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Editorial: Ukraine highlights western weakness

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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On Wednesday, the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, based in the College of Law, will host a discussion titled “Ukraine: East and West,” during which experts from the university’s faculty will deliberate on the tumultuous events that have occurred in Ukraine in the past few months, including the revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of the Crimea.

In light of this discussion, it is our view that the Ukrainian crisis should be a concern for all members of the UI community. The ongoing tumult in the region is not only emblematic of the petty tyranny of Vladimir Putin’s regime but also highlights the fundamental weaknesses of the European Union and the West more broadly, particularly in terms of energy and foreign policy.

It’s clear that the invasion and annexation of another sovereign territory is a violation of international law, specifically the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a treaty that Russia was a signatory to, which stated that Ukraine’s sovereignty would be respected by Russia in exchange for giving up the nuclear weapons still in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

However, this is not nearly as important as the motivations behind the invasion. Putin’s dream is to create a “Eurasian Union,” a counterpart to the EU that would be composed of Russia and post-Soviet states such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, with the possibility of Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan also entering the union at some point in the future. The union is essentially Putin’s attempt to create a Russian Empire 2.0, less in the vein of the Soviet Union and more like the Tsarist Russia of the 19th century.

With Ukraine, a country with incredibly deep historical and cultural ties to Russia, deciding that it wants to become a part of the West, Putin’s imperial desires were given a massive blow. The annexation of Crimea, the only region in Ukraine with a majority ethnic Russian population, was a way to both stave off fledgling Western ties being formed by many Eastern Bloc states and an attempt by Putin to save face.

As much as this crisis reveals about the motivations and factors driving Russian foreign policy, so, too, does it reveal the flaws of the West’s foreign policy.

So far, the sanctions against the Russia made by the EU and the United States have been relatively mild — mostly travel bans on Russian oligarchs and asset freezes on said oligarchs. But truly crippling sanctions, such as cutting off oil trade with Russia, have been tabled by the EU, since most of its member countries are dependent on oil flowing into their countries through Russian pipelines.

This is particularly frustrating given the fact that, at its core, Russia is just a petrostate that gets away with moonlighting as a potential superpower because the West simply can’t rid itself of its fossil-fuel addiction.

When taking the long view, the Ukrainian crisis becomes an amalgamation of many horrid trends in international affairs. The worldwide dependence on fossil fuels, the resurgence of imperialism, and a lack of respect for territorial sovereignty have combined to create an awful situation on the eastern corner of Europe.

The true answer to this crisis, beyond short-term sanctions or bloviating rhetoric, is to address these structural issues, that continue to plague the world outside of a tiny peninsula in the Black Sea.


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