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Refocusing on Ukraine crisis

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13th-Mar-2014       
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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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