Ukraine and the Russian-West endgame

Developing Just Leadership

Maksud Djavadov

Ramadan 03, 1435 2014-07-01

Special Reports

by Maksud Djavadov (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 5, Ramadan, 1435)

Neither the West nor Russia is able to achieve their objectives in Ukraine resulting in a stalemate but greater suffering for the people.

In an earlier article on the unfolding events in Ukraine (‘America’s Ukraine bid to keep Russia in check’ – Crescent International April 2014), we had stated that all politics is local; neither the West nor Russia can fully control its proxies on the ground. In the same report we also pointed out that unless the existing regimes in one of the Muslim countries of the former USSR significantly weaken, Western leverage against Moscow’s actions in Ukraine will remain limited.

Events on the ground and the analysis of activities undertaken by Western policy makers show that both of the above stated assertions are gradually turning into reality. All sides involved are in one way or another overplaying their hand. In Ukraine, divisions within the pro-Moscow camp are beginning to emerge. On May 5, Bloomberg Business week reported that “the state-run Voice of Russia radio service reported last month that Valery Kaurov, described as “head of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine,” had been endorsed by protesters in Odessa as president of the new Novorossiya. But since then Kaurov has vanished from the news, while other separatist leaders have emerged in Eastern Ukraine, including Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-appointed mayor of the city of Slovyansk.” On May 29, pro-Russian gunmen from the Vostok Battalion arrested members of the rival group from the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk, before removing their flags from check-points in the area.

Also, pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine have failed to make it clear what it is they really want: independence, autonomy or a deal with the central government in Kiev. Their unclear position most probably is derived from the fact that Moscow cannot yet clearly forecast the maximum gains it can accomplish in Eastern Ukraine. Kremlin realizes that the situation is extremely fluid and defining an endgame at this stage might constrain its capacity to play effectively. There is only one thing that Kremlin clearly wants and that is to not allow NATO to turn Ukraine into its satellite state. Nevertheless, Moscow must come up with a clear endgame strategy. This will not be easy as the situation is constantly changing and like Washington, Moscow too ended up believing its own myths about the events in Ukraine.

Russian illusions about ongoing developments in Ukraine limit Moscow’s ability to control its proxies there; the same applies to Western imperialist regimes. In order to properly evaluate the situation in Ukraine it must be kept in mind that since local political actors have strong backing of foreign powers, escalating the conflict benefits some local Western and Russian proxies in Ukraine that were previously politically unknown. In case of escalation, both sides receive significant financial and military backing which allows them to remain relevant and use their foreign backers as cash cows. This is one reason why the ongoing crisis in Ukraine can easily lead to unintended developments and consequences.

It is probably accurate to identify Washington’s endgame in Ukraine using the words of a former Russian government adviser, Alexander Nekrassov who says that “when it comes to the bigger perspective, the endgame, Putin and his people suspect that the US plans to use the crisis in Ukraine to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia, with the aim to take over the European markets under a trading pact with the EU. The Kremlin believes that the crisis in Ukraine has a much bigger dimension and involves a US desire to redraw the economic map of Europe, to start sorting out its enormous debts that are spiraling out of control.”

Escalation of tensions in Ukraine will depend primarily on how Moscow chooses to address the Muslim Tatar issue in the Crimea and how the West utilizes Moscow’s uneasy relations with them. Both the Tatars and Moscow have miscalculated their positions. One of the key Crimean Tatar leaders, Mustafa Dzhemilev got too close to the Western agenda and Moscow overreacted by not allowing him to enter the Crimea on May 2, and later even threatened to shut down the council of Crimean Tatars (The Crimean Tatar Mejlis) for “extremist” activities.

Overall, intensification of the crisis in Ukraine does not benefit Russia or the EU, but Moscow has far more powerful leverages against its opponents in the West when push comes to shove. The Russian government has significant popular backing within Russia and in Ukraine; it has developed strong intelligence and security networks in Ukraine, it understands the people’s mentality and most importantly Moscow can afford handling chaos at its borders and “take pain” for longer than its Western rivals. The only thing that would decrease Moscow’s political stamina is any crisis bordering its Muslim majority regions where for historical and natural socio-political reasons separatism is still on the agenda.

The Western regimes understand this factor and it appears they are flirting with the idea of creating additional headaches for Russia in order to force it to reduce tensions in Europe. The strongest sign yet of this “flirtation” is the fact that on May 12, during his visit to Azerbaijan, French President Francois Hollande met with the officially tolerated “opposition” along with rights and media activists opposed to the US-Israeli backed and Moscow-tolerated Aliyev regime.

Any flare up of crisis in Azerbaijan would damage Western interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but in the long run Russia could lose more due to Azerbaijan’s proximity to its borders. It could be that Western regimes are assuming that if they weaken or replace the unelected Aliyev regime by a more staunchly pro-Western proxy, Russia would panic and compromise in Ukraine. Even though the chances of this scenario unfolding are minimal due to the internal and external realities of Azerbaijan, the economic and political decline of Western regimes may force them to opt for this desperate scenario, as they lack strong tangible political leverage against Russia.

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