Russia and Ukraine
Jeffrey Mankoff is Deputy Director of and a Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has a piece titled “Russia’s Latest Land Grab: How Putin Won Crimea and Lost Ukraine” in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs. Following is a brief excerpt.
“Leading up to the annexation of Crimea, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his administration were careful to talk about protecting ‘Russian citizens’ (anyone to whom Moscow has given a passport) and ‘Russian speakers’ (which would include the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens), instead of referring more directly to ‘ethnic Russians.’ Moscow has also used the word ‘compatriots’ (sootechestvenniki), a flexible term enshrined in Russian legislation that implies a common fatherland and gives Putin great latitude in determining just whom it includes. In announcing Crimea’s annexation to Russia’s parliament, however, Putin noted that ‘millions of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens live and will continue to live in Ukraine, and Russia will always defend their interests through political, diplomatic, and legal means.’ The Kremlin is walking a narrow line, trying to garner nationalist support at home and give itself maximum leeway in how it acts with its neighbors while avoiding the troubling implications of claiming to be the protector of ethnic Russians everywhere. But in Ukraine, once again, Moscow has intervened to stop a former Soviet republic’s possible drift out of Russia’s orbit and has justified its actions as a response to ethnic persecution, the claims of which are exaggerated.
“It is important to note that although Russia has felt free to intervene politically and militarily in all these cases, until Crimea, it had never formally annexed the territory its forces occupied, nor had it deposed the local government (although, by many accounts, Moscow did contemplate marching on Tbilisi in 2008 to oust Saakashvili). Instead, Russia had been content to demand changes to the foreign policies of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, most notably by seeking to block Georgia’s NATO aspirations. The annexation of Crimea is thus an unprecedented step in Russia’s post-Soviet foreign policy. Although in practice the consequences may not be that different from in the other frozen conflicts of the early 1990s or even in Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin conceived of the invasion and annexation of Crimea as a deliberate strike against the West, as well as Ukraine. Putin apparently believes that he and Russia have more to gain from open confrontation with the United States and Europe – consolidating his position at home and boosting Moscow’s international stature – than from cooperation.”
But it’s Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova “that have worked hardest to decrease their dependence on Russia,” and “Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crime, especially if it is followed by incursions into eastern Ukraine, will have the same effect. Far from dissuading Ukrainians from seeking a future in Europe, Moscow’s moves will only foster a greater sense of nationalism in all parts of the country and turn Ukrainian elites against Russia, probably for a generation....
“Russia may have won Crimea, but in the long run, it risks losing much more: its once-close relationship with Ukraine, its international reputation, and its plan to draw the ex-Soviet states back together.”
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