Russia scared and yet encouraged many
The text was originally published in Russian
A year ago the Crimeans headed to election centers to express their will on the question put up for referendum – should the peninsula remain as a part of Ukraine or should it join Russia? Crimea becoming a part of Russia was not the initial stage in the Ukrainian crisis, and it did not become the last one. However, it was the Crimean referendum that triggered a new phase of the crisis, making it truly international.
Not everyone, who took part in the events, recognized the consequences of their actions. Many were left disorientated with the situation in Kiev and did not follow the developments in Crimea. at the same time, there were ones, who clearly realized what is at stake – these were, first and foremost, the Crimeans themselves and their supporters in Moscow. Russian leadership was engaged in solving the Crimean issue ever since Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich fled the country.
On the night of 22-23 February Russia signaled Crimea as its vital interest and, thus, raised the stakes. Other actors were taken aghast leaving noone willing to confront Moscow. Kiev’s new authorities did not take the risk of giving the direct command to use the armed forces in Crimea. Staking on anonymous violence, like in Maidan, the coup’s leaders Yatsenyuk, Turchinov and Avakov were inevitably losing the peninsula to the Crimeans.
In the meantime, the US tried out demonstration of power by the shores of Crimea with the use of several military ships, but having faced an even more decisive demonstration of the Russian fleet, had to abandon their attempt to use military force as an argument. Brussels in its turn was not even considering a possibility of military threatening. On the contrary, it was prepared to discuss settlement options for Crimea. However, several days earlier the EU had participated in the notorious mediation mission between Yanukovich and the opposition. And for Moscow and Simferopol the European guarantees from that point have considerably lost their value. On 16 March the Crimean referendum took place, and two days later the peninsula became a part of the Russian Federation. In response to that Kiev severed communication with Crimea, and the West imposed the first package of sanctions against Russia.
The past year distinctly showed how deep and irreversible the impact of these events was for international relations. Russia’s categorical position stumped many, and the EU and the US reaction to it was consolidated and sharp. The further development of the Russian-Western confrontation was closely followed by the rest of the world. The principle question hugely affecting the trends of international development was – will Russia give in to the pressure or will it be the West that will have to make concessions? It has been a hard test for everyone, and now it is time to look at the international outcome of the Crimean Spring.
Europe has seen the most of it, with Germany finding itself in the epicenter of unfolding transformations. Berlin had to prematurely return to the higher league of world powers to take responsibility for securing order in the Western camp. Belligerent Balts, Swedes and Poles – as well as some subtly pro-Russian EU countries – needed a tight rein to be kept on. The New Eastern Policy of Germany towards Russia began to be revised. And German-US relations were also reconsidered. With the scandal of Angela Merkel’s phone tapping and the inappropriately aggressive speeches of Supreme Allied Commander Europe of the NATO Allied Command Operations Philip Breedlove – Berlin has been expressing doubts in the necessity if the US leadership in defining defense priorities for Europe.
It was quite indicative in these circumstances that EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker raised the issue of creating common EU army. It is not only a question of demonstrating determination to oppose Russia. Europeans want to stop being a hostage of Russian-American tensions and play its own role in this game. Which is why Brussels agreed to holding direct negotiations with the Eurasian Economic Union on Ukraine. Previously the question was not even put this way. There are voices in Europe that call for reviving the Russian initiative of 2009 on European Security Treaty. It has become clear that increasingly often NATO has to solve security problems in Europe that the American leadership in the Alliance itself creates.
Furthermore, the EU unity has come under threat. A number of EU countries, namely Hungary, Finland, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Czech Republic, opposed prolongation of anti-Russian sanctions. Now the choice is between solidarity with the US or solidarity within the EU. Whatever Brussels decides next – it will affect the EU future.
For the US the Ukrainian crisis has not been a central topic. It is highly doubtful that through supporting the coup in Kiev last February, the Americans were planning to cut Ukraine from Russia once and for all: Washington was too poorly prepared for this. The personnel supply of American policy in Kiev left much to be desired and the necessary measures to secure stability of the new regime and the disloyal Ukrainian territories were not taken. It seems likely that the US yielded to opportunism, seeing the developments in Kiev as another violent electoral cycle in Ukraine, similar to Maidan 2004 events. From this perspective on the Ukrainian politics, none of the achievements will take roots for they are bound to be short-term and reversible. The US failed to estimate correctly the interests of Russia in Ukraine, especially the Russian interests in Crimea.
As a result, for over a year the US have been kept from its turn towards Asia by the Ukrainian crisis with President Obama and Vice-President Biden actively involved. At the same time, Ukraine remains a peripheral asset, which the US is not ready to fight for, but which is difficult to leave behind and is a distractive factor.
The foreign policy theme of confrontation with Russia will be among the central ones during the upcoming US presidential elections 2016. During the latest presidential campaign Republican candidate Mitt Romney claimed:
“Russia is the geopolitical enemy #1 for the US”.
It is most likely, that this time the Republicans will adopt this expression as their slogan.
As far as China is concerned, initially Beijing was following the situation in Crimea very closely projecting the precedent onto the Taiwan case. But China’s interest in the Ukrainian developments has gradually faded away, with Beijing still sending numerous signals to Moscow that it supports Russia in its conflict with the US. The outcome of this confrontation is especially meaningful for China since it outlines the limits of China’s freedom of action in East Asia and even further. In the meantime, Beijing is getting prepared for all possible scenarios of the crisis development, including Russia’s defeat and its internal collapse.
The BRICS countries are demonstrating the distance between them and the G7 through their solidarity in voting at the UN General Assembly. This distance may continue to grow in the course of time if the West starts playing against Russia ignoring the rules of global interconnection. Limitation of free turnover of capital, services and technologies is a signal to other centers of power that dependency on the West may become a vulnerability. Refusal to give loans to - and share technologies with - Russia has already caused a tectonic shift in the Eurasian regional economy, whose consequences will be irreversible even with sanctions lifted.
Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries aspiring to preserve their independency and self-determination now see Russia as an alternative to the global domination of the West. Russian ties with Algeria, Egypt and Turkey have become stronger, and Argentine and Nicaragua have offered preferential partnership to Moscow. Meanwhile, Vietnam has been struggling to confront the US attempts to veto Russian-Vietnamese cooperation.
Still, there are things left unchanged in the past year. Russia and the West share the priority of fighting Islamist terrorism and settling the Iranian nuclear program issue. The US has started conceiving Syrian President Bashar Al Assad as a reliable partner. And efforts are made to drag Russia into fighting the Islamic State. Despite the crisis in Ukraine, Federal Security Service head Alexander Bortnikov continues his visits to Washington to discuss these questions.
Events that have principle importance to world development are rare in the course of history. The Crimean Spring is undoubtedly one of these. It has triggered a sequence of processes, whose outcome is yet to manifest itself. However, they are already changing the international landscape of the 21st century.