What are the sticking points in the ‘Putin crisis’?

In the latest volley of accusations and demands in the Ukraine crisis, a few topics have surfaced. Since Moscow has arguably orchestrated the crisis around Ukraine by placing more than 100,000 battle-ready troops on the border, the Kremlin has sought to define the crisis by articulating its grievances.

Given the open-ended nature of the crisis, these points of tension, on both the Kremlin’s and the West’s sides, could change again. For now, a couple of issues are up for debate.

So, what are they?

Here they are.

War on religion – Western style

Amid the flurry of news surrounding Sochi and Ukraine, one overlooked diplomatic spat between Russia and the US has been particularly revealing.

Pussy Riot member
Pussy Riot member

When asked about members of Pussy Riot meeting with the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded with sarcastic incredulity that Power didn’t join the band.

“I would expect her to invite them to perform at the National Cathedral in Washington,” he said. “Maybe they could arrange a world tour for them, you know.”

“St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, then maybe in Mecca in Saudi Arabia, ending up with a gala concert at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. So if Ambassador Power fell short I would be disappointed,” Churkin said.

The crime Pussy Riot was charged with was “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” because of their choice of a Russian cathedral as a venue for their protest.

Pussy Riot in action at cathedral

This point is often overlooked in the West. Vladimir Putin’s obviously corruption doesn’t detract from what may well be a very sincere desire to ‘defend’ a traditional order against what he sees as an encroaching Western amorality. It is easy for the West to dismiss Putin’s hard line as an excuse to show he is a tough guy. But a regime can crack down anyone. There is a reason why Russia’s leader wants defend a religion and a church.

To date, I don’t see the emerging great power struggle as a battle of beliefs. But if, over time, such an ideological war emerges, this defense of traditional decency may well be one of the strains we would likely see. It’s easy to imagine how a desire to defend an older order could be a common cause among anti-Western nations.

Where to now Senkaku-Diaoyu?

I have heard anecdotally that after the leadership change in China, there would be less incentive to keep tensions high around the Senkaku-Diaoyu Island dispute – at least from the Chinese side. That doesn’t exactly mean the tensions will be easing.

This Kyodo News item from a few days ago shows the US and Japan making preparations for “Senkaku contingencies.”

Japan and the United States have started mapping out joint operation plans to prepare for any contingency arising from conflicting claims between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands, sources close to Japan-U.S. ties said Thursday.

Let’s hope, and it’s entirely possible, that the contingencies are for a protocol, or possibility of a de-escalation should a clash occur. Looks like it will be up to the US and Japan on this count, as the Chinese don’t have a great wish for multilaterialism. They said as much in the recently concluded Xi Jinping- Vladimir Putin talks.

As per Global Times 

On the Asia-Pacific situation, the two countries said it is a primary task for the region to build a security and cooperation framework that features openness, transparency, equality and inclusiveness.

They added that it is necessary to encourage relevant countries in the region to properly settle their disputes through bilateral dialogues and negotiations.

That is “bilateral” not “multilateral.” I.e. China-Japan, China-Vietnam. Not China-Japan-US. Or China-Vietnam-ASEAN. etc.