By Jyrki Iivonen, Guest Contributor
(Jyrki Iivonen was Director for Public Policy at the Finnish Ministry of Defense from 2002-13 and Minister Counselor at the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC from 1996-2000. He was editor-in-chief of Maanpuolustus (National Defense Journal) from 2007-2012 and is a columnist, writer and docent of international politics at the University of Helsinki and political science at the University of Tampere.)
Analyzing the Crimean crisis is not an easy task, particularly because the situation changes almost daily. Some conclusions can be made, however. It is clear that Russia has violated both international law and many treaties it had earlier concluded. In addition to the UN Charter and the principles of the OSCE, Russia has violated the treaty according to which Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons left on her territory after the end of the Cold War. Ukraine was then promised that after that no military force will be used against it. However, this is precisely what has happened. In spite of that, the crisis has in many cases been portrayed as if the responsibility of the situation should be divided equally between Russia and Ukraine.
In addition to what has been said above, some conclusions can already be drawn.
- First, Russia’s conduct in Crimea has created an atmosphere of mistrust, and trust – as is well known, is not easily rebuilt. One could, of course, argue that trust even before the present crisis was already vague. Russia acted in the same way in Georgia in 2008 and has repeatedly declared that NATO’s expansion towards the East has been a threat towards Russia’s security interests. But until now, NATO and Russia have cooperated and the US-Russian dialogue has continued without major breaks.
- Second, Russia is not as strong as it has pretended to be. It is true that sanctions against a limited number of Russian oligarchs and politicians are not very effective, but that is known in the West as well. Much more damaging for Russia is the mistrust that has already spread to the global financial institutions. Russia’s credit rating is about to go down and investments have been withdrawn from the country. Economic consequences will be tough. Russia’s economic growth had already dropped before the crisis and now it will decline even more.
- Third, the Russian military and its capabilities have not been tested because Ukraine has consistently avoided military confrontation, partly because of the weakness of her own defense forces. Russians may have interpreted this as a proof of their strength, but it is not so. Russia no doubt has a large number of troops and materiel near the Ukrainian border but in Crimea they were able to carry out their task unobstructed. Russia’s military reform is still unfinished and its future depends very much on economic factors. An extensive military confrontation would slow it down.
- Fourth, the Crimean crisis also has a domestic dimension. Many analysts have argued that president Putin was concerned about the spread of the democratic movement from Ukraine to Russia that had to be contained. It is indisputable that Putin has limited democratic rights of Russian citizens and has, at the same time, tried to replace democratic rights with a growing national ecstasy. Now 80% of Russians accept his conduct but the situation can change quickly if the negative economic consequences become stronger.
- Fifth, during the last days it has become obvious that Russia is also more prepared to find a solution through negotiations. Whether that includes retreating from Crimea is not known yet. But that U.S and Russian presidents are talking about the situation by phone and their foreign ministers are meeting in Paris is - as such - a positive thing. But as long as Ukraine is not sitting at these tables the long process will be unfinished.
- Sixth, thanks to Russia’s conduct, Western governments have found each other. Russia’s policy to separate them and utilize their disunity has clearly failed. No deviations from the common line have appeared. Neither did Ukraine collapse but has, instead, closer links with the West than before. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have promised extensive aid programs to help rebuild Ukraine’s shattered economy. Even in Finland, the support for NATO membership has grown. This definitely was not Russia’s goal.
Some eminent U.S diplomats and experts have proposed that Ukraine should adopt the same line as Finland did after the Second World War. Both Henry Kissinger and Jack Matlock have proposed such a solution. Usually the Finns feel flattered when they are presented as an example. In this case, however, I must be skeptical and point out that an analogy to Finland’s policy is not the best possible. Finland’s relationship to the Soviet Union since 1944 was based on a contractual relationship that was accepted by the international community. Finland was then left alone and had no other choice. Today Finland has good working relations with Russia, but so have Norwegians and Germans, both NATO members, as well.
It is clear that there is no absolute freedom of action in international policy, but Russia’s demands have so far gone far beyond the limits of national sovereignty. It is clear that it is always better to keep on talking with the Russians and that must be understood in the Ukraine crisis as well. But at the same time, Russians must also understand that Ukraine is an independent country and has its own legitimate goals and interests. Only through mutual acceptance of this can a peaceful solution be found. Without that all parties and the entire international community would lose a lot.