Kosovo was the undoing of the reign of President Boris Yeltsin in Russia, will Ukraine seal a similar fate for President Vladimir Putin?
In a country where democratic processes do not really determine who governs it, it is natural that external crises become more of a determining factor in the ability of those in power to hold on to their seats.
There are some important differences, though, in the comparison of the position of Vladimir Putin to that of Boris Yeltsin. At the time of the Kosovo crisis, Yeltsin was already seen by the Russian people as a drunk politician who could not take things seriously and he was accused of making too much concessions to the West. In the case of Vladimir Putin, the perception is quite the opposite and domestic media are both encouraged and at times forced to continue to feed that image to the public.
Available evidence, even that published or aired by the international media, overwhelmingly shows that the downing of the civilian airplane belonging to the Malaysian Airlines was the work of separatists in eastern Ukraine supported by Russia and the international community is tightening the screws around the Russian leadership to give in by accepting the responsibility for the plane disaster (better to call it the crime) and stopping the ongoing political and logistical support to the separatist rebels.
Although this is a not a full blown new Cold War, there is little doubt that we are in a new phase in the reshaping of the international order, with the main difference being there is no ideological background in this conflict. This one is about gaining new turf and/or controlling what is already under the belt of one side or the other.
It could be fair to say that the parameters of this new configuration of the positioning of the sides are more of an economic nature than anything else.
Take, for instance, the announcement of the creation of the new development bank by the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) with $100 billion capital and another $100 billion pool of foreign exchange reserves. It came just one day before the downing of the civilian airplane and none of the leaders of the other founding nations of the new bank issued any statement condemning Russia for its role in the crash. Maybe in the days and weeks ahead, once official investigations have been completed and the results announced, they may issue statements of sorrow and regret for the loss of civilian lives just for the sake of having paid lip service to the incident, but they will not seriously think of taking on Russia, because they are now on the same fold.
Russia will likely not back down from its position of supporting the separatists as that will mean a significant erosion of Putin’s domestic powerbase. Unless Russian diplomats can pull a rabbit out of the hat to allow their president to save face, there will be more and more economic sanctions by the West targeting Moscow. Russians will want to respond in kind using their single most powerful economic weapon, the dependence of Western Europe on their natural gas exports. Putin will also play big to dethrone the US dollar from its position as the world’s reserve currency, an objective for which he will find some very sympathetic support, in particular from China.
So we will be witnessing some exciting times in the weeks and months ahead, with the possibility that while watching it unfold, we, the ordinary people, could be sucked into the whirlpool with many being drowned in the process.