Do You Remember This One? Ethnic Identities Trump National Borders


2014-04-19 Clearly, the seizure of Crimea is not the end of the Ukrainian crisis.  The seizure has direct complications for the rest of Ukraine and for the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, a good deal of European response reminds one of the 1930s where guilt over Versailles led to acceptance of Nazi rhetoric about German territory for Germans.

Now Putin is playing a similar rhetorical game, and much European reaction is the same as before.

The context is different; the global situation is different; but the rhetoric is eerily similar.

The Euro crisis has led to a internal dynamic which will limit the growth and expansion of the EU as a global entity; and a redrawing of the Euro zone.

In this context, Putin sees his own map rewriting opportunity.

An armed man standing in front of a tank is believed to be pro-Russian as he's wearing the black ribbon of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine.  REUTERS/Maks Levin
An armed man standing in front of a tank is believed to be pro-Russian as he’s wearing the black ribbon of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine. REUTERS/Maks Levin

In a relatively rare European piece, Amanda Paul, a policy analyst at the European Centre in Brussels and an expert on Turkey and the Mediterranean underscores how dangerous the current situation is and notably, the inability of the EU to respond with either soft or hard power, and clearly this is a crisis that requires a blend of the two.

With regard to the current situation, Paul argues the following:

Having already had Crimea occupied and annexed by Russia, Ukraine’s government is struggling to hold the rest of the country together as Russia uses covert actions and propaganda to drive unrest, violence and fear.  Meanwhile the international community seems incapable of doing little more than making toothless statements of concern and placing weak sanctions which have so far been totally ineffective in deterring Russian President, Vladimir Putin from further aggression.

Earlier this week the Ukrainian authorities deployed an anti-terrorist operation following several days of unrest as pro-Russian armed groups carried out coordinated attacks taking-over police stations and government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine.  The operation is expected to last several days but success is far from guaranteed.  The threat of Moscow ordering its forces massed at the border into Ukraine in response for Kyiv’s using force against the separatists’ is a real risk as there is a real possibility it could be used by Moscow as a green light to invade to “protect” Russian speaking citizens.  

However, Moscow’s approach is not proving to increase Russia’s popularity in the East. The vast majority of Ukraine’s southeastern citizens have remained indifferent or opposed to unification with Russia.   In a poll taken on 9 April in Donetsk 65.7% stated they wanted to live in a unified Ukraine while only 18.2% said they would like to join Russia.

While Russia’s leadership continues to claim it has nothing to do with the unrest and is “deeply concerned”, Moscow is not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.  The world is fully aware that Russia is pulling the strings; that Special Forces are on the ground (little green men as the Ukrainian’s call them), deliberately provoking tensions.   

If this escalation continues there is a high risk that it will spread further; that the forthcoming  25 May Ukrainian Presidential elections will be derailed or the instability may prevent polling in the East/South East and Russia will declare the election result as illegitimate and Ukraine will sink further into crisis.  It is crucially important that the presidential elections go ahead.  The new President would have democratic legitimacy, thereby burying Russian claims that Ukraine has no legitimate or constitutional leadership.

Paul goes on to comment on how she sees the EU response to date and its impact:

The level and pace of response from the EU is not only frustrating and disappointing for Ukrainian’s, it is also frustrating for those member states that feel the time has come to move to level three sanctions that could include trade restrictions, an arms and other measures targeted at Russia’s elite,.  Yet because EU decision-making is based on unanimity, that often equates to the lowest common denominator.

Some EU member states continue to resist placing tough economic sanctions fearing repercussions on their own economies at a time of economic hardship or fear that Moscow – as has been rumored – may try to nationalize EU business in Russia. In Ukraine, reality has hit home and there is now broad realization that they are on their own…..

I am tired of hearing it is not the fault of the West.  Yes it is not the fault of the West that Putin is at the helm in Russia. 

Nor is it the West’s fault he seems to have a gruesome grand strategy for Ukraine and Russia’s near abroad more generally. 

However, it is the fault of the West that their response to the most serious challenge to the world order and security of Europe since the end of the Cold War has been so wishy-washy and inadequate.

For other recent pieces see the following: