Analysis: Why Putin could be about to drive wedge between EU and Russia

Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the breakup of Ukraine and the outbreak of civil war in east Ukraine have been widely condemned around the world. Last week, the Kremlin’s support for Ukrainian rebels was also…

Analysis: Why Putin could be about to drive wedge between EU and Russia

Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the breakup of Ukraine and the outbreak of civil war in east Ukraine have been widely condemned around the world.

Last week, the Kremlin’s support for Ukrainian rebels was also called into question by accusations of Russian involvement in the nerve gas attack in Salisbury, England, which killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

But the case for war with the West is increasingly looking strong, especially now that the United States has withdrawn its non-permanent members from the UN Security Council.

For those reasons, the Kremlin was ready to use its military superiority and military ingenuity to drive a wedge through Europe, if that meant it could separate Ukraine from the West.

“It is more about political aims, national and patriotic pride and national unity to achieve geopolitical goals,” Andrei Bachikov, a professor at the International Institute of European Studies, told BBC News.

“If that means going into areas [in which] NATO troops have bases – it will happen.”

Unlike previous conflicts over Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has apparently shown no signs of wanting a settlement. Instead, he seems to be calling the shots for Russia’s long-term interests, the way he did with Syria.

“The rebel leaders in east Ukraine – people who were mere fighters for a long time – now have an identity, they know what they are and they know what they are fighting for. The Russians understand this,” Mr Bachikov added.

With US threats of new sanctions over Russian interference in US elections and its relationship with Ukraine being called into question, Mr Putin has been relying on the two other biggest powers on the planet – China and Iran – to defend him and end the costly war.

“It isn’t a case of where China and Russia fight – China has its own interests,” Mr Bachikov said.

“China uses its power very, very carefully and very, very judiciously – in Syria it isn’t fighting – but at the end of the day it must protect China’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference.”

But the situation could be about to change.

So far China has backed only a Russian veto to block US sanctions, while Iran has taken a more limited line.

More significantly, President Xi Jinping appeared to signal Beijing was unhappy with Russia in an editorial in the state-run Global Times on Thursday.

The newspaper warned Mr Putin that if Russia was to win at all costs it would have to absorb casualties.

“The one thing the People’s Republic of China and its own armed forces cannot afford to do – i.e. risk making losses – is to take the risk of invading other countries,” it said.

After a 7 June referendum where 93.3% of voters in the Crimean peninsula voted to rejoin Russia, Russia has effectively imposed annexation and lost the ability to punish Ukraine economically.

With the June 26-28 Nato summit in Brussels about to get under way, Mr Putin is attempting to rebuild support, while splitting Europe from the West.

His next target could be Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, which has already been included in Russia’s new “Black Sea Fleet” basing agreement.

“There has been a regional decline in economic and political relations, such as between Nato and Russia,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis told the BBC.

“We feel the Kremlin very much has interests in what they call this new world order that does not care for global security and threats.”

Russia is also worried that Nato could become all-encompassing and challenge its dominance of the South-Eastern Europe.

If Nato expands into former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova, it would remove another possible excuse for Moscow’s conflicts.

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