Augustine C. OhanweThursday, May 1, 2014




udging from the arrays of the major powers’ military forces converging around Ukraine, and poised for direct confrontation against a perceived adversary, one would confidently affirm that the character of global conflict has dramatically shifted from what it used to be during the Cold War. Cold War period could have used proxies to execute the type of simmering conflict in Ukraine. But today, security dynamics has changed.

It all started when Russian tanks swiftly rolled into Crimea and occupied multiple strategic locations inside Ukraine. Within the post-Soviet space, President Putin has become the grand weaver bird, weaving strategic designs in response to threatening events emanating from Russian’s Cold War sphere of influence and beyond. Putin’s perception of the world within the post-Cold War landscape is shown by his quick and direct confrontation of perceived threats. To Putin, Washington, where the US policies are manufactured is bête noir. He sees Washington’s hidden hands in all the ugly political situations in its former satellite states.

Putin feels he is a man with a mission. He came into office dedicated to campaign themes of restoring Russian power and prestige on the basis of revived Russia. He translated these themes into policies intended to strengthen and diversify his country’s military power in order to counter what he perceived as unacceptable US designs across the Balkan. He feels he has made Russia more confident and assertive actor, not only in global terms, but regionally too. To understand the post-Soviet Russia, as well as the events brewing in Ukraine, one has to understand Putin. Putin exhibits the same trait one sees in President Castro of Cuba and Mugabe of Zimbabwe. These three men are immune to verbal canons, sanctions and military threats. The more you threaten them, the more they harden their resolves. When you think you have squeezed them to a tight corner, they will surprise you or even blow their top. The purpose of sanction is mainly to cause economic pain, which could in turn create internal turbulence, inducing a target state to change its behavior. None of the three men had shown any strain of sanction when applied to them. Such method should not therefore, be a salutary option in Ukraine because it will be ineffective.

In his famous speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, Putin informed the world that Russia had staged a comeback after some painful period of inaction in world affairs. He made it crystal clear that Russia did not need or intended to take lessons from the Occidental world about how to conduct herself in the international arena. Even though Putin was speaking to the West, in actual fact he was referring to the United States, a country he sees as a bully. He made the listening audience to understand that Russia had its interests, which dictate Russian Policy. Its invasion of Georgia when it wanted to reclaim the separatist region of South Ossetia, a year after the speech could be seen as a translation of his words into action – that it was ready to defend its interest in the post-Soviet space with military force, if necessary. Russia is ready, based on its present mood, to reenact the Georgia scenario in Ukraine with more devastating and ruthless method.

Russia is well entrenched in Ukraine. Ukraine is a fellow Slavic state it shares the same umbilical political cord with, and is ready to go to any frightening length to defend its national interest there. Moscow has been provoking the US umpteenth time by violating the air space of Ukraine with intent to compel the US to initiate a direct intervention. It has also violated that of Britain, but British Royal Air Force coolly escorted Russian jet out of its airspace. The bear has awakened!

One noticeable advantage Russia has over the US as well as its former East European satellite states ranging from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania up to Ukraine is that it has substantial Russian speakers as minorities in those countries. Should any of these countries formulate domestic policies that tend to marginalize ethnic Russians, or craft foreign policies that are abhorrent to Russia in terms of security threat, Russia will exploit the intermixture of ethnic Russian composition in that country to stir up domestic trouble that would pave the way for its direct intervention under the pretext of protecting its ethic Russian. Russia does not take lightly, a slightest injustice meted out to its citizens anywhere. When Medvedev granted interview on August, 2008, he let the world know that protecting the rights and dignity of Russian citizens ‘wherever they may be’ would be one of the cardinal ‘unquestionable priority’ of Russian foreign policy.

Where direct intervention could not be used to address the plight of Russian citizen another option could be to create a destabilizing tension that would compel the state concerned to reverse its policies. Russian minority remains a potential tool to exert pressure on any of Russia’s former satellite states. A power like Russia known for the use proxies during the Cold War is now engaged in direct activities with its former satellite states.

Based on this new development, one is tempted to ask whether proxy war and indirect intervention have become things of the past. Had the US and Russia clashed via direct confrontation during the Cold War, our world would not have been the same today. What was it that prevented both powers from direct clash?

The United States and Russia employed sophisticated strategy to avoid direct confrontation. Both used surrogate states to execute proxy wars. Hiding behind the scene and teleguiding their proxies in conflict situations made both powers interventions ambiguous and sufficiently oblique and this method of operation shielded them from direct attribution. Their entire operations in conflict situations throughout the Cold war were highly covert and indirect. Such method offered the US and Russia the ability to disclaim or distance themselves from their local involvement of their clients, and that’s why this covert method became attractive to both powers. But when conflict situations became critical or of direct relevant, they did commit troops as witnessed in Afghanistan and Vietnam. In sum, it was the use of surrogate states to do their biddings in conflicts that prevented both powers from direct confrontation, an act that would have resulted in mutual annihilation.

Will the United States and her NATO allies make direct intervention to alter Putin’s intention in Ukraine and Moldova? Direct intervention is used to denote a direct intrusive projection of military power on behalf of a client in order to bring about a preferred political outcome. Such design looms large in Ukraine. And the danger is that the situation in Ukraine does not require a low risk intervention which is often mounted to preserve the national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Rather, the situation in that country seems to require a high risk type of intervention because the intervening powers intend to acquire a decided advantage over each other even if it means changing the political contours of Ukraine. This is the hidden agenda. The US versus Russia in Ukraine has already changed the leadership of that country and efforts are on the way to change the map of the country and alter the existing regional balance of power. Deployment of huge army is already on the ground to affect the outcome of such plan.

Many hardliner inside and outside Ukraine may have chorused that the United States and its allies had huffed and puffed while Ukraine witnessed and continues to witness undeserved humiliation. Such emotional expression has the tendency to compel the United States to embark on a direct intervention.

The United States, as a lone superpower should learn to husband its heady feeling. Superpower status was bestowed on her in the aftermath of the Cold War when historical forces swept aside Russia. Under such state, it should not proudly define intervention in Ukraine as a hamburger and coke affairs or a roller coaster ride. Western coalition, with the United States as the prefect reversed the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait. Similar coalition changed the leadership of Libya. It will be a huge miscalculation to categorise Ukraine in the same wavelength. It will be a sensible act for the US to resist the temptation of direct intervention in Ukraine. Ukraine is like a quicksand that can ensnare. I do not have a good buzzword for the consequences of the US direct intervention there. However, if undertaken, will definitely cause the prevailing situation to spiral down to hopeless and humpty-dumpty state and its ripples will have a global ramification.

Unfortunately, the solution to the problem is going to be difficult but not impossible. National interest has to be redefined. Objective appraisal of the situation and matured diplomacy from all the stakeholders will balance the equation and inject some level of political equilibrium into Ukraine.