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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.