The Price of Provocation: Crimea and the International System

PDF Print E-mail
Addthis

Jackie Liu

Whatever the reasons lay behind the new development in Ukraine, all appeared to undermine the sense of security and safety of Russia, which Ukraine was supposed to protect. Worries about the move by Russia in Crimea should not inhibit inquiries in a way that blocks sober examination into the factors that led to the crisis.One would wonder why the West continued with the expansion of NATO even after the demise of the Soviet Union. This is the only cause for the crisis in Crimea. Hence, the sole policies put into effect by president Putin were not only consequences of the series of provocations supported by the West but calculated responses to them.

The conflict in Crimea and Ukraine has changed the shape of European and world politics, for several reasons. It has led to a near military confrontation of a geopolitical nature since the end of the Cold War. Its import and meaning to international law, the principle of self-determination, as well as sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations is huge. Above all, it marks the peak of the duplicity of the West in international relations.

Ukraine lurched toward breakup as of early March this year when lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared the holding of a referendum that resulted in the region joining Russia. People of the Peninsula made their choice in a referendum on the status of Crimea which took place on Sunday March 16 2014. The results showed that more than 95% of Crimean people wanted to unite with Russia. President Obama condemned the move and the West answered with the first real sanctions against Russia. Both Washington and the EU were discussing further sanctions. There were 135 foreigners from 23 countries during the referendum as international observers. 54 of them represented European countries. The observers stated that the referendum was organized according to international standards, and was honest and transparent. The process was fine. The results were clear. But the nature and outcome of the referendum has put the West and Russia in an adversarial position. The whole affair cannot be de-linked from the complex geopolitics of the post Cold War Europe.

Indeed, the crisis is a demonstration that the West still sees Russia as its geopolitical enemy with whom a policy of deterrence is needed. The West fully realizes that a Russian-Ukraine economic or defense alliance would considerably strengthen Russian positions and boost its confidence to play a constructive role in Europe. That didn't happen. The trigger came after the emergence of ultra-nationalist forces in Kiev who declared their support to Europe and antagonized Russia. A negotiated settlement was possible and both Russia and the West would have benefited by such an outcome. However, Western countries supported the unconstitutional seizure of power. The agreements reached between President Yanukovych and the opposition on February 21, 2014, has been scrapped by opposition leaders: the legitimate Head of State that was supposed to remain in office has been effectively ousted from the country and an interim president has been appointed. And the initial plan was to expand Western influence through peaceful and economic pacts. Yet, at the last moment, Yanukovych refused to sign it, heeding Russia’s arguments, so the EU decided to get rid of Yanukovych. Nonetheless, the results are not impressive.

Political power in Kiev has become disaggregated into the hands of far-right extremist elements that do not hide their xenophobic, anti-semitic, neo-fascist credentials. This has led to insecurity on the part of ethnic Russians in Ukraine which increased the apprehension of Moscow. Never mind the West is not interested in Ukraine itself. The goal is not really democracy, human rights or a responsible government. The target is Russia and any kind of government comes to power in Kiev, as long as it is pro-West and hostile to Russia, should be supported. The real issue here is that, whatever the reasons that lie behind the new development in Ukraine, all appeared to undermine the sense of security and safety of Russia, which Ukraine was supposed to protect. This is the only cause for the crisis in Crimea. Hence, the sole policies put into effect by president Putin were not only consequences of the series of provocations supported by the West but calculated responses to them.

Russia was intimidated as its major buffer zone against the ever increasing expansion of NATO to its borders is being eliminated. One would wonder why the West continued with the expansion of NATO even after the demise of the Soviet Union. Even more disquieting is why NATO continues to operate in Eastern Europe? Or why it is needed when the ideological divide between West and East is gone anyway? No wonder, Russia has every reason to be suspicious of the West’s intentions. Moreover, Moscow has genuine and legitimate security concerns. Historically its security has been protected not only by its people’s gallantry and heroism but also the geographic depth. The latest expansion of the West and NATO to it borders in the name of supporting democratic uprisings have threatened that strategic asset. Russia was indeed cornered hence it supported a desperate unilateral action. The side effect of this could be negative but there were no many options left for the leadership in Moscow. Looking into the future, the Ukraine crisis and Russia’ single handed move could ultimately test many of the core assumptions binding the international community together.

Clearly, it is an open question how hard Russia is willing to push in the face of world opinion, but no one underestimates how important Crimea is to Russian interests. This is a major problem in Africa and African countries are apprehensive about the change of borders unilaterally or by force.  All of these places have conflict in common because the political boundaries ignore ethnically and linguistically similar groups that are not accorded the right of self-determination. A fundamental clause in Africa is respect for colonial borders. And the outcome of the Crimean referendum, however, tests that legal concept because all across the region there exist calamitous conflicts that are a product of unnatural groupings of peoples by artificially drawn borders. The problem of international recognition of these unnatural groupings is a lot bigger than the Russian assertion over portions of Ukraine's territory. Notwithstanding this fact the fault lies in how political change came to Kiev and how and why the West supported it. Worries about the move by Russia in Crimea should not inhibit inquiries in a way that blocks sober examination into the factors that led to the crisis.

Many Africans and international experts believe the change of government in Kiev was illegal and the West has been hypocritical to support it. The dominant view is that the West applied double standards in supporting the mob violence that toppled the government led by Yanukovych. However, the nature of double standards applied by the West is too many to be discussed in one piece. For instance, Preident Obama said that any decision on the future of Crimea must include the Ukranian government. In other words the proposed referendum would violate international law unless the government in Kiev is included. But when did this policy position came to the attention of the West? Since when did such a position become a precondition for exercising the right to self-determination? Quite disconcerting. As the entire world knows Western policy on this has been consistent in its inconsistency. Western commentators and the media surprisingly refused to mention relevant examples and draw parallels to other referendums they have supported such as Kosovo or Eritrea. The people of Crimea, like any other people have the right to self determination all the more so that there is a historical precedent in the neighborhood-Kosovo. Indeed Europe may face a spiral of demands for self determination. The quest for independence are being reignited in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the UK.

The independence of Kosovo was single handedly supported by the West, even in the face of opposition from Serbia. The message is that a process gets legitimacy only when it gets approval from the West. The referendum in Eritrea was a sham, as it didn’t give a fair choice to the people, conducted under force of arms, Ethiopia was not consulted or involved in the process, but the West accepted the outcome. The position of the West, well predictably, has more to do with geopolitics and less with principle or international law. The West argued that any decision on the future of Crimea must include the Ukrainian government in Kiev, but the decision on Eritrea didn’t include Ethiopians or their government and that of Kosovo didn’t include Serbia. After the majority of Kosovars voted to secede from Serbia, the European Union rushed to support it regardless of the objections of the other side. At the time of Kosovo the principle of human rights was made supreme over the principle of sovereignty and non-interference. Another aspect of double standard is the issue of humanitarian intervention. The West intervened in Kosovo in support of that principle and opposed it when Russia said ethnic Russians in Ukraine are threatened and need to be protected. The so-called Blair Doctrine or Humanitarian Intervention was premised on the condition that a potential threat to a community deserves international attention, including military intervention. Now the reverse is being publicized. If anything the situation in Ukraine revealed the hypocrisy of the West.

And popular opinion even in Europe attests to this fact. An opinion poll conducted in Germany demonstrated popular views on double standards applied by politicians in the West. The West has moved every means at its disposal, above all, its powerful mass media, into battle. One wonders how big media outlets such as the CNN and BBC readjusted the narrative to suit their case. Russia was vulnerable as it has fewer media resources. And it is hard to combat double standards under these circumstances. This in turn helped to create a situation whereby the US and its European allies have tried to ostracize Russia and establish an international coalition against it. This might help in weakening Russia and the coming back of a unipolar world. The ramifications of this are enormous. On the other hand if Russia survives this challenge it might lead to a clear evolution of a bipolar world where Western interests and positions are not the only deciding factors. Such a possibility might be in the interest of other poor, small or weak African countries. The anti-Russian fronts can easily mutate into a world dictated by the US, irrespective of international law, norms and principles. 

In recent years Russia has been at the forefront of blocking US dictations in international affairs, ranging from Syria to Iran. A pro-American rally on the issue of Ukraine might be used to reactivate US global hegemony with all its negative consequences for international peace and security. That said the crisis and its aftermath would hugely impact on the nature of international governance institutions. The ripple effect is not limited to gutting international norms, values and principles. Rather it will affect institutions and processes. G-8 has already become G-7. Another result of the West’s standoff with Russia is that it spells the end of the BRICS and it embryonic institutions. Whether that would revive the G-20 or destroy it remains to be seen. Russia’s membership of the G-8 has been revoked but where that will leave the G20 is much less clear. Provoked by the West’s encouragement and support of an unconstitutional takeover of power in it backyard Russia has taken a step that exposed the hypocrisy and double standards in international relations, potentially compromises international norms and principles and reshapes international governance institutions and processes. It is too early to know the exact nature of the post-Crimea world but the signs so far point to confrontation and instability. The causes and implications of the provocation in Ukraine are far critical than the future status of Crimea.

 
Last Updated on Saturday, 05 April 2014 19:40
 

Archives

Chat

We have 16 guests online

Books

Here you can find some
of my books.