Misperception and Reality

Ukraine crisis: Need for a new order in Europe and Eurasia

January 30, 2015

Ukraine's Increasing Polarization and the Western Challenge, by Eugene Chausovsky 11 March 2014 http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/ukraines-increasing-polarization-and-western-challenge#axzz38mfJD9Bl

George Friedman, The United States Has Unfinished Business in Ukraine and Iraq 24 June, 2014 http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/united-states-has-unfinished-business-ukraine-and-iraq#axzz38mfJD9Bl


Friedman and Chausovsky, along with many others, force the Ukrainian crisis excessively into a geopolitical framework. To be sure, the crisis has a tangible geopolitical aspect--mostly for Russia. It is easy to imagine how the U.S. would react if, for example,  an anti-American regime came to power in Canada through a violent coup d'etat. However, the West (EU and US) does not need Ukraine inside its lager, and Russia does not need and does not want the responsibility of governing Ukraine. It is only blindness and prejudicial stereotypes that have led to a geopolitical conflict that was not necessary at all. The problem of security in Europe and Eurasia after the collapse of the USSR was never adequately thought through and negotiated. If it had been, Russia might have ended up as a strategic partner rather than a geopolitical adversary.


The Eastern Partnership is essentially a project of anti-Russian Swedes and Poles, with much of the EU, going along with the project with different levels of reluctance or enthusiasm. Its sponsors must have given assurances that the project would not involve significant costs, and would not entail a promise of EU membership to Ukraine. Such constraints are reflected in the EU-Ukraine association agreement, the signing of which deposed Ukrainian President Yanukovych delayed, and which triggered the current crisis. To protect EU interests, the agreement turned out to be highly unfavorable to Ukraine. Many EU members are wary of association with Ukraine, with all of its problems. The EU simply does not have the resources to keep Ukraine's economy afloat, especially in light of all the problematic economies it already has to worry about.


Although the Eastern Partnership project certainly does have geopolitical consequences, the interests of most EU members, to the extent that there are any, have little to do with geopolitics. A geopolitical aspect enters into their calculus only if Russia is considered a threat to European security, and this is far from obvious. For understandable reasons, some EU member states, mainly former Soviet republics and members of the former Soviet Bloc, do in fact see Russia as a threat. However, the leaderships and publics of most European states are divided with regard to Russia. They are also divided as to what the EU should do about Ukraine, and even as to whether the E.U. should be involved with Ukraine at all.


The US has little intrinsic interest in Ukraine, apart from the interests of its politically-inflluential Ukrainian Diaspora. However, once the decision was made to expand NATO eastwards, it acquired a logic and momentum of its own, eventually putting NATO membership for Ukraine on the agenda. Many experienced, highly-respected specialists, including George Kennan, architect of the doctrine of containment of the Soviet Union, former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger and the last U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, argued that the NATO expansion was a serious mistake.

Said Kennan in a New York Times interview, "I think it is the beginning of a new cold war ... I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. .... It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong.  


In an open letter to President Clinton at the end of June 1997, fifty former US senators, cabinet secretaries and ambassadors, as well as US arms control and foreign policy specialists, stated their belief that “the current US-led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic importance.”


The policy of NATO expansion was not carefully thought through. General Charles Wald was among those most involved in the process of NATO expansion. As he has put it: "We never even thought of Article 5 [an attack on any NATO member is an attack on all]. Our attitude was "the more the merrier." NATO and representatives of its member states have repeatedly assured Russia that NATO is not against Russia. However, this position has become increasingly difficult to take seriously. As the Russian Ambassador the Czech Republic put it in a lecture I attended in 1995: "If you were sitting in the Kremlin watching this alliance coming closer and closer to your borders, would you not at some point begin to ask: 'against whom is this alliance directed?'" Putin and Lavrov have made similar statements more recently. Admitting the former Soviet sattelites and that Baltic states into NATO made the the alliance significantly more anti-Russian than it had been.


Many observers are skeptical that Russia could conceivably have become a genuine ally, however this view is hard to assess, since making Russia a genuine strategic parner was never seriously attempted. Throughout the 1990s, as Dmitri Trenin puts it, Russia wanted nothing more than to become Pluto in the "Western Solar System." Russia pushed for a strategic partnership with NATO, even membership, until it became clear that this was out of the question. Had strategic partnership been seriously pursued, geopolitical conflict might have been entirely avoided. Russia could have played a major role in helping to stabilize the Eurasian landmass and the Middle East, where its knowledge and capabilities are far superior to those of the West. Yet, Russia was never taken seriously as a strategic partner, and its vital interests were repeatedly ignored. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61735/dmitri-trenin/russia-leaves-the-west


Why did not the West attempt seriously to forge a strategic partnership with Russia?  By not taking Russia seriously as a major player in international affairs, by unnecessarily ignoring its vital interests,by repeatedly humiliating it, the West unnecessarily pushed Russia into an adversary position. It thus created a geopolitical problem that need not have emerged (Simes, "Losing Russia" http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/63008/dimitri-k-simes/losing-russia).


As for Ukraine, neither Chausovsky nor Friedman mention Russia's oft stated desiderata for that country--a strong, stable, FEDERALIZED Ukraine. It may be that Moscow is lying, and really wants a weak, destabilized Ukraine, but this is usually simply assumed without argument. Yet, it is hard to imagine how a weak, unstable Ukraine would serve Russian interests, unless one assumes that anything Russia does must be mischief by definition. A strong, stable Ukraine makes eminent sense from the point of view of Russian interests, while an unstable or failed-state Ukraine does not.


It has been clear, since the early days of the Russian Federation, that Russia has significant interests in Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics. In his 1993 article in NATO Review, Andrei Kozyrev, the first and most pro-Western Russian Foriegn Minister to date wrote: "It should not be forgotten that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) brings together peoples who have been linked to Russia for centuries. It is also obvious that the entire geographic area of the former USSR is a sphere of vital interest to us." http://www.nato.int/docu/review/1993/9301-1.htm Yet, excepting the special case of Crimea, there has never been any indication that Russia has been interested in annexing Ukraine, even eastern Ukraine or, for that matter, any of the former Soviet republics. Why should it? Moscow does regard a hostile Ukraine as unacceptable, but this should not be alarming. To put it in perspective, think of how we regarded a hostile Cuba, which was far less of a threat to our interests than a hostile Ukraine is to Russia. Consider hoiw our government would react if Russia or China, for example, attempted to pull Canada or Mexico into an alliance that excluded the United States.


As Chausovsky points out, “Moscow and many in eastern and southern Ukraine deny the current government's legitimacy, citing the manner in which it took power.” As Moscow sees it, anti-Russian members of the Ukrainian opposition, backed by an anti-Russian mob staged an unconstitutional coup d'etat. Moscow sees this minority as, not only anti-Russian, but also opposed to the wishes of a large part of the Ukrainian citizenry. Since these people were powerless and defenseless following the Maidan revolution, Moscow believed it was Russia's obligation to defend them. Already in a 1993 article in NATO Review Andrei Kozyrev, the first and most pro-Western Russian Foreign Minister to date, wrote: The situation of the Russian-speaking population in states of the former USSR presents a considerable and complex problem for the Russian Federation's foreign policy and diplomacy. We are counting on support from the NATO member nations to help ensure protection for the rights, life and dignity of the Russian minorities. It is now more widely understood that this is not only a major humanitarian problem - the global task of guaranteeing respect for human rights - but it also affects stability in an enormous region." 


Federalization of Ukraine would appear to be an obvious solution yet, for some reason the view is widespread in Ukraine that federalization would mean the end of Ukrainian statehood. President Poroshenko has even stated that federations are weak, ignoring the fact that the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, and India are all federations and all strong states. Poroshenko seems unaware that federalism is usually regarded as a means of integrating regions with significant differences. I suspect that the widespread hostility towards federalism in Ukraine stems from a fear that, if the regions had their own governments, some would vote to secede. Others have beeen suggesting, again without argument, that a federated Ukraine would be easier for Russia to control or push around. However, it is hard to see why federalization should lead to such consequences. On the contrary federalism, by removing some of the most serious irritants, should help resolve the problems that are currently tearing Ukraine apart. Since foreign affairs, defense, finance, some control over the economy, and some police powers would surely come under the central government, it is hard to see why federalization should weaken Ukraine with respect to Russia. 

Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
For business
For researchers
For students