Sunday, February 25, 2018 07:36:44 PM
Tanbir Uddin Arman :
After the cold war, the current crisis in Ukraine is the worst one Europe is now undergoing destabilizing the entire East-West relations. However, over the last few days we have seen a massive shift in the crisis which mainly began in mainland Ukraine protesting the Yanukovych regime on its allegation of massive corruptions, anomalies and pro-Russian affinity, has now turned to the Crimean peninsula shifting the theater.
Russian President Vladimir Putin must be considered as key player of this geopolitical game but after the declaration of de facto independence by the Crimean parliament , Putin should no longer be reckoned as exclusive player of the game but definitely the big hand behind it. It now includes strategic considerations of Crimea's pro-Russian ethnic people and their will as they constitute the majority population of the peninsula. So question arises as to why Crimea so matters? A look back into Crimea's history and geography helps understand the recent shift in the crisis.
Crimea it is not legally a part of Russia as it was handed over to Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's the then President Boris Yeltsin ostensibly forgot to claim it back.
In consequences, Crimea had a short autonomous status in 1991 until Ukraine reintegrated the territory in 1992. With Ukraine's reintegration of the island nonetheless, the ties of Crimean people with Russia remained largely unchanged since then.
Their relations with Russia are not just historical but of blood and linguistic. Nearly 60 percent of its two million population is predominantly ethnic Russians who speak Russian as their mother language and identifies themselves as Russians. In the 2009 Ukrainian presidential election, 78 percent of all Crimean voted for Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Yanukovych.
Affinities between Crimea and Russia and the strategic location of Crimea entices Russia into regaining it and to keep the island under her jurisdiction. It serves as an important base for the Russian navy since it provides strategic access to the Black Sea and hence helps defend its strategic interests in entire Eurasian zone.
Crimea has been housing Kremlin navies for nearly 250 years. As the island depicts immense strategic significance to Moscow, it will never cede control over the island. It is now overt enough that Moscow's ultimate vision is the occupation of the island even though Putin claimed in his earlier statement that Moscow's intervention into Crimea was to protect ethnic Russians from oppressions.
It may be said fairly well that the EU and USA has invited the Ukrainian crisis by luring its ultra-nationalist leaders and political elements to join the US abandoning the Russian fold.
There may also be a parallel with Syrian crisis in which Russia is backing president Bashar al-Assad in fighting the western backed rebels.
As things stand now in the ground, the US's policy of 'first line of response to be diplomacy' was perhaps on the right track vis-à-vis peacefully setting the crisis. But it has proved ineffectual by Putin's subversion of Obama's drawing of 'red line' against Moscow's military incursion into the Crimea peninsula and with Crimea's subsequent declaration of de facto independence from the mainland control.
The present scenario is as such it is getting changed overnight and hence posing more and more complicated challenges to the West making their options of response very fringy. The US and EU seem not to be confronting militarily. They argue that harsh economic sanctions on Russia will be a much effective response of the West in this connection.
As Charles Tannock who is a member of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament- wrote in Project Syndicate on March 3, 2014 - the only imposition of 'Iran-style' tangible economic sanctions that affect Russian citizens-who have made Putin come into power - may offer some way of stymieing Russia from its expansionist motives and de-escalating the tensions.
It is true that sanctions against Iran on its allegation of nuclear weapon developments crippled her economy but not as much as the West projected. However, Charles should have not forgotten that EU's trade dependency on Russia is two times greater than that of Russia on EU.
In 2013, EU accounts for 70 percent of Russia's gas exports, 88percent of oil exports and 50 percent of coal exports. Germany, the euro zone's biggest economy, imports around 40 percent of its gas from Russia exclusively. As per the report of RIA NOVOSTI, EU's total gas imports from Russia stood at 161.5 billion cubic meters (bcm), with an increase of 16 percent in 2013. Russia, in turn, imports 31 percent of EU's natural gas, 30 percent Uranium, 24 percent coal and 27 percent crude oil.
However, it can be told pretty much surely that Russia will fast react with shutting down its gas and oil supplies to the EU in a response to the West's imposition of economic sanctions against her. As EU hangs in a greater deal on Russia, economic sanctions would paradoxically cripple EU's economy if Russia once shuts off its oil and gas supplies to EU.
Russia has also threatened to freeze the assets and accounts of western companies working in the country in response to any freezing of its assets and accounts in the EU and USA.
In fact, the US has already imposed assets freezes and visa bans on high level Russian officials. Also, it seems that Russia might be excluded from G8. But in consequences, Russia will develop its relations with China and rest of the rising countries which on the other hand would ease the way of making BRICS (an organization formed primarily with a view undoing US's claim of 'super power') much stronger.
And for the US, doing anything in resolving Syria crisis and Iran nuclear issue would also become much difficult.
Russia has even threatened it would pursue the means of massive retaliation if the West make any sharp move against her. So, the only option still seems to give some hope in resolving and de-escalating the crisis is diplomatic means, neither harsh economic sanctions nor military actions as they would result in a scourging ravage between the West and Russia.
(Tanbir Uddin Arman is Research Assistant, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), Dhaka)
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