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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
Summary of lecture that I gave at Queen Mary, University of London on 12 March 2014.
The recent dramatic developments in Ukraine have led to the disappearance of its dismissed President Yanukovych, but also to another very apparent disappearance, that of the European Union. The US officials who earlier used a four-letter word to describe Europe’s absence from the scene and inability to put its act together in Ukraine was obviously right. One cannot wait for the dysfunctional Union to act.
Brussels is unable to prove its relevance when it comes to big political issues, the people holding the highest offices in European institutions are mediocre and getting ready to go after the May elections, and the wish of the EU’s most powerful member states is obviously to hold on to their prerogatives; thus the Union appears as disunited and ineffective as ever. There is not even a semblance of EUness in what is happening in terms of Western intervention in Ukraine today. The monitors who will pronounce on the violence and the deaths are British and clearly say so to the press, announcing already their foregone conclusions. Even for monetary assistance, something the EU used to be good at in the past, it is the UK talking to the US and the IMF. The interface with the Russians is fragmented, with Hollande, Merkel and others making calls and sending messages to Putin, while the sad presence of Catherine Ashton moves around Meidan, trying to utter a common EU foreign policy, or is she another member of the UK delegation?
This is as disappointing as it can be, and “one of the same” too. What has changed from 100 years ago, the games of the big powers and the Great War? Very important that the war is not with us this time, but for how long, if such games continue?
For a European federalist like me this is particularly disheartening for many reasons:
- It is another proof, if one was needed, that the Union is there only for the soft issues, while it breaks up in front of big politics, big interests and big money;
- It is particularly worrying that parochial national interests and uncooperative national elites continue to play their games around Europe and beyond, competing with each other and undermining the common European project, while being unable to utter a coherent stance towards third parties like Russia or the US;
- Coming from Greece, the current holder of the EU Presidency as it happens, and the best known example of a punch bag for internal EU discipline, I am triply worried about the weak-to-non-existent role of middle and small powers within Europe, as they should be trying hard to keep the big powers within the fold and the EU institutions up to task…
Another dark day for Europe but will it prove a better day for Ukraine, no matter who has actually intervened and how? The specter of the country’s splitting in two, and of possible civil war, is hovering over it. Will the new leadership, not without a past itself, manage to keep the country together? Will it split peacefully if it does split? Will Europe offer guarantees to Western Ukraine if the split happens? What will Russia do, vis-à-vis Eastern Ukraine and the country as a whole? What a wonderful world, and the Sochi Olympics have just successfully concluded nearby…
Athens, 25 February 2014
See my piece on this subject just posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.
Can the approach successfully used to advance the Right to Food also be used to promote the future SDGs? See an analysis at http://bit.ly/1fhiHGf
(Piece posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.)
See my piece on “The UN at 68 and Sustainability” just posted on the website of The Hague Institute for Global Justice.
See my piece on the subject at www.thehagueinstitute.org