It was no surprise when pro-Russian forces seized eight European military monitors in eastern Ukraine last week. A growing number of international observers have deployed to Ukraine over the past two months, and it was only a matter of time before some were snatched. A United Nations envoy, Robert Serry, had to make a quick exit from Crimea in early March after an encounter with a posse of armed men.
Will Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama ultimately benefit most from the crisis in Ukraine? Most pundits are betting on the former. The Russian president has pulled off a bravura display of ruthless guile in seizing control of Crimea. His American counterpart has looked limited, calculating that Moscow will want an “off ramp” out of a crisis that currently seems to be going Moscow’s way.
Will the Ukrainian revolution help or harm the Syrian rebellion? The two uprisings currently appear to be on very different trajectories. It is three years since Syrian citizens began protests against President Bashar Assad, precipitating the cycle of violence that would lead to civil war. By contrast, Assad’s Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from the capital, Kiev, last week after just three months of demonstrations. Assad may view Yanukovych’s humiliation as proof of the need for utter ruthlessness against his opponents. But the two men’s fates remain intertwined.
Foreign affairs specialists snickered last week as an unknown source released a recording of Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. State Department, saying, “F**k the EU.” Nuland used the expletive during a phone discussion of potential arrangements for overseeing a political transition in Ukraine, which has been in turmoil since its government rejected an economic deal with Brussels under Russian pressure last year.
What do you see when you look at the Central African Republic (CAR)? The crisis in the previously largely unknown former French colony is becoming a Rorschach test for international policymakers. Few would deny that the CAR has endured a hellish breakdown of basic order that has claimed at least 2,000 lives and forced a quarter of the country’s 4 million citizens from their homes.
Can Estonian soldiers defend their country by fighting in the middle of Africa? Last week, the European Union approved plans to send up to 1,000 troops to the Central African Republic (CAR). Perhaps surprisingly, Estonia was the first EU member to make a firm pledge of ground forces to the mission, which will reinforce existing French and African contingents. Other eastern EU members, including Poland and the Czech Republic, are also reportedly considering participating, while Britain and Germany have hung back.
When diplomats gathered at the United Nations last week to launch a series of commemorations of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, there was much talk of the need for decisive responses to early signs of future mass atrocities. By contrast, actual diplomacy to manage today’s well-advanced crises in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) was more tentative.
It is an absolute certainty that 2014 will be a turbulent year for the United Nations. The organization is struggling with crises ranging from the chaos in the Central African Republic (CAR) to the plight of Syrian refugees. There is little hope that these challenges will dissipate soon. Yet two sets of peace talks this month could well decide whether the U.N. faces a truly dreadful year ahead, or just a very difficult one.