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).

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What happens if Russia does not invade Ukraine?

Although pro-Russian fighters and armaments continue to cross the border from Russia into Ukraine, and the intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine has increased, the Ukrainian offensive has continued to make progress. Ukrainian forces appear to be on the verge of taking Horlivka, have entered central Luhansk, and are pressing in on Donetsk. Whatever unified political and military leadership there was among the separatists also appears to have collapsed.

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Russia’s Ukraine policy: A strategic mistake made worse by tactical blunders

I have been convinced since last fall that Russia’s policies toward Ukraine would ultimately backfire. Assuming that the Kremlin’s goal was to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, it was a mistake to have been so heavy-handed in pressuring Kyiv to reject the EU association agreement last November.

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Transnistria: A bridge too far for the Kremlin?

While the Kremlin’s long-term objective in Ukraine has been, and remains, the country’s integration into a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union, my guess is that its endgame in the current crisis is the establishment of a breakaway region in the east modeled on Transnistria in Moldova. Continue reading

What’s driving Russia’s “humanitarian intervention” in eastern Ukraine

The Interpreter magazine’s “Ukraine Liveblog” site has posted compelling evidence that what amounts to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine is underway. Many video clips are available on the Internet showing what appear to be unmarked Russian tanks, military fighting vehicles (BTRs), multiple rocket launchers (MRLS), artillery, and transport trucks moving deep into eastern Ukraine.

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No own goals at the September NATO summit

NATO is facing a host of difficult choices about how to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the uprisings in eastern Ukraine. The alliance has already taken steps to bolster its eastern defenses, and additional decisions will be made as events unfold over the coming three months. But most crucial decisions are going to be made at the September 4-5 NATO summit in Wales. The alliance is being urged by its eastern members to take additional measures to deter Russia from further acts of aggression and intimidation. It is also facing an extremely difficult decision over how to handle Georgia’s push to join the alliance.

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The annexation of Crimea as an historical turning point

I generally avoid unfalsifiable generalizations about historical epochs, but in this case I will indulge myself. I believe that Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea is going to prove as much of an inflection point in post-Cold War history as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Continue reading

Talking points on the Ukraine Crisis, April 12, 2014

What are Russia’s objectives in Ukraine?

Russia’s objectives are multiple and include domestic as well as geopolitical factors, but in my view national security concerns and geopolitical considerations are paramount. Basically, Moscow has drawn a line in the sand against any further expansion of NATO to countries on its borders, above all Ukraine. The Russians have opposed NATO expansion since its inception, but what has changed is that Moscow now has the power to block the accession of Ukraine, or indeed of any other former Soviet republic that is not already a member of the alliance. Continue reading

Carrots and sticks: a strategic response to the Ukraine crisis

EWW Talk at the Institute of Governmental Studies panel on Ukraine, University of California, Berkeley, April 11, 2014

I continue to believe that the crisis in Ukraine is extremely dangerous and that the odds of a Russian invasion before the presidential elections on May 25 are significant. Continue reading