Monday, March 3, 2014

Putin choreographs the chess board on Ukraine....can and will the west "act" or just "threaten" to act?

The China card....that is the one the world is waiting for in the current impasse between the 'west' and Russia. The G7 has condemned the Russian move into Crimea, and the Voice of America this morning is reporting that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov claims he has spoken to his Chinese counterpart and that the Chinese are in sync with Russia on this file. However, those reports could be little more than wishful power-brokering on Russia's part.
Nevertheless, there could be a clear and permanent, and possibly unsurmountable division between the G7 countries and NATO on one side, with China and Russia (and their allies, Syria, Iran, North Korea) on the other side, in this fluent and potentially explosive situation.
While the Russian currency has dropped nearly 2% since the crisis erupted last week, the markets could provide early signals of just how serious this crisis could become. If, for example, Russia decides to collect its stated debt of $1.5 billion in unpaid natural gas payments from Ukraine, and also to hike the price of natural gas to the other countries on the European continent dependent on Russian natural gas, the world could witness a war played out in energy prices, with the west having to replace Russian natural gas to those countries.
It would seem reasonable that not only preparations for but the actual convening of the G8 meeting in Sochi scheduled for June could be cancelled. It also seems possible that Russia could be expelled from the G8 itself, if Putin remains intransigent in his determination to "protect Russian people living in the Crimea"...possible code for "protect my reputation in the restoration of Russian pride" on the world stage. 
Ukraine is near bankruptcy, and has already called on its oligarchs to come to the aid of their country, (from which many became wealthy through corruption under Yanukovich). The Head of the Navy was sworn in one day and dismissed for treason the next because he refused to fight the Russians and called for the Ukraine to surrender to the Russian troops already in Crimea. Now reports of a rush of western diplomats to Kiev Foreign Secretary Hague and Secretary of State Kerry, plus Ban Ki-moon's assistant will be there this week, plus additional meetings of NATO and the Security Council will provide 'white noise' as background to the real drama whose current choreographer is Putin, make no mistake, and how he decides to play his cards and his pawns and his generals and his own national media, and his ambitions will be the major factor in the level of unrest and potential violence that emerges from this impasse.
Whether the west is reading Putin accurately, and whether he is indeed dangerous or merely attempting to restore Russian pride after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is another of the guiding perceptions for all those outside Russia who might have to reconcile with Putin. Painting his "invasion of the Crimea" as a nineteenth century move, as Kerry has done, may say more about Kerry's cold war mentality than it does about Putin's desire to resume the cold war. While there are always vestiges of history that cannot be excised from any contemporary conflict, it would do both sides well to agree to bring a clean slate of expectations to any negotiating table, in order to prevent and even to preclude military conflict's escalation.
Also, continual threats of "costs" and repercussions from the west, and especially from Washington, without credible action in the form of sanctions and decisions that would bear fruit in the Kremlin, only emphasize the desperation and the hollowness of the western diplomatic arsenal and capacity to push back. And we must not make the mistake that this is a crisis that includes only Ukraine and Russia; it is a situation that enmeshes the world, and the kind of future we share on many levels, not the least of which is national security, economic, political and international capacity for co-operation.

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