Update on the crisis: a skeptic’s take on Putin’s call for a postponement of the Donbas referendum

The big news today is that Putin has called for the postponement of a referendum on what amounts to “sovereignty” for the Donbas on May 11 that had been demanded by the pro-Russian separatists and has announced that Russian troops are pulling back from the border. I am very skeptical, however, that the Kremlin genuinely wants a significant de-escalation at this point.

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Reading Russia on Ukraine (2)

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

Reading Russia on Ukraine (1)

I am frequently asked what is driving Russian policy toward Ukraine. Why is the Kremlin so intent on destabilizing its neighbor? Why was it so determined to keep Ukraine from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union last fall? Doesn’t Russia have an interest in a better governed, less corrupt, and more prosperous neighbor? Why so much fuss about NATO accession? Does Moscow really think that Ukraine could pose a security threat to a country that spends more on its military than any state other than the United States and that has a huge arsenal of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons? Continue reading

The uprisings in Eastern Ukraine and Kyiv’s strategic dilemmas

The political situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate, and at this point there appear to be three possible outcomes: (1) a successful effort by Kyiv to suppress the pro-Russian forces in the east; (2) civil war – that is, large-scale and sustained violence that last months and possibly years; or (3) a Russian military intervention. In my view, the least likely outcome is the first 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