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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2585

Europe at War? Crisis in Ukraine is spiralling out of control

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

By the weekend, there were two frighteningly significant developments in Europe as far as the collective security of the continent – and beyond, as well - was concerned: First, there was a thinly-veiled warning from President Putin against the West – not to mess with nuclear armed Russia; then, the assertion made by the Lithuanian president that Europe is already at war with Russia over Ukraine.

Judging by what has been going on along the eastern border of Ukraine for the past few months, it is clear that Russia has a plan: it does not intend to launch a full scale invasion, as Sadaam Hussain did in 1991 in Kuwait; it is going to control the separatists by providing the latter with sophisticated weapons, moral support and above all, unhindered political support while carefully restricting Russia’s role to small scale strategic incursions - giving Western leaders a lingering headache; Russia’s adopted modus operandi seems to be mischievously denying any wrong doing in the crisis in order not to tarnish its international image.

Against this backdrop, President Putin met Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, in Minsk, Belarus in a meeting brokered by the host country and the European Union. Although, the two leaders shook hands, the body language of the weaker being at unease was all too clear, while the stronger was beaming with a broad smile. A few hours after the meeting, however, a column of Russian tanks was spotted rolling across the border by both Ukrainian soldiers and the spy satellites of the West.

President Poroshenko, like his immediate predecessor, is pinning his hope on the West: at pragmatic level, he is asking for more weapons to defend his sovereign nation; at a more ambitious level, however, he is seeking the membership of the NATO while dreaming of the Article 5 as an impregnable shield in the event of a full scale invasion.

The Article 5 is a fundamental principle of NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – which explicitly says that an attack on any of its members is an attack on them all and all members will take action that the organisation deems necessary as a response.

The expansion of the NATO has been a bone of contention between it and Russia for decades. Russia, time and again, showed its frustration over its concerns being ignored. Russia’s latest threat while referring to its formidable nuclear arsenal, the state of Ukraine at present and the potential for the conflict getting out of hand, collectively make the scenario very unlikely.

On the other hand, even a subtle political move in that direction may provoke Russia to launch a full scale invasion while bringing the two sides to the brink of a full-blown war in Europe – and beyond.

Neither the NATO nor any Western leader shows any appetite to offer Ukraine the membership of the former, especially when the nation in question is at war with its powerful neighbour. Giving Ukraine a favourable outcome in the current situation is not only ludicrous, but also dangerous.

In this context, the Western leaders may be encouraging Mr Poroshenko to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis rather than humiliating Russia by parading the captured soldiers and launching vitriolic personal attack against President Putin – in private.

Jose Manuel Barosso, the president of the European Commission, meanwhile issued a fresh warning against the Russia in a very familiar line – sanctions, more sanctions. He admitted that the situation has gone past the point of no return and hinted that Europe would be forced to explore the unthinkable, the war, unless a compromise is reached.

In a dramatic development, he hinted that the European Union is prepared to take Russian’s concerns on board in the middle of his speech. Some political analysts believe the gesture is something that is better late than never.

As for the NATO, the substantial defence cuts at government level, have left the organisation fairly weak. According to a former senior officer of the NATO, the alliance has been severely weakened by the defence cuts to such an extent that it is no longer in a position to confront Russia militarily in the event of a war being broken out.

Those who accuse EU of its reckless role in expanding the Union towards Russia’s border are not in a minority. This is the reason that Mr Putin has not become a hate figure in the West despite his inclination to flex military muscle, when it comes to disputes with the immediate neighbors. Even in the UK, there are politicians across the divide, who accuse the EU of pushing Russia to a corner, compelling it to react. If Mr Barosso truly reflects the thinking of its key members, the EU has finally realized the blunder they made in resorting to a suicidal expansion drive in the past.

The stakes are high for President Putin too. Russian currency, the rouble has fallen to very low levels since the West imposed sanctions. If the Russian economy gets further weakened, the support that the president currently enjoys may not stay at the same level, especially among the youth. If President Putin uses the reliance of Europe on Russia’s gas supply as a political weapon, the West may aggressively pursue alternative resources such as extracting shale gas.

Since Russia has got itself sucked into the crisis very deeply, it is very difficult for it to back down while keeping the national pride intact. Therefore, the EU can show some flexibility in dealing with Russia in the hour of need for the sake of a sensible outcome, knowing very well that the US has no desire to get militarily involved in the conflict, even if develops into a war between Russia and Ukraine.

With hardly any growth on economic front and an ever growing security threat from the Islamic militants on the door step, no national leader of any EU member nation can afford to contemplate a war with a nation, which has a modern nuclear arsenal scattered over a vast land spanning nine time zones at present. Therefore, it is high time a political solution was reached while resigning to the unpalatable reality – Russia is a regional power that cannot be ignored in its domain of influence.

- Asian Tribune -

Europe at War? Crisis in Ukraine is spiralling out of control
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