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‘Ukraine today is new Balkans’

Published time: April 18, 2014 12:43
Pro-Russian protesters sit near barricades at the police headquarters in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk April 18, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

Ukraine is on the frontline of Russia v US superpower tensions, while a major naval base there makes it the bottom line underlying this confrontation, Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, told RT.

RT: Is Crimea becoming a new battleground between East and the West?

Richard Sakwa: Putin describes the things in his speech that he told about on March 18. There is a mixture of two things going on at the moment. There is the enlargement of the EU which in the past was considered fairly benign. What happened is its mixture with the development of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, NATO. Ukraine today is the new Balkans. During the WWI it was these superpower tensions over the Balkans. Today it’s Ukraine in the frontline. And indeed, there is one significant difference, because the Balkans didn’t really have any major naval bases, so this is clearly the bottom line underlying this confrontation - at the moment is concern not so much as President Putin said.

Sevastopol doesn’t have the strategic significance it used to have clearly closed oceans, missiles, etc. Nevertheless, it’s fundamentally important and as Russia has been concerned about since the mid-1990s, NATO is perceived as a major strategic threat. Ultimately, what has to happen in the light of the 4-party talks with Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU, there has to be a sense of a new security order being discussed for Europe in which NATO enlargement or NATO existence has to take into account very substantively Russia’s security concerns and it also affects missile defense of course, which has been the bone of contention for many years as well.

RT: The West blames Russia for Ukraine's current situation, while Moscow blames the West for financing it all initially during Maidan. How can they reach agreement when there are such differences?

RS: Everyone has got to take a step back. And then the step forward is convening a European Security Conference. At the end of the Cold War there was no conference that genuinely brought together and established a new security order, instead of which we saw the asymmetrical end of the Cold War. The institutions of the Cold War in the West were enlarged; those in the East were dismantled, and out of this asymmetry has emerged the current tension.

The West won’t like it, neither would Russia but there has to be compromises made and in which we actually can establish a new organization possibly or a new charter of security and peace, because ultimately the security is indivisible. If you have a country like Russia which is dissatisfied with the existing order, then you are really going to have these constant tensions and ultimately in-between you have countries like Ukraine which are the victims of all of this. Ukraine was posted into impossible choice – to get East of West, it simply cannot do this.

So in this new security order or on the agenda of security conference would be the position of countries like Ukraine, which simply have to be brought into a comprehensive peace order. At the moment they are torn between two and this is catastrophic for Ukraine if not for the peace and stability of continent.

RT: Do you expect any breakthrough at talks in Geneva?

RS: I don’t expect breakthroughs, but I do hope the foundations for continuing dialogue will be established. It’s good that Ukraine’s provisional government is represented, because obviously you cannot have a solution without Ukraine. So I would like to see the beginning of the process. Of course it is going to take some time. But as long as there's dialogue, as long as the EU is not premature with imposing excessive sanctions at this moment of time, so in other words, the dialogue cannot take place under the threat of violence, sanctions, coercion in one form or another. I don’t expect any breakthrough at the moment but it’s important that the discussions are beginning.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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