The G20 summit in Argentina was marked by the debate about the two main unknowns of international politics: The future of U.S. relations with Russia and China. The crisis in Ukraine will mainly dictate the future of Russian-American relations, and then those will determine the future of the U.S.-China relations. During the summit, the U.S. and China decided to put their bilateral disagreements on hold and promised to take care of those in the future. Now, the players involved have now more time and energy to focus on Ukraine.
Everybody is aware that the issue is not limited to a territorial conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The core issue is about deciding on the nature of the relations between Russia and the Western world. Ukraine has turned into a boxing ring between Russia and the West because of Europe's ambition to attach Ukraine to the EU in one way or another. It started with economic assistance and turned quickly into an effort to win Ukraine without respecting Russia's basic interests.
The EU officially adopted rhetoric saying that Ukraine will become a bridge between Europe and Russia without asking the U.S.' opinion about it. The latter did not want Ukraine to become a playing field for the Europeans and initiated the process of integrating the country into NATO. In other words, while Europe has used its influential economic and financial tools, the U.S. used its strategic leverage.
Having noticed that Ukraine is drifting away for good, Russia decided to act and made radical decisions, forcing everybody to step away.
As for today, Ukraine senses the existential threat and has asked for NATO's help. Should NATO decide to support Kiev, through a Libya-like operation for example, Russia will probably occupy the entire country, and Ukraine will simply cease to exist. Kiev is probably aware of that, and it is trying to demonstrate how isolated it is. They certainly know NATO is not coming to help.
The thing is, the crisis in Ukraine is not really a Russian-American issue, but a Russian-European one. The U.S. and European powers do not agree on how to handle the situation. In fact, the U.S. is asking Europe to stay close to Washington and to not have an independent Russia policy. On their side, Europeans try to put into motion their own strategy vis-a-vis Russia. The latter is aware of the divergences within the Western alliance and is trying to exacerbate existing fractures.
In the wake of the G20 summit, Russia announced it prefers the Normandy format to deal with the current crisis. In other words, Moscow wants to negotiate with France and Germany over Ukraine's fate. The "Normandy four" was established in 2015 as a coordination platform between Moscow, Kiev, London and Paris. It should be obvious by now that this platform is not capable of coordinating anything. In fact, Russia's real intention is to force France and Germany to choose between Russia and Ukraine. It is pretty clear U.S. President Donald Trump would like to know the result of this choice as much as Russian President Vladimir Putin does.
Trump and Putin are not ambivalent. They express their desires; they give clear, simple messages and there is no doubt they will do anything to get what they want. As for France and Germany, things are a little bit different. They convey contradictory messages, and it is never clear what they want to achieve strategically. Russia and the U.S. have had enough of Europe's ambiguous policies and now they are asking for clarity. That's why they are forcing them to give clear-cut decisions. It appears the international system's major powers are not tolerating indecisive countries anymore. In other words, what is at stake is way bigger than Ukraine. Perhaps there are now people in Europe who regret their policy of pushing away Turkey from the EU. At the end of the day, they are stuck between Russia and the U.S. once again.
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