[Francisco Pascual de la Parte, El imperio que regresa. La Guerra de Ucrania 2014-2017: Origen, desarrollo, entorno internacional y consecuencias. Ediciones de la Universidad de Oviedo. Oviedo, 2017. 470 pages]
REVIEW / Vitaliy Stepanyuk [Spanish version]
In this research on the War of Ukraine and the Russian intervention in the confrontation, the author analyses the conflict focusing on its precedents and the international context in which it is developing. For that purpose, he also analyses with special emphasis the relations of Russia with other states, particularly since the fall of the USSR. Above everything, this study encompasses the interaction of Russia with the United States, the European Union, the surrounding countries resulted from the disintegration of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania...), the Caucasus, Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan…), China and the participation of Russia in the Middle East conflict. All these relations have, in some way, repercussions on the Ukrainian conflict or are a consequence of this conflict.
The book is structured, as the author himself explains in its first pages, in such a way that it allows different manners of reading it. For those who want to have a general knowledge of the Ukrainian issue, they could only read the beginning of the book, which gives a brief overview of the conflict from two completely different perspectives. For those who want also to understand the historical environment which led to the conflict, they may also read the Introduction. Chapter II explains the origin of Russian suspicion towards liberal ideas and Western inability to understand Russian social concerns and changes. Those people who would like to assimilate the conflict in all its details and understand its political, strategic, legal, economic, military and cultural consequences should read the rest of the book. Finally, those who just want to comprehend the possible solutions to the dispute can directly read the last two chapters. At the end of the book, readers can also find both a wide bibliography used to write this volume and some appendices with documents, texts and maps relevant to the study of the conflict.
The Ukrainian issue started at the end of 2013 with the protests on Kiev's Maidan Square. Almost six years after that, the conflict seems to have fallen in the oversight, but the truth is that war is still going on and that the end to it is not visible yet. When it started, it was a clash nobody expected. Hundreds of people came out to the streets asking for better life conditions and the end of corruption. Mass media made a wide coverage of all that happened, and all the world was conscious and up-to-date with what was occurring in Ukraine. Initially held in a peaceful way, the protests turned violent because of the repressions of the government forces. The president fled the country and a new government, which was pro-European oriented and accepted by the majority of the citizens, was established. However, this achievement was responded by the Russian intervention in Ukrainian territory, resulting in the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, claiming that they were just protecting their Russian citizens there. Besides, an armed conflict started in the Donbass region, in the East side of Ukraine, between Ukrainian troops and a separatist movement supported by Russia.
This is just a brief summary of how the conflict originated but, actually, it is much more complex than it seems. According to the book, Ukrainian War is not an isolated conflict which happened unexpectedly. In fact, the author argues that the reaction of Russia was quite presumable in those years, because of the internal and external conditions of the country directed by Putin and the ideas that had arisen in Russian mentality. There were eight warnings of what could happen in Ukraine and nobody realized it: some examples are civilian protests in Kazakhstan in 1986, the War of Nagorno Karabaj (a region between Armenia and Azerbaijan) started in 1988, the war of Transnistria (in Moldova) started in 1990, the separatist movements in Abjasia and South Osetia (two regions of Georgia)… Russia normally supported and helped separatist movements, alleging in some cases that it had to protect the Russian minorities that were living in that places. This was a quite clear image of Russia´s position towards its surrounding neighbors and it reflected that, despite having accepted at the beginning the independence of these former Soviet republics after the fall of the USSR, Russia was not interested in losing its sphere and power of influence in those regions.
One interesting idea shown in the book is the fact that, even though the USSR collapsed and the Soviet institutions disappeared, the idea of a strong empire, the distrust and rivalry with the West powers and the concept of a strong State comprising all the power remained present. All these topics didn´t extinguished but survived, and they shape nowadays Russian internal and external politics, defining especially Kremlin´s relations with foreign powers. The essence of the USSR persisted under another flag, because the Soviet elites remained without being condemned or imprisoned. Some people could also reason that the survival of the Soviet thought and State´s Power is due to the ineffective reformation process hold by the West liberal powers in the USSR after its fall. We have to bear in mind that the sudden incursion of West customs and ideas in a Russian society not prepared to assimilate them, without an organized and ruled strategy to adapt to that change, provoked horrible impacts in the people of Russia. By the end of the nineties, the majority of Russians were thinking that the introduction of the so called “democratic reforms” and free market, with their unexpected results of a massive scale corruption and social deterioration, had been a great error.
In that sense, the arrival of Putin meant the establishment of order in a chaotic society, even though it meant the end of democratic reforms. Besides, the people of Russia saw in Putin a leader capable of facing the Western powers (not as Yeltsin, the previous Russian president, who had had a weak position towards them) and taking Russia to the place it should occupy: Russia as a great empire.
One of the main consequences of the Ukrainian conflict is that the context of the relations between Russia and the Western powers has frozen in a dramatic way. Even though their relations were bad after the collapse of the USSR, those relations deteriorated much more because of the annexation of Crimea and the War in Ukraine.
The Kremlin adopted suspicion as a principle (especially towards the West). Concurrently, Russia was encouraging cooperation with China, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, India, Brazil and South Africa as a means to face NATO, the EU and the United States. On the one side, president Putin wanted to reduce the weight of that Western powers in the international economic sphere. On the other side, Russia also started to develop stronger relations with alternative countries in order to face the economic sanctions imposed to it by the European Union. Because of these two reasons, Russia created the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), constituted in May 2014, with the objective of constructing an economic integration on the basis of a customs union. Nowadays, the EAEU is composed by five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
In addition, Russia has extremely denounced NATO´s expansion to the East European countries. Moreover, the Kremlin has expressed this issue as an excuse in order to start the development of a strong military and establishing new alliances. Together with some allies, Russia has organized some massive military trainings near Poland´s and Balkan States´ borders. In turn, Russia is also working to create disputes among NATO members and weaken the organization.
Particularly, the Ukrainian conflict has also shown the differences between Russian determination and the West indecision, meaning that Russia was capable of carrying out violent and illegal measures without being responded with strong and concrete solutions by the West. It could be analyzed that Russia uses, above all, hard power, taking advantage of economic (the sale of oil and gas for example) and military means in order to dictate another nation´s actions through coercion. Its use of soft power occupies, in some way, a subordinate place.
According to some analysts, the hybrid warfare of Russia against the West included not only troops, weapons and computers (hackers), but also the creation of “frozen conflicts” (for example, the Syrian war) which established Russia as an indispensable part to solve that conflicts, and the use of propaganda, mass media and their Services of Intelligence. In addition, the Kremlin was also involved in financing others countries´ pro-Russian political parties.
Russian activity is incomprehensible if we don´t take into consideration the strong and powerful propaganda (even more powerful than the USSR propaganda system) used by Russian authorities to justify Government´s behavior both towards its own people and towards the international community. One of the most used argument is blaming the United States for all the conflicts that are occurring in the world and justifying Russia´s actions as a reaction to an aggressive position of the United States. According to Russian media, United States´ supposedly main objective was to oppress Russia and foment global disorder. In that sense, Russian general tendency was to replace the liberal democracy by the national idea, with great exaltations to patriotism in order to create a sense of unity, against a defined adversary, the liberal-democratic States and International Organizations.
Another interesting topic is the deep explanation made by the author about how different is Russian´s vision of the world, security, relations among nations, Rule of Law… in comparison with the Western conceptions. Whereas The West is centered on the defense and application of International Law, Russia claims the idea that each country is responsible for its own security, taking any measure needed (even if it contradicts International Law or any International Treaty or Agreement). Definitely, what is seen nowadays is a New Cold War consistent in a bloc of liberal-democratic States, which tend to the achievement of a wide trade and globalized finances, against another bloc of the main totalitarian and capitalist-authoritarian regimes, with a clear tendency towards militarization.
Success and perspective
The gives a profound and wide view of what is nowadays Russian external politics. It highlights the idea that the Ukrainian conflict is not an isolated dispute, rather a conflict that is inserted in a much more complex web of circumstances. By means of reading this book, one can realize that international relations don´t function as a patterned and structured mechanism, but as a field were countries have different views about how the world is established and about which should be the rules that comprise it. We could say that there is a struggle nowadays between a Liberalist view (which emphasizes international cooperation and the rejection of power as the only way to act in the international sphere —supported by the West) and a Realistic view (which explains the foreign affairs in terms of power, state-centrism and anarchy —supported by Russia) of International Relations.
One of the strong points of the book is that it displays different stances of a lot of analysts about the conflict, with critics to both Russian and Western activities. This enables the reader to compare the conflict under different perspectives and acquire a complete and critical view of the topic. Moreover, readers could also learn and comprehend the actual state of things of other countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions which are almost unknown in the Western society.
The book is an excellent research work, which enables anyone who reads it to be able to examine the complicated reality that surrounds the Ukrainian War and to go in depth in the study of the relations among nations.
A country with many conditions to have a great weight in Europe, but weighed down by the Russian neighborhood
If the border between the West and the area of Russian domination divided Germany during the Cold War, today that border passes through Ukraine. The open conflict with Russia hampers the objective conditions of great development that Ukraine has. The country is paying a high price for the desire to preserve its independence.
▲Pro-European demonstration in Kiev's central square at the end of 2013 [Evgeny Feldman]
ARTICLE / Alona Sainetska [Spanish version]
Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state (since 1991) located in Eastern Europe, with the second largest area (after Russia) of European countries (576,550 km² without the Crimean Peninsula) and with a long history of struggle for preserve its identity. Ukraine is today the centre of tensions between Russia and the West. In 2014 Moscow decided to compensate for the fall of the pro-Russian government of Kiev with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. It was then that Ukraine aroused worldwide interest. The Ukrainians finally achieved a leading role according to the size of their country, although they undoubtedly would rather want to do so with other types of headlines.
1. WHAT DRIVES IT FORWARD
Considering its geographical position and its strategic, economic and military weight, it is difficult to justify that before the outbreak of the conflict, for many people Ukraine was not a common place on the map. The country is surrounded by Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and has a direct access to the Black Sea. This central location makes very clear the fact that Ukraine should play an important role in the context of international relations.
The rich and fertile soil of Ukraine is known as black land or "Chornozem". The agricultural area used 70% of the farmland, around 42 million hectares, and is capable of feeding more than 500 million people. Consequently, the country, with its 46 million inhabitants, has considerable potential for the production, processing, consumption and export of agricultural and organic products. It is already one of the leading countries in the agricultural sector and can even become a "green vein" in the heart of Europe.
It is the leading producer and exporter of sunflower oil, 30% of exports go to India and 16% to China. It also produces large quantities of wheat, of which the sixth world exporter. It produces wheat flour and corn to manufacture food, which is then exported to France, Poland and Belarus, among others. It is among a number of leaders in the production of poultry, where it grew more than 55% between 2000 and 2011; its exports go mainly to Iraq and the EU and to another seventy countries.
Industry and logistics infrastructure
Ukraine also has an aeronautical industry, although lack of investment hinders its large-scale development. However, examples like Antónov's Mriya-225, the world's largest cargo plane, built during the Soviet era and capable of transporting up to 250 tons, speak of its huge potential which is waiting forward for some investments.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Ukraine is ideal for an international trade center, mainly between the European Union, the Middle East and Asia. Five out of ten European transport corridors cross the Ukrainian territory; Ukraine has the most extensive railway networks in Europe that handle a substantial part of the traffic of passengers and merchandise; In addition, its road network covers the entire territory of the country and enables deliveries to any point of destination. Last but not least, there is the natural gas transmission system, led by the company Ukrtransgas, dedicated to the transmission and storage of natural gas in Ukraine. In 2013, it transported 132,000 million cubic meters (bcm), including 86 bcm for the EU and Moldova. Ukrtransgas has the largest underground gas storage network in Europe, with a total capacity of 31 bcm and consists of 14 subsidiary units operating in Ukraine.
2. WHAT PREVENTS IT FROM DEVELOPMENT
However, the country is still underestimated by other actors on the international board and that exposes it to Russian ambitions. These are manifested in numerous obstacles to make it difficult for Ukraine to gain weight in the aforementioned sectors of commerce, industry, agriculture and transport. Likewise, there are other derived factors that hinder the development of the country.
Interest of Russia
Russia's interest in its neighbour to the west is mainly due to strategic reasons, since Ukraine is the key for expanding Russian imperial power. Therefore, Russia seeks to strengthen its influence in Ukraine through economic expansion, control over the maritime border, the installation of military bases and occupation troops in the territory, the expansion of interference in the Ukrainian information space, the influence of the Russian church, etc. Another measure attributed to Moscow is to place young people in positions of power in Ukraine: the Kremlin wanted to take advantage of the presidency of V. Yanukovich, a pro-Russian politician.
Today the future of Ukraine is as uncertain as ever. Economic and political reforms have not been able to overcome the serious structural problems of the country, the fight against corruption is scarce and the insignificant international support further reduces the already low expectation that Ukraine can overcome the crisis in a short term. Given the absence of means that are not sanctions to put pressure on Russia and given that those that have been implemented have barely changed the attitude of the Kremlin, it is safe to say that the normalization of the situation is far on the horizon.
All this is reflected in the growing popular discontent. 90% of Ukrainians disapprove of the management of the current government, express the desire for new elections and show their rejection that the regions closest to Russia participate in the political life of the country. This discontent makes that the only institutions the Ukrainian people trust in are the army, the church and the volunteers.
The "frozen" conflict
On the other hand, the "frozen conflict" in the East of the country still remains and continues to undermine the state budget. Defence and security expenditures accounted for 5% of GDP last year, a high figure that includes the government's efforts to create a new army. According to President Petro Poroshenko, this was one of the multiple reasons for the failure to increase the standard of living of citizens. In general, the prospects of a victory for Ukraine in a war to regain full sovereignty over its eastern lands seem very low, given Russia's support for the rebels and Ukraine's fear of an internal counter-reaction. Thus a vicious circle is generated, so that until there is a successful end of the war, economic and political tension on the Kiev government will increase and could even lead to a new Maidan, the popular revolt that collapsed the government in 2014.
The geopolitical clash between Russia and the West in Ukraine has been detrimental to all parties involved, but above all to the Ukrainian State. The decline in cross-border trade, the weakening of currencies and stock markets, and the increase in security risks all have affected the entire region. Poverty is growing at the same rate that the standards of living of citizens decrease and prices in the markets increase. As a result, Ukrainians cannot take advantage of the opportunities granted to them, as is the clear example of the visa waiver between Ukraine and the European Union (approved in May 2017), which many have not been able to use because of lack of means.
3. THE NECESSARY BALANCE
The geopolitical priority of Ukraine is to obtain the independence of Russia, something that means breaking the economic bonds with the country. It is an unbalanced battle with a high cost for the Ukrainians, who face the destruction of their own economy, the defeat of the elites and the impoverishment of the population.
This development strategy of the Ukrainian state is increasingly based on the concepts of radical nationalism. But the memory of the historical background, such as the Holodomor (the great famine of the 1930s), warns about the enormous power of the Russian "hegemon" and suggests the need to serve the national interest through a kind of balance between final objectives and the medium term diplomacy.