John Shattuck, served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under President Bill Clinton. He spoke recently to RFE/RL's Balkan Service's Dragan Stavljanin about the crisis in Ukraine and the West's response to it.
RFE/RL: U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out a military response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia seems unimpressed by Western sanctions. What measures do the West have at its disposal to deter further Russian intervention in Ukraine?
I think we have to separate out the situation specifically about Crimea and the broader issues related to Ukraine in general and then indeed further on to the West and Eastern Europe. I think the situation in Ukraine, in Crimea, is at least for the moment, it's settled. That doesn't mean that it was appropriate. It was wrong. It was contrary to international law, it was a violation of the sovereign rights of Ukraine, and yet I think the historical relationship between Crimea and Russia is a matter that is actually going to mean that we are not going to see a prying away of Crimea back to Ukraine.
The question is whether the Russians use and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin uses his incursion into Crimea to broaden his influence further into Ukraine and to destabilize the situation particularly in eastern Ukraine, where there are many [ethnic-] Russians.
RFE/RL: If Russian President Vladimir Putin decides not to continue with his incursion further into eastern Ukraine, then do you think the West will accept the new situation and try to normalize relations with Russia?
It's hard to say exactly. I am being very much a realpolitik analyst of the situation. I think that the sanctions that have been put forward and those that could increase are important to deter any further efforts by Putin to destabilize Ukraine. But I doubt strongly whether the sanctions are going to persuade Putin to return Crimea to Ukraine at least in this period of time. I don't think that's likely to happen.
RFE/RL: When annexing Crimea, Putin referred to the example of Kosovo breaking away from Serbia. Could you comment on this comparison?
I think we need to look at Kosovo and see how different that situation is from what has happened in Crimea. In Kosovo there were real mass atrocities that were being committed against the Kosovar Albanians by Serbian paramilitaries. I know this myself because I was one of the investigators who looked very closely into this and then reported back on this. What we have in Crimea was no atrocities, no jeopardization of the Russian majority in Crimea. And also in the case of Kosovo there was no effort to annex Kosovo by the United States or any other country. It didn't try to absorb it, it was simply giving Kosovo the opportunity, which was broadly supervised by the international community to decide its own future, whereas in the case of Crimea what has happened is that a referendum has taken place, literally a shotgun referendum where Russian troops are occupying Crimea and obviously people are very nervous about expressing their political points of view and then Russia itself has annexed Crimea, so this is very different from Kosovo.
RFE/RL: Do you think we're heading toward a new Cold War?
We are certainly seeing a more multipolar world. We are also seeing a more fragmented world and I think that that's a paradox in that there are two things happening simultaneously. They are going in very opposite directions. On the one hand there is the globalization phenomenon, the integration of the world. At the same time we are seeing forces of disintegration that are coming to bear throughout the world, some of which are simply based on the fact that people feel very insecure in the global environment and they want to go back to where they were locally and where they are. Now how does that translate into the potential for a new Cold War? I think if you put leadership, which is highly autocratic and seeking to play to nationalist tendencies and xenophobia, which is what you have right now in Russia, then you can very much stimulate a new Cold War. I think that's the problem.
The comparison I would make now is between the situation in Bosnia and the situation in Crimea, although I don't expect it to go the same way. Where in the case of Bosnia you had Serbia, strongman [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic who is basically manipulating the situation inside of Bosnia through his surrogates, the Bosnian Serbs and what you have in the case of Crimea, and then more broadly, potentially, Ukraine, is a Russian strongman who is once again manipulating political forces inside of Ukraine, particularly in Crimea to potentially stimulate more conflict.
RFE/RL: Do you think that with the crisis in Ukraine, the United States will focus more attention on trans-Atlantic relations?
The U.S. and the European Union are the two largest trading blocs, trading with each other and the world. More than 50 percent of the world GDP is produced within the U.S. and the EU and increasingly through trade between the United States and Europe. So it's very much in the strategic interest of the United States to reengage with Europe, particularly as the world gets sorted out through these various multipolar phenomena that we are talking about. And I think the crisis in Ukraine is going to push it in that direction.
RFE/RL: In the wake of this crisis, what has to happen for the West to have a workable relationship with Russia?
I think Ukraine itself, the whole country of Ukraine and the sovereignty that it has, has to be respected and the only way way anything like normalization can begin to develop again is if Ukraine is able to look West and engage further with the EU [and] that Russia perhaps even joins with the EU in trying to help Ukraine economically -- that's a further reach I think. So, I think the sanctions need to be pushed forward until these agreements are reached with respect to the stability and sovereignty of Ukraine and the rest of the region.