Andreas Umland
June 2015

The Global Impact of the “Ukraine Crisis”: Russia’s Decline and Euro-Asiatic Security in the Early 21st Century

The “Ukraine Crisis” will have various repercussions for international relations beyond Eastern Europe. The crisis, in connection with the devaluation of Ukraine’s 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, is undermining worldwide efforts against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is having an increasingly salient negative impact on Russia’s economy and position in the world, and will thus inflict lasting damage on an important actor in international affairs. The “Ukraine Crisis” is preventing the further European integration of Russia, and thus the creation of a Greater or Wider Europe, as well as a common trade and security area from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The currently popular idea that Moscow would be able to replace its partnership with the West by a Sino-Russian alliance is unsustainable. In view of Russia’s declining economic weight and China’s growing geoeconomic might, a mutually satisfactory, close partnership between Russia and China is unlikely. Russia’s economic recession and political isolation weakens it in its relationships not only with the West, but also with Asia. Moscow’s “turn to the East” has little prospects for success.

The most frequently used label for the current conflict in Eastern Europe, the “Ukraine Crisis,” is doubly misleading. It not only distracts from the predominant instigator and driving force of the escalating conflicts in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine – the Kremlin. It may also mislead one into thinking of the “Ukraine Crisis” as merely a local and temporary problem.

Neither Small, Nor Beautiful

In the understanding of too many Western journalists, diplomats and politicians, the “Ukraine Crisis” may have dire consequences for Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, anti-imperialist Russians, and other East Europeans. It is also considered to be an obvious embarrassment for the EU and NATO. Still, Ukraine’s unfortunate “crisis,” as some seem to assume, will have very few significant repercussions beyond Eastern Europe. At most, the “Ukraine Crisis” is considered as yet another territorial European issue, difficult to solve. It is hoped, however, that it can – or already has – become “frozen,” within some peculiarly post-Soviet failed-state equilibrium, resembling those already in place in Moldova and the Southern Caucasus. For all its tragedy, the “Ukraine Crisis”, like the Yugoslav Wars, is surely an unpleasant, but ultimately inconsequential episode within the general course of post-Cold War world history – such is a widespread implicit opinion.

Some of the repercussions of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and covert intervention in the Donets Basin, however, go far beyond Eastern Europe. They are creating large, lengthy, and consequential deadlocks in Northern Eurasia. They touch upon the foundations of Europe’s or even the world’s security system. Above all, they are triggering internal aftershocks in the world’s largest country, permanent UN Security Council member, and second nuclear power – Russia – with implications for world politics. Some direct and indirect repercussions of the seemingly regional “Ukraine Crisis” will be reaching dimensions requiring reconsideration of basic coordinates of 21st century global politics.

The supra-regional, if not transcontinental corollaries of the “Ukraine Crisis” are not so much – or even not at all – about Ukraine. Rather, they influence Russian domestic affairs, Kremlin foreign policy, and their international repercussions. They concern, first, international efforts against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They, secondly, question the sustainability of Russia’s current regime and darken the general prospects of the Russian post-Soviet multi-national state. They, thirdly, worsen the prospects of pan-European cooperation...

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