Since March 2014, when President Putin signed a bill to annex Crimea as a part of the Russian federation, the core value of “democracy” has been brought to question. The West led by the United States stand strong against this as one would expect. The Ukrainian government fights at two fronts simultaneously. One in the east of the country with the Russian backed forces and the other economically. As Ukrainian leaders are in a hunt for aid to stabilize the economy, they interpret the Russian threat to be about the “core values of the free world”; these are the words of the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The cost so far
Since the start of protests in Kiev early December 2013 till the fool’s ceasefire acting now, the cost for Ukraine has been devastating. In February 2014 Kiev experienced the worst violence the city has seen in 70 years with more than 80 people dying in 48 hours. Later that February Russian rebels seized public buildings in Crimea. Even though the referendum for Crimea’s secession to Russia was passed with a majority, neither Ukraine nor the West was ready to let it go. As per February 11th 2015 the casualties in eastern Ukraine stood at 5,486 and with 5.2 million people living in conflict zones.
What is often overlooked is the opportunity cost for Russia due to Putin’s actions in Ukraine. The Russian Gross Domestic Product has fallen since 2013 and one can argue that the prime concern of the government should be to manage this crisis within. Annexation of Crimea has led to several economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by the European Union and the United States. These sanctions have varied from travel bans and freezing of assets of key Russian elites to key sectors of the economy linked with this ruling elite. Individuals such as Gennedy Timchenko have been targets of these Western sanctions. Timchenko is known for his close association with president Putin and estimated by Forbes to be worth $14.4bn.Arkady Rotenberg and Igor Sechin are two more examples for leading business tycoons closely working with president Putin, and are subjected to sanctions. Firms such as Volga group, SMP bank, ROSNEFT are owned by these individuals respectively. Each of these firms has been targeted by the sanction imposed from the west. Apart from sanctions EU is opting for alternative sources of energy and reducing its dependence on Russia. This is leading Europe to turn towards Middle East and the Ukraine crisis is making the Iranian energy market appealing. These economic downturns are felt in Russia even though Putin doesn’t seem to flinch. U.S ambassador John Tefft said, “We’re not seeking to change Russia’s government but to change its policies”.
For many decades since the end of World War II the western nation states have benefited from the international architecture that was created by them. The crisis in Crimea stands as a strong example for how these post war institutions are tested. The European Council president Herman van Rompuy said that “the world would never be the same again” soon after the Russian intervention in Crimea, and it can be argued that this statement has credibility.
One of the main consequences of such actions by Russia is that it’s not only interpreted as a threat to Ukraine rather a threat to the European stability in general. Russian military activities in the regions have increased which has been subjected to great criticism. Russia attempts to challenge the NATO presence in the region through such maneuvers. The very base of international law and the idea of sovereignty are challenged by the Russian intervention. However Putin criticizes the West for only pretending to uphold the international law. He states that when stakes are high the west doesn’t hesitate to act outside it. He cites examples of Libya, Kosovo and Iraq. The non-western countries do criticize Putin’s actions but however does not necessarily support the western claims about Ukraine. Many view this as a struggle between power blocs rather than actions taken to uphold international law. The large number of absentees in the UN general assembly vote supports this claim. Asian nation states such as India and China are very observant on this matter with their own secession worries in mind. The macro level picture however is that the west is attempting to deter Russia using economic measures and the effects of it is felt strongly within the Russian economy. President Putin continues to hold his ground in one might say a very ‘ignorant’ manner about the effects on the Russian people.
Is there a solution?
Going to war with Russia is not the intension of the west, and starting a war also should not be the intention of the Russians. However both sides continue to pressure and test each other’s limits and exhaust all soft power measures. Henry Kissinger wrote to the Washington Post that he believes that in order for Ukraine to thrive, it should not be acting as the outpost of either the west or east against the other. Rather it should be a bridge that connects the two powers.
Russia has to acknowledge that Ukraine cannot be viewed as a “satellite state” and the sovereign rights of the nation cannot be overlooked. In the same time the west has to understand that to Russia, Ukraine will never be a ‘foreign’ country. Ukraine and Russia has always been interconnected through history. The battle of Poltava in 1709 was fought in Ukrainian soil and is considered one of the prominent battles for Russian Freedom. The Russian black sea fleet is stationed in Sevastopol, Crimea on a long term lease. The historic roots itself has resulted in west Ukraine being catholic, Ukrainian speaking and the east being Russian orthodox, Russian speaking. This fact on its own was capitalized when Russia annexed Crimea.
However whatever said and done, Ukrainian sovereignty should not be undermined by both Russia and the West. The Ukrainian government should not undermine their historic relationships with Russia and the social structures of Crimea. Kissinger states that Ukraine should establish Crimea’s autonomy through elections. He further states that this process should include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea fleet. Kissinger argues that Ukraine should not join the NATO but should be able to create a government based on the will of its people. This is in an ideal solution which requires an understanding from the three parties involved, Ukraine, Russia and the West. At present this understanding seems to be lacking and the situation seems to be balanced on a fence. One can only hope that this could be resolved with terms upholding international law and the sovereignty of Ukraine.
- “Ukraine Conflict: Will the Cease Fire Hold?”BBC. N.p., 12 May 2015. Web. 17 June 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32695098>.
- “The U.S. Should Send Aid to Democracy’s Front Lines in Ukraine.”The Washington Post. N.p., 10 June 2015. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/on-democracys-front-lines-in-ukraine/2015/06/10/585640d4-0f8c-11e5-9726-49d6fa26a8c6_story.html>.
- “Ukraine Crisis: Russia and Sanctions.”BBC. N.p., 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26672800>.
- Kissinger, Henry A. “Henry Kissinger: To Settle the Ukraine Crisis, Start at the End.”The Washington Post. N.p., 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/henry-kissinger-to-settle-the-ukraine-crisis-start-at-the-end/2014/03/05/46dad868-a496-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html>.