The panic in the EU: Kerch crisis and future effects - Interview by Dr. Bruno Surdel | Eurasia Diary -

20 June, Thursday

The panic in the EU: Kerch crisis and future effects - Interview by Dr. Bruno Surdel

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Kerch tension is not in the interest of the acting sides also the international community. Eurasia Diary started a series of interviews with different experts about the situation.

After Paul A. Goble's interview, Eurasia Diary conducted an interview by Dr. Bruno Surdel, an expert at Centre for International Relations Warsaw.

What is the reason for the tension over Kerch strait between Russia and Ukraine? Could this lead military clash?

The recent maritime clash between Ukraine and Russia, and Moscow’s action near the Sea of Azov is – in the Kremlin’s eyes – a ‘natural’ step in asserting its „sovereign rights” over that territory. We all know that the international law is not a shield for Kiev in the current geopolitical situation. In fact, I think the real Russian intention is to gradually convert the Sea of Azov in their „internal sea” which means for future not only seizures of Ukrainian ships but also the de facto blockade of the two Kiev’s ports there. But this may be just a beginning of the Russian efforts to make for the Ukrainians the freedom of navigation not just in the Sea of Azov but in the Black Sea too next to impossible. For the Russians not the hot war but the intimidation and small but decisive, gradual moves are the best options to frustrate the Ukrainian resistance there.

What would be the reaction of Ukraine to this crisis and how this affects the inter-governmental relations?

Ukraine’s options are limited, and the Kremlin’s propaganda war is aimed at persuading the Ukrainians that their ruling elites are incompetent, corrupt and unable to protect that country’s territory and its citizens’ security. The final conclusion the Kremlin would love to communicate to the Ukrainians is that being in the American or the collective West’s sphere of influence is an existential threat to both the state and the people there. Whatever Kiev can do it has already done: asking the Americans, the Germans and the European Union and NATO for assistance. In recent days they got a US military adviser. Actually, the only thing that could work to some extent would be fresh economic sanctions that really bite and a following free fall of rouble. But Europe is far from any consensus in this respect and some Western countries would prefer a rapprochement with the Kremlin instead. And another issue: is Europe prepared for a possible new huge wave of refugees if the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalates? But Russia isn’t ready too. Mr. Putin knows that perfectly. Another option is more NATO presence in the Black Sea. But here the issue is Turkey – Russia partnership. Again, Turkey – and personally President Erdogan - can gain greatly from the situation. This is going to strenghten Ankara’s standing in the West. The G20 summit in Buenos Aires this weekend may be critical for Turkey – West relationship. Interestingly, for Saudi Arabia too, the developments in the Black Sea are convenient, as the USA but probably the European leaders too will be much more interested in keeping the Khashoggi case far from the agenda taking into account the role the Saudis with their oil power could play if the tensions with Russia escalate.

What is the message of Russia? What could be the reaction of the international community to the Russian message?

The timing is intriguing, indeed. I’ve already mentioned the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend. President Trump announced that „maybe he wouldn’t have the meeting [with Mr Putin] and that he didn’t like that aggression”. But President Putin’s logic may be different and there may be a link between the clash in the Black Sea and the G20 leaders’ meeting in Buenos Aires. We should also add the recent Russian actions in Syria too. Do I think that President Putin will be in some way „ostracised” in Argentina? No, the leader of world’s second largest economy will attend the summit too. I mean China’s President Xi Jinping with whom Mr. Putin has a cordial relationship. We need to bear in mind that the Western attempts to isolate Russia’s President in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea had contributed in one way or another to his decision to intervene in Syria so any new attempts to do so again wouldn’t be productive too.

If there is any message to the world coming from the Kremlin – it is this one: „we are determined to do whatever we wish in the Sea of Azov and the Ukrainian part of the Black Sea and the West can not stop us as it had failed to in Georgia and then in Crimea – and Syria too. Russia is back.” Of course, the Russian economy is in tatters but this is their message: Welcome in „a new brave world!”

Can increase of Russia’s military aggression emerge in other places, for example in the Middle East or another region?

Not in the Middle East, Syria is enough for Russia both in the military terms and expenditures. Russia needs to „digest” its Ukrainian „issue” first. But – of course – cyber and propaganda wars to influence Europe will go on. On the other hand, there is „Transnistria” – directly related to Russian ambitions in Ukraine and the Black Sea. There is Southern Caucasus too. And yes, Baltic states. So if we combine what we’ve discussed with the developments in the Asia – Pacific region, and the US-China trade wars – we’ve got to accept that the post-cold war world order has „gone with the wind”.

Interviewed by Ulvi Ahmedli

Eurasia Diary

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