Middle Eastern Perspectives on the Ukraine Crisis

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The Middle East’s media, with its own host of traumatic change to talk about, might be forgiven for overlooking the escalating tension in Eastern Europe. But for many observers in the region, the recent events in Ukraine have had a particular resonance. The general reaction has been one of disapproval of the Russian role in the conflict and their annexation of Crimea, although not all commentators recommend a military solution or that their country should become involved in favor of one side or another, for fear that their national interests would be adversely affected.

A recent Saudi Gazette editorial was especially critical of the Kremlin’s interference in Ukraine’s internal politics, noting that, instead of recovering its former glory, Russia is more likely to lose what little it still has: “In the smoke and mirrors of this revived Soviet-style diplomatic double-speak, the Ukraine cannot seek to enforce, thus far rather weakly, the rule of law against dissident thugs, but Russian can mount a brutal region-wide clampdown in Chechnya costing thousands of lives in the face of substantial disaffection….In truth, Putin has little to offer expatriate Russians over his borders save nationalist heroics and the roar and grind of Soviet-era armor. He may imagine he is restoring national self-esteem after the string of international humiliations of the immediate post-communist era. It is more likely however, that he is further risking what is left of his country’s economic prosperity.”

Another regional editorial, this time by the Khaleej Times staff, clearly warns Russian president Vladimir Putin to stay out of the Ukraine: “Russia, by trying to speak for the arsonists and saboteurs — who are resorting to lawlessness by seizing government installations — is playing with fire. This type of attitude is unbecoming of a great power like Russia, which should have done all in its influence to tame down the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine. Moscow should realize that any more upheavals in Ukraine will directly impact geopolitical realities in the region. Kiev’s fight against insurgents has a legal writ; and the world community should back it in its endeavor to restore normalcy. Russia’s hands-off policy will be a blessing in disguise for Ukraine.”

Others are concerned that the conflict has the potential to expand beyond Ukraine or Russia, thus further aggravating the ongoing instability across the world, particularly in the Middle East: “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon echoed the sentiments of the international community when he declared: ‘The problems over Ukraine are reverberating far beyond this region. They are causing divisions in the international community at a time when we need countries to unite to tackle global problems.’ All sides involved should resist yielding to provocations, exercise maximum restraint and adhere to international law. There is little doubt that if immediate action is not initiated to resolve the crisis, not only would Ukraine and Russia bear the brunt, European nations and the wider international community would be affected as well.”

Given what is at stake, the Gulf News editorial seems to favor some accommodation to Russian demands, arguing that all the major actors in the crisis should use caution and demonstrate flexibility so that a diplomatic solution may be found: “while Moscow and Kiev both say there is a fear of civil war, now more than ever is the time for dialogue between all parties. Now is not the time for an ill-advised military intervention that can be interpreted as an escalation of the crisis on the ground. The new government in Kiev — one that came to power directly against the expressed democratic wishes of those in eastern Ukraine — needs to negotiate with rather than confront the separatists. A restoration of Russian as an official language, abolished when the new government took power in Kiev, would certainly help ease the fury of the Russian-speaking easterners.”

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats in the region have been trying to make Washington’s position on the crisis clear. In an op-ed for the Arab Times, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Matthew H. Tueller explains that, for the U.S. government, what is going on in Ukraine “is not just about Ukraine. It is about basic principles that govern relations among nations in the 21st century….The United States, Kuwait, and the whole world has an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, not a weak one. In the coming weeks and months, the world must continue to stand up for the rights of brave people everywhere who stand up to a corrupt and authoritarian leader. The citizens of Ukraine have asked for our support as they come together to define their reforms and run their elections. For the sake of a Europe whole, free and at peace, we all need to stand together, united for Ukraine.”

For some, though, statements by American officials no longer carry the weight they once did. It is not surprising that the Peninsula editorial remains unconvinced of President Obama’s warnings or threats of sanctions: “Despite all the stern warnings issued by the U.S. and other European countries, Vladimir Putin has been unfazed. He has made it abundantly clear that Moscow is not ready to sacrifice its interests over Ukraine. The sanctions announced so far by the West have failed to deter Putin from resorting to more drastic actions….The crisis is likely to continue for some time before a solution is found. President Obama is unlikely to do anything drastic that will aggravate the situation. It will not be easy to coerce Russia, and so a wait-and-watch approach will be far more rewarding than any hasty action.”

Meanwhile, several observers have advised their respective governments to refrain from getting too involved in the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine, as long as their own interests are protected. For Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin, the Turkish government should resist the urge to get involved in a dispute that is effectively in its neighborhood, as long as the rights of the Tatar peoples in Crimea are not affected: “Turkey, a member of the Western defense alliance NATO, is worried about what has been happening in Ukraine, its northern neighbor across the Black Sea, and is particularly worried about the situation of the Tatars there, but it also avoids getting into a conflict with Russia….Turkey would support the legitimate cause of Crimean Turks not to leave their homeland once again and to live in peace with the rest of the population in the region, creating no political problems as long as their existence is not under threat.”

Finally, Elyakim Haetzni, writing for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, believes that given Mr. Putin’s record of cooperation with the state of Israel, the Netanyahu government would do well to stay out of what may turn out to be a protracted and violent debacle: “Now is the time to plead with our decision-makers to resist temptation and remain completely neutral at all costs. There are hundreds of thousands of Jews living both in Russia and in Ukraine, and each community sides with its own country. Only the independent Israel is in charge of what is called ‘the Jewish people,’ and there is no black and white here….Today, unlike during the Cold War, Russia is not hostile towards Israel. On the contrary. Putin is vigorously combating anti-Semitism, he is not withholding any gestures of affinity and friendship toward his country’s Jews…Of course, none of this is anywhere near our special relationship with the US, and our relationship with Russia is not perfect. And yet, we must not get dragged into this cold war.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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