From the Editor
March 27, 2014
The Ukrainian crisis is a litmus test for the world on many levels. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War inclined some analysts and politicians to adopt the theory that international tension had decreased and that the world was shifting to a post-political era in which international conflicts, especially large-scale ones, would die out and be replaced with internal conflicts.
This idea was based on the assumption that Russia had become a credible partner for the West on security issues, a partner inclined to cooperate instead of continuing the Soviet Union’s imperial policies. After 9/11 in particular, on the rubble of the World Trade Center, so to speak, an anti-terrorist alliance was constructed that encompassed both the West and Russia. This military cooperation replaced the previous antagonisms and led the United States to completely revise its security policy. Since Russia is not a threat, the logic went, Europe is safe. That means we can leave it to its own devices in defense terms, even if its investment in defense is limited. America’s attention can be directed toward the Pacific basin region. NATO’s role can also be re-evaluated. Not even the Georgian war halted this way of thinking, as proved by the famous “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations.
The Ukrainian crisis has cast doubt on all these assumptions. Moscow’s behavior is reminiscent of the Brezhnev era, with its doctrine of spheres of influence: a superpower should have the right to discipline the vassals in its sphere of influence by force whenever they try to speak up for their independence. Through one of its highest-ranking officials, the Kremlin recently expressed amazement that someone is questioning this doctrine, and even proposed to Washington that Russia and the United States should treat their mutual relations as a priority, while sidestepping problems “of lesser importance” such as international law, obligations and guarantees.
President Barack Obama’s moderate language and gracious smile disappeared immediately after the vote of the Russian Federation’s Supreme Council Presidium authorizing the Russian president to conduct an armed intervention in Ukraine. Soon after this menacing gesture came a refusal to consult with the other guarantors of Ukraine’s independence (in 1994, the United States, Britain and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum, pledging to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity; in return Kiev pledged to give up its nuclear weapons). It turned out, therefore, that America is not a believable partner and its guarantees are not worth the paper on which they were written. It is worth considering how this ruins the United States’ position in the world. Obama is no longer dealing just with an attack on Ukraine—the most vital interests of the United States itself have been jeopardized. Everything that we are currently observing in Washington’s behavior—the statements, announcements, the severing of military cooperation with Russia, personal sanctions, the suspension of talks, and the movement of air force and navy units—is a strong signal being sent to Vladimir Putin that the time for playing around is over.
Similar though less intensive measures are being taken by the European Union. The EU, thanks to Poland’s active stance among other factors, has realized how important the Ukrainian crisis is, but, understandably, wants to resolve it at the smallest possible cost. Bearing in mind that it comprises 28 different countries, each with its own interests and point of view, the EU has been prompt, tough and uncompromising.
The Ukrainian lesson is teaching us a lot, for example about Russia, and is a source of much anxiety, but also of much hope—hope that NATO will awaken from its slumber, that the EU will be more unified, that America will remember that Europe is still important; and that more Russians will want to live normal lives in a normal country.