West's hard-line stance on Russia will damage Europe

By Andrea Fais Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-2 22:28:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After the referendum in Crimea, Western countries have followed an intransigent strategy. Washington and its European allies decided to adopt a hard-line policy against Russia, according to the interpretation that this process of "independence" and integration must be considered unlawful even if based on supposed popular assent. But can this intransigence be assumed as reliable and realistic?

Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned the Kosovo issue while defending Moscow's actions, showing Western double standards about self-determination and international law in general.

A similar dispute involved then US president Woodrow Wilson and Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin immediately after the end of WWI, when victorious powers were redefining European geography.

This time there has been no war in Europe, but the last economic crisis has caused as much social and financial damage as wartime.

European weakness is the most evident geopolitical factor in the Ukrainian crisis. Officially all the countries in the G7 have supported economic sanctions against Russia. Thereafter some countries like Germany, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands have expressed doubts about this decision.

The temporary suspension of Russia from the G8 is as ridiculous as the world economy is going toward multipolarism, making this organization just a leftover of the 1990s. Sanctions against a relevant part of the Russian financial sector could partially damage its economy in the short term, but will never jeopardize the whole national system.

European countries which are more dependent on Russian raw materials and do more trade with Russian enterprises, like Germany and Italy, risk a serious deterioration of their own industrial sectors.

Several European scholars and journalists argue that the Russian balance of trade will be heavily exhausted by these possibly significant export losses, but they seem to ignore the international situation outside the Western point of view and the idea of Western hegemony.

Beyond this imaginary picture of the world, Russia has the huge chance to transfer its exports in non-Western emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, thanks to its close ties established inside the BRICS group.

Moreover, Russia enjoys a unique position as an Eurasian country that is able to supply both continents with its natural sources.

If sanctions reach higher levels, the EU would be forced to feed its energy demand from other sources. Using shale gas is the first European plan, but environmental doubts and hydrogeological risks remain problematic.

Enforcing ties with other producers like Algeria and Saudi Arabia would increase the import costs, forcing single countries to raise further taxes and bills for their citizens.

Last but not least, abandoning strong bilateral investments like Nord-Stream, Blue-Stream and South-Stream pipelines could be lethal for Germany, Italy, Turkey, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

In general, the EU could be the real victim of these sanctions, ending up being compelled to tie its economy to the US, as transatlantic common market project supporters envisaged in the last three years.

Whatever the real nature of US President Barack Obama's intransigence is, domestic propaganda or serious threat, Western interference in the Ukrainian crisis went beyond the Kremlin's red line. After the Syrian crisis, political terrorism, extremism and violence have now been brought to the gates of Moscow.

Europe knows very well what the word "balkanization" means. In Yugoslavia, Russia was too weak politically weak and far geographically to help its Serbian "Orthodox brothers." Now the situation is very different.

The Ukrainian crisis can be still transformed to a new opportunity of dialogue to keep cultural and economic ties with Russia at the highest level. But Brussels can no longer take the liberty to challenge Moscow.

The author is a journalist and foreign affairs analyst based in Perugia, Italy. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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