06 Mar Crisis in Crimea: setting patterns of behaviour
A meeting in Paris last night (5 March) between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov failed to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, which reached its apex when Russia started moving in its troops into Crimea on 1 March. Further discussions between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov are expected in the next few days.
Memories of the 2008 Russian invasion of the territory of Georgia, another former Soviet republic like Ukraine, have returned. Concerns have been raised about a new Cold War between the US and Russia, or even the possibility of a proxy war in Crimea. For example, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, in speaking to the Singapore Parliament on the Ukrainian crisis, warned that “other countries will see what patterns of behaviour are possible.”
Oil and gas prices have risen around the world. Asian stock markets have tumbled. But, like with Georgia, the conflict over Ukraine is very much a tussle between Russia and the West over the Eastern European region in-between them. It boils down to one question – can Ukraine be allowed join the European Union and NATO?
The Crimean crisis is also very much a product of unresolved territorial issues from the breakup of the Soviet Union. When Ukraine became independent in 1991, the compromise struck entitled Russia to station 25,000 troops in Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine. The pretext has been to protect Russian citizens who form the majority on the Crimean peninsular.
Yet, fears about an aggressive, empire-seeking Russia may be somewhat overplayed. Just recently, when Russian President Vladimir Putin lunched with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, it was reported that Russia and Japan had never been closer to a resolution over the Kurile Islands as during that occasion. Mr Putin may insist on keeping Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of influence, but he also knows that it serves Russia absolutely no benefit to invade Crimea. It seems, therefore, that Mr Putin is urgently in need of a face-saving exit.
That is what Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov can seek to provide Mr Putin. President Obama has warned his Russian counterpart that all options are on the table, implying the use of force to eject Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. But the truth is that European governments, including the UK, are not even keen to talk about economic sanctions – a sign of how dependent European economies are on Russia. Other EU countries like Germany are heavily dependent on Russia for energy.
U.S. Effort to Broker Russia-Ukraine Diplomacy Fails [New York Times, 5 Mar 2014]