«Then one of the Twelve--the one called Judas Iscariot--went to the chief priests and said, «What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?» And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.…» (Matthew 26:14-15)
«Crimean crisis», that was the center of the steadily escalating Russian - Ukrainian conflict and at the same time a reason for a more global geopolitical confrontation, could take one of the next «points of no return» in the next 48 hours.
«Local specificity» of the crisis is gradually replacing by geopolitics. At a certain stage it became clear that the fate of the population of the Crimea and Ukraine is secondary for both the West and the East (to some extent). The problem of preserving geopolitical influence of separate states of the world comes to the fore. It is clear that Russia has made an application for its own zone of absolute dominance and would not make a concession on the issue of the Crimea and its role in the political processes in Ukraine. In its turn, Ukraine's status of the EU protectorate after February 21 was marked by a wave of regional separatism and perspective of loss of its southern region.
There are still some issues and problems, mostly related to Russia itself.
There is no military solution of the conflict in the Crimea. After the collapse of the USSR Ukraine inherited huge military - technical resources, including naval bases, but did not develop it. Reserves were plundered and resold, and when the conflict occured, it turned out that there was no army. Moreover, the Ukrainian sky was also unprotected.
To be fair, it should be noted that the Belarusian army has practically the same infrastructure and is combat-ineffective due to long-term efforts of the Belarusian authorities.
NATO's interference in the conflict is excluded. Maneuvering of NATO's ships and aircrafts in the waters of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, as well as in the air of Poland and Lithuania, is purely demonstrative and has no a serious threat to Russia. At the same time, we should not dramatize responsive maneuvers of Russian troops on its western boundary and in Belarus. All these games are mirrored in nature.
In this context, any kind of militaristic campaigns around certain U.S. Navy destroyer or a pair of F-16 fighters, that take place on the forms and sites in the Belarusian Internet, are funny and naive.
There are no real forces that are capable of preventing the referendum in the Crimea. Its result is also quite predictable. However, the sanctions against Russia will be probably introduced on March 17.
Moscow is ready for sanctions in order to legitimize the return of the Crimea to Russia. It is clear that the opinion on the effectiveness of sanctions has directly contrary character. One part of the Russian expert community says that sanctions will lead to the destruction of the Russian economy, domestic political instability and even the resignation of the Russian president. It should be noted that after all these expectations are alarmist, as Russia is not Iran.
Very tough sanctions against Iran, which were introduced several years ago, did not destabilize the political regime in Tehran against the background of noticeably damaged economy.
Russia is much more than Iran included in the global division of labor and global markets.
There is and another assessment of sanctions, the scale of which is difficult to assess today. However, it is clear that a part of the sanctions will be of a non-economic nature. First of all we are talking about visa restrictions. First of all we should not exaggerate the impact of visa sanctions. In this case, Russia is not Belarus, where a considerable part of the ruling class has been living in this kind of format of relations with the EU and the U.S. for a long time. So, it is necessary to take into account that people will enthusiastically accept visa and other restrictions for the higher nomenclature of Russia: «Let them work at home, but not abroad».
Suspension of negotiations on visa-free regime with the EU was met with resentment in Moscow, as the EU has such regime with many non- democratic countries. In other words, Brussels will look like a breaker of its own widely promoted values. This decision is meaningless in economic terms, as may instantly lead to a mirror decisions regarding the access of European and American business to the Russian market. In addition, introduction of the visa regime for the citizens of Ukraine and Moldova can be an indirect answer to the sanctions.
Moscow believes that the introduction of financial sanctions is doubtful. The mechanism of such restrictions is extremely difficult, as it is very difficult to identify directly Russian money. There are no corporations in Russia, that have accounts abroad, and owned exclusively by Russians. As a rule, there are international corporations. Moreover, taking into account the mood of the people, the arrest of these accounts will be also met with applause. The Kremlin will necessarily use this fact.
Trade restrictions may have direct impact on the well-being of Russians, but also mobilize them, and open many market niches, occupied by the West exporters, for local producers. Well known «Bush leg» is the most «striking» example. Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance and Russian agroholdings want to get rid of this product for many years. But a number of international projects will be suspended and, of course, this will affect the Russian economy. This negative will form a common national enemy, and Vladimir Putin's rating will surely rise against the background of the wave of indignation.
In this case we'll see an ordinary mobilization of people, political class and the elites. Russians will see that the country and the Kremlin are struggling and defending its sovereignty and independence.
In addition, Barack Obama said that Russia «would pay a certain price» for the Crimea joining ( they talked about «the invasion of the Crimea»). Judging by the mood in the Russian elite, Moscow is ready to pay this «price», but then the issue of the Crimea status will be resolved («paid»).
There is another factor, which is practically invisible now, but may compensate for all possible and impossible sanctions. This factor is South Stream, which must be run under the Black Sea.
It is worth recalling that at one time the talks about laying a pipeline on the bottom of the Ukrainian section were unsuccessful. It was decided to lay a pipeline on the Turkish section of the Black Sea. However, if Russia really restores its sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula today, the pipe will go north, already in Crimean waters.
Another representative sanctions - Russia's exclusion from the G7, interrupted negotiations on Russia's accession to the OECD, etc. These measures are also painful for Russia, probably, some kind of «quarantine» will be introduced against Moscow. But on the other hand, the role of «bad guy» has its advantages for the nuclear power of the first rank. The U.S. repeatedly used these advantages in different parts of the world without any regard to the international law, rightly believing that international law is the last hope of the weak countries ... Apparently, the times are changing…
This is the paradox of the sanctions. Directed specifically against the actions of a concrete state, they actually legitimize these actions – the country really «pays the price» for its «misconduct» or «fine». This was evident in the Belarusian example. Modern Belarus is living under the sanctions for a long time. But this fact has almost no effect on its trade with Europe. Belarusian enterprises, which delievered Belarusian oil products to the European market, always avoided Western sanctions. By the way, where is the allied Belarus now?
And what about Minsk?
And Minsk is trying to get off scotfree. Last week the Belarusian leadership showed equilibristic miracles. On the one hand, Minsk tried to demonstrate the Russian political class its commitment to the allied relations with Russia. On the other hand, Belarus aimed not to «lose Ukraine», in other words, save full communication with Kiev. At the same time, Minsk did not want to perform its allied duty in order to stimulate the dialogue with the West. In addition, such position reflects the mood of the considerable part of the Belarusian people and the political class, who are hoping to «avoid troubles» and «let Russians struggle there themselves, if they are engaged».
It should be noted that on March 12 A. Lukashenko suddenly announced that he would propose Vladimir Putin to deploy 15 additional aircrafts on the territory of Belarus in connection with the activity of NATO in the region (Ukraine was not mentioned in this case).
However, it was discovered soon that Alexander Lukashenko was deliberately confusing the cards: «Lately we have observed the escalation of the conflict. It is taking place not in Syria or Libya, not in Iraq, but at our borders. This gets our interests involved, and we have no right to hide like mice».
This loud statement of Alexander Lukashenko is even more surprising as the activity of NATO is connected with Russian-Ukrainian crisis. However, instead of open support of his ally, Alexander Lukashenko immediately makes a bow in the direction of Kiev, claiming that «Belarus will not break relations with the new authorities of the neighboring country». And this is the key moment.
Russia (one part of the Union State) recognized the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. And Belarus (the other part of the Union State) did not recognize independence of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. The situation has changed in 2014 - Russia has not recognized the new leadership of Ukraine and Minsk actually recognized the new Ukrainian government. It is worth recalling that the Kremlin believes that the government of Yatsenyuk and acting President Turchynov are representing the interests, ambitions of Banderovites and fascists.
The reaction of Alexander Lukashenko on the deployment of Russian aircrafts on the territory of Belarus was surprising to Moscow. The fact is that the Russian side had to literally push a decision on strengthening the Russian aviation in Belarus, as Alexander Lukashenko desperately resisted. All Moscow knows about this struggle. Very strong arguments were used Against the Belarusian president - Vladimir Putin's call.
Alexander Lukashenko clearly understood that he was actually destroying the alliance with Russia at the most difficult time for Moscow. He immediately managed the situation and tried to appear before the Belarusian and Russian public as the most passionate proponent of Russia-Belarus Union State before the threat of NATO.
But, in the end, the question with Russian aircrafts in Belarus became knotty on March 13, in other words, Alexander Lukashenko has lost himself in the clouds. Answering the question of Russian media, which reminded the fact that Alexander Lukashenko asked for military support, (in fact, he said this on March 12) he stated: «Yesterday certain Russian TV channels put Belarus in the same line with the Crimea and – aye-aye Lukashenka got scared, asked for help, for protection from Russia. Why are you doing that? You should better say that you have long been asking us for that. So I in a dodgy manner suggested that Russia came here and landed». In this situation one can only make a helpless gesture… So, who is the initiator of the deployment of a new squadron of Russian Air Force in Belarus?
Belarusian President has declared himself the initiator on March 12. On March 13 he confirmed that he really called out Russia for help and immediately said that Russia «asked about it long time ago» (http://www.interfax.by/news/belarus/150799). Virtuosic lie!
Mysterious «steadfast» position
On the same Tuesday (March 12, 2014) Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus' position on the events in Ukraine remained «steadfast» and assured that the Kremlin did not put pressure on him on this issue. However, the sense of «steadfast» position is unclear. Let's try to analyze the words of the Belarusian president:
- «I would like to say that those who closely follow the developments will not make attempts like that, because we announced our position at the outset. This is a consolidated and single position. More than that, the Foreign Minister was instructed to let the international community and foreign governments know about our position. This instruction was fulfilled. Our position remains unchanged».
It is worth recalling that a week ago Vladimir Makey said that the official Minsk was «analyzing» the situation in Ukraine. No other information. And maybe this «analyze» is the «steadfast position» of the official Minsk?
- Nevertheless, the Belarusian president expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine, in other words, the situation in Ukraine is already «analyzed»;
- Moreover, Lukashenko noted «the closest economic ties between Belarus and Ukraine
- It was stated once again that the Belarusian authorities are concerned by the developments in Ukraine: «I can ask a rhetorical question: what country and what government would not be concerned by this kind of developments in a neighboring state considering the close ties between them? Of course we are concerned»;
- It was stated that, «I (Alexander Lukashenko) will defend the interests of my country and act in accordance with our agreements, including the agreement on the creation of the Union State, where we have direct obligations, as well as in Russia. We will act in this direction». The question immediately arises: How will you act? But there is no answer.
- Nearer and yet nearer: «Recently we have been in constant contact with the President of the Russian Federation, which we did not hide from the public. We discuss different issues of our relations. We cannot ignore this issue. It is in the center of attention of the President of Russia and the President of Belarus». Let's hold breath… One moment and we'' hear steadfast position. But, once again: «I would like to emphasize that we will act strictly in compliance with the legal framework we have with Russia. I have reiterated it on numerous occasions: we are the same people with Russians, just like with Ukrainians, we are parts of the same tree, we are Slavs and we will always be together». Fine, but what about the Crimea? Everything is unclear ...
And the last one: «we will not push for the escalation of any processes related to the Ukrainian events and the stand off between the West and the United States on the one hand, and Russia on the other. We will defend the interests of our state and our people, and our neighbors, allies». (http://afn.by/news/i/190601). That's it!
So, where is «steadfast policy», which had to be announced to the world? «We are not going to fuss there» - is it the position? Where the real support of Moscow regarding the situation in the Crimea? Will Minsk recognize a new government in Kiev? What is the position of the Belarusian authorities regarding the Crimean referendum ...
Speaking about the referendum in the Crimea, everything is clear – there were no Belarusians in the team of international observers, who attended the vote on March 16. Neither Central Election Commission nor the Belarusian parliament sent the observers. I wonder whether Russian colleagues should adopt the best practice of the Belarusian CEC in Belarus in 2015? It will be interesting to see how the representatives of the Belarusian Central Election Commission and Belarusian parliamentarians will pray Moscow to recognize a fifth term of Alexander Lukashenko? Or maybe Minsk is confident that Moscow will forget and forgive everything? Very naive ...
But Alexander Lukashenko is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Kiev, get wages on the Ukrainian energy market and even ready to propose Ukraine his own experience of state-building, but without specifying his main specialization - the construction of various kinds of palaces.
In fact, everything is much easier. Real political position of Minsk is stated in the article «Do Russians want a war?», published on the website of the state news agency (http://www.belta.by/ru/person/comments/Eduard-Pivovar_i_0000514601.html). This article, which is now a favourite book of all Belarusian state media, says very clearly: «Even the closest partners of Russia in the Customs Union - Belarus and Kazakhstan - have not expressed direct support for its actions, but on the contrary, stated about the interest in preserving Ukraine's territorial integrity. What a high allied relations, isn't it?
Alexander Lukashenko has made his choice, in other words, brotherly betrayed Russia once again. It seems that this is «steadfast» position of Belarus. However, this fact will not prevent Alexander Lukashenko from visiting Moscow soon with traditional statement about the only ally and an outstretched hand ...
А. Suzdaltsev, Moscow, 16.03.2014