Turmoil in Ukraine: King's experts comment
Posted on 28/02/2014
Protesters in Kiev, December 2013
Ukraine: King’s experts comment
Following several weeks of heightened turmoil in Ukraine, King’s Russia Institute and the Department of War Studies held a joint panel last night to discuss the crisis and its wider impact on European security. The panel discussed Russian, Ukrainian and regional politics, foreign policy, security and energy, and debated the drivers and potential consequences of current events in and around Ukraine.
Here is a roundup of expert comments from last night’s panel:
Dr Ruth Deyermond, Lecturer in Post-Soviet Security, Department of War Studies, said: ‘I don’t think any of the external actors wanted to be in this position – they both now want to get out of it and save face and they don’t want it to escalate.’
‘There is no reason for the Russian government to want to launch a re-take of Eastern Europe – if you look at Putin’s foreign policy, it’s characterised by a brutal pragmatism and rationalism. Crimea is partly about having a bargaining chip.’
‘I’m sceptical about annexation, there is no incentive for the Russian government to annex Crimea, but there is an incentive to keep the region destabilised and out of the capital’s control, which is what it’s done with Georgia.’
‘It’s been interesting to hear [US Secretary of State] John Kerry referring to Russia’s “legitimate interests” in Ukraine – this means that the US recognises the legitimacy of Russia’s interests in the country.’
Professor Anatol Lieven, Chair in International Relations, Department of War Studies, commented on EU-Russian relations and the consequences of their actions: ‘Both Russia and the West (and EU) have found themselves trapped by their own and each other’s behaviour. They have found themselves in a position that neither of them wanted to take – Russia wants the whole of Ukraine in its Eurasian Union, but now they’ve got themselves into an annexation of Ukraine, which will be very costly for them and badly damage their relations with the West, something that they never wanted in the first place.’
‘As for the West – they need to offer Ukraine a realistic path to EU membership and offer them really large amounts of Western aid, as the Russian gas subsidy has been six times as much as Western aid to Ukraine.’
‘It’s a difficult position – the goal of bringing Ukraine into the EU is impossibly far off, and the Russian plan to bring them into the Eurasian Union is dead, so these “maximum” goals on both sides have either failed or become impossible. The West and Russia are now playing a game of blocking each other and will destroy Ukraine in the process.’
Dr Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, Senior Lecturer, King’s Russia Institute, commenting on the reaction within Russia: ‘It’s striking to see people who live in the villages and small towns all in support of Putin... I saw such passion and extreme support. There is so much propaganda on TV, with the same images played every 5-7 minutes – swastikas, fires in Kiev... People who are usually sceptical are now believing the propaganda.’
She also commented on the analogies with Europe in the 1930s and whether Putin’s actions are a sign of the resurgence of Russian imperialism: ‘The 1930s analogies [talked about at the moment] are actually quite dangerous – there are no pre-determined outcomes, the situation is uncertain. Just a few days ago, nobody thought Crimea could be annexed.’
‘I don’t think this is a sign of a Russian “imperial resurgence”, it’s more of a delayed process of imperial collapse, the aftermath of an imperial collapse.’
Dr Natasha Kuhrt, Lecturer, Department of War Studies, spoke about parallels with other recent conflicts: ‘Let’s get one thing clear – this is not a repeat of [what happened in] South Ossetia. It’s a completely and utterly different scenario. There is an interesting parallel with Transnistria [a breakaway region between Moldova and Ukraine] – Russia has lent its support but not annexed or recognised it in any way.’
‘In many ways it’s a sign of an unfinished Cold War – Russia has been contesting the Western discourse around the Cold War and talk of “winners” and “losers” – they have been resisting the rhetoric in the West. It’s been quite cleverly played at the domestic level by Putin.’
She also commented on China’s reaction to the crisis: ‘Does China support Russia? They say they want the situation to be resolved “in accordance with international norms” – which means that China is no friend to separatists.'
Dr Adnan Vatansever, Senior Lecturer, King’s Russia Institute, commented on energy security and possible sanctions: ‘Russia has already reduced its gas price for Ukraine substantially, this is a major concession. Ukraine has had huge problems paying its gas bills, this is a vulnerability caused by Ukraine’s own weaknesses. [The situation] might not have got this far if Ukraine had been able to pay.’
‘Moscow has done its best to keep Ukraine vulnerable on the energy front; it remains a significant part of Russia’s foreign policy tools.’
‘There’s not really much you can do with sanctions – if you put sanctions on oil, the oil will go elsewhere, it’s not something you can change quickly – a country can’t just say: “I’m not buying your gas anymore.”’
Dr Domitilla Sagramoso, Lecturer in Security and Development, Department of War Studies, said: ‘There is a serious problem with a propaganda war on all sides – with Russian media sources not taken seriously in the West. Putin is now extremely popular in Russia; there is a strong possibility of some kind of confrontation.’
‘The EU should state that no right-wing party should be allowed in Ukraine – Putin wants this to be recognised, the transitional government is not representative of the whole of Ukraine. The divisions are becoming increasingly strong [in Ukraine] so it could become a Bosnia-type scenario. It’s hard to see a figure [in Ukraine] that can bring both sides together at the moment.’
‘[The West] needs a lot of caution here and examination – who are we backing? It’s not just about a Eurasian Union; there are populations in Eastern Ukraine that are feeling increasingly left out.’
‘Being kicked out of the G8 would really worry Russia – being excluded from Western diplomatic structures. Russia does not want to feel completely isolated, especially as the Russian public are becoming more inquisitive.’
Dr Marc Berenson, Senior Lecturer, King’s Russia Institute, said: ‘At the heart of this dispute has been a struggle over the form of governance Ukraine should take – a post-Soviet model, founded on coercion and corruption, where the rules of the game are changed to suit those in office, or a rule-of-law model, which protesters believed was exemplified by the West – founded on trust, compliance, and where no one, including the president, is above the law.’
‘The Kremlin can ill-afford to have a Russian-speaking country founded on a Western-style rule-of-law system [as their neighbour]. The Russians are trying to discredit, and de-legitimise the Ukrainian state.’
What could the future hold for Ukraine?
With the situation in flux, Dr Gonzalo Pozo-Martin, Lecturer in International Political Economy in the Department of European & International Studies, discusses the longer term effects on the country domestically, politically and on a wider international scale. Dr Pozo-Martin explains how political opportunities in Ukraine have the potential to create change but that the complex international situation will have significant impact on the outcomes.
Notes to Editors
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