Who could benefit from the crisis over Ukraine?

Who could benefit from the crisis over Ukraine?

In recent months, the attention of the world's media has turned to the situation in Ukraine, where large groups of Russian troops have been deployed along the border. At the moment, this topic has become the top item for all news agencies. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, yet Moscow has never given up trying to exert influence there.

With the latest tensions, high-level and top-level negotiations have been underway among many players going beyond Russia and Ukraine. The US and Nato are also in the mix. Yet, people might have questions about the situation and above all the motives of the key players in the Ukraine crisis.

First of all, the US has become a major player and has developed close diplomatic relations with the current Ukrainian government, a pro-Western one.

The events of recent years have radically turned Ukraine's course towards becoming more friendly with the West and the US. It is trying to contain Russia, preventing the former empire from regaining its influence in the region. It needs to be mentioned that the cost of solving all these issues for Washington is relatively small.

In addition, the continued tensions over Ukraine and the intimidation of the world community by Russia's aggressive actions allow the US administration to divert attention from its own problems. Now, no one is talking much about the failure of the Nato operation in Afghanistan and the shameful withdrawal of American troops from Kabul.

While the US aims to keep the status quo, the main interest of the European Union (EU) is to prevent a military conflict. Brussels simply does not have sufficient political resources outside of Nato to influence the situation militarily. The conflict also involves a humanitarian crisis, the consequences of which will directly affect the EU. Without a war, the EU countries effectively work with the peripheral economy of Ukraine and use its demographic resources. Peace in Ukraine allows the EU to use all its tools fully. War devalues them. At the same time, the EU is not interested in taking excessive risks in its relations with Moscow, especially in terms of energy. While Brussels has unconditionally supported Ukraine's sovereignty, it might not be able to compromise its economic interests that might be affected because of the natural gas from the Nord Stream-2 pipeline from Russia that runs through to Germany.

But Moscow's motive is different. It aims to strengthen military security on its western front. No matter how many statements Nato makes promising that the bloc does not pose a threat to Russia, Moscow has questioned Nato, and has perceived the alliance's existing capabilities with great apprehension.

In Russia's view, territorial hegemony is crucial, including as a springboard for a possible military strike. The example of the Crimean situation in 2014 -- in which Russia invaded and annexed Crimea which was part of Ukraine at that time, fully fits into this logic. For Russia, Crimea is critically important in terms of strategic location to control access to the Black Sea and help Russia bolster the security of its southern borders.

In light of the military point of view, the risk of the loss of human capital may be secondary to Moscow. The experience of the integration of Crimea suggests so. The region has received large-scale investments so that its level of development is higher on a number of parameters today, despite existing sanctions. In other words, further territorial expansion can be considered in Moscow as one of the scenarios.

Russia is more likely to benefit from this scenario. It can send a signal to the West about the potentially high costs of ignoring Moscow's security interests, as well as giving an incentive to avoid the military integration of Ukraine by Nato and military activity near Russian state borders, at least in the short term.

However, it is in Moscow's interests not to allow excessive overheating of relations with the West, while constantly maintaining tension. So the most realistic scenario for the near future is a "winding up" of Moscow's demands. This tactic would be based on the completely sound calculation that a real war is not beneficial to Russia. Moreover, the cost of a war would be so tremendous that no one could afford to shoulder the burden, especially during the downturn in economic growth due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A problem with this scenario may arise if the dynamics of the political process change. The events of 2014 became possible because there was a sudden crisis in connection with the internal political situation in Ukraine.

In conclusion, one can expect that the Ukraine crisis is unlikely to escalate into war, unless there is some kind of accident.

Lt Gen Somchai Virunhaphol is a lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, adviser to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), and former chairman of The Islamic Bank of Thailand (IBT).

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