With the referendum on the Crimean peninsula the path is set for a de facto split of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, followed by the Crimea joining Russia. While the Russian government has rejected the diplomatic efforts by the West to stop the referendum most of the leading western media at this point are united in warning about the specter of an emerging new Cold War between Russia and the West, demanding harsh economic sanctions, irrespective of the disastrous economic consequences this would have for East and West. Russia in turn is reacting in a “reflex” like way. It is a “reaction formation” towards what Russia in the last years has perceived as increasing “arrogance” and “humiliation” by the West. As Russian Foreign policy expert Dmitri Trenin reiterated in a recent interview with Austrian TV reiterated, Russia at this point is not paying much attention to what the West is saying. They are drawing the line. Trenin characterized the actions by Russia in Crimea as a means to put the Ukraine government in line. At the same time he ruled out the possibility of “war” and of Russia taking control of Eastern Ukraine.
The harsh tone in the Western media is spearheaded by the U.S., as a commentary in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) noted on the 15th of March under the headline “Strategic Ambiguities”. It was reported that recent efforts by German Foreign Minister F.W. Steinmeier, who almost in a non- stop effort tries to mediate between West and East, have been de facto “taken out of his hands” by U.S. Foreign Secretary of State John Kerry. While Steinmeier was meeting some days ago with the heads of the four Visegrad States (Czech Republic, Hungarian Republic, Slovakia Republic and Republic of Poland) in Budapest, he received a phone call by Secretary of State John Kerry telling him that he (Kerry) intended to fly to London to meet Russia’s Foreign minister Lavrov to avert the referendum. Despite the fact that this attempt failed, the game played by the US in respect to Europe is characterized by “ambiguity”. It is the classical “divide and rule line” (very similar to the period of Bush’s “Coalition of the willing” where the US consciously played on eastern European fears and tried to coopt them.) The perfidy in all this is that if things develop negatively, there is always a way to “blame Berlin” for that.
Ukraine must be solved like the German question
In a previous Op Ed in the German Daily FAZ March 11th, an interesting contribution was made by former German Ambassador to Moscow Ernst-Jörg von Studnitz, at present chairman of the German Russian Forum. Von Studnitz urged that the Ukraine problem should be solved like the “German Question” and that everything must be done to avoid a “new cold war” erupting over Ukraine. The Ukraine case he underlined, illustrates an “unresolved East- West difference since the 1990ies”. Despite the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council, the West and Russia at present are opposing each other irreconcilably, von Studnitz wrote.
Being a well – informed Russia observer the Ambassador noted that Russia in the last two decades has wanted to be accepted as an equal power and has expressed over the last years a keen strategic interest to have a “say” in the shaping of the future European Security structure – a fact, as von Studnitz correctly noted- which the US does not want to accept. An illustrative point has been the debate about “missile defense” in Europe. (In this debate in the last years the US exerted strong pressure on the Europeans who were not particularly inclined on this strategy E.H.). In reference to the historically conditioned cultural differences between West, East and Southern Ukraine, von Studnitz made clear that “without an internal Ukraine reconciliation and understanding between West and Russia, the Ukraine problem will not be solved.”
The way in which the German question was solved in 1990 could serve as model, the author wrote. At that time 1990 the “2 plus 4 agreement” (the four victors of the 2nd world war, the Foreign ministers from USA, Russia, France and Great Britain discussing in 1990 with East Germany and West Germany) created a framework for formulating the treaty on German Unification. Given the present disintegration of the Ukraine the author advised that only a “federation would grant the various members of the Ukraine enough autonomy to overcome their conflict and that the Ukraine should function as a link between Russia and Western Europe.
The importance of the “Eurasian Union”
It is worth looking at a study which the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s (KAS) regional heads of KAS offices located in cities like Kiev, Moscow, Vilnius, Tiflis, Astana et al., compiled end of January. The study carries the title “The Eurasian Union –An integration project under critical examination.”
Despite being critical the study makes clear that Russia’s intent to develop the Eurasian Union has not been really understood nor fully accepted by the West. The authors document with the help of charts and polls that the Eurasian Economic Union which was initiated in 2009, is planned to develop in three phases: the first phase was the “Customs Union” which came into being 2009 with founding members such as Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia. In December 2013 this Customs Union was officially joined by Armenia. It was supposed to be joined by Ukraine at a later point.
In a second phase, in 2012, a “unified economic space” (SES) was created which foresees the free exchange of goods, services, capital and labor force among the member states. In a third phase, in 2015, the new “Eurasian Economic space” should be fully functional, being similar in many respects to the EU. They reject the stability criteria of the Maastricht treaty, the authors of the study write, and the new project politically goes much further than anything else. Its aim is the creation of an “institutional basis”, referring to international standards, such as Russia’s access to the WTO 2012, to become binding for the other members as well. The study emphasizes that for the first time Russia would act as “primus inter pares” giving all member states the same voting and veto rights.
The common economic space is advantageous for Russia’s trade from an economic point of view. As economic data document, since 2000 trade has increased between Russia and these member states. For Putin this is also a “political” project, the authors state, as he himself underlined in a commentary, published in the Russian newspaper Iswestija October 3 2011: “We propose a model of a powerful supranational union which is capable to become a pole in the modern world and plays the role of an effective link between Europe and the dynamic Asia Pacific region”, Putin wrote at that time. In a later commentary he said on 19th September 2013 that the “Eurasian union represents a chance for the post- soviet space, an independent center of global development, instead of becoming a periphery of Europe and Asia.” Russia wants a closer partnership with EU, the authors note, since they know that the EU is the only future partner for a needed modernization and diversification.
European and German Business irritated about rejection of Eurasian Union
The Eurasian Economic Union is mostly of interest for German and European economic representatives, who have their business in Russia. “From their point of view it is advantageous if a market which corresponds essentially to the same trade rules grows in size.” These business people are deeply concerned about the speechlessness and distance between the EU and the developing Eurasia Union. “While the economy of Russia and the CIS pays a lot of attention to the development of the Eurasian space, in Germany and in Europe the reactions are critically distant and uninterested.”
The study concludes by underlining that in the future “of special importance is the question how the relation between EU and Eurasian Union will develop”. The Eurasian Union in effect would offer the possibility for increased cooperation with the EU, they state. “Even if there are critical voices within the EU which are skeptical about the cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union, it would not be a good strategy for the EU to block against this integration project. What they should rather concentrate upon is identify the common points of interest and how cooperation could look like. Politically this would be a long and painful process.”