Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow.
Since the United States and Europe have whipped up the anti-Russian rhetoric to the levels of the worst days of the Cold War, no one should be surprised if the Russian approach to Ukraine is following the famous one-liner attributed to Nikita Khrushchev: "what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.” Read on…
Just three days ago I set out the following scenario for the Ukraine crisis on these pages:
"Vladimir Putin has all along seen the Crimea not as a prospective fruit of conquest or consolation for loss of the Ukraine but as a bargaining chip for ensuring the interests of the substantial populations of Russian nationals and Russian speakers in East Ukraine, the Crimea and the Odessa region are formally taken into account by the constitutional arrangements of the country.”
However, yesterday’s announcements in Brussels on the sanction resolutions adopted by the European Council at its summit on Ukraine, in combination with the still more assertive sanctions announced earlier in the day by the American president, have changed the situation radically. A bargaining chip is useful only insofar as there can be trade-offs between the opposing sides under mutually agreed rules. The EU has issued ultimatums that exclude bargaining.
Presidents Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso last night highlighted Europe’s preparedness to impose sanctions on Russia that include freezing of assets. This approaches a declaration of economic war. The trigger will be the Kremlin’s refusal to begin bilateral talks with a Ukrainian government whose legitimacy it does not recognize. For the Russians, the Yatseniuk provisional government came to power in Kiev on the back of a forcible coup d’etat which received financial, technical and political support of the West. It is unconstitutional and not a negotiating partner. Russia instead seeks an overall settlement on the future of Ukraine with the backers of Kiev in Washington and Brussels.
In this situation, the threatened sanctions have in effect freed the Kremlin’s hands to do what will be most popular both on the peninsula of Crimea and with the political establishment of the Russian Federation: await the very predictable outcome of a referendum in Crimea on secession that will now be held on an accelerated schedule, less than two weeks from today, and then proceed with formal annexation. That will look after Russia’s own security interests by removing its Black Sea fleet base in Sevastopol from any further risks over a lease from an unfriendly neighbor.
Some pundits have believed that Russia will repeat in the case of Crimea the scenario it has implemented with Transdnistria, the breakaway province of Moldova that enjoys Kremlin support and which has repeatedly voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation. Over the years, Moscow has not acted on their request. But Transdnistria has no relevance to RF security; Crimea and East Ukraine are vital to RF security.
As regards safeguarding the rights of its nationals in Ukraine and of the substantial Russian-speaking minority there, particularly in East Ukraine, Russia can hold back for the moment and will take no overt actions until and unless there are violent clashes.Yesterday evening such clashes already occurred in Donetsk, where the pro-Maidan forces had recaptured the administrative buildings which were briefly liberated by pro-Russian demonstrators. It is likely there will be more outbreaks in Kharkiv and elsewhere in the region. I maintain that Russia’s response will be calibrated to the stubbornness or reasonableness of the US and EU as the confrontation evolves.
Since the United States and Europe have whipped up the anti-Russian rhetoric to the levels of the worst days of the Cold War, one should not be surprised if the Russian approach to Ukraine is following the famous one-liner attributed to Nikita Khrushchev:"what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Though nearly all the Western media have behaved in a giddy, irresponsible way to the unfolding crisis, there are, I am pleased to report, some serious voices emerging from the expert community who try valiantly to provide an appropriate context for the public to understand the interests and motivation of all parties to the conflict.A tentative and timid essay in this direction was penned by Henry Kissinger and published in yesterday’sWashington Post: "How the Ukraine crisis ends.”A sweeping and intellectually bracing article by a widely respected intellectual leader of an American generation 40 years younger than Kissinger, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, appears in today’s on-line edition ofForeign Affairsmagazine:"A New Post-Soviet Playbook.” To his credit, Sachs seeks not merely to put out the rising flames of the Ukraine crisis but to go to the root sources of the problems in relations between the West and Russia these past 20 years: the failure to bring Russia in from the cold and accord it a worthy place in European and global security.
However, separate voices get lost in the vast static of war-mongering that we see daily. It is high time for Councils of Wise Men to emerge both in the US and in Europe to bring gravitas to the deliberations of our political leaders. Regrettably, our presidents seem to be surrounded by lightweight crusaders for human rights and other ideologists out of touch with the political and military dangers we are courting by demonizing Russia and stepping on its national interests.
To join that discussion, I invite readers to follow the link: