By Qudsia Farhat
The toppling of the elected government of Ukraine and the voting of the Crimean parliament – by 78 votes with 8 abstentions – deciding the day of referendum (16 March 2014) when Crimean voters will choose between joining the Russian Federation or to remain part of Ukraine as as an autonomous region with very strong powers, according to the 1992 constitution appears to be a reincarnation of the Cold War. The Cold War was a sustained state of political and military tension between powers in the Western Bloc (the United States with NATO and others) and powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its allies in Warsaw Pact).
Following the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) on 26 December 1991, leading to the breakup into twelve republics, the US became the sole super power and marked the end of the Cold War.
The energy sources of the Central Asian States, made them lucrative targets for influence by both the US and European Union as well as Russia. In the past two decades, Russia was in a weakened economic state to be able to assert its influence authoritatively but in the near past, the Russian bear has woken up from its hibernation and is vying for regaining control. Its moves into Abkhazia, Ossetia and Georgia virtually went unchallenged by the Occident, renewing Russian confidence.
The current crisis in Ukraine came into effect because of a regime change forced by civil unrest and protests. Pro Russian troops control Crimea. According to a Russian-Ukrainian treaty signed in 2010, Moscow has an agreed and constant military presence in the Crimean peninsula. Russia pays Ukraine $97.75 million annually for use of the naval base in Sevastopol. Under the Russian-Ukraine agreement, Russia is permitted 25,000 troops in Crimea.
If the Russian narrative is to be given credence, (based on a leaked telephonic boast by US spokesperson Victoria Nuland), in the last ten years, the US invested US$ 5 billion to effect a regime change and force the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee and be replaced by What Moscow regards as an illegal, neo-Nazi infiltrated government in Kiev, led by Prime Minister Arseniy “Yats” Yatsenyuk, an Ukrainian Jewish banker playing the role of Western puppet, who insists Crimea must remain part of Ukraine. Yet this “government” – supported by the US and the European Union – has already declared the March 16 referendum illegal. Yats has banned the official use of the Russian language in Ukraine; got rid of the communist party, which amassed 13% of the votes in the last election, more, incidentally, than the neo-Nazi-infested Svoboda (“Freedom”) party, now installed in key government security posts; and banned a Russian TV station, which happens to be the most popular on Ukrainian cable.
The US narrative pleads that democracy-seeking protesters forced Russia’s puppet president from office and are building a new government, which represents Ukraine’s Western values. Meanwhile, the city council of Sevastopol – the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet – has already voted to join Russia. And next week the Duma in Moscow will study a bill to simplify the mechanism of adhesion.
EU is caught in the middle. Its energy resources as well as trade are dependent on Russia. The 9 billion euro (US$12.4 billion) Nord Stream between Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea form its lifeline. Angela Merkel, the former Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, and former German chancellor and now Nord Stream chairman Gerhard Schroeder were instrumental in launching the pipeline project carrying Russian gas to Germany when it went online in 2011. Moreover, two-way trade between Russia and the EU was around a whopping US$370 billion in 2012, with Russia exporting mostly oil, gas and cereals, and the EU exporting mostly cars, medicine, and machine parts.
US President Barack Obama has declared that the referendum in Crimea would “violate international law”. Last Thursday he ordered sanctions on people responsible for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, including travel bans and freezing of their US assets.
Meanwhile, the US Defense Department has announced plans to add several fighter jets to US aircraft squadrons based near Russian borders, in a move to embolden the Baltic States and Poland. Sources indicate that the Pentagon plans to send six additional F-15 fighter jets, and a Boeing KC-135 refueling Stratotanker, to beef up the squadron of four F-15 currently flying air patrols over the Baltic States. NATO has been carrying out patrols in the Baltic States for the last 10 years.
The threat of sanctions may backfire. Russia in solidarity and alliance with China has all the trumps in its court; Europe depends to 40% on gas supply from Russia, of which 80% passes through Ukraine; China holds about 1.6 trillion dollars of US debt it could drop and annihilate the US economy; that Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa – the BRICS – with almost 50% of the planet’s population and about one third of the world’s GDP will not be affected by the sanctions.
Russia, on the other hand is reminding the US of its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the US sponsored secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008. Moscow may not be bothered about Ukraine being promised a membership of the EU because the overwhelming majority of Europeans don’t want it as part of their club. It would be concerned regarding NATO bases in Ukraine. Moscow might even compromise on Ukraine remaining a sort of Finland between Russia and Europe. With Crimea still inside the Ukraine, a NATO base side by side with the Russian base in Sevastopol would be nightmarish.
While a US-Russia standoff continues to deepen a cold war like milieu, the crisis in Syria is likely to take a major hit. Russia is a guarantor in the destruction of Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Asad’s arsenal of chemical weapons and any efforts to further widen the chasm between Russia and the US will directly affect the prospects of peace in strife torn Syria. The cold war is thus being revived.