The crisis continues in Ukraine, without signs of absorption, on the contrary, for nearly six months, its “players” being selected stronger and stronger again. In fact, today Russia and the USA are to decide what’s next. The two are strongly “probed” by Germany, as the most “powerful” voice of the European Union, but it is hinted that the North-Atlantic Alliance is the military ‘arm’ of its main power. On 17 April 2014, when an accord was reached in Geneva for a peaceful solution to the crisis, the negotiations were attended by USA and Russia, as well as the EU and Ukraine. Since the very first days it came into effect, it became clear that the implementation of the accord is almost impossible, so today we are faced with a new proposal (Germany, through its minister of Foreign Affairs) for another meeting in view of reaching a new agreement. This time, it is proposed that the negotiations are also attended by envoys of the separatists from Eastern and South-Eastern Ukraine, with the purpose of identifying an appropriate peaceful solution.
Germany’s role and options must be granted a particular consideration, because the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis will have a decisive influence on the future configuration of the international system of states.
Why is the Ukrainian crisis so resistant to the usual ‘cures’ in such cases, in other words why has the Geneva -1 accord failed?
It is worth mentioning an important fact for the entire problem discussed here. It has been mentioned, since the beginning of the crisis, that because two major actors of international relations are involved – USA and Russia – and prevailing the appreciation that Russia is launched in an action of imperial recovery, we are faced by a new Cold War. But, if we carefully observe the international evolutions, we conclude that the Cold War is by no means an actual reality. If the USA and Russia clash in Ukraine, the two big powers continue cooperating in other crisis-dossiers, like Iran or Syria, or in matters of significance for international stability, like the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and the enforcement of the START -2010 agreement on nuclear strategic armaments. So, unlike the previous Cold War that meant a fierce confrontation between them in all matters – ideology, military, economy, geopolitics, even generating crises that brought the world on the verge of nuclear abyss – in their current systemic phase the USA and Russia have a selective cooperation combined with a confrontation the size of that in Ukraine.
So the resistance to the ‘cure’ displayed by the Ukrainian crisis, at a time when in other parts of the planet the cooperation of Moscow continues, reflects the fact that at stake is not the pro-Europe or pro-Russia orientation of this country, but something much deeper, which pertains to the very structure of the present-day global system.
Thus, what does represent this situation characterised by a variable geometry of the confrontation/cooperation relation between the planet’s two most powerful states possessing nuclear weapons? Because, obviously, the evolution of the Ukrainian crisis and the answers of the two powers – the annexation of Crimea and the sanctions of the West, assumed at the known level, then the destabilisation by Russia of the East and South-East of Ukraine and the amplification of these sanctions by USA and, partly, by the EU – represent elements that divert the adequate understanding of what is going on. The annexation of another state’s territory by using military force (Crimea) poses a large-scale problem to international order, while the answer given to the boldness of Russia was largely inadequate (from the very first moments, US President Obama ruled out the use of military force, and now there is talk about the increasing possibility of a civil war in Ukraine, not at all a clash of the two ‘players’ over the current systemic order put at risk by Russia).
In order to attempt an answer to this ‘dossier’ full of evolutions that are so new and surprising in the international arena – the forceful annexation of foreign territories, more or less symbolic sanctions, agreements deemed to fail outright etc. – we must evince, as much as we can with the publicly available information, what are the roles of the two big ‘players’: Russia and USA.
According to Russian experts, especially those of the ‘Valdai Club’ close to Kremlin-, Russia, after annexing Crimea, envisages the federalisation of Ukraine and starting a process of constructing ‘Greater Europe’, from Lisbon to Vladivostok as expression of a new global power centre. Sergey Karaganov recently wrote: “As long as the West and Russia continue to trade insults and threats/…/ Union of Europe that can end the Cold War and lay the foundation for the merger of European soft power and technology with Russia’s resources, political will and hard power will remain just that – a dream. Integration with Europe would prevent Russia from growing more alienated from its maternal, European civilization. This would benefit Russia as well as the European Union, which needs a new development goal to overcome the internal crisis dooming it to the status of a third-rate world power. It will be good for the world as well, creating a third pillar alongside China and the United States that will make the world much more stable.” (emphasised by us). This theme of constructing a new global power pole is recurrent in the analyses of Russian experts, who also reveals the fact that the annexation of Crimea is the end of territorial acquisitions envisaged by Russia. From this perspective, Russia appears as the power that wants to set in place a multipolar global system, instead of the unipolar one dominated by the USA, and the instrumenting of the Ukrainian crisis serves this purpose.
In the case of the USA it appears evident that it is the superpower adept of the status-quo in the international system of states. This means keeping the role of global leader by the USA, with nuances reflecting the division of the huge costs implied by such a systemic role The global geopolitical orientation toward the status quo is equally due to an internal political dynamic with large-scale international effects, as well as to the inertia of the epoch of “Pax Americana” instated after World War Two and appreciated as not concluded by part of the political establishment of the USA (the partisans of the direction called “Still number one”), while the other part (adepts of the ‘decline’ theory) are in search of a grand strategy that will secure the systemic precedence of Washington (apparently identified in the “offshore balancing”).
In this narration, what does the present crisis of Ukraine mean? In my opinion, this crisis is the expression of Russia launching the action of modifying the global order in the aforementioned direction, and some conclusions appear as obvious in this perspective. The Ukrainian crisis will end either when Russia will be forced to give up the action of reformulating the global system (which means that the probability of civil war in Ukraine increases, because this is a huge effort and it is already evident that USA is against, while Europe hesitates), or when Russia and USA will reach an agreement over the systemic polarity. A Russian expert (D. Suslov, Deputy Director for Research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and an expert of the Valdai International Discussion Club) said that “The Ukrainian crisis will not be settled until the post-cold war chaos is dealt with and Washington and Moscow coordinate a new set of relations based on multi-polarity and mutual respect”. Or, we could add, Russia will be forced to abandon the action it started, under the weight of tough and effective economic sanctions assumed by a united West.