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Foreign Policy

US Overreaction is Counter-productive in Resolving the Ukraine Crisis

Mar 14 , 2014
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

Since the Ukraine crisis took place about three weeks ago, US President Barack Obama, while continuing to discuss the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has taken a number of steps to put pressure on Russia. Up to now, the US has suspended business, investment and military cooperation with Russia, announced sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against Russian individuals and entities. To isolate Russia diplomatically, the US, together with its allies, has stopped the preparations for the G-8 meeting to be held in Russia this year, and threatened to expel Russia from the G-8 altogether. Furthermore, the US has sent a destroyer to the Black Sea and announced military exercises with the Baltic countries in an attempt to show its military muscle in supporting the new government of Ukraine and its allies in the region. New developments indicate that the series of US measures taken in response to the Ukraine crisis would prove counter-productive, and would not help calm the situation there, let alone eliminate the crisis. In the face of US sanctions, Russia has stated it would take measures to retaliate. The situation will likely get worse instead of turning for the better.   

Wu Zurong

Helping Ukraine achieve national reconciliation should be the priority. Ukraine is a large country composed of many ethnic groups. In addition to the disparity in economic development in different regions, lack of harmony among different ethnic groups, especially between the pro-Western and pro-Russian groups, contributes to the current unrest. The US, Russia and the international community should work together to help Ukraine remove ethnic differences and realize economic prosperity. Any words and actions from outside, which aggravate the ethnic divisions, should be opposed and avoided. 

The US needs to respect and seriously deal with Russian concerns to resolve the key issue. As Moscow does not recognize the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev and believes that Yanukovych remains Ukraine’s lawful president who had been ousted by an unconstitutional coup while the US has fully supported Ukraine’s new government, the US and Russia need to have more earnest discussions to resolve the dispute before other actions are taken to escalate tensions. It is known to all that the dispute is deep-rooted, but it is fundamental before other constructive steps can be taken. 

The Ukraine-Crimea-Russia triangle relationship is very close and peculiar due to their historical background and geographical location. No matter what happens in the future, it will not change. Therefore, this relationship has to be handled with great care and patience. At present, it is especially important to encourage more consultations on the situation and their future in the search for a political and diplomatic solution to the current crisis. The US needs to understand that increased US intervention in the triangle relationship could only cause tension and make matters worse. Russia is also a great country, and is not to be intimidated by US sanctions and show of military force. 

In a globalized world today, a new Cold War or heated zero-sum game between the US and Russia is in no one’s interests. Of course, the US is the sole superpower in the world. But the harsh fact is that the US superpower status relies on the rest of the world, not merely on its allies alone. In recent years, Russia has been steadily opening up to the outside world, forging a wide range of economic, financial, cultural, diplomatic, military relations with other countries and international institutions, including the US and European countries. US sanctions against Russia are aimed at making Russia pay for its actions in Ukraine. But it is not a wise policy. Those sanctions could cost US businesses billions of dollars as well. European countries, which rely on Russian energy, trade, investment and market, would also suffer a great deal. As US sanctions against Russia start to be implemented, the world financial markets would inevitably be affected as already indicated by stock market fluctuations when the crisis first broke out. When world economic growth is still weak, the US, as the largest economy in the world, should do more to promote world economic recovery instead of causing new troubles and risks. 

The world has been changing so profoundly and more and more people have come to understand that all the countries in the world live together in the small village of the earth. Out-dated ways of thinking and Cold War mentality have to be abandoned, and Ukraine deserves to be treated as a friend of Russia, a friend of the US and also as a friend of the rest of the world. For the US, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, it is urgently needed to respond more actively to China’s sincere call for building an entirely new type of major country relationship. When major countries in the world all discard so-called zero-sum game logic, and work together, they would contribute more to world peace, stability and prosperity. There would be no such issues as Ukraine’s movement to the West or Crimea’s referendum to join Russia, and the Ukraine crisis could be resolved with fewer difficulties. 

Wu Zurong is a research fellow at the China Foundation for International Studies.

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