Kerch crisis: is there a way out?

There is still no sign of a solution to the conflict over the Sea of Azov. At the G20 summit Putin said that there could be no peace with the current Ukrainian government in power. After the declaration of martial law in Ukraine all Russian men between 16 and 60 have been banned from entering the country. Journalists discuss the causes of the conflict and paint a gloomy picture of the future.

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Evenimentul Zilei (RO) /

Putin driven by several motives

Russia attacked the Ukrainian ships for the following reasons, Evenimentul Zilei believes:

“Firstly, Putin feels isolated and wants to be taken seriously once more. It's no coincidence that he and Prime Minister Medvedev are jetting all over the world - without, however, achieving much in terms of foreign policy goals. Secondly, his popularity ratings have plummeted. Since the introduction of his pension reform he has lost 20 percentage points in the polls. Finally, Ukraine has added a passage to its constitution stating that its goal is to join the EU and Nato. That really vexed Putin, and his anger was exacerbated by the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. That was both a cultural and a spiritual blow.”

Postimees (EE) /

Danger of a Russian winter offensive

The Ukrainian naval base in the Sea of Asov could be what triggered the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait, writes Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer in Postimees:

“Since the summer of 2015 countless debates have taken place in Nato and the Pentagon about whether Russia was planning an invasion to annex Crimea via the land route. It may be that since the construction of the Crimean Bridge this scenario is no longer up to date. That's why it's unclear whether Moscow was really so scared about the naval base in Berdyansk or whether there are problems with the bridge that are being kept secret for now. The possibility of a winter invasion aimed at pushing Ukraine out of the Asov Sea entirely can't be ruled out.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Soon we'll hate each other out of habit

Commentator Anton Orech of Echo of Moscow is dismayed by the recent escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict:

“It all began with Crimea. It continued with Donbass and now they can't stop any more. Two neighbours, two sister peoples, have come to be at war and hate one another. Those who started all this won't live forever. History teaches us that they won't be on the political stage for all too long. ... But hatred will become a legacy passed on from grandfather to father and from father to son. They will hate each other simply because their forefathers hated each other. Because it has become normal to hate. We have got to the stage where we can no longer visit each other. And we can thank our lucky stars that at least we haven't declared war on each other yet.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Ukraine clipping its own wings

Ukraine will suffer from the consequences of the decision to impose martial law for a long time yet, writes parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko in Novoye Vremya:

“It delivers a crushing blow to the economy. I know that one of the biggest Skandinavian IT companies has banned its workers from visiting Kiev. Panic has broken out on the currency market. And the market for private loans where Ukraine was getting credit in dollars at 9.75 percent interest last month will now be completely closed to the country. Ukraine, which has to fight for every dollar in investments, has clipped its own wings. ... So elections aren't just necessary, they are the only legitimate way to get these people out of government.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Stop Nord Stream 2 at once

It's time to send a clear signal to Putin, Deutschlandfunk demands:

“A Nato or US warship in the Black Sea would be just such a signal. During the war in Georgia in 2008 the US wasn't as hesitant as it is now. You can see in Syria that Russia shies away from direct confrontation with the US. ... Even smarter, however, would be to stop Nord Stream 2, the second phase of the gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. Because that would strike at the heart of Putin's power clique: the oligarchs, the state company Gazprom. ... Nord Stream 2 was built to make gas transit across Ukraine superfluous. For Ukraine, however, gas transit is crucial to its security. Because if Russia continues to escalate the aggression against its neighbour, Ukraine could turn off the gas tap. For now. This is the only leverage Ukraine has vis-à-vis Russia.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Delayed US reaction disappointing

Once again we see how far international solidarity extends, writes Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council in Novoye Vremya:

“Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland - Ukraine's best friends in the region - came out quickly with strong condemnations of Russia's aggression. A swift and similar EU statement was a positive surprise, while a more moderate Nato statement was a bit of a disappointment. Several other European countries followed suit. More striking, and more worrying, was how long it took the US to protest the Russian aggression. ... US President Donald Trump's comments - in which he framed Russian aggression as a both-sides issue - were remarkable for how he remains reluctant to criticize Putin and his policies.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Ukraine should have joined Nato long ago

The West was too hesitant in the past and is paying the price now, the Romanian service of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle rails:

“If Nato hadn't blocked the accession of former Soviet republics such as Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia at Merkel's insistence, the situation today would be entirely different. A buffer zone to Romania's east protecting the democracies of Eastern Europe would have been created. The crisis sparked by the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the outbreak of a war of secession and a new half-frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine could have been avoided. ... But cowardice and the West's conciliatory attitude won out back then.”

Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

Exactly what the Kremlin boss was aiming for

As far as Gazeta Polska Codziennie is concerned Russia has already won the conflict:

“The blocking of Kerch Strait means that the Sea of Azov will become part of Russia. The Ukrainian territories there will wither away and fall into Russia's hands. ... The big boss in the Kremlin has achieved everything he set out to achieve so far. The world's powerlessness is rooted in the ethical and intellectual downfall of Europe's elites and in the decision of Germany - once Europe's strong nation - to push through the German-Russian gas deal. Until the last Ukrainian dies.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Trump must call Putin out

With tensions rising in the Ukraine conflict Donald Trump may cancel a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit. According to Hospodářské noviny that would be a mistake:

“Trump shouldn't cancel the meeting with Putin in Buenos Aires. On the contrary he should insist on it. And also on giving a joint press conference at which he finally uses the power of his office to call a spade a spade when it comes to his counterpart Putin and his policies. ... To say that he is a threat that undermines not only Russia's neighbours, but the West as a whole. Any other reaction would just be a bonus for Putin at Trump's expense.”

Trud (BG) /

This escalation was intentional

The conflict was deliberately provoked by the Ukrainian president, historian Nina Djulgerova writes in Trud:

“This is not the first time that Russia has prevented Ukrainian ships from passing through the Kerch Strait. The first time was in June, then in September, and now this. While the first two attempts had no consequences, this time Poroshenko saw - in view of the elections in March 2019 and the West's dwindling trust in him - a chance to improve his low popularity ratings with a major provocation. ... I think that he's copying the tactics of his Turkish colleague Erdoğan, who imposed martial law after the failed coup in July 2016.”

Sme (SK) /

Not appeasement again, please!

The West must not sit back and watch Russia's aggression, Sme writes with an eye to the Western powers' appeasement policy vis-à-vis Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II:

“Putin's defenders insist that Ukraine is to blame. It should stop the 'provocations' and renounce its territorial integrity, they maintain. That means that in their view the Kremlin can do whatever it wants. ... This attitude follows the same shameful logic as the Munich Pact of 1938 when London and Paris sought to buy time by granting Hitler's 'logical and legitimate claims' in Central Europe. Rather than sending tanks to Czechoslovakia, they did nothing. To this day Daladier and Chamberlain are symbols of the tragic consequences of shirking responsibility, political blindness and naivety.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Time for the Helsinki Accords 2.0

Efforts to find a solution to the conflict must not be limited to territorial disputes between Russia and Ukraine, Le Figaro counsels:

“Wars often start as a result of territorial disputes that often seem trivial to the belligerents when they look back. Hence a new Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe must be convened at once to deal with all the contentious issues: Nato enlargement, cyberwars, respect for borders, military exercises. Everyone knows how such a deal could look: Washington agrees that Nato won't be further enlarged, and Moscow renounces its old 'sphere of influence' doctrine. The only unknown is when the deal will be negotiated and how many victims there will have to be before it comes about.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

What would really hurt Russia

The Frankfurter Rundschau proposes a measure that would put Russia under pressure and at the same time benefit Europe:

“For years Russia has been luring specialists of all kinds from the former Soviet territories because it doesn't have enough of its own. This is a source of annoyance for its brother countries. What if Europe were to play the same card against Russia? It would be something new and could pay off: a third of all young Russians want to emigrate. Perhaps Europe could do more than just punish the warmonger and also reward those who are open to the world and want to live in peace. And it would benefit itself in the process.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

An arbitration court could mediate

The direct confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military in the Kerch Strait needn't turn into a full-blown war, Vedomosti stresses:

“The current casus belli at sea is just another episode in a conflict that began in March 2014 - and it's a wonder it didn't happen sooner. But this seizure of ships without any human casualties doesn't look like the start of a full-blown war, also because even for Poroshenko that would be too high a price to pay for re-election. If the Ukrainian marines and ships return home quickly the incident can be written off, even if the possibility of more such confrontations remains. The creation of an ad-hoc special group within the framework of an international court of arbitration would be the optimal solution to resolve this problem peacefully.”