Friday, November 28, 2014

Ukraine and Beyond

GENEVA – The Ukraine crisis has evolved from acute to chronic. The main question – Will Russia dare to invade mainland Ukraine? – has been answered: Not now. So, now what?

Obviously, the Kremlin did not expect the West’s firm and united reaction to its annexation of Crimea. President Vladimir Putin’s phone call to US President Barack Obama on March 28 clearly demonstrated Russia’s eagerness to discuss “de-escalation.” Putin’s main objectives now are the removal of Ukraine’s blockade of Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria and Ukrainian “federalization” (a euphemism for the Kremlin’s back-door strategy to gain control over the country’s eastern and southern regions).

But there can be no return to business as usual anytime soon. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea has triggered unintended tectonic shifts in international politics. While the long-term implications are still hazy, the immediate consequences are clear.

First, the Russian people will pay dearly in terms of their own freedom for their leaders’ reckless decisions. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Russian poet Alexander Galich wrote: “Compatriots, our homeland is in danger! Our tanks are in a foreign land!” Confrontation with the West, seemingly unavoidable after the Crimea Anschluss, will give rise to a “mobilization” regime. Russia’s new draft budget, with its skyrocketing military outlays, along with paranoid talk of “fifth columns” and “national traitors,” attests to this trend. In such circumstances, sanctions that hit ordinary people will only help the regime consolidate its power.

Second, the crisis has several geopolitical ramifications. The Kremlin’s actions have undermined European security; delivered a body blow to international law; weakened the nuclear non-proliferation regime by fatally undermining the role of security guarantees for non-nuclear states; and raised doubts about the predictability of Russia under its current leaders.

All of this will have far-reaching effects in the years and decades ahead, ranging from the realignment of formal and informal alliances and the militarization of security arrangements to possible – and long-discussed – adjustments in the international governance system. Russia’s expulsion from the G-8 and renewed military build-ups are only the first of many such changes.

Third, the Ukraine crisis will completely transform Russia’s relations with the West. During the first two decades after the Cold War, a combination of suspicion and pragmatism prevailed on both sides, with competition in some respects and cooperation in others playing a crucial role in coping with important international challenges. The relationship’s transformation into an adversarial one will “contaminate” the international system, undermining potential solutionsto many problems, from nuclear-arms reduction and climate change to stabilizing regional hot spots like Syria.

In response to Western sanctions, the Kremlin will bring pressure to bear on the United States and its allies by creating problems elsewhere. For example, Russia has already offered to build two new, non-military nuclear reactors in Iran. Technological support for Iran’s nuclear programs could impede the ongoing international negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, especially as the Iranians are looking for leverage in the talks.

Russia could escalate the crisis by putting pressure on the US closer to home as well. Consider Venezuela, where – as with Iran’s nuclear program – Russia has demonstrated its willingness to take risks that it would not have taken before. On February 26, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu formally announced his government’s plan to expand its overseas military presence. Venezuela is high on its list, having already purchased more than three-quarters of the $14.5 billion in arms sold by Russia in the region from 2001 to 2013.

Fourth, having annexed Crimea, Russia has lost Ukraine, turning it from friend to foe. Ukraine’s industrial and manufacturing infrastructure evolved under the Soviet Union as a compliment to Russia’s resource base. After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the Russian resource economy’s traditional links with Ukraine, including extensive pipeline infrastructure, ensured access to European markets.

Now, having lost Ukraine’s industrial and manufacturing base, and with Europe more determined than ever to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies, the Kremlin will need to turn eastward toward China, which will be happy to see Russia remain a resource economy in thrall to it.

Given all of these potential dire consequences, it is vital to prevent Cold War II. During the coming transition period, the world will need new mechanisms for international dialogue. Isolation of Russia would be counterproductive, merely aggravating its highly developed sense of victimization and possibly turning it into a “rogue” state – truly a nightmare scenario, given that Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Instead, targeted economic sanctions and calibrated military measures should be coupled with intensive and open political dialogue. A personal meeting between US, Russian, and German leaders could be helpful in channeling relations toward a non-destructive course. To be truly productive, such contact should not be limited to resolving the Ukraine crisis – or to senior officials.

The Ukraine crisis should not be allowed to obscure the full range of challenges that the world faces. In fact, the standoff is more likely to be resolved constructively within a framework that seeks consensus on a broader agenda. After all, any crisis creates new opportunities (for example, the Syrian civil war has prompted important action on chemical weapons). The opportunity for Russia and the West is to generate the political will needed to address issues – above all, reform of an outmoded system of international relations – that have been ignored for too long.

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    1. CommentedVelko Simeonov

      Yet another serious "analyst" seeing the world in black and white. The north-atlantic community is dressed in white and the ruskies in dark black, one side as a force of good and the other as a force for bad. And as in any other fairytale the good will prevail and the evil empire will be crushed. A rather pointless collection of words?

        CommentedCarl Buzawa

        Velko how do you see it? Russia in 1994 guaranteed the territorial sovereignty of the Ukraine--they just annexed it...consistent?
        Now they send troops with modern weapons (AKA GRU or Spaetnetz troops) across the borders of the Ukraine taking over buildings, manning barricades, killing pro Ukrainian politicians--straight out of the 1930's playbook.
        You may label something you disagree with as a "pointless collection of words, I would label your response simply as pro Russian rhetoric--as I have seen on many of these boards where the Russians appear unwilling to acknowledge that their government is being the aggressor in this situation.
        PS I do believe that Likotel's analysis is largely on point, although I tend to believe sooner rather than later Russia will actually invade with some sort of pretext--similar to the German soldiers in Polish uniforms attacking their comrade's radio station in Danzig.

        Putin pretty much gave this away in his Russian language remarks when he called the border lands "The New Russia". Similarly you notice he didn't hold Crimea until the Uraine held new elections to select what everyone would see as a new legitimate government--no he annexed it to Russia. in violation of the 1994 treaty that Russia signed.

        You may be a Russian patriot but it is impossible for non Russian patriots to see this as anything other than naked aggression.

        Having said this, the USA has made lots of mistakes in recent years, especially after the terrorist bombings of 9/11--but none involved annexing the territory of another country--- but major ones, nonetheless. I think this post, as others on the topic however address the Ukrainian crisis--OR would you prefer to call it the "Crisis in New Russia?"

        I realize that these days most Russian posters don't have the freedom to post anything remotely critical of their government but when you don't acknowledge any legitimacy to the other side you become irrelevant to the real discussion.

    2. CommentedYuriy Gorodnichenko

      It seems we're going to see a war of attrition before political leaders are going to start looking for a real solution to the crisis. In this sense, it is similar to the Cold War when one party was waiting to another party to cave in. This time however it is not clear how Russia is going to win in the end. It seems that all fundamentals (economic, military, political) are not in Russia's favor.

        CommentedCarl Buzawa

        Long term you might be right but Putin, if smart could settle for the Balkanization of the Ukraine into semi autonomous regions that are really led by fear of the little green men you see with sub machine guns at each occupied town, supplemented with the assassination of pro Ukrainian politicians in this area. The USA's current President nor Angela Merkel would not likely deploy enough meaningful threats to change the mind of a cruel, bloody but crafty former KGB operative.

        My hope though is that this reenergizes NATO to bring the European forces up to where they should be, and to diversify their energy sources as quickly as possible (by fracking, importing nat gas from Algeria, Qatar and the USA as well as reminding all of the other neighbors of Russia, like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia to rearm and be extremely wary of similar "spontaneous" outbreaks of discontented Russian nationals