Ukraine: Putin is trying to rectify a historic wrong

I was interviewed by Erika Korner of Euractiv on the Ukraine crisis. Here’s the beginning of it.

In April US President Obama spoke of applying an “updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment” in light of Russia’s behaviour in the Ukraine crisis. Is an association with the Cold War useful? And is containment an appropriate remedy for the conflict?

To some extent, the association is useful but I would not overplay it. In the Cold War, the key feature was an ideological difference between the two sides that is almost absent now. There is no big ideological fight, where Russia is trying to convince the rest of the world to follow a completely different system of economics and government compared to the US. What is left, is much more of a general foreign policy difference in terms of perceptions of interest and so forth. Having said that, clearly it is not in the US interest to let Russia have a sphere of influence. This is what Russia seems to want in its immediate neighbourhood.

So from that point of view, I would not use the word containment because of all the ideological baggage from the Cold War. Instead, it would be a situation where the US tries to give the countries around Russia more options in terms of their foreign policy course. But this is something the US has been doing for the last 20 years or so.

What are some similarities and differences between the current state of Russia’s relations with the West and those during the Cold War?

I mentioned ideology. Another important difference is that the Soviet Union really strove for autarchy during the Cold War, for self-reliance among the Soviet Union and its allies and as few interconnections as possible with the rest of the international system. It never really achieved this completely, at least not after the 1930s or so, but the goal existed.

Whereas now we are dealing with an environment where there are a lot more connections both in terms of economic ties but also freedom to travel, for example, allowing Russians to go abroad.

That creates a lot more interdependence between Russia, Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. This has a moderating influence on relations.

That is the general difference, but we can talk about more specifics within that, like energy ties. While the Soviet Union certainly exported energy to Europe, starting in the 1970s, at that time it was much less central than it is to the relationship now. Energy is playing a more central role now in policy.

How much of the current conflict in Ukraine can be traced back to Western or Russian antagonism, and how much can be perceived as an organic movement from the Ukrainian population?

At the first stage of the crisis, before it became internationalised with the intervention, it was primarily a domestic crisis. Then, at least for a while after Yanukovych left, it shifted to becoming primarily an international crisis over Crimea.

(Please read the rest of the interview at the Euractiv website.)

2 thoughts on “Ukraine: Putin is trying to rectify a historic wrong

  1. ‘Clearly it is not in the US interest to let Russia have a sphere of influence’. I respectfully disagree. Russia has never said anything like ‘here goes a red line, this is our sphere of influence”. You see, Ukraine and Georgia got a special position in the Russian foreign policy doctrine from the very beginning after the colour revolutions. This isn’t about intrusion into someone’s zone of exclusive interests. It’s about what’s known as ‘core interests’. Core interests are not about territorial expansion or creation of any Cold War-style blocks. It’s about taking into account the interests of the country that happens to be a significant regional actor.

    In my opinion, West did similar mistakes in the Middle East. I.e. by colliding with independent from EU and US powers, such as the oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Iran. Same result here. A bloody civil war where everyone got indirectly involved in (US, EU, Russia and Iran via Hezbollah). So it’s about taking into consideration others interests. About finding a balance. Obama failed to do that. He assumed Russia and China had accepted the results of the Cold War, which is widely believed to be the victory of the West.

  2. Agreed with Celerity.

    Far more in America’s interests to pursue an alliance with Russia on dealings with the Middle East by allowing them their sphere of influence in their near abroad.

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