the cease fire in effect may push Russian leaders into a belief that they will be punished by the West no matter what they do, so they might as well go further in Ukraine. That would be against Western interests, so the sanctions may be counterproductive.  Simultaneously, the United States is developing a coalition to deal with the Islamic State.  This coalition will need Russia during this campaign and concentrating on the ills of Ukraine will be miniscule compared to the requirements to reverse Sunni extremism.  It is time to put the Ukraine question on the backburner and prioritize the true strategic interests for all parties.  America and Europe need Russia to be a partner and not an enemy.

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