The stalemate in Syria, following the compliance of Bashar al Assad towards the disposal of his country’s chemical weapons, in combination with the historic Egyptian/Russian military ties since the ouster of Muhammad Morsi, are believed to be just some of the reasons behind Russia maneuvering near the Ukraine. The military ties between Egypt and Russia are seen as a Kremlin diplomatic coup, immediately elevating President Vladimir Putin’s status as the world’s most powerful figure.
For war-weary Eastern block governments and their subjects – particularly in light of the Afghan/Iraqi conflicts – the pacifist stance taken by Putin amid cries for military intervention, shows a dramatic shift away from diplomatic reliance on Washington. In that the Syrian dilemma was an alleged government chemical attack on hundreds of innocent civilians, Putin’s levelheaded response may be the greatest political milestone for Moscow, since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russian political maneuvering in Ukraine, which is the second largest ex-Soviet republic with a population of 46 million, began soon after the Kuchma-gate crisis. That fiasco was the worst diplomatic humiliation of President Leonid Kuchma, at the 2002 NATO summit in Prague. It was the support given by then new Russian leader Vladimir Putin which paved the way towards stronger ties between the two republics. Russian foreign energy policy – a $2 trillion economy dependent on oil and gas – can be traced to that 2006 dispute; a row which eventually led to acute gas shortages in several European countries.
There are still conflicting views on the dispute, which is considered by many as the catalyst for the Orange revolution. It also served to frustrate the presidential ambitions of pro-Russia presidential candidate and prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, in the widely disputed 2004 election. Coincidentally, the Orange revolution is tied to the month of November along with Yanukovych. The defiant Ukrainian presidential candidate had suspended the process of integration into the European Union, in favor of cementing ties with Russia. A $15 billion bailout and a rebate on natural gas deal – which is in line with president Putin’s Eurasian dream – have exposed the political savvy of Moscow, where the Eurasian Union (EAU) will be based.
To grease the skids of Russia’s political maneuvering, is Ukraine’s roughly 20 percent ethnic Russian population who live primarily in the strategic Crimea; they support influential pro-Russia media which is associated with the opposition Social Democratic Ukraine party. They are seen by the Kremlin as an invaluable asset, ahead of oil-rich former Soviet states like Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan and Belarus have already signed a Eurasian Union agreement, while Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have expressed interest in its Customs Union.
Putin, who has lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century,” plans to merger ex-Soviet economies, customs services, legal systems and military capabilities. He had already warned then president Yanukovych of potential protectionist measures against his oil and gas transit facilities, if he attempted any EU membership.
Political pundits who fear this Eurasian Union as a Soviet-reawakening, have ignited the post-World War 2 Soviet-dominated Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), a counter-Marshall Plan organization which indirectly wielded 70 percent of member-states’ sovereignty. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev questions the legitimacy of the interim government in Kiev, being quite sensitive to his country’s interests in the region. Ukraine, whose regional counterpart is Georgia, has 20 percent of its territory under Russia. The endgame of Russia’s political maneuvering in Ukraine has yet to be played out, and the world hopes Putin knows what he’s doing.
By Memory C. Motsi