Isolating Russia is not in anybody’s interest

The crash of MH17 that took place on 17 July was a stark reminder of the horrific incidents that can occur during a civil war. Unfortunately, rather than contemplating on how to end the Ukrainian crisis and ensure that similar future catastrophes do not happen again, the Ukrainian government and separatists blamed each other for this incident. Western leaders are blaming Russia for the tragedy, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin had supplied separatists with weapons that shot down the plane, even though it has not been proved beyond any doubt that separatists were involved.

This incident has led to calls from a number of EU countries, especially the United Kingdom and the Baltic states, to punish and isolate Russia. This would no doubt have very negative consequences for Russia. To diversify its resource-dependent economy and modernise its aging infrastructure, Russia has counted on an inflow of Western capital and technology. To the degree that this option is lost, Moscow will be forced to look elsewhere for partnerships with countries that do not offer anything resembling the resources of the United States and Europe. However Western governments would be grossly mistaken to think that isolating Russia would not have a boomerang effect that would come back and hurt them as well.

Isolating Russia can cause more problems than solutions for the U.S. and Europe. Firstly the feeling of unjustified blame and demonization among many Russians is likely to lead to deep rotted and long-lasting dislike towards Europe and the U.S. Already, Russians’ approval of the EU is down from 21% to 6% and of America from 16% to 4%. If public pressure continues to mount on Putin to cut ties with the West, it will undoubtedly lead to less cooperation with Europe and America. This will not be beneficial for either side, as Russia plays an integral role in major international pressing issues, such as the Iranian nuclear problem, countering international terrorism, climate change, energy security, cyber-security, enabling safe withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, and space programmes. If Russia decides not to play ball on these issues, it can create problems in world affairs, affecting many states. In truth, if Russia and the United States approach each other in starkly adversarial terms, the conflict will badly warp the foreign policies of both countries, damage virtually every important dimension of international politics, and divert attention and resources from the major security challenges of the new century. In this globalised world, not having a major player like Russia cooperate will create more insecurity and conflicts. At a time when Washington needs Russian cooperation to address new sources of global disorder, Moscow will instead step aside, impairing U.S. efforts to deal with terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare. Furthermore, the collapse of Russia’s relations with the West will eliminate e any chance that Moscow and Washington will resolve their differences over missile defence. Instead, both sides will likely start developing new and potentially destabilising technologies and cyberwarfare tools. Finally, in the Arctic, the chances for U.S. – Russian cooperation in developing that region’s hydrocarbon reserves will surely shrink.

Secondly, isolating Russia from the West will only accelerate Russia’s pivot to the East. Creating a new economic block with China and other Asian countries, while continuing to develop the Eurasian Economic Union, may protect Russia from worsening ties with Western countries, but can lead to negative consequences for the West itself. Asia is a growing market and will play an increasingly crucial role in the global economy. By creating a political divide between East and West, Europe and the U.S. are risking creating severed ties not only with China, but also with resource-rich countries like Kazakhstan.

In addition, hostile relations with Russia may lead to a real possibility of a military confrontation. While an all-out war between Russia and Western nations looks unlikely at the moment, proxy wars – similar to the current civil war in Ukraine – are likely to become more possible. Many of the former Soviet Union countries, such as Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan are still experiencing a tug-of-war between the East and West. When relations are stable, any potential disagreements can be settled diplomatically, but a military solution becomes more likely when relations between Russia and the West are sour. Today, as Moscow fortifies its Western Military District, a key military command, and NATO refocuses on Russia, the military standoff over continental Europe, which took two decades to dismantle, will swiftly be reconstituted on Europe’s eastern edge.  A destabilised post-Soviet region may also have grave consequences on the rest of Europe.

Ultimately, both sides need to recognise that severed relations will be detrimental to both of them. The warped view in the West that they do not need Russia’s cooperation can accelerate bad relations, which will damage important areas of collaboration. Western governments should therefore reconsider their policy of isolating Russia, and instead aim to take small but meaningful steps towards the restoration of stable relations with Putin. Russia would likely reciprocate, understanding that a potential new Cold War would be detrimental to their growth and development.

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Categories: Europe

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One Comment on “Isolating Russia is not in anybody’s interest”

  1. July 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Strong sanctions crippling EU-Russia trade would be an excellent strategy for the US. We would lose nothing, but gain economic competitiveness against one of our rival economic zones (the EU/EMU).

    For the EU/EMU the reasoning may be different, but they pretty relaxed about exercising national sovereignty, so are unlikely to respond to the present situation in a meaningful way, and will most likely just do what we tell them.

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