Russia and the West in the wake of Ukraine’s crisis

Russia and the West in the wake of Ukraine’s crisis

A ceasefire between the Ukraine government and Russian separatists takes effect on Sunday, February 15, 2015. It follows a summit in Minsk involving the presidents of Ukraine, Russia and France and the German Chancellor. But the EU has not lifted the sanctions on Russia which will ensure the ceasefire terms are respected by Russia and that the Kremlin ends its support for the separatists, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

GIS has regularly analysed and forecast developments between Russia and the West. Ukraine’s current crisis is a terrible symptom of how much relations have deteriorated.

Former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic States decided to join the EU and Nato after the collapse of the USSR in1991. Ukraine, however, was always seen as a red line which should not be crossed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He expressed this several times.

The EU’s offer of an Eastern Partnership to Ukraine crossed this red line, in Russia’s view. The West ignored Russia’s sensitivities by continuing negotiations. But the West had no strategy of how to handle things when President Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine government rejected the Eastern Partnership deal and deadly violence erupted in Maidan square in Kiev.

Russia wants to regain the status of a leading global power, while believing that the West developed an opportunistic ‘value based’ foreign policy which includes the right for it to determine further regime change.

Ukraine was Russia’s red line because it was intended as a cornerstone of Mr Putin’s Eurasian Union. The annexation of Crimea and Russian support to the aggressive separatists in eastern Ukraine followed the very different positions adopted by the West and the Kremlin and has led to Ukraine’s proxy war.

Russia was struck emotionally by the West’s humiliations and insults, while being damaged economically by a free-falling oil prices and, to a lesser extent, Western sanctions. This cocktail of emotional and economic attacks has boosted Vladimir Putin’s popularity among the Russian population.

Russia has sufficient foreign exchange reserves to survive for some years, but it needs Western technology more than ever to keep its oil flowing as cheaper oil reserves begin to run out.

Western sanctions have galvanised the Putin regime in the short term so that the financial elite is more dependent on the Kremlin than ever. They have given Mr Putin a perfect excuse to blame hardship on sanctions, rather than on his own shortcomings.

The sanctions will slowly strangle Russia’s economy by hampering all development in its all-important energy sector and ensuring that nobody - Russian or foreigner - will invest in Russia.

The West will be blamed for this, and Russia can be expected to want revenge. The stated purpose of sanctions is an illusion. Nobody can honestly believe that Vladimir Putin will back off under pressure.

There is a growing likelihood of a new Cold War as perceptions of what is happening and the reasons for it are fundamentally different on both sides. But the West now has no intention of offering Nato membership to Ukraine.

The West - especially the EU - and Russia need to find a new ‘Continental Order’ which embraces European and Russian interests. This should also safeguard the sovereignty of the countries between them. But currently there is a complete lack of mutual trust. This will not solve the emotional issues and makes trade talks between the two blocks almost impossible.

Countries between the two blocks need to be free to trade with both sides. Trade and prosperity guarantee peace.

Any partnership Russia develops with China may generate revenues but it increases Russia’s dependence on its Chinese neighbour.

Both the EU and Russia have to understand clearly and unemotionally the position of the other side and maintain dialogue to find common ground.

This evaluation of the entire West-Russia situation was confirmed at ‘The Vaduz Roundtable’, a side event organised by GIS and held at the 2015 Munich Security Conference.

Related report:

Ukraine and Russia sliding down road to destruction

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