This week marks an official first anniversary of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which is often seen as one of the major points in the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. This date in itself provides a timely opportunity for us to re-assess the current situation in Ukraine, particularly the issue of the rapidly deteriorating Russian-Western relations. I should confess that I can be a biased author with a quite diverse background: as a person who was born and raised in Eastern Europe, I am aware of diverse cultural, historical and religious problems and successes of the region and based upon this knowledge I am forming my position on the Ukrainian crisis. However, as a Christian and simply as a human being, I am most interested in finally witnessing peace in the Ukraine. Indeed, I strongly believe that the ongoing violence is not only damaging for the Ukrainian population (the population, which has already endured numerous acute sufferings, horrors and violence), but also threatens regional security architecture and global security arrangements. With these objectives in mind, this article is my own opinion on the current situation; readers are encouraged to disagree and express their opinion.
Unfortunately, the first idea which comes up to the mind is the unfairness of the current portrayal of the situation in both Russian and Western media. Undoubtedly, Russia had clearly annexed the Crimean peninsula (albeit, with mass popular support from the local residents). Russia is engaged in continuous support of the separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine and has had a shady, unaccountable and murky internal politics. Undoubtedly, this requires the adaptation of a cohesive, unified and clear response from the West. However, beyond these facts, the situation becomes more unclear and driven by opposing explanations of the situation.
The dominant Western interpretation is that Putin is an aggressive leader, fixated on the idea of Russian revival through territorial expansion and pressurising Russian neighbours(which are portrayed as the liberal democracies, seeking to integrate in Western Atlantic community) to achieve his objectives. The dominant Russian interpretation is that Western states seek to constrain Russian power and resources by expanding NATO and the EU, obstructing Russia on the international stage and creating obstacles for Russian revival within the international realm. Whilst both viewpoints are limited, they contain elements of truth.
Indeed, Putin is an assertive leader, seeking to increase Russian power within the post-Soviet space and improve Russian stature in the world. But isn’t that what leaders do around the globe? Indeed, it is the precise reason we select them; to use their power for improving or at least for preserving the current stature of the specific state in the world. In relation to an aggressive push and pressurising other states, this becomes more controversial in two regards. Firstly, any great power uses blackmail, pressure, diplomacy and manipulation to advance their objectives; unfortunately, we have yet to fully develop a world community, which advances a cohesive universal moral code for all states to obey with clear sanctions to implement if they don’t follow the rules. The current legal system, particularly within the UN, is in decline; as its democratic character, representativeness, legitimacy and effectiveness increasingly challenged. Furthermore, it is not Russian behaviour, but the actions of Western states, particularly through the so-called humanitarian interventions and measures to help failed states, as in intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya which had put this system under pressure.
In fact, what is often left unnoticed, is that the Russian version of events also deserves attention, since it has some valid points. Russian history also had long periods of expansion and existential threat, which makes it easier to understand why it is so focused on perceived aggression from NATO expansion. Furthermore, when it tried to discuss NATO expansion in 1990s, its concerns were quickly pushed aside and it was given a largely symbolic seat in the NATO-Russia Council, where it had the right to hear the proceedings and to express its viewpoint, but was unable to veto and vote on any of the proposals. In fact, even today, when Russia is in engaged in some activity like trying to create the Eurasian Union, which is purely commercial and cultural exchange institution, these attempts are seen as dangerous and threatening.
This situation doesn’t help anyone. We are living in a global world, where our interests are connected and our values are shared. I strongly believe that neither the Russian, nor Western states are seriously interested in a continual decline of the Russian-Western dialogue, a new Cold War and the fragmentation of European regional politics. Instead, it is necessary to go beyond current tensions for establishing a long-term peace for all the states on our planet. However, this peace should be built on few prerequisites, a few of which deserve a specific mention:
Inclusive, attentive and stable dialogue. Many problems arise due to the fact that Russia and Western states do not hear the existing concerns. The establishment of peace requires a platform, where both parties can express their concerns and be confident that their opinion would be taken into account.
Reform the United Nations system. For all its misgivings, the United Nations still remains the cornerstone of the international law, yet its authority should be strengthened by reform. The United Nations was an institution of a different age, and its potential can be reinvigorated today by reform, whereby its essential features are preserved, while the problematic areas are strengthened.
Avoid clichés and stereotypes. We are living in an unprecedented environment, where we essentially face a new world, new threats, new opportunities and new potential. Sometimes situations arise, whereby different parties cannot forge the agreement, but this fact still doesn’t justify the drive to rush into Cold War stereotypes. Instead, we should give peace every chance. Especially, when the chances of the peace are seen as less likely.
Undeniably, these conditions are not a comprehensive list which will guarantee international peace, but it is created as an intellectual platform for everyone to consider. We are all living in the same interconnected world, where the peaceful co-existence of future generations not only depend on each of us individually, but also depends on the choice that we as a society and as people make today.