By Abdul Ruff
Crimea was an integral part of Russia for centuries and is historically, culturally and linguistically Russian. Just like some European continue to see European Turkey as being a part of Asia mainly because of its Islamic religion; they now view Crimea as being a part to Ukraine just because it became a part of the Soviet nation as a part of Ukrainian Republic but now it is a East European nation. Soviet President Khrushchev, who belonged to Ukraine, had gifted Crimea from Russian Republic to Ukrainian Republic as a part of territorial rearrangement.
Angry over Ukrainian support for USA and it move away from Moscow, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and made it an integral part of Russia once again. Even if Ukraine changes its anti-Russia stand, Crimea would remains with Russia henceforth.
Clearly, if Purim’s statements are of any indication, Russia is not going to give Crimea to Ukraine any time in future. As such, all calls for Russia to leave Crimea are useless and as pointless. Continued occupation of many Arab nations as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan by the USA and anti-Islamic allies, does not offer any chance for forcing Russia as well.
Meanwhile, French Presidential candidate Francois Fillon warned that Russia was “unstable” and “should be handled with care.” “Can we lift sanctions against Russia without progress in Crimea?” he said. “We have to respect two important yet contradictory principles: respect for sovereign borders and the right to self-determination. No one doubts that Crimea has been historically, culturally and linguistically Russia, and pointless to keep demanding that Russia leaves Crimea: it’s never going to happen.” Fillion had been seen as a forerunner in the French elections until February this year, when French police began to investigate claims that he had deliberately squandered public money by hiring his wife in a nonexistent role as a “parliamentary assistant.” He’s recently made a comeback in the polls, reaching third place. The first round of the French presidential elections takes place this Sunday.
Russia remains strong notwithstanding all economic sanctions by USA and EU, and its other allies. Putin said he would stress Superpower status in Presidential Campaign next year. Restoring Moscow’s global influence will be a dominant theme of the 2018 election. There are obviously no signs of Putin asking the military to leave Crimea for Ukraine and EU to take it away.
2018 Presidency poll
In 2016, Donald Trump rode a wave of popular discontent to the White House on the promise that he would “make America great again.” As Russia’s presidential election, scheduled for March 2018 draws nearer, President Vladimir Putin may try a similar tactic — by contending that he has already restored Russia’s greatness. Since annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, Russia has increasingly asserted its role on the global stage.
Following annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has also ignited a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and supported the unrecognized “people’s republics” that emerged there. In 2015, Russia entered the longstanding Syrian civil war in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Trump’s electoral victory and the demise of the Western consensus against Russia’s violation of international law has also been a major coup for the Kremlin.
These events have all catapulted Putin to the position of a powerful broker in the international arena and fulfilled the country’s longstanding desire for international influence. They signify that, Russia is once again a global player on par with the USA—much like the USSR was thirty years ago.
Russia’s military prowess
Earlier this month, it emerged that Russia had deployed a 22-member special forces unit to a base in western Egypt, near the Libyan border. Russia’s goal is likely to support Khalifa Haftar, a renegade Libyan National Army general who currently controls most of the country’s east and poses a serious challenge to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
The general made two high-profile visits to Moscow in 2016, and signed a series of undisclosed agreements with the Russian military in January. But it is significant because it undermines UN efforts to stabilize the north African country. The deployment shows that Russia is thinking “not just about its continued presence in Syria, but in the Greater Middle East,” says Alexei Malashenko, a regional analyst at the Dialogue of Civilizations foundation.
Recently, Russia has also increased its role in Afghanistan. In February, the Kremlin organized an Afghanistan peace conference in Moscow that brought together representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, and Iran. Notably absent were the United States and other NATO coalition members. Russia has also advocated for including the Taliban in any solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, presenting the Islamist militants as a bulwark against the Islamic State (IS). In February, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. military operations in the country, alleged that Russia had increased covert and overt support for the Taliban to undermine the USA and NATO in Afghanistan.
Russia has sincere concerns about conflict spillover from Afghanistan into Central Asia, says Malashenko. But it is also using the IS and Taliban presence in Afghanistan to assert the role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of post-Soviet states in the region.
On March 20, David McAllister, chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, accused Russia of deliberately destabilizing Serbia in order to prevent the Balkan country from joining the EU. He has also alleged that Russia supports nationalist leaders throughout the Balkans. In Montenegro, two Russian intelligence officers stand accused of masterminding a failed coup on election day in October 2016 to prevent the Balkan nation from joining NATO. Last month, a Montenegrin special prosecutor stated that “Russian state bodies were involved on a certain level.”
Any move that destabilizes the Balkans would send a strong message to the West: Russia is a critical regional powerbroker.
Europe could serve as another staging ground for restored Russian influence. As political uncertainty grows in the EU, Russia is reasserting its influence in the Balkans. Earlier this month, when EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini spoke in the Serbian parliament, a group of pro-Russia parliamentarians met her with chants of “Serbia! Russia! We don’t need the EU!”
The sanctions, imposed by USA and EU on Russia against the annexation Crimea, have not yielded any fruits. It is mainly because of economic position of Moscow. The major sources of economy include arms and oil. Unless weak countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan, Russia cannot be bullied by sanctions or threat of terror attacks the powerful Kremlin.
Threats of USA are not going to weaken Russia in any manner. And there is no reason for the Kremlin to leave Crimea.
So far, there is no consensus in the Kremlin on whether to boost tension in Serbia. Cooler heads understand it may be riskier than involvement in Syria.
Meanwhile, decision makers must take into account the public mood. Last year, polls repeatedly showed that Russians are tired of war. Armed conflicts are increasingly seen as an irrational waste of resources, and human losses—first in Ukraine, then in Syria—as something Russia doesn’t need.
The Russian public sees the country’s newly achieved superpower status as a source of international respect, but Russians are more eager for this status to be used for dialogue, than for confrontation.
The challenge for the Russian leadership will be to avoid backsliding into real conflicts that might undermine stability, something Russians hold dear. Putin seems to understand this. He is too cautious to attempt a full-scale restoration of Soviet grandeur. Besides Syria and Ukraine, it’s either isolated local episodes, or just talk
So far, there is no clear indication that the Kremlin has decided on a central idea for Putin’s electoral platform. One of the challenges for the Kremlin will be addressing economic stagnation and declining living standards that will likely persist in Russia for a few more years. The other will be getting voters to the polls. But nostalgia for Soviet greatness could still drive electoral mobilization. Recent debates over holding the election on the fourth anniversary of the Crimean annexation reflect an appeal to that nostalgia.
Restoring Russia’s superpower status was the purpose of Putin’s third term. Russia’s global influence will be a key part of the campaign, but the nostalgia card has already been played. EU cannot expect Putin to explain why Russians need global influence and what they get from it.
Russia’s quest for global influence won’t end in the near future. The upcoming presidential election will be utterly predictable, lacking real competition. As a result, Putin will likely spend 2017 demonstrating Russia’s global greatness to spur enthusiasm and drive Russians to the polls.
This does not mean that Russia will rush to war, however. . But it does mean the Kremlin must project an image of strength abroad. The idea is to show influence. Putin will need to make headlines, assert Russia’s global presence and demonstrate that it is returning its spheres of influence.