International Security // Analysis

29 october 2015

Russian and Western differences continue over Ukraine, Syria

RIAC / Anna Amelina
Daniel Hamilton

On October 20, 2015 RIAC held a meeting with foreign experts on “Russian and Western Views on Conflict Resolution and Security Challenges”. Not surprisingly, two most discussed and difficult topics were Ukraine and Syria. These conflicts are unresolved and there is high probability they will remain so for quite some time. RIAC has asked one of the participants to discussion, Prof. Daniel Hamilton, Executive Director, Center for Transatlantic Relations, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, to briefly share his views on the above stated issues.

In your opinion, what is lacking for a successful settlement in Ukraine?

Ukraine needs to be in control of its own borders. This is a sovereign country. The Minsk agreement provides for that but it is not completely implemented. The main issue is that there is no external influence within the borders of Ukraine that is not sanctioned by the Ukrainian government. We have unresolved issues in Eastern Donbass, and neither Ukraine nor the West accepts the annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

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Do you think that the Ukrainian crisis affects neighboring countries in the region?

Absolutely. Russian occupation and military interference within Ukraine itself means that many countries of the region are uncertain about their own sovereignty and their future. Some suggest that we should keep Ukraine as a so-called frozen conflict, so that the issues can be resolved over time. If you look at the history of these frozen conflicts, however, unresolved issues tend to boil and bubble under the surface and sometimes they explode. So the potential for violence is higher if we don’t try to resolve these conflicts now, rather than freezing them for later resolution.

If we go to Syria, how do you assess the emerging anti-terrorist coalition? Does it work? Does it have any future?

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I think Russia and the United States in particular have different approaches to the Syrian conflict in ways that can become potentially very dangerous because the Russian targeting of the Syrian free army, including people who were trained by the United States, could result in some miscalculations that could bring the US and Russian forces in contact with each other. Neither side wants that but the potential for miscalculation is high. So I don’t think we agree on what the military roles of the parties concerned are and that’s dangerous. There might be an opening for the US and Russia to discuss about the transition mechanism for Syria. The precondition for that is we don’t target each other’s forces, which can be very dangerous.

Do you think that the Islamic state can be defeated by brute force?

Absolutely not. However, force is an element because the so-called Islamic state uses force. So anytime you use force it has to be a part of much broader concept. I think each of us are struggling with what that concept might be for a region that is completely chaotic. Force is not the answer but, unfortunately, it is probably a part of the solution at the moment.

Interviewed by Maria Gurova, RIAC web editor

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“Russian and Western differences continue over Ukraine, Syria ,” Russian International Affairs Council, 29 October 2015,

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