Ukrainian sovereignty won’t be the only casualty of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to assert Russian influence and interest in Crimea.It is too early to see how this crisis will end and what its consequences will be but it’s a fair bet that whether it ends in a Putin victory, defeat, or draw, it’s going to make a difficult situation in the world even more complicated.
Russian foreign policy, whether under Brezhnev, Yeltsin, Putin is formed by three imperatives: Russia as a nuclear superpower, Russia as the world’s great power, and Russia as the central power in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. And a power that is political, economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly military.
What differs from one Russian political regime to another is interpretation and implementation, that is, the policies that support these objectives. Putin’s have been far more assertive and at times riskier than those of his predecessors. The nuclear “superpowership” has been translated into a vehement opposition to missile defense in Europe. Russia as a great power has been defined largely in opposition to the U.S. and the West in general. And the centrality of Russia in the post-Soviet space has been re-interpreted as dominance and hegemony.Moscow’s foreign policy is dominated by the goal of maintaining influence in its “near abroad”, the former Soviet states that are seen as integral to Russia’s defence from the advance of Nato.
Whether Putin wins or loses in Ukraine, the odds that Russia could be a reliable partner for the US have decreased dramatically. And this only reinforces the obvious: When it comes to the core issues facing the US, the U.S. must focus on outcomes, not solutions.
The West’s steps are separate statements and phone calls to Putin by US allies would be replaced by a joint statement from the heads of state of NATO and EU countries warning about the “consequences” of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such a statement should stress that Russia risks isolating itself from the world, economically, politically, culturally, with disastrous results for the people of the Russian Federation.
Whether Putin wins or loses in Ukraine, the odds that Russia could be a reliable partner for the U.S. have decreased dramatically. Now Putin appears to be standing up to the international community and ready to use force to protect Russia’s interests in Ukraine, particularly in the face of the West’s empty rhetoric and red lines. A Putin win in will leave Russia stronger and more dependable as a partner and ally.
A Putin defeat in Ukraine won’t help matters unless the crisis delivers a knockout blow to Putin. The Russians are determined to frustrate the US solutions that exclude Moscow. Should Russia manage to have its way in Ukraine, smaller powers will take notice, particularly those nations whose interests can be at odds with the West and the US.
Over the years, America has issue of protecting its credibility is the be-all and end-all, in defiance of common sense and wise policy. The Obama administration’s credibility is very low. Everyone says no to the US, seemingly without consequence: al-Assad; Putin; Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai; North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; Iraq’s President Nuri al-Maliki. This comes from the US setting expectations too high, misreading the way the world actually is, underestimating how determined smaller powers can be and comes from the reality that America doesn’t control the world.