Why Israel should monitor the Ukraine conflict closely
The Russian-Ukranian conflict and resulting Russian-Western tensions may widen further for a long time to come. If so, this is likely to lead to substantial geopolitical changes. It is far too early to predict their impact on Israel, yet several important issues – besides what happens to Ukraine’s Jews – already require detailed monitoring by Israel.
The first concerns Western guarantees. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom guaranteed the Ukraine’s borders. These guarantees were shown to be worthless when Russia annexed Crimea. They are likely to be tested further when several other Ukrainian territories with a majority of Russian speakers declare independence, or want to join Russia.
Western guarantees have frequently been mentioned as a feasible component of a future peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. The failure of such guarantees concerning Crimea should be a major lesson for those Israelis who have still not understood that after a peace agreement – which is unlikely at present – Israel must be able to rely on itself.
The second issue is developments concerning international law. The West has accused Russia of breaking international law by annexing Crimea. This implies that the US and the European Union respect international law – an argument greatly weakened by Gerhard Schroeder, the former German Socialist chancellor and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He stated that he himself was one of many Western leaders who broke international law concerning Kosovo. Schroeder compared the referendum put on by the government of Crimea to Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. Schroeder also considers the EU association policy as the root cause of the Ukraine conflict. The EU has consistently claimed that Israel’s settlement policy in the territories – which historically were not part of any sovereign state – is against international law. This argument has been contested by many prominent legal scholars.
Schroeder’s statements undermine the EU position even further. If the EU actually behaved much worse than it falsely condemns Israel for, that argument should be used by Israel in response to the EU’s ongoing verbal aggression directed at it.
The third issue to monitor concerns claims that Russia is NATO’s “adversary.” This expression was used by NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Hillary Clinton compared Putin’s tactics to those of Hitler. After receiving criticism, she partly retracted the statement.
However, in the Ukrainian conflict so far not a single citizen of a NATO country has been killed or wounded by either Russians or pro-Russian separatists. Palestinians, for example, have killed and wounded a number of such citizens.
It would be surprising if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his habitual glorification of Palestinian murderers of civilians has not included praise for some terrorists who killed Westerners.
The West, though, supports the PA financially. Hamas resembles Hitler far more than Putin does, as demonstrated in its charter, tactics and statements by senior Hamas officials. Clinton has never commented on this, however.
International tensions concerning Ukraine started with a popular uprising against President Victor Yanukovych by a mix of democrats and neo-fascists, in unknown proportions.
There are Westerners who suggest that this conflict echoes the Cold War. This is another potential source of trouble that Israel should be monitoring closely.
A generation has already grown up which does not remember that the Cold War was a power struggle between two opposing global ideologies, namely communism and democracy. This battle was also behind many wars and conflicts, sometimes fought entirely or in part by proxies. A few examples among many are the Greek civil war, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War.
Putin is a Russian nationalist. It would be absurd to claim that he aims for a global ideological conquest.
The Soviet Union had potential fifth columns among Western communists. Westerners who currently oppose European policies or even support Putin’s political positions do so for many reasons, but not because they share any ideological affinity with him.
Comparing the Ukrainian conflict to the Cold War is dangerous. Turning this controversy into an ideological one would have extremely perilous consequences. It distracts from the one genuine global ideology confronting democracy: large segments of Islam, which strive to impose their religion on the entire world through jihadist terror or proselytizing.
The EU and member states have made several huge mistakes in the past. One was allowing non-selective mass immigration from Muslim countries with radically different cultures. Segments of these immigrants were extreme racists, anti-Semites, anti-democrats and/or proselytizers.
A second major misstep was the poorly executed creation of the Euro. The resulting crisis came close to endangering the global economy.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that the reduction of Europe’s defense expenditure and military forces was yet another major wrong decision. This is even more evident as public opinion in the US calls for a reduction in its nation’s military involvement in international affairs.
Europeans may be playing a dangerous role – with or without the US’s problematic positions – through their share in exacerbating the Ukrainian conflict. At the same time, they continue to cause political problems for Israel. The EU should be confronted by Israel’s leadership far more than it has been in the past, about its double standards and mistakes, which may cloud the world’s future.
The author is the emeritus chairman (2000-2012) of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Two of his books deal with European-Israeli relations.