Parallels between crises in Ukraine and the Balkans – EURACTIV.com

The enemy of Putin’s Russia is stability, and his real interest is the constant maintenance of tensions, if necessary with punctual military actions so that it remains a factor that must be called if we want a solution, writes Orhan Dragaš.

Dr. Orhan Dragaš of the Institute for International Security is the author of the books “Two faces of globalization – the truth and the deceptions” and “The Post-Truth in South-Eastern Europe”.

The unresolved issues in the Balkans are often compared to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. There are reasons for this and even arguments that will help you draw a seemingly good parallel and draw the same conclusions. But still, be careful with it.

This is true – both in the Balkans and in relation to Ukraine, the center of the problems are territorial and ethnic conflicts, which go back a long way in history. There was already armed conflict in both places, and the ground has not yet calmed down, so both regions are post-conflict areas seeking a cautious solution for a lasting peace. Finally, the two crises are very internationalized, the conflict is located on the West-Russia line and directly involves a rivalry between Washington and Moscow.

Countless analytical texts and reports have been written on these parallels, the same arguments have been discussed at professional conferences, and so on for years.

Why not, when these few elements allow experts to attract attention through their lucid analyzes and assessments? But we ask ourselves: are they the right help to better understand the two crisis zones or are they something completely different?

Are, perhaps, Ukraine now, and the Balkans for three decades, an El Dorado for the army of international experts who make a career there, attached to various funds, living in fear that these conflicts will end, because who then listen to (and fund) their lucid parallels, analyzes and forecasts?

Thus, among experts, it is not surprising that the prognosis of the cataclysmic outcome of the Ukrainian crisis is widespread, just as we have heard for years announcements of a new hell in the Balkans from the same people. more or less authors. I am afraid we will disappoint them here.

We must always keep in mind that Putin’s Russia was built on a return to the sense of empire and that it is in search of its identity. In telling this story, it is demanded that Ukraine be kept alongside Russia, even at the cost of world peace.

This target and the price list are set by the Russian president, which he has already confirmed with his aggressive moves towards Crimea, the Sea of ​​Azov, and now through the Donbass crisis.

He knows that Ukraine is special, that the Russian Empire was built in Kiev, the cradle of all Russian cities. He also knows that the two countries are like two brothers who despise each other – Russia is younger and stronger, and Ukraine is older, which is why they cannot challenge them to an open fight.

For Putin, however, it is frustrating knowing that he cannot afford to annex the whole of Ukraine. The consoling goal is therefore a vassal and loyal Ukraine, formally independent, which will serve as a sociological trench around the “empire”, similar to those that the Russian rulers have dug around their cities in the past.

Russia needs a satellite Ukraine, something like Belarus, so that the Kremlin can show its subjects that “empire” is not a fairy tale and that it really does exist, at least as a backdrop. stage.

This is why the fear of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine was used to intimidate European politicians, convinced that the war would lead to a massive influx of refugees into Europe. At the same time, to make this fear more believable and unacceptable to European politicians, Russia has sometimes changed the scenario by introducing a tactical nuclear strike against Europe.

Russia has at least four options to keep Ukraine. The first and most expensive and somewhat dramatic is the invasion of Ukraine. The second is to elect a president loyal to Russia and compromised by Russia. The third is to include in Ukrainian political life a group loyal to Russia and dangerous for Ukraine with the right to vote and the right of veto in the Ukrainian parliament. And the fourth is the special status of the region in Ukraine controlled by Russia.

The invasion of Ukraine is the least possible scenario for many reasons. It will be very difficult for Russia to bear the cost of war with a country of 50 million people near its border, and at the same time, face massive Western sanctions. We are moving further away from this option after the recent talks between Presidents Biden and Putin, and especially the upcoming talks between the top diplomats of the two countries in Geneva this month.

Russia will surely cultivate, nurture and compromise Ukrainian politicians in the long run, hoping that Ukraine will again elect a pro-Russian president and parliament.

At the same time, Russia will work to reintroduce Ukrainian separatist territories into the Ukrainian political and social narrative so that this new parliamentary faction blocks all NATO membership initiatives.

If Russia moves its troops to Ukraine, it will only be to justify its current presence in the breakaway Donbass region. The possible granting of a special internationally recognized status to the Donbass territory, which was occupied by Russia, may indicate the formation of a permanent Russian military base in the Donbass.

This military arrangement can be answered by NATO by opening the possibility for the Alliance to be present in Ukraine on a temporary and conditional basis, without permanent NATO membership for Ukraine. Thus, the strong military presence of the two rivals would bring a balance to Ukrainian territory, and this in itself would even lead to the consolidation of opportunities.

Here we come to a very important parallel between the crisis in the Balkans and the crisis in Ukraine, because Russian strategic interest is at the center. Namely, in none of these areas does Russia want a long-term stable outcome or solution.

Its real interest is the constant maintenance of tensions, if necessary with punctual military actions, so that there remains a factor that must be called up if we want a solution. And when you call, then you have to offer something.

The victims of this Kremlin strategy are, in this case, the Ukraine and the Balkans. This is why any possible “prey” in Ukraine will be bitter, just like in the Balkans, because both crises are going in a direction that Russia essentially does not want, and that is long-term stability.

He will have to accept such a reality because there are not enough resources for the fairytale one – imperial and glittering. There is neither financial nor military, and above all democratic and human. This will be enough for the other side because they have shown that they have all those resources that can deter Russian aggression. Ukraine and its gradual exit from the crisis will best confirm this.

So things are not heading in the direction of a cataclysm, just like in the Balkans. This is good news, except for those who expected to live many more years from the crisis in these two regions.

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