How to quarrel with a neighbour

12 September 2008
It seems that after the conflict with Georgia all we need is to clash with Ukraine. A lot of politicians both in Russia and Ukraine would definitely like it to happen.

The public statements made by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, whom the status of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol gives no rest at all, are unlikely to surprise or really offend anybody – everyone has already got accustomed to such declarations.

It seems that after the conflict with Georgia all we need is to clash with Ukraine. A lot of politicians both in Russia and Ukraine would definitely like it to happen.

The public statements made by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, whom the status of the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol gives no rest at all, are unlikely to surprise or really offend anybody – everyone has already got accustomed to such declarations. And the problem of the distant year 2017, when there will be a need to relocate the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the Crimea, is not yet on the agenda: most probably, new politicians will have come to power in both Moscow and Kyiv by that time.

But a Caucasian crisis resulted in a new quarrel over Sevastopol, this time provoked by the Ukrainian side.

From now on, the Black Sea Fleet ships or Russian fighter jets’ leaving their bases in Sevastopol should meet some provocative requirements, established by the Ukrainian authorities. Seventy two hours before the departure the Command are obliged not only to notify the Ukrainian authorities of vessels’ leaving the base, but also to let them know of the purposes and route of their movement and to report on the arms and ammunition on board. This requirement does not accord with the secrecy that is always observed in the army, particularly considering that Ukraine maintains close relations with both NATO and Georgia. Moreover, the new requirements, which have been laid down by Kyiv, are at odds with the existing treaties on the status of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Sevastopol.

It is easy to guess that sooner or later a Russian ship will not obey those requirements and the Ukrainian party will use force to block its leaving the base. Here is classical casus belli.

On the other hand, the Slavic way of doing work will almost certainly destroy all the crafty designs of the warmongers. At worst, the Russians will pretend to report, and the Ukrainians will pretend to believe those reports. After all, a ship can go to the Russian city of Novorossiysk and at sea it can receive the order to head for the Abkhazian city of Sukhumi or the Georgian city of Poti.

But it is alarming that the tireless politicians in Kyiv and Moscow are thinking of more and more outright and sophisticated ways of provoking clashes between Russia and Ukraine. Now there are rumours that armed conflicts could take place. The Russian media write openly and cynically that after the ‘peacemaking operation’ in Georgia the ‘friendship-making operation’ should be held in Ukraine.

The current Russian-Ukrainian conflict refutes the statement that close economic relations hinder confrontation. As an oil exporter, Russia depends on the Ukrainian transit routes, and Ukraine, which is an industrial country with limited resources, needs Russian raw materials and fuel urgently. However, this interdependence leads to constant quarrels rather than to general concord, cooperation and mutual understanding. It comes natural as each party seeks to benefit from this partnership as much as possible and makes the least concessions to each other. The logic of capitalism turns economic cooperation into a kind of confrontation.

And yet, if the Russian-Ukrainian conflicts had nothing to do with much more important causes for instability, they would be rather comical. Even the collision between Moscow and the West over the Georgian events, which was unimaginable five or seven years ago, shows not only the deterioration of the relations between the parties involved in the Caucasian politics, but also more and more strained international relations, which is an integral part of all the large-scale economic depressions.

It is clear as daylight that things in Ukraine and Russia will go from bad to worse in the near future. Therefore, the “external enemy” will be looked for by the authorities in both countries more intensely. What’s most terrible is that the politicians become hostages of their own rhetoric. If the politicians speak about their irreconcilability for a long time, they will have to act in accordance with their words and to start fighting sooner or later. The politicians are concerned about their popularity ratings, but do not care about public opinions. They are ready to take risky steps in order to save their faces, but they do not ask the citizens about their vision of the political future. In other words, the ordinary people are unable to influence the politicians and to stave off confrontation.

There is nothing else left to do but hope either that the officials are cautious and have common sense or that the political crisis will make them address the internal problems before their creating external ones.


Boris Kagarlitsky, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Moscow. His latest book is Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008)

About the authors

Boris Kagarlitsky

Boris Kagarlitsky is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. Boris was a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990-93, during which time he was a member of the executive of the Socialist Party of Russia, co-founder of the Party of Labour, and advisor to the Chairperson of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.  Previously, he was a student of art criticism and was imprisoned for two years for 'anti-Soviet' activities.

Boris' books include Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (Pluto Press, February 2008, Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy (TNI/Pluto 2002) and New Realism, New Barbarism: The Crisis of Capitalism (Pluto 1999).

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