Ukraine Crisis: A Return to the Cold War?

Vladimir Putin - Olympic Host
The West has loudly condemned Putin and his grab on Crimea, forgetting that for most of its history, Crimea belonged to Russia and that it was only absent-mindedly handed over to the Ukraine some 60 years ago by Krushchev. This was a time when the Soviet Union was so solid that it was impossible to imagine that it might collapse some day, much less fragment the way it did. 

Putin is obviously a nostalgic politician dreaming of putting the broken Soviet giant back together again via his EuroAsian Union proposal (so far only joined by Belarus and Khazakstan).

But Putin's nostalgia is not something to take lightly. Russia's economy may well be no larger than Italy's, and Putin may rely excessively on carbon energy and gaz rather than attempt to build a diverse economy for the future (which would be much wiser), but his Russia is still a major nuclear power and therefore not to be trifled with.

Then, consider the effect of globalization: Russia is a major trading partner and provider of energy for Western Europe and Germany in particular. Practically all big banks in the West are exposed to Eastern Europe including Ukraine and Russia, but the Europeans (for example Italy's Unicredit) much more so than the Americans. 

These economic links only mean one thing: any attempt to impose broad economic sanctions following the model applied to Iran would only backfire and most likely put paid to Europe's on-going recovery (that is still very weak and iffy).

Obama has been loudly asking for Russia to pull back from Crimea and Ukraine. Merkel a little less loudly, and that's understandable, she has no wish to risk an economic recession - and a lot of European leaders are dragging their feet, uncertain of what is the next step. 

So the dispute has been moved up to the United Nations. The General Assembly has been drawn into the act in a resolution supporting Ukraine territorial integrity, with 100 voting in favor, 11 voting against and, what is important in this case: 58 abstentions (24 countries did not vote). Out of a total 193 members, a little more than half were mobilized in favor (for details see news report here )

The US made the case that while self-determination is a UN principle, it is not valid when the voting is held "under coercion" as was done in Crimea - something Russia of course denies (!). 

The outcome of the UN vote, while giving strong support to the US position, does suggest that for a lot of countries, those that abstained or didn't turn up to vote, the situation is not quite so clear cut and they've adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Notably, the BRICs abstained: China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Those voting against along with Russia, were the usual culprits: Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The biggest move - more important than the piddly sanctions against people in Putin's entourage (freezing their assets abroad and forbidding travel to the West) - has been the ejection of Russia out of the G-8, which is now effectively back to a G-7. And the next meeting which was supposed to be hosted by Putin and held in Sochi this summer won't take place. 

Of course. Thus Putin is now effectively isolated. Alone on the international scene.

Is that clever?

What do you think? In my view, this is both a dangerous and stupid game. Kicking Russia out of the G-8 has effectively removed one major forum where Putin could have been tackled. One chance less to try and curb him.

Shaming him in front of the UN General Assembly might have given Obama the feeling he had achieve something, but in fact it has no practical consequences. Resolutions in the General Assembly, unlike those of the UN Security Council, are not legally binding. And naturally, a UN Security Council resolution is unthinkable since Russia is one of the five countries with veto power. 

Result of this move? It makes the UN appear in Putin's eyes as a supremely unfriendly environment. Not a place where he is going to want to go and discuss the territorial integrity of anything at all.

We are now effectively back into a Cold War situation where diplomatic channels tend to be frozen. And when diplomacy is frozen, the military elbow in and strut on stage - with the consequences we all know. No doubt to the glee of gun merchants and the military-industrial complex.

Not clever at all.

Your views?

Photo credit: Vladimir Putin - Olympic Host see: DonkeyHotey
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