As “Path dependant”, the Russian foreign policy options are framed by the political, economic, military and cultural inheritance from the Soviet Union. And the Ukrainian case touches into two of Russia’s foreign policy priorities which is limiting the expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) eastward and protecting its interests and protecting the Russian ethnic minorities in former Soviet Union countries.
Ukraine has always been an important country for the Russian foreign Policy. And any move towards the EU or NATO was expected to be resisted by Russia as it impacts its interests. The Ambassador of Ukraine to London stated at the EU Foreign policy conference organised by the Global Diplomatic Forum last May that Ukraine had chosen to associate itself with the EU as a long-term strategic direction for the country while maintaining good relations with Russia to the benefits of the two countries.
However, November last year, the President of Ukraine suspended preparations for a trade deal with the EU and instead put forward plans to strengthen ties with Russia which led to political confrontation with the opposition. Eventually, the opposition have won the struggle in a zero sum game that has led to oust the president and control the Parliament. They have declared that they will pursue the path of association with the EU. Russia claims that new government in Ukraine is heading towards joining NATO while the new prime minister declined that the Ukraine government has this intention.
The Russian intervention in Crimea was triggered by these developments as the sequence of events was not going towards Russia’s interests. The Crimean Parliament had called for a referendum on joining Russia. The 16thof March, the referendum was held and an overwhelming majority of voters confirmed their desire to join Russia. Eastern Ukraine is also under the risk of Russian intervention and can be considered the next in line. The fact that the referendum was held during the Russian military intervention in Crimea, it was opposed by all the EU countries and the United States. The EU and the United States has imposed travel bans against Russian officials and economic sanctions against Russia.
The consequences of these sanctions can be felt by both Russia and the EU countries. Russia supplies the European Union with more than 25% of their gas and oil imports. Russia also has significant trade interest with the EU that is harmful to compromise. Russia is reliant on the revenue from gas and oil to boost the growth of their emerging economy. Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are examples of EU countries currently that buy between 70% and 100% of their gas from Russia. The growing Russian economy has provided a lucrative market for products from Germany and the UK. Russia has created a cartel of gas exporting countries, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum which groups countries that hold 70% of the world’s gas reserves. This may mean its influence on the global gas market goes beyond its own resources. Russia is a major player in the Syrian conflict and has established ties with the new Egyptian regime which can have impact on international security of oil supply from the Middle East and North Africa.
However, Russia has regained its statute as an international power in the last decade through the economic boast that was achieved with trade with the western countries. It will certainly be hard to maintain this statute under the economic sanctions. The situation has reached a complex juncture and it is hard to imagine what would be a diplomatic deal that involves all the actors looks like.
The Global Diplomatic Forum will organise on 29th of April in London, a round table to bring together key stakeholders to put light on the crisis from different dimensions. It will examine both scenarios for a further escalation of the crisis and scenarios for a possible diplomatic deal.
What are the questions being asked at this Round Table:
- What are the options for Crimea? Will it stay Annexed to Russia? Will it become an independence state? Or will it re-join Ukraine?
- What is the future of eastern Ukraine? Will the Russian intervention extends to Eastern Ukraine?
- What is future of Ukraine joining NATO? Could a deal be struck that involves Ukraine never joining the NATO?
- What are the redlines from the Russian perspective re- NATO expansion eastward?
- What are the options for Ukraine in pursuing EU Association?
- What are the options For Ukraine to serve its debts to Russia