The Asian Age
War clouds hover over Ukraine
The Ukraine crisis is the primary responsibility of Europeans, in particular Germany as the the most influential power. But the US still provides most of the sinews of Nato power and must give its assent to how it is used.
While Russia and Europe are on colli -sion course over Ukraine, there is playacting on all sides. This is a prelude to the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War. But beyond the tough postures being adopted by both sides lies the future of Russia as a power of substance in Europe and the world.
On the ground, Russian soldiers in camouflage and Moscow- supplied heavy military equipment have helped tip the scales against Kiev troops by opening up a new front in the east. These actions have been described by some European leaders as an invasion, but collectively the European Union ( EU) has given Moscow a week to withdraw its forces and support to the Ukrainian rebels before stricter economic sanctions are imposed on it.
There is a deep split in the European Union between the former Communist countries, Russia’s immediate neighbours and the rest. Among the hawks is Poland, whose Prime Minister Donald Tusk has just being elected as president of the EU Council foreshadowing a tougher stance towards Moscow. But the EU’s heavyweight, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, takes a more measured stance while warning Russia of serious consequences.
Expectedly, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, invited to Brussels, took a maximalist alarming position in suggesting that his country was only one step away from war. Even more alarmingly, his Prime Minister said he would seek membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ( Nato), a red rag to the Russian bull.
No EU leader is talking of the real problems underlying the present confrontation between Russia and the West. The tussle over Ukraine is, in essence, a battle between what Moscow sees as its status in Europe and the world and a European Union determined to rub its nose in the dirt by depriving it of anything but a bit part in determining Europe’s future.
Privately, it is understood by European leaders that Ukraine’s Nato membership is a no- go area. Indeed, Moscow has joined battle with the West diplomatically and militarily to ensure that the great landmass of Ukraine on its border does not join Nato while seeking closer ties with the EU. But Russia is seeking wide regional autonomy for Russianspeaking eastern Ukraine region.
Perhaps, Western leaders misread President Vladimir Putin’s determination to safeguard his country’s interests because a weakened Russia after the Soviet Union’s breakup, headed by an eccentric leader in the form of Boris Yeltsin, acquiesced in the expansion of Nato taking in the Baltic states ( once part of the Soviet Union) and former Communist states.
These states in particular fear Moscow’s assertiveness and are now demanding that Nato troops be stationed in their countries, abrogating an agreement with Moscow. What has been promised by Nato thus far is having a rotation of troops in these countries while reinforcing air and other surveillance of Russia.
These decisions will take formal shape at a scheduled Nato summit meeting in Wales this week, but the way out of a bal- looning crisis is not to up the ante, but to recognise legitimate Russian interests in its immediate neighbourhood while ensuring the territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is, of course, a given that the earlier Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula has been implicitly accepted by Europe and the world.
The forthcoming week will be crucial in determining whether the war clouds hovering over Ukraine will indeed burst over a Europe still wrestling to surmount its economic crisis. With much of West Asia in flames, it would require the support of all major powers, including Russia, to pull the world away from the brink of a catastrophe.
US President Barack Obama, loath to use military force after the recent American misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, has had to authorise military airstrikes to rescue what remains of Iraq from the ISIS morphed into the Islamic State. He is now mulling over the need for airstrikes on the ISIS in Syria because the formidable militant organisation has in practice erased inter- state borders and uses Syria as its base to strike at Iraq.
The world has seldom seen the juxtaposition of hot crises occurring simultaneously in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere. Mr Obama’s leadership in coping with these crises has come for much criticism at home. It is suggested, for instance, that had he intervened though US airstrikes on Syria when it crossed the red line by using chemical weapons against its own people, things would not have come to the present pass in the three- year- old civil war.
Mr Obama is also being blamed for not trying harder to retain some 10,000 US troops in Iraq while withdrawing from the country in 2011, thereby giving Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki ample scope to promote Shia dominance at the cost of Sunnis and Kurds. It is no secret that the spectacular advance of the ISIS in Iraq has been greatly helped by disaffected Sunnis, in particular the tribal heads and trained ex- soldiers of dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Ukraine crisis is the primary responsibility of Europeans, in particular Germany as the strongest EU economy and the most influen- tial power. But the US still provides most of the sinews of Nato power and must give its assent to how it is used.
The breast- beating over Mr Obama in the US does not take us very far. Indeed, the public moaning has now taken the form of suggesting that there is dearth of leadership in resolving crises in the world. The truth is that options before leaders are limited in Ukraine or West Asia.
While crises in West Asia will take long to resolve, the conflict over Ukraine is easier to tackle. It must be based on two pillars.
One, Russia’s legitimate interests must be respected. Two, Ukraine’s territorial integrity outside of Crimea should be considered inviolable as long as a more federal Constitution safeguards the primary Russian- speaking population.
Ukraine’s prosperity and future can only lie in being friendly to both the EU and Russia. President Putin has upped the ante by suggesting a separate statehood for eastern Ukraine as a bargaining ploy. Ukraine’s possible membership of Nato can only invite perpetual conflict.