Ukrainian crisis is a symptom of a new reality, the formation of new international relations and a new world, but then the persistence of the same old problems
The writer is an expert in contemporary world history teaching at the International University of Sarajevo (IUS) and the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Sarajevo.
While the crisis in Ukraine is developing on the principle of carousel Hali Gali, many other geopolitical issues are gaining additional importance. In fact, through this crisis, the outlines of the next decade can be glimpsed. Marked by the outwitting of great powers into zones where a decisive influence is sought, it will be the decade of political tensions and possible military conflicts all around the world. Dozens of these zones, from strategic to minor tactical significance, will shape a brand-new world.
Russia’s renewed power vs. West’s vulnerability
There is no doubt that Russia is aware of its renewed power. In the last decade, through success in Syria, eastern Ukraine (the Black Sea region), and recently in Kazakhstan, Russia has very directly challenged the US and its Western allies. Acting simultaneously with China in certain global processes, Moscow also significantly contributed to the emergence of strong opposition to liberal democracy due to the prediction of the collapse of liberal internationalism. No matter how brave this prediction is, one can see “road signs” which are strengthening the argument.
European security, in this regard, has become more vulnerable. New developments have put the European Union in front of not only a series of political debates but also upheavals. The migrant crisis (2015) and Brexit (2016) were a strong call to Europeans to start thinking more seriously about their own military power. An old French idea about European forces drove President Macron to support a joint European military project once again in 2017, while then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a November 2018 address to the European Parliament, said, “we need to work on a vision of establishing a European army.”
First Brexit, secondly the challenges to US supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region, mostly in the South China Sea, distracted relations among NATO member states. Trump’s foreign policy and unconventional approach have only deepened misunderstandings, while the US withdrawal from Afghanistan (2021) has multiplied questions in the heads of allies. Moreover, serious controversy during and after July Coup D’Etat in Turkey (2016) clearly proved that something is wrong.
The formation of AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the US) in response to the Chinese rise was factual evidence, primarily for Europeans, that the focus has changed and that the time for new types of alliances is coming. Taking about the changed focus, i.e. the growth of a new central region of the world, it is more than clear how the Indian Ocean becomes what the Mediterranean Sea was in antiquity and the Middle Ages, and the Atlantic Ocean in the New Age. Because of the resources, demographics, and overall potency of this region, with a population of nearly 5 billion people, the future, whatever it may be, is aimed there.
Ukraine crisis as a turning point
What then the Ukrainian crisis is, and what are the contexts? Russia is imposing its concerns about Ukraine’s NATO membership aspiration since 2008. It was the most important reason to support former Ukrainian President Yanukovich (2010-2014) who was against it and played a pro-Russian role. Political turmoil in Ukraine was over with the successful integration of NATO aspirations in the Ukrainian Constitution (2019) followed by the Brussels Summit (June 2021), when NATO leaders reiterated the decision that Ukraine would become a member of the Alliance. In that same period, Ukraine and NATO forces launched joint naval drills in the Black Sea (Sea Breeze 2021) which convinced Moscow that a strong reaction is needed. It was a “red line” for Russia.
An expansion of NATO’s presence in Ukraine, especially the deployment of any long-range missiles capable of striking Russian cities or defense systems is seen as the biggest threat. More than that, through the development of the crisis, Russia is probably trying to make Ukraine a turning point and provide even stronger support in Central and Eastern European countries by creating a wide buffer zone between the East and the West. It is not without importance that states in that belt are former communist countries. Whether that means the beginning of a new Cold War, creation of a new Iron Curtain, is less important. What is more significant is Russia’s aspiration to raise its own stake as a global stakeholder. Energy capacities have given Russia the opportunity to persuade European countries to pay more attention to Putin’s words.
Need to redefine the world order
The joint appearance of China and Russia certainly speaks of the inevitability of redefining the international order. Proponents of Yalta 2 are increasingly loud in advocating those problems are piling up. In addition to processes that carry tension and conflict, the multipolar world is still trying to figure out solutions that will ensure peace. That peace clearly cannot be achieved by maintaining the ideological and cultural supremacy of the West. True acceptance of diversity will be a requirement for resolving the crisis, implying that alternative socio-political systems, cultural patterns, and traditions will not be stigmatized by liberal hegemony. As such, it must be accepted.
Questions arise: Is bloc division of the world necessarily a precursor of great conflicts? Which blocs? How many new alliances? etc. People owe obedience to a government that gave them a greater sense of security, which the Eurasian autocratic kind of government demonstrated, notably during the epidemic. But East is historically autocratic. How will Westerners react to possible continual intimidations? Why hasn’t the Muslim world taken the initiative to present itself as a global power by implementing a common strategy in foreign affairs?
So, what exactly is the Ukrainian crisis? It is a symptom of a new reality, the path to a new world, the formation of new international relations, but then the persistence of the same old problems.