Understanding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis | Stanford News

By stepping up his military presence along the Ukrainian border, Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes Ukraine and the West will make concessions and Ukraine will realign itself with Moscow, a Stanford scholar said. Steven pifer. But nothing has alienated Ukraine more than the policies of the Kremlin over the past eight years, particularly Russia’s military seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its role in the Donbass conflict which left more than 13,000 people. dead, he said.

Steve pifer (Image credit: Damian M. Marhefka)

Here, Pifer, the William J. Perry Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), explains what Putin hopes to accomplish by assembling military troops along Ukraine’s border and why Ukraine’s democratic ambitions pose such a threat to Russia’s authoritarian ruler.

Pifer’s research focuses on nuclear weapons control, Ukraine, Russia, and European security. Pifer spent more than 25 years working with the United States Department of State, where he focused on America’s relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe, as well as issues of control of the armaments and security. He was Deputy Deputy State Secretary in the Office of European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for Russia and Ukraine (2001-2004), Ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000) and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council (1996-1997).

How likely is Putin to start a war with Ukraine?

The short answer: we don’t know. Mr Putin may not have spoken yet. The Kremlin undoubtedly hopes that the mere threat of another attack on Ukraine will incite Kiev [the Ukrainian capital city] and the West to make concessions.

I think the costs for Russia to attack Ukraine would far outweigh the benefits. However, Mr Putin appears to be operating on a different logic, and officials in Washington and in European capitals have expressed genuine concern about the prospect of Russian military action. Western officials would be wise to imagine the worst and do everything possible to try to dissuade the Kremlin from war.

What does Putin hope for by assembling a strong military presence along the Ukrainian border?

Ideally, Mr. Putin wants Kiev to abandon its western trajectory and return to Moscow. However, nothing has done more to drive Ukraine away from Russia and towards the West than Russian policy over the past eight years, especially Russia’s capture of Crimea and its role in the Donbass conflict. which killed more than 13,000 people. As a result, more and more Ukrainians consider that membership in institutions such as the European Union and NATO is necessary for their security.

Mr Putin also wants NATO to rethink policies, such as the enlargement and deployment of relatively small battle groups in the territory of Poland and the Baltic states. There is no indication that NATO will make these changes.

What diplomatic options are available to prevent the conflict from escalating further? Biden warned Russia of economic sanctions if it takes further military action in Ukraine. Is it dissuasive enough?

The Biden administration has responded to the crisis with a mixture of deterrence and dialogue. He spelled out the costs that would ensue if Russia attacks Ukraine – punishing new sanctions, more military assistance to Kiev and a strengthened NATO military presence in member states close to Russia, not to mention casualties. that the Ukrainians would inflict on the Russian troops. At the same time, the administration has said it is ready to discuss Russian concerns, adding that Western and Ukrainian concerns about Russian behavior must also be taken into account.

Mr. Putin demanded security guarantees for Russia, somewhat ironic since Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and the most powerful conventional army in Europe. In mid-December, the Russian Foreign Ministry proposed draft NATO-Russia and US-Russia agreements incorporating these requirements. Many provisions of these agreements are unacceptable, as the Russian officials who drafted them undoubtedly know. Other elements could provide a basis for discussion and even negotiation, if Moscow is ready to respond to mutual concerns.

The big question about the draft deals: does the Kremlin see them as an opening offer in what would be a serious and complex negotiation, or does the Kremlin seek rejection, which it could then add to his list of pretexts to attack Ukraine? We do not know yet.

As a former Ambassador to Ukraine and an academic in the region, what do you think the Kremlin leadership misunderstands about Ukraine, its people, and its desire for sovereignty?

Mr Putin apparently does not understand the desire of Ukrainians to live in a sovereign state and choose their own path. He regularly refers to Russians and Ukrainians as one people, which is a completely dull comment that many Ukrainians hear as a denial of their culture, history and language. The Kremlin’s misunderstanding is a factor that resulted in a policy that produced a major strategic failure for Russia; he pushed back the Ukraine and fueled great animosity towards the Russian state there.

How has the military seizure of Crimea by Russia transformed diplomatic relations in the region and with the world in general, in particular the United States, the EU and NATO?

Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014 was the biggest land grab in Europe since World War II, and it violated many of Russia’s commitments to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Kremlin then provoked and supported, in some cases with regular units of the Russian army, the conflict in Donbass. These actions have had major negative repercussions on Russia’s relations with the West, and the West has responded. For example, the United States and Europe have coordinated on sanctions targeting the Russian economy. NATO, which had reduced its military power since the early 1990s, has backed down; Member states have agreed to increase their defense spending, with a target of 2% of gross domestic product by 2024. Additionally, NATO has started deploying ground forces to member states on its eastern flank.

Next week, talks between Russian and American officials on January 10, a NATO-Russia meeting on January 12, and an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting on January 13. How do you foresee the discussions on Ukraine that take place during these events? What would make these discussions successful?

The Russian-Ukrainian crisis and broader European security issues will be discussed at all three meetings. When US officials meet with their Russian counterparts, they will no doubt discuss these issues, but insist that there can be no European security negotiations or Ukraine without Europeans and Ukrainians at the table. US officials will also make it clear that Russia must defuse the military situation. NATO allies will all attend the meeting with Russian officials on January 12. The OSCE meeting on January 13 will be the one in which all parties concerned, especially Ukrainians, will be present.

As a result of these meetings, Russian officials are expected to return to Moscow with a good idea of ​​which parts of their draft agreements could provide a basis for negotiation and which do not get off the ground. It comes down to the big question: does the Kremlin understand its draft deals as an opening offer in a negotiating process in which its extreme demands will not be met, or does it want rejection to be added to his war story?

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Moscow has sought to present this crisis as a crisis between Russia and NATO, but the Kremlin’s main focus is Ukraine. Part of it is geopolitics and Moscow’s desire for a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space. However, it is also a lot about Russian domestic politics. A Ukraine that charts its own course, consolidates its democracy and enacts reforms that realize the full potential of its economy is a nightmare for the Kremlin: that Ukraine would make Russians wonder why they can’t have the same political voice than Ukrainian citizens – and perhaps even challenge Mr Putin’s authoritarianism.

Christi C. Elwood