The collapse of Communism in Russia and the break-up of the Soviet Union has produced a range of tensions that are making themselves felt even now. Ukraine has become one of those, and with the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in the last week, a scenario chillingly close to the one that prevailed during the Cold War may seem to be emerging. Nobody wants a hot war, but how to respond to the Russian actions is a problem that has differential solutions depending on how close a country is geographically to the protagonists. There is something of a rift opening between the US and the European Union (EU). The EU is not in favour of the American push for tough sanctions against Russia, a position informed by pragmatism.
The Americans have suspended military ties and coordination with the Russians and are seeking to isolate Russia diplomatically and economically. The rouble has already felt the draft, falling two per cent against the USD and the value of Gazprom, the vast energy producer which exports primarily to Europe via Ukraine, has fallen by $12 billion. And then there is realpolitik. Although the Russian moves in the Crimea are in breach of, at least, two international treaties, the Russian claim to the peninsula has solid grounds. It is the base for the Black Sea Fleet and has been since the end of the Second World War, and the very last thing President Putin will want is vital assets going westwards, with the possibility of the Americans raising the flag of one of its own fleets over Sevastopol. American expansionism, a result of past American actions, in the region will be uppermost in the Russian mind, and limiting it, a priority.
Two hegemonies, America and Russia, have reassumed a historical stance but in a changed world. Diplomatically, Russia has wrong-footed the US several times in the last year, most notably over the Syrian conflict. The EU is increasingly able to gather collective political and economic heft and the Americans may find themselves playing catch-up. Again.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2014.