Russia’s Geopolitical Assertiveness in Ukraine

The sovereign crisis in Ukraine has unfolded a series of retrospectives dealing with Russia’s geopolitical sphere of influence in the inner heart of Eurasia’s chessboard. In the meantime, and as unrest in Crimea deepens, EU leaders adopted a string of “sanctions” against Russia, with the most striking amongst them the cancellation of the EU-Russia Summit. In this respect, it is really vital for the EU to understand Russia’s strategic standpoint and try to reconsider its rush for taking measures against Kremlin, that in practice have no direct and essential effect.

The first misconception of the EU regarding Russia’s strategic decision to be militarily involved in Ukraine, stems from the lack of the necessary knowledge of the Soviet history, at least in terms of its geopolitical realm. Russia is the successor state of the Soviet Union and, hence, the inheritor of Soviet Union’s strategic decision-making. From this perspective, Ukraine, while having acquired its independence after the fall of Communism, it still designates a vital area of infuence, power and soft politics. Especially the Crimea region, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based, is considered as outer but core point of security politics and the area of military expedition for Russia in case the country is faced with any external threat. Therefore, in terms of geostrategic struggle, Crimea is one of the heartlands of power politics for Russia.

The second misconception of the EU regarding Russia’s strong interest and interventionist policy in Ukraine stems from the fact that Kremlin demonstrates a strong interest to safeguard the Russian people living in Crimea, as well as the population speaking Russian and consider themselves as “Russians”.  In addition to that, Russia’s fear to lose Ukraine under a closer partnership of the country with the EU is not translated into a definite fear of overturn of the current balances in the region: Kremlin was indirectly controlling policy-making in Kiev through the leadership of Yanukovych, but even after his fall from power, Russia was certainly not afraid of the new leadership’s nationalist or pro-European inclination. In practice, Russia’s invasion was more of a pre-emptive signal that this geographic area is of its interest, and no European or American could ever challenge this.

The third misconception of the EU is literally the service of the Union’s clear interests in Ukraine. What are the plans for Ukraine? To strengthen bilateral partnership? To accelerate EU membership? To assist the country financially? To “bother” Russia? I strongly believe that the EU reacts reflexively, as if it considers itself as a superpower. The fact is that EU has a long way to go before considering itself as a superpower. At the end of the day, even if the EU leadership was striving to negotiate better terms in gas supplying, streaming the Ukrainian soil, the outcome of this precipitation to place itself against Kremlin could end up with the opposite outcome: as a matter of fact, Russia cancelled Ukraine’s gas discount, and demanded $1.5bn in return. How is going to pay this amount? Certainly not Ukraine.

The fourth misconception of the EU is clearly driven from the lack of knowledge regarding Ukraine’s past. The country has only reached independence in 1990, and during its 24-year short history it changed 4 Presidents, with 2 of them being in the center of the cyclone: Victor Yushchenko, one of the leading figures of the “Orange Revolution”, and Victor Yanukovych, the conflicting political figure of the last 100 days. Both failed to address citizens’ concerns and hopes, igniting massive and pertinent social unrests, that ended up in huge political and social dismantling. In other words, the EU leadership ignores the fact that the Ukrainian people vie for political stability and social prosperity, but lack the necessary means to designate their country’s future outside EU’s or Russia’s influence.

Therefore, rather than squeezing Russia via “sanctions”, the EU should first address Ukraine’s fundamental concerns. In other words, the EU is losing the entire image, developing a strategy that is certainly against the multilateral and delicate approach that such a Union of states should have planned for its future.

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