Does the West need a war against Russia?

There have been remarkable changes in the U.S. rhetoric against Russia in the last few days. They ranged from threats to isolate the Russian Federation politically and economically to the acknowledgement that Moscow has its own interests in the Crimea, and Washington is ready to help Russia in "taming the hooligans."

The change occurred after a telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama.

On Sunday, immediately after the Council of the Federation gave Putin permission to conduct military operations on the territory of Ukraine in the event of extraordinary situations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. and the West were "prepared to put sanctions in place, ... prepared to isolate Russia economically."   

"There are visa bans, asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment," Kerry said on CBS's "Face The Nation." "American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this. These are serious implications." President Barack Obama mentioned that "there will be costs" if the troops are entered.

However, a day later the American rhetoric has changed dramatically. Kerry said that President Obama and his entire administration preferred to peacefully settle the conflict with Russia over Ukraine. "We're not trying to make this a battle between East and West; we're not trying to make this a Cold War," Kerry said on CBS's "Face the Nation." He said that "President Obama made it clear that we are prepared to work with Russia."

"We are prepared to stand up against any hooligans, any thuggery, any individual efforts with Russians in order to create stability in Ukraine and allow the people of Ukraine to make their choices for the future."

Why is this sudden turn? Likely, Vladimir Putin explained Obama that Moscow is acting strictly in the constitutional field, unlike the new Kiev authorities. There are also significant legal claims to the European allies.

Where are they are now, the guarantors of the agreement (the document signed on February 21 between the legitimate President Yanukovych and the opposition) represented by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Germany and France? They were obliged to ensure its full execution, in particular with regard to the provisions on the disarmament of illegal armed groups. However, Bandera Maidan is ready to stand until the presidential elections in May, and perhaps longer, and no one asked them to leave.

Can we expect sober decisions from the "hooligans" under these circumstances? Of course not, which is why the Russian leader has stressed that in the event of a further escalation of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population residing there.

The U.S. administration is again clearly caught off guard by Putin. Andrew C. Kuchins, a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program, responded to this development in a CNN article: "Yes, Crimea may already be gone. But we have to make absolutely clear - and in the most credible way possible - that Russian military intervention in other regions of Ukraine is a red line that will mean war with Ukrainian and NATO military forces if it is crossed. U.S. and NATO naval forces need to be deployed to the Black Sea in close proximity to the Ukrainian Coast. Military forces of neighboring NATO member countries, meanwhile, should be deployed closer to the Ukrainian border."

Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar, told The Guardian: "We'll talk about sanctions. We'll talk about red lines. We'll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he'll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war."

The U.S. Sixth Fleet headquartered in Naples may enter the Black Sea, but it has to pass through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, a move that Turkey that must authorize the passage of warships considers highly undesirable. Any decision on the land deployment of the U.S. forces or NATO near the borders of Ukraine is also hard to imagine. The West simply has neither resources nor desire to do this. All latest NATO's military operations were air bombings.

Risky ground operations are out of the question, as the U.S. will not be able to explain them to the American voters who are already exhausted by 12 -years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Europe, Germany is generally averse to military actions, and is reluctant about getting involved even in peacekeeping operations. Paris is involved in Africa, and Francois Hollande has the lowest approval rating in the history of France - 18 percent. Great Britain will not get involved either. This means that there will be no direct military confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Diplomatic and political measures could be employed, with an escalation to the Cold War. The West could kick Russia out from the "G 8," condemn its actions in the UN Security Council without the adoption of a resolution, ban visas, but for Russia these are not real sanctions.

Russia may well look to the allies within BRICS, Turkey, and Iran. "The format of the G8 is actually the only one in which we in the West can speak directly with Russia," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told  the public broadcaster ARD. "Should we really give up this unique format?" This is a very wise thought. As for the economic and financial leverage, they may have a negative impact on Russia only if Europe is involved, but for the latter Russia is a reliable trading partner, especially for Germany.

"I would not jump to conclusions regarding the future of the relations with the West. One thing is clear though, the West will not choose the Cold War or a sharp deterioration of the relations with Russia," told Pravda.Ru Pavel Podlesnyy, head of the Russian-US Relations at the Institute of USA and Canada, head of the Institute of European processes. "None of the NATO countries will launch a war with Russia. This is completely ruled out. Now the West is considering possible sanctions against Russia. It is very important that at the Security Council meeting held recently it was clear that so far the West has not proposed any serious resolutions. The UK or Canada might introduce lists similar to the Magnitsky list, for example. I do not think that France or Germany would do it. Incidentally, Italy remains silent."

"The Crimean crisis is a good reason not to start the Cold War. It is tempting for the West to declare Russia a fiend, to cancel visas, to create blacklists, to deny investment. But we understand that in today's world this is a game of destructing each other. We have serious economic ties with Europe, and who needs to ruin them?" said Konstantin Simonov, Head of the Department of Applied Politics at the Finance University under the Government of the Russian Federation. "I think the Crimean crisis is a reason to sit down and consider that the current formula of solving international conflicts is not working, the UN is not working.

Russia, by and large, acted the same way the U.S. always acted in such situations. Another thing is that it was surprising for them. Apparently, they believe that they are entitled to do whatever they want, and we have to passively watch from the sidelines. The interests of our citizens were threatened, and we chose not to wait for the UN Security Council sanctions. We acted the same way the Americans have always acted. Russia has simply become a strong country and began to use the same tools the United States has been using. It was surprising to them, but this is the reality, and if we want to make the world safer, then let's sit down and think about the way it will look in the future."

Lyuba Lulko


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov