Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Reassertion of Russian Power.


Crimea is of March 2014 part of Russia. Putin is not that interested in having to get embroiled elsewhere in southern and eastern Ukraine unless Russian minorities in such regions as Donetsk, Odessa and Kharkviv were to be under threat should May 25th elections see an ultra-nationalist regime in Kiev.

The more moderate part of the interim Kiev regime, infuriated as they are at Crimea being detached in the way Moscow was able to do that, seem to have recognised reality and are to withdraw Ukrainian forces from Crimea. The danger is whether the rest of Ukraine can hold together.

The west of Ukraine has clearly no direction other than to try and integrate more into EU structures and emphasise trade ties.The poorest parts are in the Carpathians ( 'Hutsul country' ). The east is closer to Russia has industries and is far richer and more Russophone if not ethnic Russian.

Should the EU and US offer a generous aid package and not one based on IMF 'shock therapy' it is possible Ukraine could recover and potential atavistic nationalisms between west and east abate. But that means making it clear that a government dominated by Svoboda would not receive aid.

The danger is that the continued economic deterioration and Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as fears from Russian influence being extended over the industrial areas of the East, could exacerbate the the nationalist rhetoric coming from those opposed to Russia and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The Western Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are far more organised during Euromaidan and decent liberal civil society groups were shunted aside as they are a challenge to the oligarch power of Tymoshenko's Fatherland Part which had failed miserably through corruption and incompetence by 2010.

Between March and May 2014 'events' could take Ukraine in dark new directions. Using the chaos as a pretext to ram through US-IMF 'shock therapy' in the context would only immiserate more Ukrainians and give vent to an ethnocentric nationalism from politicians that would prove divisive.

After 1991, many Serbs and Croats were intermarried, friend, had a shared history. Under the impact of economic dislocation, demagogic politicians and mutual fears, that modicum of tolerance broke down into internecine conflict and there is no guarantee Ukraine could not become another Balkans.

The problem is that the co-operation between the west and Russia has broken down, the EU is weary after having bailed out Greece, Italy and Spain. Both the EU powers and US, having initiated week sanctions, are now potential going to be responded to by Russian counter measures over their gas supplies.

Russia is potentially in the driving seat due to global energy trends. Greater reliance on Qatar means gas being piped through unstable areas such as the Sinai peninsula in Egypt which is unstable after the 2013 coup and LNG must round the Straits of Hormuz and go past terrorist menaced Somalia.

Russia may act ruthlessly but it's foreign policy is not irrational or based on a lack of appreciation of geopolitical configurations working in its favour. There was no way it was going to allow a large western backed and financed ( via 'democracy promotion training) to install a new government in Kiev.

The irony, is that the main geopolitical ambition of the EU and US in Ukraine was to get Ukraine and hence the strategic isthmus of the Crimea into NATO as the naval lease negotiated by the Russians with the Ukrainians was due to run out. Putin, however, was never prepared to see Sebastopol as a NATO base.

As in Syria, where Russia retains a base at Tarsous, the geostrategy is to retain a sphere of interest in areas from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean where newly discovered oil and gas deposits are at state. The proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would head to that area too.

Conflicts over access to oil and gas and pipeline routes are the essential realities behind 21st century power politics. When Kerry reacted to Putin's annexation of Crimea, he started to hint about renegotiating over the deal over Syria's chemical weapons.

That statement by Kerry proves the issue in the Syria civil war in summer 2013 was never about humanitarian concern ( use of CW's ) but the lethal pathological rivalry over competing gas pipeline routes between either Iran through to Syria or else from Qatar ( a major western energy all and investor ).

Russia is reasserting its regional role down from the Black Sea through to the Eastern Mediterranean as has been a policy since Catherine the Great in the 1770's to 1790's. It has become a major player again in the pursuit of access to wealth and riches, meaning in 2014 control over oil and gas.

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