Thoughts on a post-Ukraine crisis security settlement for Europe

It would be foolish for Western governments to count on changes in Russia’s position on NATO enlargement and force disposition in the foreseeable future, regardless of whether Putin remains in office. It would likewise be foolish for Moscow to count on brinkmanship and intimidation to keep NATO from reinforcing its eastern flank under current circumstance. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon Western and Russian leaders to make what is now a dangerous and unstable military standoff less unstable and less dangerous. Doing so is in the interest of both sides, and it is also the most likely path toward a gradual improvement in political relations. Continue reading

The War of Recessions gets worse

The ruble closed today at just under 70 to the dollar, down 13% after falling some 10% yesterday. At one point it fell below 80 to the dollar, down almost 20%. It has now overtaken the hryvnia as the world’s worst performing currency this year. Continue reading

US-Russia Relations and the Ukraine Crisis

[Expanded and updated version of a talk given at UC Berkeley, December 2, 2014.]

I have long been an alarmist about US-Russia relations. While the relationship has seen its ups and downs, I believe the trend has been decidedly negative since the mid-1990s. I’ve also long worried about a possible clash with Russia over NATO expansion, and particularly so after the Bush Administration decided to press – albeit unsuccessfully – America’s NATO allies to offer Ukraine and Georgia Membership Action Plans at the March 2008 Bucharest NATO summit. Continue reading

Ukraine and the War of Recessions

The “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine is still very precarious, but at some point we may see a stabilization of the military standoff, after which the crisis in Ukraine will likely enter a new phase in which economic war replaces actual war as the main instrument of contestation. If so, we are very likely to witness a costly and prolonged game of beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies between Russia and the West. In my previous post, I argued that the Russian economy is in serious trouble, and that in the long run Russia is unlikely to win this game. But the game is going to be painful for all parties – first and foremost for Ukraine, but also for Western Europe and even, to a limited extent, the United States.

Continue reading

Russia’s geopolitical ambitions in perspective

I am not an economic determinist, at least in the sense that I don’t assume that people are motivated by lucre alone. I do not believe, for example, that economic factors, deeply rooted or otherwise, are always the “real” cause of war. And economic factors only sometimes account for the outcome of wars, as Americans were reminded in Vietnam.

I do believe, however, that what the Soviets used to call the “correlation of forces” – that is, the dynamics of the global balance of power – is driven primarily by economic factors. Size matters, geography matters, culture matters, institutions matter, but economic performance matters most (even if economic performance is partially or largely a product of any or all of the former).

Continue reading

Why a political solution in eastern Ukraine is unlikely until there is a military solution

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss a possible political solution to the violent uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, I think the likelihood of success in Minsk– that is, an agreement that brings an end to the fighting and sets the stage for a political settlement with the separatists – is very low. Continue reading