Stanly Johny

A scribe by sheer accident, Stanly Johny is a PhD in international relations from JNU, and keeps an eye wide open for politics, and the other for almost everything else under the sun.

Stanly Johny

Who will bell the Kremlin?

| Updated on March 09, 2014

Ukraine   -  Wikipedia

Despite the rhetoric, the EU finds it difficult to impose tough sanctions on Russia, while Moscow appears determined to continue its intervention in Ukraine

What the emergency summit of the European Union, held in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the Ukraine crisis amid calls for tough sanctions against Russia, all decided was to issue more threats. In a communiqué issued after the summit, the EU said it will “decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes” and cancellation of an upcoming EU-Russia summit “in the absence” of Russian movement and results within the next few days.

The EU, the US and the pro-western interim government in Ukrainian capital Kiev all want Russia to withdraw its troops from the Crimean peninsula, an autonomous region of Ukraine that hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Russia on the other side says the government in Kiev, which was formed after Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power late last month following mass protests, are not legitimate, and that its intervention was to protect the Russian speaking people in the region. The West calls its aggression.

Despite the West’s anti-Russian rhetoric, their options to rein in Russia are limited. The Brussels summit’s failure to impose any tough sanction against Russia was hardly surprising. I had written in Business Line the day before the summit: “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin knows that Europe cannot walk beyond a point in imposing trade curbs on Russia as 30 per cent of its gas needs are met by Russian supplies. It would not risk its economies being hit in the name of a Ukrainian Peninsula at a time when the Euro Zone is still not recovered from the economic crisis. The US’ options are also limited. Without European cooperation, tough sanctions cannot be imposed on Russia.”

The US talks more aggressively because it has nothing much to lose. The US-Russia trade ties are worth of $27.7 billion, while the EU-Russia trade stands at $417.5 billion, of which $74.9 billion worth of trade happens between Russia and Germany. Besides, there is high level cooperation between Moscow and Berlin in implementing the Nord Stream pipeline that would ship gas from Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany. The estimated cost of the project is a whopping €9 billion. It’s not as easy for Europe as it’s for the US to impose tough sanctions against Russia.

Dangerous game

On the other side, Russia remains as assertive as ever. It has taken full control of Crimea, and is now shaping events in the peninsula. On the day the EU summit held and the US decided to impose some token sanctions on Russia, the Crimean Parliament decided to join the Russian Federation. It also decided to advance a referendum to March 16, from the earlier decided date of March 30. The message is clear. The more the West and Kiev provoke Russia, the more it will assert its influence in Ukraine.

That Russia has substantial support among the people of Crimea is a big plus for Kremlin. Unlike the invasions and occupations of the West (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc) the Russians haven’t fired a single shot in Crimea to take control of the region. That doesn’t absolve Russia of violating the sovereignty of Ukraine, but gives it more room in this geopolitical game, and adds credibility to its narrative –it intervened to protect the local populations.

As of now, the West’s methods not only look incapable in reining in Russia, but can also escalate the crisis into a major conflict between great powers. Russia has strategic concerns as NATO has consistently been trying to expand its reach eastwards to Russian borders. Unless such concerns are addressed, Moscow is unlikely to give up its influence on Crimea. Any attempt to force Russia to abandon Crimea without addressing its strategic concerns will be counterproductive, and will serve nobody’s interests.

Published on March 09, 2014

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