You can never go far if you don’t know where you are going
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Besides European and Russian-oriented dimensions, the events in Ukraine that have been going on for over two months and were caused by the government’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the EU at the Vilnius Summit in November 2013, have a larger scope. We shall not use the word “global” (even though it is being used more and more often, and very aptly, in political circles), but let us say that at least, they have a Black Sea scope.
The process of forming a new rift between the two integration projects, the EU and the CU (the latter is supposed to turn into the Eurasian Economic Community, or EurAsEC) has been going on for a long time in the Black Sea region. It can be said that this rift has already formed.
If we get to the core of the matter, it turns out that the process, imminent in the 21st century global economy, in a number of the Black Sea countries (not only Ukraine), concerning East-West free trade areas, has suddenly gained the air of geopolitical rivalry, which is absolutely unnecessary from an economic point of view. This is strife for influence over Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus countries between Russia and the West. Let us point out that the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 was the first conflict in this line (the war was often called “Olympic” back then, since it started on the day when the summer Olympic Games in Beijing were opened).
This rivalry for the areas of influence goes back to centuries ago. And there is no need to analyze it here and give trivial analogies. But let us point out that one absolutely unpleasant analogy does come to mind by itself: more and more heated debate in the diplomatic and media space, which often forces the governments to raise the degree of confrontation, seems to have raised the rhetoric of the cold war from the dead.
How and why did the expansion of free trade areas trigger these geopolitical ghosts from centuries ago now, at the beginning of the 21st century? In our opinion, it is up to experts to solve such matters. Did geopolitics get buried too early, and now it is reincarnated, or is it its last convulsion?
Let us just remind one well-known quote that is ascribed to prominent Frenchman Francois de La Rochefoucauld and other more ancient sources: “You can never go far if you don’t know where you are going.”
If we think in terms of geopolitics, there are almost no doubts that Ukraine has become the second victim of a new geopolitical war of the 21st century in the Black Sea region. Please pay attention not only to the word “second.” We must honestly admit that this new cold war in the Black Sea region became a fact.
It is clear that this conflict is going on between the Russian Federation and the West, but the author is not going to state who is right and who is wrong, because it is not that important on a certain stage of the conflict’s development.
Perhaps, Moldova and Georgia will be the next victims of this cold war, i.e. the countries that have already initialed the Association Agreement with the EU in Vilnius. Azerbaijan might become a demonstrative victim due to Armenia’s planned joining the Customs Union. Many say already that the most unpleasant things (in the abovementioned context) will begin after the Sochi Olympics, or even right after its official opening. We see the harbingers of that in the Black Sea region practically every day.
The author would like to abstain from describing the possible scenarios in the Crimea, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Gagauzia (where a referendum on EU with Moldova or CU without Moldova took place on February 2), Abkhazia, or other points of conflict in the region. But it seems like this needs to be done.
It must be said that besides historical geopolitical conflict in the Black Sea region, and the “frozen conflicts” dating back to the Soviet Union’s collapse period, new conflict configurations, overlapping the old ones, have appeared in the region.
Competition of energy projects is intensifying in the region, both on the continental shelf and on land and sea routes of energy transit, and so does competition between sea ports and (remarkably) missile defense projects. The growing militarization of the region as a whole is no secret to anyone.
We think that the problem of what has been lately labeled “Ukraine’s geopolitical choice” has no solution inside Ukraine. Same as the problems of Moldova and Georgia. It is hardly possible to find a swift and optimal solution in bilateral formats, which the EU favors so much, or in some trilateral ones too (with the participation of the Russian Federation).
It seems logical that the issue of the general vision of the future of the Black Sea region in the modern world should be considered at a high-level international conference, involving not only the leaders of these countries, not only the regional international organizations (BSEC and PABSEC), but global players as well.
And the earlier this happens, the better. Otherwise, the near future might turn out very sad for the Black Sea region, because the barrel with oil is already open, and too many matchboxes have changed hands.
No matter how justly it was criticized, but the foundations for a 50-year-long peace were laid in Yalta in February 1945. It is time to convene in Yalta again, because these developments concern no faraway Africa, things are happening right here. We must not reach the point where we will wish it had never happened.
In this context, it is impossible not to comment on the famous recent interview with Russian economist Andrey Illarionov. Let is remind that he said that Russia would launch a very hard pressure on Ukraine after the winter Olympic Games in Sochi are opened.
Unfortunately, the prediction of the renowned economist, especially those on Sevastopol and the Crimea in general, are rather realistic. In any case, if predictions come from a source like that, they must not be ignored by anyone.
The author had to say the same things back in September 2013: that the Crimea was in the center of some murky scenarios. Since the warning was ignored back then, let us repeat and expand it now.
A perfect scenario for the technologists of a possible explosion of the situation is a combination of two factors: the presence of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on the territory of the Crimea and some extremists sporting national colors.
These would be the starting point of this hopefully hypothetical scenario. All more or less battle-worthy ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet will relocate from Sevastopol to Sochi. According to our sources, the families of Russian naval officers and marines got unofficial recommendations to immediately leave Sevastopol on the grounds that their husbands and fathers are at sea.
Many Russian military live in specially built compounds in Sevastopol. I will not go on here. I only hope that someone who is supposed to be responsible, will take care of these compounds.
Next. The Black Sea sites in the Crimea are scattered along the coast. They are imbedded in local communities and residential areas in historical configurations. I think the readers see my point. The absolute majority of them are situated in Sevastopol. You can imagine someone throwing Molotov cocktails at the quarters of the Russian Black Sea Marine Brigade in Sevastopol: sadly, in the light of the recent events it does not at all seem fantastic.
Therefore, we will take the liberty to decipher and sharpen Andrei Illarionov’s grim scenarios: it is Sevastopol rather than any other part of the Crimean peninsula that can potentially become the starting point of these developments.
And here we will stop. The rest is clear: protecting the fellow citizens. Only one question remains: will the hypothetical authors of hypothetical scenarios go that far? The answer is positive. Can it be stopped? Positive. If those who should do it will take all the necessary measures.
These days a winter storm has been raging in Yalta. But the Crimea is still placid, even relaxed in its winter manner. Just as poet Joseph Brodsky wrote:
The restaurants are nearly
Ichthyosaurs belch their black smoke and soil the roadstead.
permeates the air.
And will you drink this
vile stuff? –Yes…”
But we will not have any of the vile stuff. According to experts, the Crimea can (even in case of a bloodless scenario) lose 25 to 30 percent of its tourist turnout. It is time to stop.