tHE RUSSIA/UKRAINE CRISIS:WHERE IS IT HEADING?
The toppling of the pro- Russian President of Ukraine in February 2014, Ukraine's proximity policy with the European Union, through pursuing the association programme and the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO - all these developments triggered Russia's intervention into Crimea, leading to the Crimean Parliament to call for a referendum on joining Russia.
On the 16th March 2014, a referendum was held and an overwhelming majority of voters confirmed their desire to join Russia. Russia's annexation of Crimea was held with significant Russian military presence, which essentially broke the phase of trust between Russia and the West. Since then, events have been escalating in Eastern Ukraine. Escalation has led to the rise of military separatist's movement in Eastern Ukraine. In July 2014, a Malaysian Airlines plane, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, taking the lives of 283 passengers.
Throughout the last year, there has been a continuous exchange of sanctions between the EU and Russia. From the EU perspective, the sanctions on import of EU foods to Russia amounting to around £9 billion had considerable impact on the economies of some of its members. Energy security of the Eastern members of the European Union remains a crucial factor in the EU calculations regarding any development in its relations with Russia. Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are examples of EU countries that buy currently between 70% and 100% of their gas from Russia. Now, the crisis has gone beyond Ukraine and has raised real concerns about European security.
From Russian's perspective, the sanctions have impacted Russia largely through its financial system. Russia's Economic Minister warned last month that its GDP will shrink by 0.8 percent this year. The immediate concerns that Russia has to put up with are the declining oil price and the declining value of the Ruble. The diminishing foreign direct investment from Europe is very important to Russia, both because of the money and the technical know-how. The danger for Russia is that Moscow these days seems very ready to put what it sees as its fundamental geopolitical interests above the economy.
Now, almost one year after the annexation of Crimea it seems that both Russia and the West didn't expect that the crisis would escalate that deep. No side seems ready to reverse the course; the Eastern of Ukraine is under anarchy and the rest of the country is far from stable. These events has brought back an era that was thought to be finished in Europe by the cold war.
The crisis is limiting cooperation between the West and Russia in international conflicts. This is harming efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict and the Iranian Nuclear programme and to tackle the threat of the Islamic State. This is having some significant implications on the security of Europe. The impact of the crisis is significant on both sides which raises the question of what would a diplomatic deal would look like?
Some experts states that a grudging official to unofficial acceptance by the West of Crimea's status with Russia could be part of a settlement that sees the Donetsk and Lugansk areas having considerable autonomy within Ukraine. The position of Ukraine is still important in such a development.
However, given Russia's foreign policy principles of limiting the expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) eastward; and protecting Russia's interests and defending the Russian ethnic minorities in former Soviet Union countries; there will be a threat that other countries in the Baltic will be exposed to similar threat.
The Minsk II Agreement came up with a package of measures to alleviate the on-going conflict in Eastern Ukraine and to avoid further escalation of the Ukraine/Russian crisis. Below are the main points of the agreement:
- Immediate and full Cease Fire from the 15th of February
- Pull-out of all heavy weapons by both sides to equal distance with the aim of creation of a security zone
- Release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons
- Pardon and Amnesty for persons involved in the conflict
- Pull-out of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine
- Constitutional reform in Ukraine with the aim of permanent legislation on special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
Minsk Agreement II is active with heavy weaponry withdrawn and less violations of the cease fire. Although the withdrawal lines established, the cease fire is very fragile