The Crimean Cri­sis

Can the U.S. and its western al­lies thwart Rus­sia’s ex­pan­sion­ist de­signs?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Jamil Nasir

Can the U.S. and its western al­lies thwart Rus­sia’s ex­pan­sion­ist de­signs?

The sense of eu­pho­ria that gripped the West af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union is fast fad­ing. In his book ‘End of His­tory and the Last Man’, Fran­cis Fukuyama ad­vanced the the­sis that the tri­umph of lib­eral cap­i­tal­ism over com­mu­nism will bring an end to wars and bloody rev­o­lu­tions. This the­ory is now un­der ques­tion due to the Ukrainian cri­sis.

The an­nex­a­tion of Crimea has badly jolted the West, par­tic­u­larly the U.S. They are de­scrib­ing the Crimean an­nex­a­tion as an act of ag­gres­sion by Rus­sia. On the other hand, Rus­sia’s view­point is that it has taken back what es­sen­tially be­longed to it and no vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law is in­volved as Crimea was made a part of Rus­sia only af­ter the Crimeans ex­pressed their will through the ref­er­en­dum held on March 16. The to­tal pop­u­la­tion of Crimea is about 2.2 mil­lion out of which 1.5 mil­lion are Rus­sians. More than 82 per­cent of the elec­torate par­tic­i­pated in the voting process and over 96 per­cent voted for unit­ing the Crimean Penin­sula with Rus­sia.

De­spite such an out­come of the ref­er­en­dum, the ma­jor­ity of the ob­servers have de­scribed the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea as a se­ri­ous flout­ing of in­ter­na­tional law. For ex­am­ple, Pro­fes­sor Jef­frey Sachs in his ar­ti­cle ‘Ukraine and the cri­sis of In­ter­na­tional Law’ de­scribes Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Ukraine as a fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. But, at the same time, he also cas­ti­gates the U.S. and NATO for se­ri­ous con­tra­ven­tions of the same law. For ex­am­ple, the U.S. and its al­lies went to war in Iraq with­out the sup­port of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. Drone at­tacks vi­o­lat­ing the ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty of Pak­istan are an­other ex­am­ple of breach of in­ter­na­tional law. More re­cently, NATO’s ac­tions in Libya to top­ple the govern­ment of Muam­mar Qaddafi and U.S. ac­tions in Syria are also se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional law and norms. “In­ter­na­tional law it­self

is at a cross­roads. The U.S., Rus­sia, the EU and NATO cite it when it is to their ad­van­tage and dis­re­gard it when they deem it a nui­sance,” writes Sachs.

How­ever, the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea raises some other ques­tions as well be­sides the vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. What were the mo­ti­va­tions for Rus­sia to an­nex Crimea and di­vide Ukraine? Will Rus­sia stop at Crimea and not add more states to the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion? Will the world pow­ers al­low this to hap­pen? Will the Ukraine cri­sis unite the West? There are three pos­si­ble mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors be­hind the Rus­sian moves in Ukraine: (1) geopo­lit­i­cal (2) re­gain­ing its lost glory and sta­tus and (3) a sense of be­trayal and hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Dur­ing Soviet times, the dis­tance be­tween the Rus­sian cap­i­tal and the western mil­i­tary al­liance was 1800 kilo­me­ters. In case Ukraine be­comes a mem­ber of NATO, the dis­tance would be re­duced to less than 500 kilo­me­ters. If this hap­pens, Rus­sia will lose the strate­gic dis­tance that al­lowed it to sur­vive the in­va­sions of both Napoleon and Hitler. Re­order­ing of East­ern Europe af­ter the end of the Cold War has strength­ened this fear in Rus­sia.

Just within eight years of the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, Poland, the Czech Repub­lic and Hun­gary joined NATO. Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia, Slo­vakia, Slove­nia and the three Baltic states joined NATO in 2004. Al­ba­nia and Croa­tia fol­lowed suit in 2009. In 2008, U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush pro­posed to ex­tend NATO mem­ber­ship to Ge­or­gia and Ukraine and that was per­haps the point when Rus­sia felt re­ally pinched. The en­large­ment of NATO meant that Rus­sia has lost its in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

Some ob­servers claim that Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sive ac­tions in Ukraine stem from its am­bi­tion to re­gain its sta­tus of a global power. The an­nex­a­tion of Crimea may thus be an im­pe­rial project. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is on record to have de­scribed the dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet Union as “the great­est geopo­lit­i­cal dis­as­ter of the twen­ti­eth century”. Ac­cord­ing to Har­vard Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor Joseph S. Nye, “Putin of­ten has been de­scribed as an­gry with the West, be­set by a sense of be­trayal and hu­mil­i­a­tion from what he per­ceives as un­fair treat­ment of Rus­sia. The over­throw of Libya’s Muam­mar Qaddafi and the on­go­ing ef­forts to un­der­cut Krem­lin client - Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad - have only made mat­ters worse.”

How­ever, we can­not say any­thing with cer­tainty about the ‘im­pe­rial project in­ter­pre­ta­tion’ un­til Rus­sia makes its next move. But some guess­work can be done. The dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive for Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion in Crimea from the per­spec­tive of Rus­sian na­tion­al­ism is that it acted out of ‘pri­mor­dial at­tach­ments’ with eth­nic Rus­sians in Crimea. But the ques­tion here is that in the past 20 years Rus­sia has never in­ter­vened out­side its borders on be­half of the eth­nic Rus­sian Di­as­pora. The Euroasian­ism ide­ol­ogy, which be­lieves in the reac­qui­si­tion of the Rus­sian Em­pire, may be the real rea­son.

How­ever, the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea can­not be at­trib­uted to any sin­gle rea­son. NATO’s pres­ence in the neigh­bor­hood, a sense of hu­mil­i­a­tion and be­trayal and a de­sire to gain the sta­tus of a global power – or all these fac­tors com­bined - ex­plain Rus­sian over­tures in Ukraine. “Our Western part­ners, led by the U.S., pre­fer not to be guided by in­ter­na­tional law in their prac­ti­cal poli­cies but by the rule of the gun. They are con­stantly try­ing to sweep us to the cor­ner. Ev­ery­thing in Crimea speaks of our shared his­tory and pride. This is the lo­ca­tion of an­cient Kher­sones, where Prince Vladimir was bap­tized… the graves of Rus­sian soldiers whose brav­ery brought Crimea into the Rus­sian em­pire are also in Crimea,” said Putin in his Crimean an­nex­a­tion speech.

But an­other im­por­tant ques­tion here is whether the U.S. and its western al­lies can thwart the ex­pan­sion­ist de­signs of Rus­sia. The an­swer to this ques­tion de­pends on two fac­tors. First, whether Western Europe will stand united against Rus­sia. Sec­ond, whether the U.S. still en­joys the sta­tus of the sole world power and has got the will and power to stand against Rus­sia. Some ob­servers have claimed that the Ukraine cri­sis will unite di­vided Europe. Is it pos­si­ble in view of the de­pen­dence of Europe on Rus­sia’s nat­u­ral gas?

The EU re­ceives about 30 per­cent of its nat­u­ral gas from Rus­sia. Here lies the dif­fer­ence be­tween the U.S. and the EU. Just 1 per­cent of Amer­i­can trade is con­ducted with Rus­sia and the coun­try does not rely on Rus­sian oil and nat­u­ral gas. On the other hand, for ex­am­ple, Ger­many con­ducts 3 per­cent of its trade ( valu­ing at 76.5 bil­lion Eu­ros) with Rus­sia. One-third of Ger­many’s oil and nat­u­ral gas is im­ported from Rus­sia. If the U.S. wants a united Europe to stand against Rus­sia, it will not be pos­si­ble with­out loos­en­ing Rus­sia’s grip over en­ergy since much of its power in the re­gion is the re­sult of its con­trol of en­ergy sup­plies and dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to a paper of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

If the U.S. and the EU do not unite against Rus­sia, it is most likely that Putin will use pro-Rus­sian groups and eco­nomic pres­sures to fur­ther desta­bi­lize Ukraine. A civil war is very likely. Ukraine is highly re­liant on Rus­sia, which is the des­ti­na­tion of about 25 per­cent of Ukrainian ex­ports. About 10 per­cent of the Ukrainian budget is fi­nanced through re­mit­tances sent by Ukrainian work­ers in Rus­sia. A Rus­sian boy­cott sim­ply means an end to the present Ukrainian govern­ment, which seems to be a fait ac­com­pli un­less the U.S. and the EU lend their full sup­port to Ukraine, which in­cludes fi­nan­cial sup­port as well. Will such sup­port be lib­er­ally forth­com­ing to di­min­ish the eco­nomic lever­age of Rus­sia in the re­gion?

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