Crimea: does the past ever end?

The Russian annexation shows that power matters as much as good will.

The crisis in Ukraine and the rapid Russian annexation of Crimea provide a classic illustration of the role still played by power dynamics in Europe. When putting this crisis in the background of Russia’s long-standing strategy regarding European security, two objectives are particularly noteworthy: firstly, re-shaping the post-Cold War European security order and its power balance, and, secondly, testing the resilience of today’s declining transatlantic relationship.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has consistently tried to recreate a European security architecture more in tune with its interests and political ambitions. Moscow holds deep-seated perceptions of the unfairness of the post-Cold War security arrangements, defined by an expanding NATO (which survived the dissolution of its twin alliance in the Soviet bloc, the Warsaw Pact) together with an equally expanding EU.

The 1990 Paris Charter’s idea of a broader European polity encompassing Russia, on equal terms, never bore fruit. Russia grew gradually disenchanted with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – the only European security institution to which it belongs – in its view, too tilted towards human rights issues. After failing to turn this organization into the European security hub, so taking it under control, Moscow’s disenchantment led it to often block decision-making within OSCE. To trigger a change of the fundamentals of European security, Russia has alternatively combined two tracks: skillful diplomacy – often playing to divide and rule – together with the sheer application of the instruments of power, including force, to assert its interests in the former Soviet area.

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