Event ReportsPublished on Mar 28, 2014
For Ukraine, joining EU or NATO would not be prudent as well as joining the Eurasian Union as it would not serve Ukraine's national interest. A close association with Russia as well as special partnership with EU may be a better option.
Ukraine crisis: Are Cold War clouds gathering again?

Observer Research Foundation organised a conference on the "Crisis in Ukraine" on 28 March 2014. The Conference brought together experts on the subject who rendered their overview on the current situation in Ukraine.

In her presentation, Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, Director of the European Studies Programme at JNU, argued that this crisis had brought back into focus the question of borders. EU de-emphasises borders inside its own constituency and emphasises it outside, herein lies the fault lines. In 2003, the EU issued a new security strategy, which showcased EU as a security actor. Hence it was expected of the EU to use hard power to respond to the annexation of Crimea. However, EU’s military capacities have been limited and it is not equipped to respond to Russia. The EU has relied on its two most critical aspects: engagement and diplomacy. Despite Brussel’s willingness to sanction Moscow, EU’s energy engagement with Russia is too important. Therefore, a significant long-term shift would be needed to overcome the consequence of these sanctions.

Furthermore, she argued that the annexation of Crimea occurred due to increasing threat in Russia’s sphere of influence from the EU and NATO. First, NATO had offered Georgia membership which Moscow found unacceptable; second, EU’s increased democratic engagement and support in the region. This is part of the EU and NATO’s long process of enlargement in Central Asia and in effect, Russia feels threatened.

It was emphasised by Prof. Bava that we are not in a new cold war situation. Military and budget share have been diminishing in the region. Moscow will need to clarify its strategy towards EU and other countries like Latvia and Kazakhstan which hold important Russian communities as well.

Mr. Mihir S. Sharma, Opinion Editor with Business Standard, did the second presentation. He gave an explanation of India’s position on the crisis and discussed about the difficulty of getting accurate and objective information about the crisis.

He suggested that India’s position on the crisis is not neutral but tilts towards Russia, as evidence he quoted India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon who declared that Russia had "legitimate interests" in Ukraine and that those should be taken into consideration when negotiating a peaceful agreement. Mr. Sharma questioned whether this demonstrated that Kashmir’s hold on India’s foreign policy is weakening as traditionally New Delhi has stood against any violation of sovereignty. He pointed out that if India believed in a healthy balance of power, that multi-polarity is necessary for international security, then India should not support the side that has shown less weakness, Russia, but tilt towards the weaker side, EU, to maintain the balance. He then exposed two possible reasons why India is not opposing Russia. First, both countries share a historic military tie which has no equivalent in the West. Second, Indian energy dependence on Russia means that India cannot upset Russia and jeopardize its energy security.

Prof. Sanjay Kumar Pandey, Associate Professor at the Centre for Russian & Central Asian Studies, JNU made the final presentation on his understanding of the situation. According to him, this crisis was not just a conflict between two neighbours but a revival of the Cold War between the East (Russia) and the West (EU and US) based on the different interpretation of the Ukrainian identity and history. From there on, he gave an overview of how Russia and Ukraine were intricately linked to each other in their history and culture.

Ukraine is a very important country for Russia in terms of its economy and size, and in order for the Putin sponsored Eurasian Union to be viable. He believed that cooperation between Russia and the West was still possible provided that European Union and US agreed on certain conditions put forward by Russia. First, Russia finds it unacceptable that regime changes are instigated from outside as there cannot be an import of democracy. Second, Russia considers that they need to be consulted before NATO or EU or US take any initiatives in post Soviet states and CIS. Ukraine was the "double-red line" for the Russians. He suggested that Russia believed that the democratically elected government of Ukraine was displaced through unconstitutional methods on the basis of street protests. If street protests were the legitimate way to change government or to make political decisions, then the same rule could be applied to Crimea.

He concluded by analysing India’s position, on which he diverged from Mr Mihir S. Sharma’s position. He did not believe that India had joined the stronger side. He argued that Russia on this issue had a strong position but if one considers the larger geopolitical scene, it is still a largely uni-polar world where American unilateralism is predominant like in Iraq, Iran or even Syria.

The presentations were followed by discussions among the participants. During the discussions, some differences emerged among the Ukrainian/EU and Russian participants over several strategic issues. The Indian viewpoint on this issue was also brought into light.

Mr. Vidya Shankar Aiyyar, an independent analyst, disagreed with the view of return to cold war scenario as Russia is not a closed door anymore. There has been too much engagement between the US and Russia on different fronts. Moreover, the comparison of Crimea with the situation in Kashmir does not hold any water. He talked about India’s abstention in the UN General Assembly vote that called Crimea’s reunification with Russia as illegal. He pointed out that most of South Asia (except Maldives and Bhutan) like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal abstained. The voting pattern reflected that it is not just Indian position that is tilting towards Russia.

Mr. Jeremie Robert, the First Counsellor at the French Embassy, remarked that Ukraine has been invaded and part of its territory has illegally been taken away from it which is a serious violation of international law. We hope that relations with Russia could be restored and dialogue and partnership continues. He said that in Crimea, the referendum was not carried out in proper circumstances and that the voting was illegal.

Mr Oleksandr Shevchenko, the Ambassador of Ukraine in India, stated the position of Ukraine in this geopolitical crisis and maintained that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine should be upheld. Since crisis erupted in Ukraine and then in Crimea, there has been an increase of Russian military personnel disguised under the so-called self-defence units. Ukraine did not reciprocate and placed emphasis on diplomatic solution and reliance on international institutions like UN and EU. Though Russia has been one of the guarantors of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty through the UN Charter, Helsinki Final Act, Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, its borders have been violated and its territory has been annexed which is against international law. The referendum in Crimea has no legal grounds and its government was ousted with the assistance of military personnel. The Crimean Tatars and a number of Counsels and Mayors did not participate in the referendum. Joining the EU was one of the principle decisions of Ukraine as an independent state which found its resonance in its foreign policy. This was generally supported by the Ukrainian population and its leadership including ex-President Yanukovych.

Mr. Denis E. Alipov, the Minister-Counsellor from the Russian Embassy, argued that Russia did not create this situation in Ukraine or wanted it to go that far. The situation was created due to the political-economic situation in Ukraine with the connivance of certain western nations who pursued their self-interest. One should objectively view Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, France, the US before accusing Russia of violating the international law. Russia has not insisted Ukraine to join the Eurasian Union and would be happy if it joins the EU. However, Ukraine’s economy is oriented towards Russia and if Russia closes its borders with Ukraine, its economy would crumble. The change of government in Ukraine was brought about in an illegitimate way. The referendum in Crimea was carried out as per the rules and Crimea decided to join Russia. Russia had tried to initiate dialogue with the EU in order to find a meeting point between the EU and the Eurasian Union but this had been refused by the EU. Mr Alipov also criticised the western interference in Ukraine by way of Senators flocking in the Kiev street.

Ms. Axelle Nicaise, the Political Counsellor at EU Delegation to India, stated that the West has not shown weakness in the Ukraine crisis, rather the position of EU has been very clear. She ordered some restraint in the usage of words like self-determination and annexation. When talking about the Russian speaking population in Ukraine and Crimea, one needs to figure out if one is talking about ethnic Russians or people who are Russophone. In 1938, on the basis of this similar argument, the German speaking population of Czechoslovakia was ceded.

The way forward for Ukraine

The panellists were then asked by the chairman to give their opinion on the wayout of this crisis.

Prof. Bava pointed out that EU had certain limitations while tackling with this type of situation. EU’s actions would be dependent on the political leadership in Europe and about where other world political leaderships position themselves. The recognition of Crimea by other countries and international law needs to be taken into account as well. She emphasised that not only global institutions but also EU and respective countries, Ukraine in this case, would need to express the kind of political future that they want. She concluded her remarks by saying that both the Ukrainian and Russian interests should be addressed.

Prof. Sanjay Kumar Pandey believed that the way forward could only be achieved if Ukraine’s sovereign right and its identity are taken into consideration. However, joining EU or NATO would not be prudent as well as joining the Eurasian Union as it would not serve Ukraine’s national interest. He suggested a close association with Russia as well as special partnership with EU.

According to Mr Mihir S. Sharma the way forward for Ukraine would become clear over time. If EU members diversified their energy supply, it may provide them greater leverage to deal with this kind of situation in future.

The conference was chaired by Mr. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President and Senior Fellow, ORF and attended by diplomats, academicians, media persons and ORF faculty.

(This report is prepared by Nidhi Sinha, Associate Fellow, and Benjamin Bath, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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