It is rare that a government statement is anticipated with as much deep concern as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address to parliament on the situation in Ukraine. For weeks and months, a drama that has shocked the continent has been unfolding right at the gates of the European Union. It’s about democracy and self-determination on the one hand, and power and geopolitical interests on the other. The crisis is headed for another fever pitch with the weekend’s referendum in Crimea. But the West is at a loss as to how to prevent the secession of the peninsula from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia.
Merkel addressed her preference to defuse the conflict with diplomacy, adding that military action is not an option. Instead, she said, the West is banking on a mix of negotiations, financial assistance for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. Should Moscow hold fast to its confrontational course, current sanctions would be tightened, she said. The clock can’t be set back, Merkel added, saying that conflicts of interest in Europe can’t be solved by resorting to methods dating from the 20th century.
The West made mistakes
But that is exactly what the West – the United States and the European Union -has done. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, the West acted like the victor, and increased its sphere of influence right up to Russia’s borders. The West broke its promise not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe and further curtail Moscow’s sphere of influence. NATO and the EU took no considerations of Russian sensibilities during their expansions into Eastern Europe.
Despite Moscow’s wishes, the West intervened in Yugoslavia and recognized Kosovo’s independence. With the help of Western allies and in violation of international law, the US went to war in Iraq, and intervened in Libya. As of late, the West has had an unabashed eye on Africa – or rather, the natural resources on the African continent.
It’s no surprise that Russia feels besieged and deceived.
Putin, who regards the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the greatest of misfortunes, no longer intends to put up with the continued curtailing of his influence. A revolutionary democracy movement at his own doorstep can’t possibly suit the brutal, power-hungry politician who rigorously suppresses democracy and freedom of opinion in his own country. For that reason, threats from the West won’t keep him from tearing Crimea from Ukraine and incorporating it into Russia. Let there be no misunderstanding: this would be a clear, unacceptable breach of international law.
But the West has nothing to use as an effective response. The muddled situation in Ukraine is also a result of its own ruthless policies of expansion. One would have to agree with Left Party leader Gregor Gysi, who in parliament today made critical remarks along those lines.
Perhaps a government statement before parliament is not the right time or place to admit to mistakes. But a way out of the crisis is impossible without an honest appraisal. Unfortunately, Merkel’s focus on diplomacy and de-escalation is of no use. Everything is pointing toward the crisis’ continued intensification.
Bettina Marx reports on politics for DW from Berlin.
(Photo: EuroMaydan via Facebook)