UKRAINE: A WESTERN DIVIDE IN THE EAST

By Marvin Andrade
Staff Writer

Many old tensions from the Cold War have resurfaced in the current Ukrainian security dilemma as the Iron Curtain is redrawn across Europe. The conflict in Ukraine has instilled deep concern in all parties involved since violence erupted during protests in 2013. The protests are the result of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to cancel preparations to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU). This agreement would have continued an ongoing process of Ukrainian integration with the EU by opening Ukraine to more trade from the EU and setting a foundation for more freedom of movement across EU member nations. Russia, a former global hegemon, feared further encirclement as Ukraine began to tilt toward Western Europe. Unsurprisingly, Russia took actions to prevent this process and secure strategic interests, such as Crimea which housed the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The eastwards movement of western institutions is a process that Russian leaders have frequently witnessed since the end of the Cold War. During negotiations in 1999, 2004 and 2009, former Russian satellite nations and allies were incorporated into NATO. This goes against several high level discussions near the end of the Cold War. NATO claims, however, that there have “never been political or legally binding commitments” that NATO would not expand eastward.

The parliamentary ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych, which had resulted from the pressure protesters placed on lawmakers, was viewed as a “bandit coup” by Russian leaders that had favorable relations with the Ukrainian president. Leaders from the EU and the United States are concerned, however, about further Russian aggression due to the violence that has transpired during this civil and international conflict. Ukraine now stands deadlocked between two opposing sides that have divided the country. In the east, rebels supported by the Russian government find themselves in open conflict with those that want to side with the West. The Ukrainian government faces incredible hurdles in order to re-assert its sovereignty and maintain its original borders; Ukraine must negotiate with newly independent regions in East Ukraine and Russia for Crimea. The strongest supporters of restoring Ukraine’s borders, the United States and the European Union are divided over how to achieve this objective.

For much of this crisis, the United States and Europe have attempted to cooperate in order to form a strategy that unites Ukraine under democratic principles that would allow progress toward closer integration with the West. The United States has the ability to construct a coherent strategy to combat Eastern separatists in Ukraine through the use of very strong sanctions and military support. In the EU, however, there is a lack of policy coherence due to the fact that the EU is not unified in its response to the crisis. While the member nations of the EU can choose to act unilaterally, a combined response from the entire EU would produce an outcome that would signal strength and solidarity to Russia. This lack of cohesion has enabled the Russian government to strategically pull smaller European states away from action in Ukraine that would harm Russian interests. For example, in late January, the new Greek government showcased its ties with Russia in order to gain more bargaining leverage in upcoming debt talks. The Greek case is one among many others where EU member nations have opted to take less punitive measures for Russian involvement in Ukraine. The lack of unified action from the EU comes from how it makes its decisions. The EU must make decisions through a combination of supranational and intergovernmental institutions consisting of the Council of Ministers, European Commission, and the European Parliament. Since little consensus exists among EU member states, the EU is gridlocked over the security decisions it will take to confront Russian aggression.

The current situation in Ukraine begs the question as to whether or not the EU still gains economic or political advantages from pursuing intervention in this conflict. Prior to Russian intervention, Europe’s benefits of gaining Ukraine as a trading partner were minimal compared to now. Prior to Russian intervention, the EU would have needed to make marginally small investments into infrastructure that could facilitate trade and decrease corruption. However, due to recent military actions, costs have risen significantly. In times of conflict, nations have several considerations when deciding how to respond to aggression. Building defenses or training and arming individuals in Ukraine is costly and increases the risks of confrontation with Russia, a catastrophically high cost in and of itself. By arming rebels in Ukraine, Russia is implementing a strategy with a higher risk of war, but the gains that have been made since late 2013 are clear. Russia now holds Crimea and is in a good position to maintain a buffer from the West through rebel-held regions in Eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, if Europe and its allies wish to help Ukraine reclaim sovereignty, significant amounts of money would need to go into military spending. Given an expected 12% contraction of the economy this year alone, additional spending would also need to be made for reconstruction to make Ukraine viable again. Given how the EU’s cost expectations for closer association with Ukraine have increased significantly, the West is walking through a proverbial minefield as it makes future decisions. Despite sanctions, which have contributed to the devaluation of the Russian Ruble by more than half and produced a 3 percent contraction of the Russian economy in the last 12 months, many member nations are now questioning whether further sanctions would actually have any effect in curtailing Russian aggression. Putin’s approval ratings were at 85% at the start of the year. With this information, EU nations are skeptical that sanctions will have any effect in the current situation.

The question of deploying EU ground personnel in Ukraine is an entirely different matter altogether. Many have asked the European Commission to strengthen the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) mandate in Ukraine. With some hesitation, the OSCE’s mission in Ukraine was extended for an additional 6 months in March. The mission calls for monitoring of the situation as well as facilitating talks between parties in Ukraine. The OSCE mission is to go in tandem with the second Minsk Agreement that was signed in February that called for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Few nations are willing to strengthen the mandate to go beyond monitoring and observation.

Since the start of hostilities in Ukraine, NATO was quick to respond with missions spearheaded by the United States. Given the United State’s military contributions to NATO, it played a large part in strategy design. Because of the efforts of NATO and the United States, member states around Ukraine have been armed and continue to train for the possibility of future Russian aggression. Additionally, very expensive war games are ongoing in the Black Sea. While the war-games do little to de-escalate violence in Ukraine, they serve to signal to Russia the consequences of further aggression in other Eastern European states. The United States has pressed forward with some reluctance from its EU counterparts, but given the massive military contributions provided by the United States, few states can form a cohesive bloc that can disagree and prevent action. German commanders are not pleased with the large divide between its commanders and those of NATO which are taking more aggressive military stances. Other Western European members such as France also believe the US is behaving in a manner which is too hawkish. A response from members of the European community has formed. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced on March 12 the need for an exclusive EU military force. There are several reasons why an exclusive EU military is necessary and unnecessary. The suggestion by the Commission President and Germany’s backing points toward the rift in the strategic partnership between the United States and the EU. The United States pushed forward initiatives through NATO that would arm rebels in Ukraine. While the United States has pushed for increased armament, the European community, led by Germany and France, wants to prevent further escalation of conflict and spillover into neighboring regions. This is clearly observable in the diplomatic route that was taken February in the signing of the second Minsk agreement negotiated by Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany. Through the suggestion of an EU military, observers can see the strain that the Ukraine crisis has had on the US-EU relationship. The creation of this force would give the EU more control over forces in the region and could allow the institution to move further away from US influence through NATO. The mere suggestion of an exclusive EU military force by high level officials outlines an apparent fault line between the EU and US. The EU and the US have generally worked together in a unified manner to resolve security concerns, but this recent turn of events in Eastern Europe highlights the divergence of preferences between all sides that has been becoming more apparent in the last decade since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. To the benefit of the United States, the creation of an EU military force is politically unfeasible in the EU due to the fact that few members would be willing to agree to pay for these forces and set the EU on a course that could lead to further detachment of the US from Europe. Although these conditions are always subject to change, this is not a foreseeable option for the duration of this conflict. While the strengthening of the OSCE mission is difficult to pass through EU legislation, it is nowhere near as politically unfeasible as an exclusive EU force.

The current matter in the Ukraine stands as a frontline for many world superpowers. Since the end of the Cold War, president Clinton and Bush have taken steps to expand NATO beyond the comfort levels of Russian leaders. Unsurprisingly, Russia did not stand by idly while Ukraine, one of the most important states within the USSR, began to tilt westwards. President Putin has already shown his willingness and commitment to maintain a buffer from the west. Given the violent turn of events as the EU and US attempted to incorporate Ukraine into their framework, both powers must consider the ramifications of further expansion. It is clear, however, that the US and EU have divergent preferences. The United States is much more willing to risk war than Europe. This comes from the fact that the United States was willing to give the EU a blanket of defense while it formed so that the EU could focus on other domestic policies. While respectful of the United State’s contributions to the creation of the EU, many EU states have not been as willing in the last decade to support the United State’s military actions. This rift has become much more apparent in the last few months as the US has taken hazardous steps to ensure its preferences are achieved within the Ukrainian security crisis. Russia has been fast to respond to this and has successfully prevented more severe action against itself by dividing Europe through bilateral negotiations. While Europe battles itself and the United States, Russia’s strategy has successfully ensured that Ukraine will not side with the west for a considerable length of time. At the end of the Cold War, the line between East and West was temporarily blurred, however, as Russia regains economic capacity and military strength, the world will find out to what extent Russia will permit the line to move.

Photo by Sasha Maksymenko

PUTIN IS TURNING OVER A NEW-OLD LEAF

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By Alex Shkurko
Staff Writer

Since Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea last March, Western observers have debated issues ranging from the extent of Russia’s territorial ambitions to the question of arming Ukraine. Less ubiquitous, but equally concerning is the return of Soviet-style authoritarianism in the age of Putin. Though this is not a new development, the crisis in Ukraine has opened up a new chapter in Russia’s retreat from liberal democracy, unleashing a fresh torrent of media controls and political intimidation.

Under Putin, the media reshapes and redirects events in Ukraine, placing blame on the West for inciting regional conflict in an attempt to economically isolate the Russian people. Russian media is immensely powerful in the shaping of Russian public opinion. This is especially true for older generations, whom receive 90 percent of their news from state-controlled television stations. Anti-Western antagonism is hardly new, but its resurgence is notable both for its scope and effectiveness. While the impact of sanctions has been dubious from the perspective of the West, they have only fervently reinforced the disdain already present in Russian citizens for the United States and its Western allies

Redirecting blame for Russia’s economic woes to the United States has proven to be an effective course of action. The process takes place on the television sets of every citizen in the Russian Federation on channels such as Perviy Kanal. In between pop ballads by Soviet-era singers, Putin appears on screen standing tall and proud, declaring with his body language that Russia’s power has yet to be seen by the world. Putin is first and foremost a nationalist and a populist. However misdirected his criticisms of Obama are, the Russian people are listening and are standing tall with him.

The control of information by Putin and his allies is not limited to traditional media outlets. Restrictions on expression have been given a new life and form by the Internet. Though Twitter and Facebook are accessible, the Russian social media site VKontakte, which translates to “in touch”, eclipses them in popularity and usage. But with constant oversight and monitoring by the Russian government, users are dissuaded from organizing together and from sharing politically damaging news. In 2011, authorities pressured VKontakte to limit opposition posts over concerns about protest organization. After reports divulged that VKontakte shared user information with the government, two major shareholders sold nearly half of the company to suspected Kremlin allies.

In 2013, VKontakte founder Pavel Durov posted Federal Security Service (FSB) requests for information on Ukrainian activists who frequently criticized the Kremlin. Russian social media does not allow anonymous registration and requires users to provide phone numbers, which are linked to passports in Russia. To shield themselves from the eyes of the state, younger and more progressive activists have taken to Western social networks with false names to voice their critiques of Putin’s state. However, their impact at home is negligible given the aforementioned limited reach of Western social media.

For years, the liberal opposition in Russia has experienced a disturbing trend of murders and disappearances among its prominent figures. Victims such as former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko and noted journalists Anne Politkovskaya were known for their outspoken criticism of Putin’s regime. Now, the crisis in Ukraine has added yet another prominent opposition figure to the list of victims. The recent murder of former deputy prime minister and noted Putin critic Boris Nemtsov mere steps away from the Kremlin shook Russian society and served as a stark reminder that in today’s Russia, those who voice opposition to Putin do so at considerable risk. Nemstov was once a contender to succeed Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s president. That a Jew nearly ascended the highest echelons of Russian power is an incredible thought. However, it was not to be. Yeltsin eventually handpicked Putin to succeed him. Nemtsov instead became a passionate Putin critic and a symbol for human rights and democracy in a gradually authoritarian Russia. Some believe his murder, carried out shortly before he was slated to lead a pro-Maidan rally, was an attempt to conceal and suppress information pointing Russia’s involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukrainian. Though the links between Nemstov’s murderers and Putin is unsubstantiated, the slaying of such a prominent anti-Putin figure further squeezes a hard-pressed opposition.

Russia is heading, or has already arrived, at a point of no return as a result of the Ukraine crisis. The ever-tightening control of information and the murder of a prominent former deputy prime minister within walking distance of the Kremlin, poses an important question: what’s in store for Russia’s future? If current trends continue, little will remain of the hopes some in the country had at the collapse of the Soviet Union for a flourishing liberal democracy. This is no accident and is a progression of Putin’s policies and leadership. That is in itself troubling.

Image by Vladimir Varfolomeev

DEBATING THE “UKRAINIAN PROBLEM”: WHAT SHOULD THE UNITED STATES DO? (PART II)


Following former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments on how to approach the “Ukrainian Problem,” two writers of Prospect Journal debate the merits of hard and soft power in dealing with Russia’s actions in Crimea. This is the second article in a two-part series. Part I can be viewed here.

By Patrick Johnson
Staff Writer

We really need to start trusting in international institutions. That’s what this debate ultimately comes down to. When Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticizes Obama for leaving a “power vacuum,” she cannot do so without simultaneously devaluing the international institutions that can fill that void. Rice’s speech critiquing the “American Withdrawal” is a typically hawkish attitude. She views the world in the Cold-War mindset: a zero-sum game that is won or lost on the basis of hard (read: military) power. Not only is this a flawed understanding of the Crimean situation, it is an archaic policy that will, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, drag us back to the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin, and every other world leader for that matter, does not view us as weak. Rather, he has a very nuanced understanding of American interests, of what we’ll fight over, and what we won’t. We won’t go to war for Crimea. Putin knows this, and operates according to Russian interests regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office. Remember, U. S. foreign policy has remained largely unchanged since World War II.

Nor is Obama by any measure a weak president. He has ordered 50 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Yes he has strengthened international alliances and focused on rebuilding American soft power, but these were measures necessitated by the policy catastrophes Rice herself helped to orchestrate. Not intervening in Syria, the go-to example of American “weakness” that war hawks embrace as proof of their claim, is actually a poor example. Intervening in Syria was never a clear case for U.S. military intervention, but a veritable quagmire, complicated by a very jumbled picture on the ground, and a host of conflicting regional parties and interests–not intervening was a demonstration of proper restraint and sheer prudence.

The reality is exactly the opposite of Rice’s view that this invasion is unprovoked. When the U.S.S.R fell, President Bush Senior promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. would not take advantage of Russian weakness, and that we would incorporate them into the international system. This proved false, and NATO has steadily expanded its membership right to the borders of Russia, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Now, like a caged animal, Russia is lashing out against expanding U.S. influence and strength.

Stop and listen to Putin’s speeches and this becomes immediately evident. Putin announced to a cheering crowd that he would no longer stand Western aggression. I’m not arguing that the Crimean seizure was legal or justified, but perhaps it was more reactionary to Western actions than Rice suggests.

Rice correctly points out that Ukrainian independence was guaranteed after 1990, when they voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons. Yet we should not be so callous as to deny Russia a sphere of influence, especially when we have had a sphere of influence that included the entire Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine. Independence and influence is simply a paradox in the 21st century with which states must learn to deal.

Rice uses the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia to illustrate her argument: the problem is, she gets it wrong. She uses the example as a case when Putin was aggressive, but vigorous American action rebuffed him. What a terrible example to offer. It shows that Putin was willing to invade even with Bush’s hawkish administration in power, and with a much larger military budget. Moreover, Putin was not entirely rebuffed. 1/5th of Georgian territory is still firmly in Russian control. The takeaway from this example should be that Russia is willing and able to control neighboring territory, regardless of who is president, or whether they project hard or soft power appropriately.

So let’s trust international institutions and soft power. Deny Russia a seat at the G8 summit, and form an international coalition (that includes China) to denounce these actions. Russia may not break over such measures, but it will bend. Invest energy in helping Kiev consolidate power in reforming the state in order to stabilize Ukraine’s currently tumultuous situation. And ultimately recognize that this situation does not herald the end of U.S. supremacy on the world stage or prove the existence of a power vacuum. It is the result of a defeated rival being continuously threatened, and now lashing out.

Putin’s actions should be vigorously resisted and, more critically, reversed. But so should Rice and her hardline critique. Her criticisms confuse the causes of the Crimean invasion and dilute American involvement. What’s worse, they threaten a return to Cold War policies. If Rice had her way, the defense budget would continue to expand, and America would police the world with a metallic fist. I challenge America to be smarter than every other superpower in world history. The U.S. must value international institutions that can solve global conflicts, just as it must figure out a way to operate and exert global influence independent of pure military strength. Otherwise, as new powers emerge, we may find ourselves with policies suited to 1914, not 2014.

Photo by poniblog