Worrisome signs of the (re)emergence of a cold war between the West, mainly the US and the EU, and Russia are emerging over the issue of Ukraine. Political rhetoric is being ramped up, along with sanctions gradually introduced on the part of the West, while Crimea’s incorporation into Russia is advancing. It looks increasingly difficult to return to the status quo ante and have a reasonable discussion on how to ensure the integrity, prosperity and good governance of Ukraine in the difficult buffer zone between the EU and Russia where it finds itself.
Barring a major miscalculation from Ukraine, Russia or the West, the most probable is for a new status quo that includes:
– A Crimea that is de facto part of Russia, whether internationally recognized or not;
– A Ukraine run by a pro-Western government but facing outbreaks of violence with parts of the population feeling closer to Russia and with the extreme right making strides in the other parts;
– Frosty relations between Russia and the West, with Russia facing limited sanctions and exclusion from fora like the G7/8, and Europe potentially facing counter sanctions and experiencing energy supply problems.
This may make for a somewhat unpleasant situation but nothing the key protagonists cannot live with, except perhaps Tatars, Ukrainians and other minority populations in Crimea, and Russians in the rest of Ukraine. But the main political players, international and local, can always restate their claims against each other, excite patriotic sentiments among their respective publics and allies, win elections and exercise power, without having to resort to much more than tough words. If no unpredictable factor intervenes, that is, no provocation or public uprising that might demand from politicians to prove their toughness in practice and authorize action. Such an improbable, it must be said again, turn of events that might lead to a hot incident between Russian and Western/NATO forces could have unpredictable consequences for regional and even global peace and security.
To avoid any dramatic eventuality, and to stabilize the situation as much as possible, measures like the following could be taken:
– Swift and systematic moves to establish democratic governance and respect for minority rights in Ukraine, as part of its gradual integration into the broader European space; the EU and the West should strongly discourage right-wing or other excesses, retribution among rival political forces, etc. by setting their avoidance as precondition for any deepening of integration and financial support; organizations like the UN and the OSCE could be brought in to help with or monitor actions in that regard.
– Guarantee of minority rights, assistance with family reunions across the new de facto borders etc. in Crimea too, through similar assistance or monitoring arrangements with the involvement of organizations like the UN and the OSCE.
– Continuation of mutual engagement between Russia, the US and Europe on other issues like Syria, Iran, North Korea, and avoidance of a Cold War-type split in the UN security Council; gradual reinstatement of collaboration fora like the G8.
This would be a far-from-perfect state of affairs, but could be the most viable, because it would entail a pragmatic recognition of mutual interests and might eventually draw the West and Russia closer together. This would presuppose a degree of humility, self-discipline and self-awareness from all sides, with the Russians realizing that they cannot reconstruct their empire with threats and a gradual return to centralized authoritarianism; the US and Europe admitting their hypocrisy and finally learning from the litany of failures they have created by “spreading democracy” around the world, e.g. Iraq and Libya; Europe facing head-on the major handicap of its own divisions that still allow the pursuit of narrow nationalist gains instead of working to define and implement the common European good.
20 March 2014