War in Ukraine a long shot, experts say

Updated: 2014-03-03 03:54

By ZHAO SHENGNAN (China Daily)

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War is unlikely to break out in Ukraine even though tension increased when the Russian parliament granted permission to send troops into the country, a direct rebuff of the West's warnings, observers said.

"Moscow's decision primarily aims to warn Kiev of Russia's interests in Ukraine, as well as to show its determination and ability to influence the country's development," said Feng Yujun, director of the Institute of Russian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"Ukraine is such an important part of the high-stakes global game that no side wants to compromise or go on offense first."

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament to approve force "in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots (in Ukraine)", and to protect the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, the only part of Ukraine with a Russian ethnic majority.

The upper house swiftly delivered a unanimous "yes" vote, triggering Ukraine's new government to warn of war, put its troops on high alert and appeal to NATO for help.

Li Lifan, an expert on Russian Studies at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that what Moscow is seeking is not war but public and international support for greater Crimean autonomy from Kiev.

"Currently, the focus of the battle for Ukraine is winning people's support. Moscow's desire seems increasingly urgent due to Western capitals' criticism and Ukraine's appeal to them for help," Li said. "More countermeasures from the West will follow."

During a telephone call on Saturday, US President Barack Obama told Putin that Russia's sending troops to Crimea in Ukraine flouted international law and warned Putin that he was courting political isolation if the "incursion" continues.

However, Zhao Huirong, a researcher of Central Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said there is little chance that the West would get involved in a direct confrontation with Russia as Ukraine means less to the West than it does to Russia.

"Ukraine is almost a red line for Russia because of its strategic location and Moscow's security interests there, while for the West, Ukraine mostly is leverage to contain Russia," she said. "Plus, the West is facing many thorny problems at home."

"It is difficult for Russia to reverse the trend in Ukraine. ... But the future of Ukraine still depends on what kind of compromise the global powers, especially Russia and the United States, will reach."