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
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
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
As readers of this blog are aware, I believe that Moscow’s Ukraine policy has been driven primarily by geopolitical concerns rather than fear of democratic contagion. Above all, the Kremlin has been, and remains, determined to keep Ukraine out of NATO. It is only slightly less determined to keep Ukraine out of the European Union and to prevent NATO from building up its eastern defenses. And it probably still hopes that Ukraine can eventually be persuaded, or forced, to cast its lot with Russia rather than with Europe and the Atlantic Alliance.
At the same time, the Kremlin has made clear that it will pursue its strategic objectives in Ukraine using all means at its disposal short of war with the West. It has also made clear that it has a high tolerance for risk.
What is not clear, however, is how the Kremlin’s strategic objectives and tactics are linked. Continue reading
[The following is an expanded version of a talk I gave at the Kyiv School of Economics on October 22, 2014.]
I started a blog earlier this year, the intent of which is to try to predict major developments in post-Soviet space, including of course in Ukraine – so the emphasis is on what I think will happen, not what I want to happen. That’s the spirit of my talk today as well: I’m going to tell you what I think U.S. policy will be toward Ukraine in the remaining years of the Obama presidency, not what I think it should be. I will focus first on domestic development in the U.S., because domestic political factors inevitably influence a president’s foreign policy. I will then turn to U.S. policy toward Ukraine, beginning with some general points and then addressing the particular issues shown in Slide 1. Continue reading
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.
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).
Last week’s ceasefire has held up better than I expected, but it is still very precarious. The good news, especially for civilians in the conflict zone, is that the level of violence is down considerably for where it was two weeks ago. Continue reading
I suspect that yesterday will go down as the day that a war to suppress separatists in eastern Ukraine became the first “Russo-Ukrainian War.” It is now clear that regular Russian military units are fighting alongside Ukrainian separatists and Russian irregulars (“military tourists,” many of whom have received training at a base near Rostov). Over the past several weeks, it appears the Russian irregulars have begun to outnumber Ukrainian separatists among the combatants. They have now been joined by growing numbers of Russian regulars, including elite special-forces (Spetsnaz) units – the “Polite Little Green Men” who were so effective in taking control of Crimea in February and early March. US intelligence sources claimed today that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are now in Ukraine, and informally American officials are telling reporters that figure is probably more like 2,000 or more. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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
I have been traveling in Europe for the past several weeks, which has made it difficult to keep up with developments in Ukraine in any detail, but my sense is that violence in eastern Ukraine has peaked and that Kyiv has managed to contain the uprising to parts of the Donbas. Continue reading
It is difficult for someone not on site to know what is going on in a region as volatile and chaotic as Ukraine is today (although it is also true that being on site has its own information and bias problems). It is particularly difficult when the contending forces are as determined to frame events to their advantage as they are in the current crisis. Nevertheless, having followed the reporting coming out of Ukraine as closely as I could since last October, I have the following take on some of the disputed fact claims. Continue reading
As I suggested at the end of my previous post, how one reads Russia on Ukraine has implications for how the West responds to the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s destabilization of southeastern Ukraine. If the Wag the Dog school is correct, then Putin and his advisors (“cronies,” in this reading) are motivated primarily by insecurity about the stability of Putin’s regime and by fear of losing their power and privileges. Thus, it is weakness and vulnerability, not strength, that is driving Kremlin policy. And it is not NATO that worries the Kremlin most, but the risk of contagion from a democratic, liberal, pro-Western regime in Kyiv. Continue reading
After a brief glimmer of hope over the weekend that we might be seeing the beginning of a de-escalation of the Ukrainian crisis thanks to four party talks in Geneva, the situation on the ground has deteriorated significantly. Continue reading
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