Editorial: Russian intervention in Crimea

Fear of “new Cold War”

Russia has openly undertaken a forceful intervention in Ukraine, where a new government has been set up. Although Ukraine is a separate country, the upper house of Russia’s Duma unapologetically passed a resolution approving military operations there and is believed by some to have already effectively taken control of the southern Crimean peninsula, an autonomous republic. We are reminded of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which heightened global tensions.

Russia claims that this move was made to protect its countrymen, but military operations that infringe on another nation’s sovereignty cannot be justified. Depending on the situation, this action may also affect the Sochi Paralympics, which begin this week. We strongly urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to exercise restraint.

One week has passed since Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. The tough stance of Russia, which has effectively granted asylum to the former president, was beyond the expectations of the international community.

It’s no surprise that there is growing criticism of Russia. Other Group of Eight powers have issued statements expressing grave concern. There is also a move to boycott the preparations for the summit scheduled for June in Sochi. The United States, which has declared Russia’s action a violation of international law, has called for economic sanctions.

Deteriorating relations with the West and the building of an anti-Russian coalition would not be in Mr. Putin’s best interest. So what do the headstrong Russians hope to gain?

Control of the Crimean Peninsula, which will be the focus of attention for some time, was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Many residents of the region speak Russian, and the area has strong economic ties to Russia. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s Black Sea fleet remained based in the Crimea. It is not hard to imagine that if Ukraine joins the European Union in its entirety, as the new administration desires, it will be to Russia’s detriment.

Russia seemingly intends to prevent that by mobilizing its troops to apply pressure and rapidly press forward with the existing movement to break away from Ukraine. Russia seems to be betting that even if it employs this clearly high-handed method, there is no chance of a direct military confrontation with the U.S. or other nations.

But Mr. Putin is overly optimistic. Most importantly, how well aware is he of the impact the current situation will have on the entire world?

Current U.S.-Russia relations have begun to be described as the “new Cold War.” Russia, which has expanded its clout in the context of its abundant energy resources, is once again squaring off against its former enemy and trying to heighten tensions. For example, the lasting conflict between the two nations is behind the failure of the peace talks on the civil war in Syria to make progress.

Efforts toward nuclear disarmament, which are being led by the U.S. and Russia, may also hit a wall. Precisely because it is such a delicate situation, the use of military force should be avoided, no matter what the circumstances. Last year, when the U.S. prepared to launch an attack on Syria, Russia criticized this effort to resolve the situation through the use of force. If Russia is going to selfishly allow this sort of behavior whenever it finds it convenient, it does not deserve to host the summit.

The Japanese government seems to be struggling to decide how to address the situation. Yesterday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for restraint and a peaceful resolution, but in general Japan and Russia enjoy good relations these days. While the heads of state of other major powers declined to attend the Sochi Olympics on account of human rights issues in Russia, Mr. Abe made it a point to go. He has also said that Putin’s visit to Japan scheduled for this fall will go ahead as planned.

Along with resolution of the Northern Territories issue, the promotion of economic exchanges is an urgent matter. But in light of the tense situation in Ukraine, can Japan just sustain its “honeymoon” with Russia? As a member of the international community, Japan must take a good look at Russia’s actions and voice its strong objections.

(Originally published on March 4, 2014)