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Ukraine crisis: World will never be the same again

The West has proved to be a bad loser over Crimea and it has made matters worse for itself and its allies.

Last updated: 30 Mar 2014 08:07
Alexander Nekrassov

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.
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The G7 decision to ban Russia was taken during a meeting on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, writes Nekrassov [AP]

The latest piece of black humour going around in Moscow is that the crisis in Ukraine is starting to resemble the saga with the missing Malaysian Boeing 777: The more news coverage it gets in the Western media, the less people know what has really happened.

With Ukraine, though, it has been seriously hectic in the past week or so. We've had Russia expelled from the G8 group for "annexing" Crimea, with the next summit pencilled in to take place in June this year in Brussels, instead of Sochi, probably because none of the remaining nations can afford to host a gathering that usually costs an absolute fortune.

So now it will be up to the collective efforts of the European taxpayers to accommodate members of the world's powerhouses that include such industrial giants as Italy and Canada, along with the bankrupt US, Britain and France. Russia's response to the dramatic move was sarcastic; if our partners have decided that the G8 format has outlived its usefulness, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, then we can only comply. (Lavrov, in case you're wondering, uses the term "partners" in a frivolous sort of way, basically pointing that a partnership it isn't, and never has been.)            

Inside Story - Is a new Cold War brewing?

Incidentally, the G7 decision to ban Russia was taken during a meeting on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, where pressing issues of preventing nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists were discussed by 54 nations. As fate would have it, while the summit took place, armed gangs of "neo-Nazis" and ultra-nationalists were roaming in Ukraine, a country that boasts four active nuclear power stations and one idle one in Chernobyl, but no one seemed to be worried about that, considering that the said fanatics were labelled "freedom fighters" by the US and European Union in their quest to see Ukraine become truly democratic.  

US President Barack Obama's "historic" visit to Brussels, after the summit in The Hague, didn't help mend the disunity between the US and its European allies, who are not keen on getting involved in a fight with Russia over Crimea, not to mention their lack of any desire to start propping up Ukraine, which has slipped into an economic crisis while nobody was watching and may default on its huge debts any time soon.

Sure, the political part of the association agreement between Kiev and Brussels has been signed - it's actually only a part of the political arrangement that had been included in the original document on the free association with the EU that President Viktor Yanukovich had rejected last year, causing that coup in Kiev - but it's the International Monetary Fund that has now stepped in to look at what can be done to save Ukraine from certain meltdown.        

As to the economic sanctions against Russia over Crimea that have been discussed by the G7 members and the EU, well, apart from a very short list of people targeted by the US and Brussels, nothing much came out of it. No one seemed to even contemplate the idea of cutting down on the Russian oil and gas supplies to Europe, including Poland, the most vocal opponent of the Russian "invasion" of Crimea. And the clumsy attempt by Visa and MasterCard to temporarily deny their services to their Russian users, who have accounts in Russian banks which have been targeted by the West, would now result in the two great companies standing to lose around $40bn a year in turnover, as Russia has decided to create its own payment system. 

Substituting Russia?       

But the most worrying development of all for the West is the new level of cooperation between Russia and China that has developed after the dramatic change of power in Kiev last month. Yes, to the horror of Western politicians, Beijing and Moscow have grown closer as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, with China abstaining in the UN Security Council vote denouncing Crimea joining Russia, and Chinese President Xi Jinping very publicly refusing to join the G7 in their condemnation of Russia's behaviour. (The idea was to use the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague to try and "substitute" Russia with China in the G8, but it failed spectacularly, not least because China treasures its status as a developing country that provides it with so many perks and advantages.)

 

Mind you, not all of Russia's statements on its newfound closeness with China should be taken as fact, with Beijing obviously trying to be seen as neutral and keen on developing its economic links with the West as well.

If anything else, the crisis in Ukraine has finally revealed what so many people have already suspected: That the Cold War never really went away, with NATO pushing eastwards and Russia feeling nervous about its new "partners". When faced with a mouthwatering possibility of dragging Ukraine into the EU, and later into NATO, the West, as the Kremlin saw it, dropped all the pretences and simply moved into Ukraine, as if it were another Iraq or Libya, ignoring Moscow's strategic interest and sensibilities. That is why Europe will never be the same again, at least for a good while, after what happened in Kiev in February.

And this, in turn, means that the situation in the Middle East will undergo certain alterations, with the shaky consensus between Moscow and Washington on the conflict in Syria and Iran's nuclear programme entering troubled waters again. Russia is bound to take a much more affirmative stance on both issues and, quite possibly, reassess its position towards Turkey, which has been raising the stakes in its standoff with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

In fact, Turkey may be the first serious casualty of the new "Cold War", because its troubles can only multiply with the current political tension between Russia and the West growing. Just like with the worsening situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is piling pressure on NATO and the regime in Kabul, feeling that the winds of Cold War are blowing in their backs once again, the situation across the Middle East can actually deteriorate with the Quartet (UN, Russian Federation, US and EU) suddenly finding that one of its components is no longer willing to play ball.

As one Russian official put it to me: "The West has proved to be a bad loser over Crimea... And just like any bad loser it has made matters worse for itself and its allies across the world."

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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