Skip to main content

West, did you really expect Russia to ignore Ukraine chaos?

By Alexander Nekrassov, former Kremlin adviser
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Vladimir Putin will do anything in his power to prevent Ukraine from becoming another Iraq, says Alexander Nekrassov.
Vladimir Putin will do anything in his power to prevent Ukraine from becoming another Iraq, says Alexander Nekrassov.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Presence of Russian troops in Crimea has sent alarm bells ringing in Western capitals
  • Alexander Nekrassov says West will find it difficult to exert economic pressure on Russia
  • West has misjudged way Russia would respond to seeing neighbor in chaos, he adds
  • Nekrassov says idea Kremlin is ready to start full-blown invasion of Ukraine are way off mark

Editor's note: Alexander Nekrassov is a Russian commentator and former Russian presidential and government adviser. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN) -- Lots of stern-faced Western politicians and so-called experts have been asking: what is Russian President Vladimir Putin's endgame in Ukraine?

The presence of Russian troops in Crimea has sent alarm bells ringing in Western capitals, with some people predicting that it is basically a prelude to a full-blown invasion of predominantly Russian speaking eastern parts of the country, with Russian tanks rolling in. Calls were also made for the "world community," whatever that means these days, to punish Russia economically and diplomatically, although no one is talking about any military response.

Alexander Nekrassov
Alexander Nekrassov

Very hard to see though how Western countries can exert serious economic pressure on Russia, considering the state of their economies and possible huge losses they will incur. Symbolically, yes, they can, say, cancel some business conferences and maybe even refuse to sign a deal or two. But that would be all. We have already found out the British government is not considering any military options or trade sanctions after a cunning cameramen picked up an official carrying a policy document near 10 Downing Street, zooming in on the relevant paragraph.

Although, as a former Kremlin adviser, I can tell you that such things don't happen by accident and usually have all to do with sending out a signal to those who are watching carefully. Other countries have also signaled their lack of any desire to resort to sanctions.

Opinion: Putin's Ukrainian endgame

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been warning Russia about costs and punishments, if it does not withdraw its troops back to the Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol. The White House has been saying that economic sanctions against Russia are in the making and that all military programs between the two countries are on hold. Other suggested punishments being looked at include boycotting the G8 summits in Sochi in June and even banning Russia altogether from this gathering, which, incidentally, has been losing its relevance in the past decade or so. I mean, who is going to treat seriously the supposed group of the biggest industrial nations if it doesn't include China and India but has Canada and Italy in it, no offence to these two great nations.

Putin and the question of sovereignty
America's diplomatic options in Ukraine
Is Vladimir Putin paranoid?

The thing about the crisis in Ukraine is that the West has greatly misjudged the way Russia would respond to the possibility of its neighbor sliding into chaos and anarchy, with the so-called interim unity government in Kiev failing to establish its authority in the east and south of the country. Not to mention that the children of the Orange revolution of 2004, which, by the way, eventually ended in tears for most of them, have swallowed more than they can chew when they toppled President Viktor Yanukovich, and then made a crucial mistake of making all the wrong noises from day one, demonstrating open hostility to Russia and to the ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.

And when the dust began to settle in Kiev and news emerged that out of the 98 people who died, at least 16 were police officers, the image of a glorious people's revolution somehow lost its initial appeal.

And with the failed attempts by some extremists to spread the influence of the interim government to the east and south, using intimidation and violence, it became clear that a prospect of a civil war looked very real indeed.

Opinion: How Putin carries out power grab

So here's the deal then: as Ukraine was slipping into anarchy and chaos, with all sorts of radicals causing mayhem, President Putin's endgame became obvious. He needed to do anything in his power to prevent Ukraine from becoming another Iraq, with a possibility of a civil war breaking out and violence spreading to Russia at some point.

We should learn the lessons of Iraq where the delicate balance, which had existed there before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, was undermined and no one now knows how to resolve it. The same outcome happened as a result of the so-called revolution in Kiev that has now opened up old wounds and awoken historical animosities that had been kept in check.

So Putin has chosen to use the 25,000 Russian troops based at Sevastopol, reinforcing them with another 16,000 soldiers, to prevent clashes between radicals on all sides erupting and provide stability in Crimea where about 60% of the population are ethnic Russians. Without a shot being fired, so unlike the rest of the country, law and order have been established. All the Ukrainian military installations in Crimes were surrounded by Russian troops with one purpose: to prevent undesirables arming themselves, like it happened in Lviv and some other cities, with disastrous circumstances. Up to now the plan has worked.

But any suggestions that the Kremlin is actually ready to start a full-blown invasion of Ukraine are way, way off the mark. This would be very dangerous for Russia itself, considering it close links with Ukraine on all levels. So the hysteria surrounding the Russian involvement in Crimea at the moment is either caused by ignorance or is a result of the deep suspicions that the West still has about Russia, Cold War or no Cold War.

A sudden regime change that has happened in Ukraine could never result in a swift and peaceful resolution. We saw that during the Arab Spring and, less recently, in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. That is why all sides in the Ukrainian crisis need to keep a cool head and refrain from one-sided propaganda and provocative, inflammatory statements. If one thing that we have learned for history it's that it doesn't take a lot for a big war to erupt in Europe, dragging the rest of the world in it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alexander Nekrassov.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
The shooting down of MH17 may finally alert Washington and Europe to the danger of the conflict in Ukraine.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1500 GMT (2300 HKT)
Russia has not taken steps to end Ukraine conflict, President Obama said announcing sanctions against separatists, defense companies.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 2136 GMT (0536 HKT)
An agreement with the EU formally pushes Ukraine away from Russia. The Kremlin says it's okay with that.
June 28, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says peace is possible if Vladimir Putin is in the right mood.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 1458 GMT (2258 HKT)
Vladimir Putin said he hoped for better ties with the United States in a July Fourth message to Barack Obama.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
EXCLUSIVE: Ukrainian President Poroshenko says he wants peace, and describes negotiations with President Putin.
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Annexation is no longer the focus of Ukraine crisis. What happened?
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Civilians are caught in the crossfire between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists. Diana Magnay reports.
June 7, 2014 -- Updated 1823 GMT (0223 HKT)
Petro Poroshenko sets the tone for his country's conversation with itself and the world, but how will Russia now react?
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
Images from Ukraine amidst violence after President Petro Poroshenko's election
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
In the elegant surroundings of London's Somerset House, one oligarch is using art to get his message across.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1957 GMT (0357 HKT)
As fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, many wonder how the region will ever heal. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
Images from Crimea, Donetsk, Kiev and elsewhere as the future of Ukraine lies in doubt.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
Scenes from Ukraine and Crimea, captured by CNN teams.
ADVERTISEMENT