Originally published in April 2014
On March 26, 2014, Dr Alistair Shepherd organised a roundtable on the Crimean Crisis. There is a good tradition in the Department of International Politics to organise expert roundtables on pressing issues in world politics. I’m reminded of a very successful roundtable on the civil war in Syria which we held in September 2013 and another on the Scottish independence referendum in early February 2014. It’s always great to see how much expertise there is in the Department among academics and what thoughtful questions and comments we get from – mostly but not exclusively – our students in the Q&A.
I enjoyed the ‘Crimean Crisis Roundtable’ as a member of the audience who was also taking pictures and live-tweeting from the event. I have more notes than I could fit in the tweets, hence this blog-post. In front of 70+ students and a number of academic staff, Dr Jan Ruzicka opened the roundtable on the Crimean Crisis reminding us how quickly the events happened.
[For summary of commentary by: Dr. Alastair Shepherd (Europe’s Response), Prof. Campbell Craig (US Response), Dr. Gerry Hughes (UK response & history parallels), Prof. Ryszard Piotrowicz (International Law), and Dr. Sergey Radchenko (Russia analysis)……click below ]
- Dr Alistair Shepherd was the first panelist. He stressed that the situation in Crimea – which is now de facto, though not de jure part of Russia – is dramatically challenging EU’s ‘postmodern’ identity of a soft normative power. There is a remarkable consensus among European states on the attitude towards Russia as they all condemn its action in Crimea. However, dissonance might appear in future when more action might be needed and we already see some signs of it, with Germany being more ready to relinquish its profits from trading with Russia than others.
- Professor Campbell Craig identified three reasons for what he called a tepid US response to Russia’s actions in Crimea. First, the US do not want to engage in a conflict with another nuclear power. Second, the legacy of Iraq in 2002-03 in the US prevents people from condemning Russia for doing something rather similar nowadays. Third, the US knows that Russia’s actions will not challenge their dominance in a unipolar world, so they are not too concerned.
- Dr Gerry Hughes, brought to the fore the parallels British commentators make between the situation in Crimea now and the Munich pact with Hitler in 1938. He warned that such parallels are more often than not misleading and that, instead, we should learn more about the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations.
- The fourth panelist, Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz from the Department of Law and Criminology, emphasized the international law dimension. International law sees Russia as a clear aggressor and violator. Russia is occupying Ukraine (or part of it) just like Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1991. This action violates its legal obligations and the international principle of the inviolability of borders.
- The last panelist, Dr Sergey Radchenko, reminded us of Russia’s history and the developments in post-Soviet Russia-Western relationships. He pointed out that Putin is not Stalin and that at the beginning of his office Putin actively sought recognition and bilateral relations with Western states but was not reciprocated, a point her expanded on in his recent article. Radchenko suggested that we must understand Putin’s action in Crimea through the lens of hurt emotions.
A lively discussion which took over an hour followed. Questions from the audience included issues such as China’s role in the whole situation; the fear of Baltic countries of Russia’s aggression towards them; the suggestion that if the international community lets Crimea go, what would follow; the counterfactual of what would have happened had Ukraine not relinquished its nuclear weapons in 1994; whether the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s involvement would not be the impetus for the EU to finally form its own military; or what would happen in the non-NATO members close to Russia – Finland and Sweden.
As a teacher who knows a bit about the topic, while not directly teaching or researching on it, I was impressed by the maturity of our students and the insightful nature of their questions. Of course, I was equally impressed by my colleagues’ answers. I’m looking forward to future events of this kind.