Ten Ways the Ukraine Crisis may Change the World
As Moscow and the West dig in for a prolonged stand-off over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, risking spillover to other former Soviet republics and beyond, here are 10 ways in which the Ukraine crisis could change attitudes and policy around the world.
1) Russia diminished: Russia’s role in international affairs is diminished, at least temporarily. Moscow has been de facto excluded from the Group of Eight industrialized powers. Its bids to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency are frozen. Western summits with Moscow are canceled until further notice.
President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to use the BRICS group of emerging powers to mitigate isolation by the West faltered over Chinese and Indian unease at the Crimean precedent for disputes about Tibet and Kashmir. A joint BRICS statement condemned sanctions but made no mention of Crimea or Ukraine.
2) NATO revived: Just when it looked to be losing relevance as its mission in Afghanistan limps to a close, the U.S.-led military alliance is back in business. An increase in allied air patrols and war games showing the flag in Poland and the Baltic states is on the agenda, and Warsaw wants faster deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in central Europe.
Under U.S. pressure, some European countries may rethink cuts in defense spending. Neutral Sweden and Finland, perceiving Russia anew as a potential threat, may increase security efforts and cooperate more closely with NATO.
3) Energy diversification: The energy map of Europe is being redrawn with accelerated action to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas. EU states are set to build more liquefied natural gas terminals, upgrade pipeline networks and grids and expand a southern gas supplies through Georgia and Turkey to southern and central Europe.
The EU gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and 40 percent of that gas is pumped across Ukraine. Europe may now look to tap its own shale gas reserves and expand nuclear power, despite environmental concerns.
“I see the danger of more nuclear – which is C02-free, which is also part of the discussion, but it is the wrong path,” said Gerhard Roiss, chief executive of Austria’s OMV, a big importer of Russian gas into central Europe.
4) China factor: The diplomatic alliance between Russia and China, which often vote together in the U.N. Security Council, could change in one of two directions – either rapprochement through a stronger energy partnership, with new pipelines being built to pump Russian oil and gas spurned by Europe to Beijing; or a cooling if China distances itself more from Putin’s behavior and sees less benefit in closer ties with an economically weakened and relatively isolated Moscow. For now, President Xi Jinping is refusing to take sides in public.
5) U.S. leadership: Washington’s global leadership role, weakened by the rise of emerging powers and by retrenchment under President Barack Obama, has been partially restored.
Despite his disengagement from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and strategic “pivot” towards Asia, events have pushed Obama back into the old-fashioned role of “Leader of the Free World” in an East-West crisis in Europe.
The crisis has swept aside European anger over U.S. spying on global communications and put a new premium on cooperation. In Brussels last week Europeans appealed to Obama to sell them shale gas, and both sides agreed to speed talks on a transatlantic free trade and investment pact.
Yet U.S. strategists say American economic interests and the security challenges of managing a rising China mean Asia will remain the priority and Europe will have to do more for itself.
6) German leadership: The Ukraine affair has cemented Berlin’s leadership role in Europe. Germany is already the dominant economic power, calling the shots in the euro zone crisis, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has become Europe’s main interlocutor with Putin.
Her disenchantment with him has shaped an increasingly firm crisis response after initial hesitancy. German willingness to reduce energy dependency on Russia will be the yardstick of how far the rest of the EU goes. Merkel is also the relationship manager with the volatile Yulia Tymoshenko, whose presidential bid may heighten tension in Ukraine.
7) EU united: The European Union has been reunited, at least for now, by the return of a common external threat. This may have helped EU leaders overcome some long-running disputes.
Greens European Parliament member Rebecca Harms joked that it was too early to nominate Putin for the annual Charlemagne prize for services to European unity, “but in the face of a new threat of war in Europe, EU states have indeed agreed on a joint strategy towards Russia.”
Some EU diplomats say Poland may speed up slow-motion moves to join the euro, seeking sanctuary in Europe’s inner core as the Baltic states have done. Polish entry would hasten the spread of the single currency to almost all EU countries, including Denmark, though probably not Sweden or Britain.
8) Contest for Central Asia: both Putin and the West are wooing central Asian autocrats in energy-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, drawing a discreet veil over their human rights records. If Russia weakens economically, they will want at least a foot in the Western camp.
9) U.S.-Russian cooperation: some cooperation on global security issues will continue because Moscow has an interest in keeping it on track to avoid greater isolation. But tensions are possible over Syria, Iran, Afghanistan or North Korea, and Moscow has levers it could activate such as contracts to supply S300 air defense missiles to Damascus or Tehran.
10) Putin’s future: Russia’s leader is near the peak of his popularity, riding a wave of nationalist pride over Crimea. However, instability may grow if he comes under pressure from magnates angry at losing value on their businesses, forfeiting foreign investment in Russia and facing travel restrictions and asset freezes in the West. Most are 150 percent loyal for now, but things may look different in six months’ time.
Paul Taylor is Reuters columnist.
March 31, 2014
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