Since the onset of the dispute between the new authorities in Ukraine and Russia over Crimea,Western democratic countries have started looking for ways to interfere in the conflict without resorting to military action. Nikolay Manov explains why this strategy is unlikely to work.
So far, the European Union and USA have chosen to impose sanctions on Russia. It has been argued that economic restrictions are among the most effective ways of imposing one country’s will over another or even bringing down a regime in. However, I would claim that when using this theory, one should carefully consider the circumstances present in each specific case. It is true that a weak regime may be coerced by limiting its imports, exports and movement of financial capital, but such actions are most likely to be successful in countries with weak economies that are likely to turn to fragile states.
In the case of Russia, cooling of the relations with the West may lead to a number of strategic investors withdrawing from the Russian market, but in general I do not predict the economic restrictions to be able to destabilise the rule of Vladimir Putin. For instance, services contribute 58.3% of Russia’s economy, while industries account for 37.5%. Moreover, Russia’s biggest import partner is China (16.6%), so the effect of a potential withdrawal of EU imports is not going to be as significant as expected. On the contrary, the events which took place in recent months may provide ground for unification of Russian people around the figure of Putin as a defender of Russian interests.
Second, following the US-led invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), and the 2011 military intervention in Libya aimed at ‘democratising’these countries, I remain sceptical whether ‘installing’a pro-Western democratic government will contribute to Ukraine’s development. Instead, democracy should develop from below -efforts to impose it from above are likely to lead to chaos, disarray and state failure. A country with as long a history of Soviet rule as Ukraine may continue be corrupt, which could lead to a mass disappointment with the regime, resulting in an authoritarian backlash.
Third, from a demographic point of view, it is not surprising that the recently held referendum approved annexation towards Russia. BBC, relying on the 2001 Ukrainian National Census, reports that more than 50% of the Crimean population speak Russian as their first language and 58.3% of those living in the region are ethnically Russian. Many of these people were internally displaced during the Soviet era for the needs of the planned economy, due to the system of labour camps or as part of those affected by mass deportations.
Fourth, by imposing sanctions on Russia the EU has to think of the possibility of another gas crisis similar to the one of January 2009 when Russia stopped the gas supply to Ukraine and the part of Europe served by pipelines running through Ukraine. Despite the European Union reducing the amount of gas that comes from Russia to 25% of its total, this is still a very large proportion of the overall supply to be sacrificed. This, in turn, means that the functioning of EU economies is unlikely to remain unaffected by future disruptions of gas supply. Moreover, the economies of poorer member states such as Bulgaria and Romania rely on Russian visitors to generate revenues in the tertiary sector, while other tourist destinations such as Greece my suffer loses as well if Russians turn to other destinations.
In conclusion, I do not argue that Ukraine should not democratise but the process should take years, and should be genuine, emerging from within Ukrainian society. Including Ukraine in NATO and the positioning of defence systems in the country is likely to provoke Russia, leading to more sanctions. After all, how would the USA react if Russia were to situate an Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield in Cuba?