August 28, 2014
A couple of months ago, the crisis in Ukraine could look like a common escalation between the Ukrainian and the Russian forces in a power projection game where Moscow should definitely want to win at any cost. This scenario is completely abandoned as the ongoing escalation has taken a rather structural character both in terms of army mobilization, diplomatic intervention, and timing. Timing is very important in war, as in economy, the market or in politics; in the case of Ukraine the time for a regional escalation has possibly arrived, entangling the European Union (EU) as well.
Diplomacy has failed to provide a secure alternative in the clash in Ukraine. The EU did not achieve to accommodate Russian demands to pull off sanctions, while Chancellor Merkel, operating unofficially as High Representative of the EU Council in lack of a common EU foreign policy, did not bring something new at the negotiation table. On the other side, as in every other case involving low-scale warfare in the recent past (e.g. Caucasus and Chechnya), President Putin feels more and more powerful when placing himself against challenges by the US or the EU. Experience has shown that President Putin can combine efficiently politics and war, and in this case there is no doubt that he has established his dominium in terms of propaganda and power projection.
Escalation in Ukraine can possibly lead to a regional war in Ukraine. On the one side will be the Russian troops and on the other side the Ukrainian army, backed by the EU. It will not necessarily be a nuclear war but I can hardly see President Putin conceding Lugansk and Donetsk after all these months of diplomatic deadlock and military engagement following Crimea’s upsurge and annexation. The outcome of such a war would be devastating both short and long-term.
Short-term, the outcome of the war would entail further sanctions, breach of diplomatic relations, devastating economic problems. Long-term, a deeper aggravation of bilateral relations that could be hard to bridge, considering the degree of dependency, the geographical and geopolitical proximity, and the role of NATO and its military bases in Eastern Europe. Such conditions might also trigger massive migration inflows from Ukraine to EU as well as additional clashes in Moldova or the Baltic States, where Russia’s influence is always present.
In this respect, the role of the public opinion in Russia would be of paramount importance. That is, in case of broad escalation there is a great possibility that the public opinion, or at least these big parts of the Russian public that strongly support President Putin, would express deep grievances against warfare due to the direct effect on economic stability and the existing level freedom of speech. A weakening support over the deeds of President Putin would affect his strategy towards more reconciliation and appeasement.
An alternative scenario would be for the US to get further involved and assume mediation, which is to bring closer EU and Russia for the sake of regional stability. For the US such a scenario gain chances especially in a period where the front against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is more and more demanding and does not leave space for another persistent headache in Eurasia. The missing point and the basic problematic here is how the US would achieve to bring about significant developments in the clash between EU and Russia, given the softening of US foreign policy interventionist doctrine in global and regional issues. In this respect, and with the view of re-invigorating US role and appeal in global affairs, the pressure of the Republicans toward President Obama would be of paramount importance.Dimitris Rapidis