The West should engage in a course correction strategy with Russia

In the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation felt vulnerable because of the cooperation between the former Soviet states and Europe. The US has initiated expansion towards Eastern Europe, through its backyard NATO, by assuring security which has caused grave concern in Russia.

This expansion has finally tried to absorb Ukraine but this has been met with a crisis. This crisis has been burning like a flame of fire since the time of the Crimean referendum. Russia felt that the ‘enemy would soon be at the gate’ in the form of NATO in Ukraine, given that Ukraine shares a 1576km long border with Russia. Its response to this perceived threat has led to the deaths of more than 5400 lives, according to BBC. However, Russia failed to comprehend that the replacement of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych sin 2014 primarily occurred because of an increasing pro-EU outlook in the minds of the majority of Ukrainians. Russia’s strategic perception was that if Ukraine became part of NATO, the next logical step would be for it to join the EU, which could be a permanent threat to Russia.

President Vladimir Putin’s stance on Russia’s compliance with international law on the annexation of Crimea did not help Russia but instead it led to sanctions from the US and EU.

However, there was no support for the sanctions from the largest emerging markets like China and India. India’s stance with Russia on the Crimea issue is possibly a ratification of their long standing friendship. Further, the global economic power house China has not directly condemned the issue, because the Chinese are the largest beneficiary of the Ukrainian crisis. This demonstrates that present international system is moving towards a more contested topic. The rationale behind decisions in international relations are not so easy to ascertain. According to Bloomberg, the sanctions gave more advantage to the Chinese which has gained$400 billion worth of natural gas deal agreements from Russia since the sanctions were imposed. Controversially, India received Russian President Putin, who accompanied the Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov to India. Many commentators were emotionally surprised by India’s diplomacy, since the Crimean issue is a hot topic. While the sanctions have closed the door to the flow of capital to Russia from the west, the traditional Asian channels remain open to Russia.

The present US led international system tries to isolate Russia but this is not a winnable strategic doctrine. Moreover, isolation is not a strategy but instead it is a trajectory for countries like China in this multipolar world to thrive from the isolated country. Multipolar demonstrates that sanctions have no genuine influence. When the sanctions are not working, it is true that the international system is in multipolar world disorder. The best example would be India’s relations with Iran during the western sanctions on Iran’s nuclear issue. As with India’s relations with Iran during the sanctions, the Chinese doing the same with Russiaon its sanctions. Moreover, the sanctions have pushed Russia closer to the Chinese and these new relations would pull the world order towards the East. This trajectory is dangerous for the future world order. With increasing instability in the Middle East, the major powers must reach a consensus on how to maintain peace and security in the region. Otherwise there would be a prolonged setback for western diplomacy in global governance. If the west believes that the cold war was won by and for its own values, then the US and its allies have the considerable responsibility to give Russia the space which it deserves in the world. With regards to the Ukraine crisis, the debate as to the winners and losers cannot be answered now. The material consideration at present is the extent to which the setback will further damage the credibility of the US and the EU’s diplomacy.

NATO’s attempt to expand further into Eastern Europe is the root cause of the Ukraine crisis. If Russia had been invited to join NATO this crisis would have been avoided. Further, this would have been a chance for negotiation between the US, EU and Russia on the NATO framework of collective security. However,Russia absorbed Crimea to protect itself against NATO expansion towards the east. For Crimea, it has no meaningful remedy in the international system. Once Crimea acceded to Russia by the artificial memorandum, the debate over Crimea’s remedies inevitably ended. There will be no real chance for any reunification of Crimea with the Ukraine in future. This will be a constant impediment in future US–Russia relations.

Without an answer to the Ukraine’s membership of NATO and EU membership there will be no solution to the crisis. Russia is restless because of this unanswered question. For the time being the NATO expansion towards the east should be postponed. Meanwhile, Moscow can try to better understand Kiev’s public opinion. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is the leading power in the EU, can influence this decision, especially given that the UK is currently undergoing an identity crisis over its EU membership. As a chief communicator with Putin, Merkel has articulated that any consensus with the Russian leadership is a question of choice.

The West should engage in a course correction strategy with Russia. This change in policy must occur given the present complex security environment. An opportunity was missed but it is now a good time for the west to retrieve a productive relationship with Russia. The best channel for conducting this renewal would be through NATO. If this cooperation is actualized then it will affect China’s potential accumulation of power in the coming years. Perhaps it is the right time to invite Russia to join NATO. However, can the west and Russia cooperate? If so, on what terms? These are big questions and the answers are not at all visible. The conflicting strategic approaches of the US and Russia is most evident in how they have flexed their muscles in the Middle East. Syria is moving towards devastation, as experienced by Iraq and Libya. If this continues, critics will contend that the US is a declining power because it can no longer fulfill its responsibility to maintain peace and security in the world. Finally, the pledge of Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to apply for membership of the EU in 2020 is a future point of tension for Eurasia.

Antony Vigilious Clement
Antony Vigilious Clement
Antony Clement is a Senior Editor (Indo-Pacific), Modern Diplomacy, an online journal. He is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He is currently working on two books - “The Best Teacher” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times”. His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia. His recent book is “Discover your talents.”