The rhetoric of Cold War appears to be back with the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats by Britain and Russia. The US, France and Germany along with Britain jointly blamed Moscow for poisoning former Russian spy and his daughter. Russia has categorically denied these accusations. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin is expected to be elected as fourth time president of Russian Federation with a strong motivation and aspiration of further enhancing Russia’s weapon capability. In one of his election campaigns he promised that a new Russian missile is being developed, which can penetrate any American defence system.
What kind of impact these developments will have on International Security? Answer: Perhaps, these developments will further compel Russia to seek new alliances towards its East and strengthen relationship with Asian countries. The US-led EU coalition seems focused to dent Russia economically, diplomatically and to some extent strategically. The recent standoff is not merely based on an ordinary incident of killing a spy; rather, the debate has started about Russian weapons capability and its possession of chemical weapons. In this regard, EU has demanded from Russian Federation to declare ‘Novichok’ nerve agent to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It means that more economic sanctions are expected to be on Russia from the US-led EU. Moreover, Football world cup is scheduled to be played in Russia this year. England and its European Allies might boycott this event in an effort to discredit Russia. The European Council will meet to discuss about future roadmap against Russia. It is highly likely that Britain and EU might expand economic sanctions on Russia. Britain has informed North Atlantic Council about its findings related to attack on former Russian spy. In worst case scenario, Britain can call for NATO’s help under the Article (V) NATO. This article ensures ‘collective defence’ for NATO member countries. The Russian response to such developments can further create an uncertainty and fragility for international security.
It also seems a tit-for-tat kind of situation and backlash from the Western community to undermine Russian efforts in Syria and Crimea. The recent US national security strategy document unequivocally points Russia as a national security challenge due to Russian efforts of resurgence. The US might not be able to stop Russian resurgence, yet it can contain and delay Russian resurgence. Therefore, the US has used this case proactively. In the United Nations, the US Ambassador Niki Hailey clearly not only blamed Russia but recommended UN to take action against Russian government for attacking former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Though, Putin was often associated with his Eurasian vision way before Crimean crisis, however, the latest standoff has compelled Russia to think beyond Eastern Europe’s dependency without further delay. After the Crimean episode, the former US president Barack Obama under his three executive orders imposed sanctions on Russia including blocking property of individuals, banks and companies that are involved in trade with Russian banks. It’s a commonly recognized fact that these economic sanctions are affecting negatively Russia’s economic situation. Moreover, currently Russian and Crimean officials cannot travel to the US, Canada and European Union (EU) due to imposition of sanctions. The sanctions have dented Russian gas exports to Eastern Europe. Russian Ruble devalued, indicating that Russia is experiencing hard times in economic sector. This incident has further provided the US-led Western allies to enhance and expand economic sanctions on Russia. Resultantly, Russia may face more economic hardships.
To conclude, overreliance on Europe for oil and gas exports has severely damaged Russian economy. This overreliance can compromise Russian stance on various regional and international issues. There is a growing debate in Russia related to its overwhelming reliance on Europe for oil and gas imports. Crimean crisis, competing narratives and interests in Syrian conflict and recent standoff on usage of nerve agent, have provided a series of opportunities to Russia to reduce its reliance on Europe and diversify its relations as well as oil and gas exports. Perhaps, this is the reasons that the world has witnessed Russian eagerness of signing economic, defence and energy related deals with China, India and Iran. Moreover, it has started Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with Pakistan through military exercises and defence cooperation negotiations. The recent standoff between Russia and the UK would be a strong push for Russia to seek support and alliance towards its East.
— The writer is senior Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.