The Strait of Kerch, a location that is not often mentioned in the Middle Eastern media – or social media – has become rather more familiar in that region since Ukrainian ships recently entered Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea.
In the Arab world a number of journalists have discussed the incident: they have tended to treat the two sides as equals and have focused on the military aspects rather than on the background and the reasons for what has happened.
Others have looked at the incident in a wider – and more objective – context, and considered the possible consequences. Thus the Al Mayadeen television channel, based in Lebanon, takes the position that the steps leading to the crisis were deliberately engineered. It points to the fact that the incident occurred while preparations were under way for a meeting between the Russian and US Presidents on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina. That meeting did not take place – Donald Trump was pressurised by the powerful military-industrial lobby into calling off the planned one-to-one talk with Vladimir Putin.
Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, has declared a state of combat readiness and has styled himself as the head of the “war party”, in the hope that this will increase his ratings ahead of next year’s elections and he will be able to stay in power. Nevertheless, his popularity is currently at an all-time low. His actions are supported by a group of powerful American organisations, who are involved in preparing and taking decisions that are, in effect, equivalent to issuing a challenge to Moscow.
For a number of Ukrainian commentators, their country’s president is a provocateur who makes political attacks against Russia, with the support of the West, particularly the US, which uses the situation as a way of putting pressure on the Kremlin. The West is stepping up its campaigns against Moscow: approving and spreading false accusations of spying and undermining Western values and political systems, making accusations about the use of poisonous substances etc. This conduct amounts to a continuous policy of resisting Moscow’s influence, just as happened in the Cold War.
In relation to the Kerch incident, the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej has focused on the impulsive conduct of the Ukrainian leader. In an attempt to convince Europe and the NATO leadership that his country is under attack and that they should rush to its assistance, Petro Poroshenko has put all negotiations with Moscow on hold. But his schemes have been unsuccessful.
During the latest incident in the Strait of Kerch, he once again started raising the spectre of war, making public appearances in military uniform and calling on NATO and Germany to send warships into the Azov Sea. But Europe, now, as in the past, has no wish to get involved in a war with Russia.
In short, concludes the article in Al Khaleej, Petro Poroshenko’s latest attempts to light the fuse of war have failed.
One question frequently asked in the Middle Eastern media is – how long will the war drums keep beating, in response to the incident in the Strait of Kerch? Many experts in the Arab states, having learned a lot from the many years that their countries have been dealing with Washington, are sceptical about Petro Poroshenko’s actions.
Some of them have compared the Ukrainian president with the former Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, of infamous memory. During his presidency, the latter committed a serious error when he relied on support from his faithful ally, George Bush, the then US President. Mikhail Saakashvili provoked Moscow by seeking to deprive South Ossetia and Abkhazia of their special status, a mistake that cost him dear and ended in the two regions declaring their independence. George Bush took no action, but simply watched the situation calmly.
Although there are clear differences between the situation with Ukraine and that with Georgia ten years ago, the present authors consider that it is important to remember what happened in the latter case. Just like Mikhail Saakashvili back in the day, Petro Poroshenko sees Moscow as his number one enemy. And he is therefore tempted to ignore all rules, forget common sense and, acting impulsively, endanger his country’s future.
The media in the Middle East have recently reported on the recent talk at Harvard University by Federica Mogherini, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In that talk she expressed concern that the rule of international law is now being supplanted by the “law of the jungle”, and the world is questioning in the international agreements and treaties which brought an end to the Cold war.
In contrast to Russia’s attempts to create a new multi-polar international order, Washington’s current policy is to undermine the principles of law and mutual understanding between major countries, both at a global and at a regional level.
Will Petro Poroshenko realise the danger of the game he is engaged in, when the USA continues to renege on its obligations under international agreements and to stand in the way of the emergence of a new international order?
Yury Zinin, Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”