In my previous post, I argued that an unstable frozen conflict (continued low-level fighting but no major territorial gains) is still the least unlikely outcome in eastern Ukraine, but that the opportunity for a stable frozen conflict (a lasting ceasefire) to emerge has increased since the fall of Debaltseve on February 20. My reasoning was as follows:
- The intensity of fighting has been diminishing.
- The line of contact (LOC) has become more coherent and defensible.
- Neither side appears capable of taking significant additional territory unless Moscow dramatically increases the scale and nature of its involvement.
- The Kremlin appears to have concluded (correctly, I believe) that an escalation of its military involvement in Ukraine would undermine its geopolitical objectives, notably by precipitating an increase, not a decrease, in NATO hard power on its eastern flank.
- The most likely way for a stable frozen conflict to emerge is no longer by some kind of Minsk III agreement with a buffer zone patrolled by armed international peacekeepers but by “military facts on the ground.”
What I want to do is this post is elaborate on the first three points. I will take up point 4 in my next post. Continue reading
The full text can be found here.
Q: What are your expectations from the EU summit on March 19? Will the EU extend sanctions on Russia, or are the majority of member states inclined to give Russia more time to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine?
Walker: It’s very likely that the EU will decide on the 19th to kick the can down the road and neither increase sanctions or agree to lift any or all of them. The EU is involved in an extremely difficult and complex political game over sanctions, particularly because the sanctions in place now have term limits and renewal requires unanimous approval by all member states. It does not want to undermine whatever chance the Minsk II agreement has of being implemented; members such as Hungary and especially Greece want to use their veto rights over sanctions as leverage on other matters, including of course for Greece over austerity and debt; and other members, notably the Baltic States, Poland, and the United Kingdom, want to maintain maximum pressure on Moscow.
There is another very important dimension to the sanctions question for the EU, which is its relationship with the United States. Most member states do not want to see the Ukraine crisis lead to a division within the Atlantic alliance, and they therefore have to worry about what would happen if the EU went in one direction and the United States another on sanctions. A split on sanctions could be extremely divisive. Moreover, the EU, Germany in particular, is very aware that the Obama administration is under growing domestic pressure to increase military assistance to Ukraine, and they have to worry that if they break with Washington over sanctions, the United States will break with European doves on arming Ukraine and otherwise ramping up its military response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. That, too, might provoke a crisis in European relations with the United States, where there is already growing resentment in policy circles that Europe spends so much less on defense than the United States, and where most NATO members spend less than NATO’s two percent of GDP target. Continue reading
[Following is an expanded and updated version of a talk I gave at the 39th Annual Berkeley-Stanford Conference on March 6, 2015. The conference title was “The Collapse after a Quarter Century: What Have We Learned About Communism and Democracy?”]
The title of the talk I was going to give today was “Mishandling Russia.” However, last week a recent Berkeley political science Ph.D., Andrei Krikovic, now an assistant professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, gave what I thought was an excellent talk entitled “The Ukraine Crisis and the New Cold War: The View From Moscow,” in which he made many of the points I was going to make. We also have a talk scheduled for Monday by Masha Lipman, one of Moscow’s most prominent political analysts, entitled “From a Model of Development to Evil Incarnate: How Russia Has Come to Loathe the West.” So rather than repeating their arguments, I thought I would address one answer to the question in the conference title as follows: One thing that we know for sure 25 years later is that Russia’s relations with the West are in crisis. And I don’t see a clear path forward for resolving that crisis in the foreseeable future.
I’m going to focus on the security dimension of the current drama, which I think is the heart of the matter and the reason why it is so dangerous. Continue reading
Yesterday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko read a brief statement at the Kyiv airport in which he announced that the Ukrainian forces in and around Debaltseve, whose main line of retreat to the north, the M03, had come under the control of the separatists a week or so earlier, had been ordered to break out and make it back to Ukrainian controlled territory. Continue reading
My impression is that the ceasefire called for in last week’s Minsk II agreement is being implemented along most of the line of contact. The principle exception is in the Debaltseve pocket, although there has also been some artillery/rocket exchanges in the south, in and around Donetsk/Horlivka, and near Luhansk. But with the possible exception of a Russian/separatist push to reverse the gains made by Ukraine’s Azov battalion last week in the south, I doubt that either side is pressing, for the immediate future, to make significant territorial gains. Continue reading
I do not believe there is any chance that yesterday’s Minsk agreement will be implemented in full. I am almost, but not quite, as skeptical that it will lead to a stable ceasefire and separation of forces.
In what follows I will make four general points about the agreement and then focus on its two key provisions: Provision 1 on a ceasefire and Provision 2 on a separation of forces. Continue reading
I believe that the odds of a full-blown proxy war in Ukraine between the United States and Russia are now better than even and getting higher. Moscow believes it is already in a proxy war with the West, but it is wrong, at least in the following sense. Whereas Russian has been deeply involved in the violence in eastern Ukraine from its inception, Western military assistance to Kyiv has so far been minimal. That is likely to change if a stable ceasefire is not arranged in the next several weeks. Continue reading
When the Minsk Protocol and its follow-on Memorandum were signed last September, I believed there was almost no chance that they would be fully implemented. Full implementation is even less likely now. There is, however, at least some chance that a ceasefire could take hold that would allow for a genuine “freezing” of the conflict.
However, for reasons I outlined in earlier posts (see, for example, “Why a frozen conflict in the Donbas is unlikely”), I believe that a lasting ceasefire will require at least the following: (1) Ukrainian withdrawal from beyond artillery range of Donetsk and Horlivka and northward from the Debaltseve salient; (2) agreement on a new line of demarcation; (3) agreement on the withdrawal of all forces, including but not only heavy weapons, from a buffer zone (presumably 30km wide, as per the September 19 agreement); and (4) the establishment of a peacekeeping force – for example, a joint Ukrainian/Russian/OSCE force – to patrol and monitor the buffer zone. Continue reading
It is now clear that a major separatist offensive is underway in eastern Ukraine. (Again, by “separatist” I mean the combination of Ukrainian rebels, irregulars from Russia and elsewhere, and Russian regulars fighting on behalf of the DPR and LPR). It also appears that the Ukrainian military is at risk of suffering another major defeat, particularly but not only in the Debaltseve salient (see map below). Moscow has again surged its regular forces in the conflict; it has introduced sophisticated weapons not seen earlier in the conflict zone; and it has provided the separatists with the huge volume of ordinance to put them in position to conduct major offensive operations. Continue reading
It remains very difficult to assess what is happening on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine amidst a great often deal of contradictory information. What is clear is that the intensity of fighting has escalated and that it is spreading and getting worse rather than abating. Of particular concern are offensive operations by the separatists along the Bakhmutka highway to the northwest of Luhansk and indeed an escalation of fighting at many points along the northern front. Continue reading
Twenty-four hours ago, it appeared that the Donbas separatists were about to take full control of the Donetsk airport after months of often intense fighting. There was also increasing separatist pressure on Ukrainian forces all along the line of contact, particularly in the northern part of the conflict zone, as shown below on yesterday’s map from the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council’s press center. I have not been following military developments in the conflict zone very carefully recently, but my guess was that the separatists, with material and intelligence support from Moscow, were setting up to launch a major offensive against Ukrainian forces in the Debaltseve salient after taking the airport. I also thought there was a chance that Ukrainian forces would again be trapped in the salient, just as they had been in August in Ilovai’sk, and that they would again suffer heavy losses.
While information from the conflict zone is confused, it seems clear that the Ukrainian military launched a surprise counteroffensive yesterday and that it has managed to retake at least part of the airport. Continue reading
The Ukraine crisis is a complex drama with multiple dimensions, theaters and actors, which makes tracking, explaining, and predicting where it is headed particularly difficult. Its various parts are, however, interrelated, so while each dimension is important in its own right, it also impacts, and is impacted by, the others.
In what follows, I disaggregate the crisis to five dimensions and offer my take on what is likely to happen in each in 2015. In doing so, I will try to take into account the crisis’ “systemic” properties – that is, how the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone. Continue reading
I’ve been working on a paper on NATO enlargement that is supposed to appear in February, and when it does I’ll post a link to it. Meanwhile, I want to emphasize a few broad points about the policy.
First, while there has been a good deal of discussion recently about what Western officials “promised” Gorbachev about NATO during negotiations over German reunification, the key decisions about enlargement were made after the Soviet dissolution by the Clinton administration, not the George H.W. Bush administration. What is true is that a commitment to preserve NATO as the foundation of Western security was made under Bush I, and as far as I know that commitment was supported by all NATO member-states at the time (see the 1990 London NATO Summit Declaration). The decision to enlarge NATO to take in new members other than a united Germany was made gradually, and without a lot of fanfare, by the Clinton administration over the course of 1993 and 1994. Continue reading
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 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
[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
Not surprisingly given the effects of war, conditions for the civilian population in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) are much worse than in Crimea. If the fighting continues, and if Moscow does not undertake a sustained commitment to provide humanitarian relief to the region, those conditions are likely to get much worse over the winter. Continue reading
My impression is that the effect of Russia’s annexation on material conditions in Crimea (by which I mean Crimea proper as well as Sevastopol) has been negative but not dire, at least to date. Subsides from Moscow have increased pensions and wages for government workers, but this reportedly is benefiting only about 40% of the peninsula’s two million people. Moscow is also funding some 75% of the region’s government budget (to the tune of at least $1.5 billion per year), an even higher percentage than the roughly 66% Kyiv covered before annexation. (I should note that all of the dollar estimates in what follows were made before the full extent of the ruble’s decline, which means that in dollar terms costs will be higher.)
This year, Russian officials have indicated that Moscow will provide some $4.5 billion to Crimea. They have also announced that some $7.2 billion will be taken out of the Russian pension fund to help cover the costs of annexation. These commitments are obviously yet one more burden on an already burdened federal budget, but they have helped ameliorate, albeit not negate, financial hardships for much of the region’s population. Continue reading
As the crisis in Ukraine intensified late last year, analysts pointed to an asymmetry in the struggle between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s external orientation. The Kremlin, the argument went, cares a great deal more about keeping Ukraine in its orbit than does either the European Union or the United States. That was certainly true then, and although it is rather less true now that Western governments feel fundamental principles and security are at stake, it is still mostly true. Continue reading
It is safe to say that I have been an alarmist about the conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s external orientation (my wife tells me I should call this the “Doom and Gloom” blog). I have been worried for years that NATO and EU expansion was going to lead eventually to a security crisis. I was worried about the consequences of Georgia and Ukraine trying to join NATO well before the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, and even more worried thereafter. And I was worried about the political fallout from the decision to offer Ukraine an EU Association Agreement in Vilnius at the end of last year and Russia’s reaction should the Yanukovich regime fall. Continue reading