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Moscow, Kiev should work to restore peace

By Liu Jianna | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-30 07:53

Editor's note: The skirmish between Russia and Ukraine near Kerch Strait has further escalated tensions between the two sides. Russia seized three Ukranian ships near the Kerch Strait that separates the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov on Sunday, saying they had entered Russian waters ignoring warnings, while Ukraine warned the incident could lead to a full-scale war. Why has the Russia-Ukraine conflict intensified? And how will the incident play out? Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily's Liu Jianna. Excerpts follow:

A full-blown war highly unlikely

According to Russia, the fact that the captured Ukrainian sailors have admitted on a Russian TV program that they provoked the skirmish shows Kiev is worried about Moscow's recent diplomatic gains and fears it could be marginalized on the global diplomatic stage. Russia's recent diplomatic gains-thawing of relations with Europe, engagement with the United States, and proactive participation in several multilateral summits including the recent APEC meeting-might have prompted Ukraine to think that unless it makes some noise, the international community would forget the Crimea issue.

To Ukraine's dismay, Western sanctions against Russia have not yielded much tangible results, and Russia managed to shift the international community's focus from the Crimea issue to the Middle East through its handling of the Syrian crisis. So by making some noise, Ukraine believes it can shift the international community's focus to the Crimea issue.

Still, the possibility of a full-blown war breaking out is low. If a solution cannot be found in the short term, there could be long-term low-intensity clashes. But a stable situation would serve Russia better and help it consolidate its achievements-the political benefits it may gain from an escalating conflict are relatively small. The same applies to the West.

That leaves Ukraine as the only variable, in particular because Ukraine's domestic affairs may exert influence on the region's situation.

True, the Kerch Strait incident will have an impact on Russia's relationship with the West, but it cannot get any worse for Russia, as the West has few bargaining chips against Russia except sanctions.

Therefore, the international community should persuade the parties involved to exercise utmost restraint instead of making moves that could escalate the conflict.

Gao Fei, a professor of Russia Studies, China Foreign Affairs University

Regional tensions will escalate

CAI MENG/CHINA DAILY

Three factors might have prompted Ukraine to adopt a tough approach to the standoff with Russia and impose martial law in the country for the first time since its independence in 1991.

First, the blocked shipping lanes in the Kerch Strait, along with the Crimea issue and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, poses severe threats to Kiev as it has two ports in the Sea of Azov. Second, Ukraine needs the West's support both to settle its territorial disputes and for its economic development. Third, given its poor approval rating, the current administration hopes to win more support in the presidential election in March and parliament election in October-and by imposing martial law, it can prevent the opposition party from organizing rallies and seeking the people's support.

The West may continue supporting Ukraine, even if the support is limited and discreet, but it is unlikely to make Ukraine's problem its top priority. And since it has been aiding Ukraine only to contain Russia, the West or NATO may not openly confront Russia.

Moreover, because of the great difference in the strengths of Russia and Ukraine, the latter cannot afford a massive conflict with its neighbor.

The Kerch Strait incident, of course, would worsen the already sour Russia-Ukraine relationship and aggravate tensions in the region. It would also impair Moscow's efforts to improve relations with the West. Still, we may see more frequent small-scale skirmishes rather than an extended conflict, because control of the waters remains a big problem.

Zhao Huirong, a researcher at and the director of Research Office of Ukraine Studies of the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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