The United Nations Security Council will be meeting to discuss the Ukraine crisis at 20:30GMT tonight, though is this too little too late? With the Russian ultimatum ending just six and a half hours after the meeting starts, can there really be a meaningful response? The Russians are unlikely to be bothered in the slightest by economic sanctions, they have a growing economy and more to the point, with Russia having a permanent seat on the UNSC, they will just veto everything. Plus, there is speculation going round that the Russians have the support of China, which would make a lot of sense considering their response would be very similar if a Ukrainian crisis occurred in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet or even maybe North Korea. Trying to get into the mind of Putin is akin to doing a Rubix Cube blindfolded, there are predictions flying around the internet that he wants to reignite the Russian Empire and will use the invasion of Crimea as a stepping stone to reclaim the USSR. However this maybe a little too extreme, even for Putin.
One thing that has infuriated many on social networks is the lack of an international reaction. Yes, many countries have 'condemned' the actions of Russia, and asked Putin nicely if he wouldn’t mind ever so slightly moving his troops out of Ukrainian territory, but there has been nothing concrete. If we look at the finer details of the Ukrainian crisis, protests began in November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych's government announces it is abandoning an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union and is instead seeking closer co-operation with Moscow and it very quickly escalated from there. It's now the 3rd March 2014 and no one has done anything. Whether or not the world is scared of Vladimir Putin or feel weaker than him should be irrelevant, one of my favourite House of Cards quotes is "Sometimes the only way to gain your superior's respect is to defy him", neither the UN, EU, USA nor NATO have even attempted such a defiance. The BBC discussed three options that the West have with regard to cooling temperatures in Ukraine, these options were:
- Diplomatic: possibly through a UNSC resolution (though inevitably there's risk of Russian veto) or the suspension of co-operation in the EU-Russia partnership and NATO-Russian council. However there are question marks over whether these measure would even make an impact.
- Economic: oil could be Europe's biggest lever over Russia, but cast your mind back to Russia turning off the gas over tension with Ukraine in 2009 which put Europe on its knees, a repeat of that is not something that will be desired. Another avenue could be visa restrictions and asset freezing, which the USA has used before though in reality Russian seizing of Western assets would be a simple retaliation from them.
- Military: John Kerry said "all options" were on the table, thereby insinuating military action is a possibility. Though a NATO response is highly unlikely and William Hague has ruled out military options. As Ukraine is only a partner-country on NATO, they receive no security guarantees.
This leads us to the conclusion that there are no real actions that the West can take that would fully disable Russia and force them to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. Though clearly Western countries are on the side of the Ukrainians, does this mean if military action from both Ukraine and Russia does ensue at 0300GMT tomorrow (0500 local time) could we see a global escalation in tensions?
If we were to see war in Eastern Europe, which sounds scarily similar to the Cold War, surely there would be a response from the USA, to assert their presence as the global superpower, in a currently unipolar world. To look across the world, we could be seeing rising tensions elsewhere too, if China and Russia cosy-up, which is a possibility, this could encourage China to pursue a more militaristic approach against Japan, which the USA, as of 1960, has a security treaty with, and in 2012 the USA clarified in a statement over the dispute over the Senkaku Islands that the US-Japan Security Treaty does cover the islands, and obliges the US to defend them as Japanese territory. So we could be seeing West vs. East wars both in the Crimea and in Pacific Asia. To analyse the other regions of the world, the Middle East is already fairly tense with USA presence in Israel and supporting Saudi Arabia (despite its atrocious human rights record, but hey, they've got oil), as well as the Syrian crisis with Russian support for Assad and the West in favour of the opposition. Africa, again, is unstable with armed conflicts in Uganda, Somalia, Sudan (and South Sudan), Mali, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and even Egypt, so any West-East tensions could filter their way into conflicts here. South and Central America has some stability though protests in Venezuela (Russia's second largest trading and military allies in Latin America, behind Brazil) have threatened to overthrow Maduro, Argentina are implementing increasingly left-wing protectionist policies and the Colombian government (supported by the West) is arguably still in a civil war with a weakening FARC (previously supported by the USSR).
So all in all, I think a lot more people need to take the Ukraine-Russia crisis far more seriously, it is now far more than just about Crimea. Although the escalation into a second Cold War is highly unlikely and tensions will hopefully fall, something does need to be done. Let hope we're not all speaking Russian by the end of the week!