Tag: Ukraine (page 3 of 3)

America’s Strategic Dilemma in Ukraine

images-1[Note: This is a guest post by Sean Kay, Robson Professor of Politics at Ohio Wesleyan University and Mershon Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University. He has long-researched and written on NATO policy and worked in the US Department of Defense during the first round of NATO enlargement planning. His forthcoming book is America’s Search for Security: The Triumph of Idealism and the Return of Realism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).]

Russia’s incursion into Ukraine presents the United States with a dilemma. The cries to “do something” are loud. The situation in Ukraine is, nonetheless, complicated and there is as much possibility that our efforts to do something can be well-intended but inadvertently make the situation worse.

Political scientists and historians have warned for over 20 years, since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, of the deep ties that Russia has to its relationship to Crimea. Scholars and significant policy figures like George Kennan and former Sen. Sam Nunn repeatedly warned against the risks of NATO enlargement – especially expanding too proximate to vital Russian interests. No less a Cold War hawk than former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, writes in his recent memoir: Continue reading


Analogies Aplenty: Ukraine is ….

Lots of folks are speculating about what Ukraine/Crimea/Russia is like, including not Abkhazia.  Right now, the analogies that come to mind for me are: coups d’etat and poker.

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Conquest by other means, Ukraine edition

Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell suggests that President Obama is using the OSCE to give Putin an exit strategy. Farrell writes:

Obama’s “phone call with Putin on Saturday suggests that the United States wants to invoke the old-style OSCE. It notes that Russia’s armed intervention is inconsistent with Russia’s commitments under the Helsinki Final Act (the agreement that established the OSCE), calls for “the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)…

If Putin wants an “exit strategy,” Farrell continues, this is it: “There is no reason why the OSCE could not help broker compromises over new elections and push the Ukrainian government to guarantee the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine.”

My question to Farrell is, is this Putin’s possible exit strategy, or the United States/EU’s?

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Former Duck Gets Riled Up by Ukraine Coverage

For some smart commentary on what’s going down in the Ukraine and how (not) to cover it, I point you to former Duck Dan Nexon on his personal blog (*and also cross-posted below). Dan knows a thing or two about the region having served in the Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia regional office in the Office of the Secretary Defense as a CFR International Affairs Fellow in 2009-2010.

Here, Dan bemoaned the coverage in the WaPo of the Ukraine crisis by one Scott Wilson. Wilson lambasted the Obama administration’s strategy in the Ukraine writing that: Continue reading


Reporters and Foreign Affairs Analysis: Ukraine Edition

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.

One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: “Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force.”

What is Wilson’s argument? A sample:

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor….

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

And another:

The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.

But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.

Let’s consider a bit of history.

  • In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
  • In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
  • In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
  • While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation’s periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.

See the problem? There’s no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia’s gambit in Ukraine. Continue reading


Why the Crimea is the Third Rail of International Politics

*this is a guest post by Konstantinos Travlos, currently a Visiting Assistant at Georgia Southern, who writes on international conflict and history.  The arguments presented below are based on past research.

Russian policy towards Ukraine is partly driven by short term political reasons such as protecting an investment in the form of Yanukovych, the Russian view of Ukraine as a “little brother”, a legitimate worry over the future of the Russian minority in Ukraine, and a very real opposition to what is seen by the Kremlin elite as the meddling of Western powers in its Near Abroad. However, I argue that the most intractable issue driving Russia is control of access to the Crimean Peninsula as a naval base, an indivisible territorial issue.  This has less to do with geopolitical and strategic reasons and more to do with the identity of the Russian state as a great power which makes Crimea a transcendental and thus difficult to negotiate over. This is why the recent and quick escalation is not surprising, in counter to some arguments madeLight Brigade2

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Significant developments on the WMD front

I would be negligent if I did not call attention to three important developments on the nuclear proliferation front.

First, the Ukrainian government claims to have arrested three of its citizens–including one local politician–who were trying to sell radioactive material.

The metal cylinder supposedly contained eight pounds of plutonium 239, a highly dangerous radioactive material that could be used in a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. The price: $10 million, sought by three Ukrainian men, officials said Tuesday.

The men did not make a sale, the officials said, but were arrested in an undercover operation in Ukraine last week that was conducted by the Ukrainian Security Service. Still, while the plot was foiled, it underscored longstanding concerns that unsecured radioactive material in the former Soviet Union might fall into the wrong hands.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Security Service, said it had turned out that the radioactive material was not plutonium 239. A preliminary analysis indicated that the material was most likely americium, a much more common and less potent radioactive material, Ms. Ostapenko said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

She said americium could be deployed in a dirty bomb but not in a nuclear weapon.

An americum-based dirty bomb is actually a nothing to sneeze at:

Americium (Alpha Emitter)

If a typical americium source used in oil well surveying were blown up with one pound of TNT, people in a region roughly ten times the area of the initial bomb blast would require medical supervision and monitoring, as depicted in Figure 4. An area thirty times the size of the first area (a swath one kilometer long and covering twenty city blocks) would have to be evacuated within half an hour. After the initial passage of the cloud, most of the radioactive materials would settle to the ground. Of these materials, some would be forced back up into the air and inhaled, thus posing a long-term health hazard, as illustrated by Figure 5. A ten-block area contaminated in this way would have a cancer death probability of one-in-a-thousand. A region two kilometers long and covering sixty city blocks would be contaminated in excess of EPA safety guidelines. If the buildings in this area had to be demolished and rebuilt, the cost would exceed fifty billion dollars.

This episode underscores the continuing threat posed by “nuclear leakage,” particularly from the former Soviet Union. In many respects, leakage presents the most likely scenario for terrorist acquisition of WMD. Obama talked a great deal about strengthening various cooperative programs the US has in place to reduce leakage–programs that suffered from benign neglect under the Bush Administration–and it won’t be a moment too soon.

Second, the situation on the Korean peninsula seems to be headed from bad to worse. The conventional wisdom still holds that this is yet another of Pyongyang’s tirades in its eternal quest to extract greater concessions from the world. But the North Koreans have gone further than usual this time, and so experts are starting to worry that this is a more serious confrontation that those we’ve seen in the recent past.

Third, fears about Pakistan’s fate continue to mount. I suppose this isn’t really a “development,” but a way of saying that the prospects for the non-implosion of nuclear-armed state haven’t exactly improved of late, despite Islamabad’s strong denial of its own fragility.

This has been the latest installment in our occasional “we’re all doomed” series.


The Russia-Ukraine Gas Row

I haven’t found a great many voices claiming that the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute is some sort of Russian power play. Which is a good thing, because, as a friend recently explained to me, it isn’t. While some of its dynamics are fairly complicated, there’s also a very simple process at work here.

Gazprom is badly over-leveraged from its many acquisitions–some driven by its apparent goal of becoming a Russian zaibatsu.

Gazprom itself is mired in debt, and was recently included on a list of companies eligible for a government bailout. Its shares, which once valued the company at over $300 billion, making it the world’s third largest, have fallen 76% since the financial crisis hit in September.

Gazprom’s wholesale contracts put it in an even worse spot, as Steve LeVine explains:

Regarding the latter, Gazprom’s troubles go far. It doesn’t produce much of the gas it ships to Europe, but markets gas it buys mostly from the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan. In order to obtain long-term rights to that gas, and not have it siphoned off by a covetous West, Gazprom has agreed to pay the Turkmen about $340 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Given market prices, that means that Gazprom might be forced to sell to Europe this year at a loss, unless it unilaterally cuts the price it pays to the Turkmen, who in that case could respond by withholding supplies.

“Gazprom is in a tough spot,” says Kenneth Medlock, a natural gas expert at Rice University’s James A Baker Institute for Public Policy, who helped me with the calculations for this article. If Gazprom loses the Turkmen supplies, Medlock said, “they are going to have trouble meeting their contractual commitments” to Europe.

So it isn’t surprising that Gazprom very much wants to collect what it says are back payments owed by its Ukrainian client, or that we’re seeing a revival of the perennial dispute over how much Ukraine pays for natural gas.

To complicate matters, Ukraine’s gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, claims it paid RosUkEnergo, itself half-owned by Gazprom, and that whether Gazprom gets paid is RosUkEnergo’s problem. This kind of stuff is, I imagine, part of why Jerome of The Oil Drum characterizes the dispute as mainly about the distribution of loot among oligarchs.

Gazprom, moreover, seems to be using the quarrel as an excuse to scapegoat Ukraine for its possible implosion. Rumor has it, in fact, that the Kremlin is already funneling money into Gazprom to keep it afloat.

In other words, best to see what’s going on not as a sign of Russian muscle, but of Russian weakness.

The bigger question, frankly, is how serious Russia’s rentier-state blues will be, and what this will mean for Putin’s regime.


In other news

Bolivia remains on the brink of falling apart.

… and the Ukrainian government collapses. Can’t say that I’m surprised.


The Black Sea Fleet

Sloph on Ukraine’s threat to bar the Black Sea Fleet from returning to Sevastopol.

Obviously the dithering is over, Ukraine has told Russia it’s not allowed to bring its navy back to Sevastopol so clearly theyve dispatched some/all the fleet. Is Russia going to take on Ukraine as well? Having said that, I don’t know how you go about stopping a fleet of warships parking wherever the hell they want to.

Background: Khrushchev gave the Crimea to his native Ukraine in 1954. Its population is overwhelming Russian and Tatar; neither have much love for Ukraine, and Crimea was the site of anti-NATO protests as recently as July.

Russia’s lease expires in 2017, and Ukrainian President Yuschenko has repeatedly made noise about terminating the agreement. As Halyna Pastushuk of Polish Radio reported in late July:

Viktor Yushchenko believes that negotiations must begin already today because the whole procedure means withdrawal of hundreds of vessels, huge infrastructure, naval infantry and air bases. Not long ago, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Ohryzko said a necessary bill is already prepared to terminate the existing agreement about the presence of Russian fleet in Crimea. According to the Minister, the bill will be submitted to Verkhovna Rada. But already now the bulk of political analysts are saying that in Verkhovna Rada which, actually, does not have proper majority, this bill may be blocked during voting. Meanwhile Moscow has sharply criticised the bill warning that such actions are premature and hamper constructive negotiations between the two sides in this and other questions. Sergey Markov, Director of Moscow-based Institute for Politics, in his interview for Radio BBC said there can be no talking about fleet withdrawal:

‘The talk is not about the commencing negotiaions about withdrawal, the talk is about the prolongation of the term for presence of Russian fleet in Crimea. We are basing our position on the fact that the majority of Ukrainians are for Russian fleet remaining in Crimea, while Ukrainian polititians that do not reflect the will of the nation but are controlled by outer influences, have to leave the political arena.’

So Yuschenko and his allies may see this as something of an opportunity to forward their Sevastopol agenda. I don’t mean to imply that Kyev’s statements are insincere–the massive display of Russian force in Georgia must be worrying for its pro-Western regime with its own aspirations to join NATO–but merely to point out that there are more layers at work here.

CNN has a very blog-like overview of recent developments. So I’ll just link to that.


NATO enlargement: who’s fooling whom?

How should one account for President Bush’s April 1, 2008 speech at the NATO summit? In my view, either those who drafted the speech went a bit too crazy with the Control-X and Control-V buttons, or they just don’t care if he makes transparently inconsistent arguments.

Bush on missile-defense deployments in Eastern Europe:

“This week President Putin is planning to attend his first NATO summit and later this week I plan to travel to Sochi, Russia, for further talks on this and other matters. In our discussions, I will reiterate that the missile defense capabilities we are developing are not designed to defend against Russia just as the new NATO we are building is not designed to defend against Russia. The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. We are working toward a new security relationship with Russia whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation.”

Bush on MAP for Georgia and Ukraine:

“This week, our Alliance must also decide how to respond to requests by Georgia and Ukraine to participate in NATO’s Membership Action Plan. These two nations inspired the world with their Rose and Orange revolutions and now they are working to consolidate their democratic gains and cement their independence. Welcoming them into the Membership Action Plan would send a signal to their citizens that if they continue on the path of democracy and reform they will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe. And it would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states. Here in Bucharest, we must make clear that NATO welcomes the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine for membership in NATO and offers them a clear path forward toward that goal. So my country’s position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan. And NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe’s democracies that seek it, and are ready to share in the responsibilities of NATO membership.”

So, let’s take a quiz. Who, exactly, might the Bush Administration believes constitutes a threat to Ukrainian and Georgian “independence”?

a) Moldova and Azerbaijan, respectively
b) Svalbard
c) The Robots
d) The European Union
e) Russia


a) -15 points, b) 5 points, c) 5 points, d) 10 points, e) 1,030,053,021 points

Ranking your foreign-policy acumen:

-15 to 0 points: Okaaaay….
1 to 5 points: Plausible, but unlikely
6 to 20 points: Oddly plausible
21 to 1,030,053,041 points: Does anyone really buy the stuff they’re selling?


Exploiting the unipolar moment, part I

The United States has decided to strongly back the Ukrainian and Georgian bids to begin the process of becoming NATO members.

Despite fierce objections from Russia, the United States is pushing NATO to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Georgia at an alliance summit meeting in Bucharest in April, diplomats said Wednesday.

The U.S. pressure is likely to lead to divisions inside the 26-member alliance, with Germany and several West European countries opposed to offering Ukraine and Georgia the prospect of imminent membership. Washington and several East European countries say the alliance should not give in into threats by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who this week warned his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, that if Ukraine were to join NATO, Russia might aim nuclear missiles at the country.

Bruce Jackson, president of both the Project on Transitional Democracies and the U.S. Committee on NATO group, said NATO should not be intimidated by Russia. “These countries want to join NATO,” he said. “They can do the required reforms. This is about extending the Euro-Atlantic alliance.”

I’ll have more to say about Ukraine in a subsequent post. For now, let me just say that this strikes me as a bad idea.

1. I don’t see a great deal of evidence to suggest NATO ascension locks in desired domestic political institutions and orientations. Most of the evidence for NATO’s “success” in this regard comes from Baltic and Eastern European countries–Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and so forth–that were also, not long afterwards, involved in the European Union ascension process. NATO membership can reform their militaries, but EU ascension brings with it much more intrusive–and effective–restructuring of key domestic institutions.

2. Bringing Ukraine and Georgia in might extend western influence over their security policies, but it also carries great risks. The Russians already amount to a cornered bear. I don’t think that NATO should be poking and prodding a cornered bear, particularly when that bear is starting to flex its muscles. Georgia, in this respect, represents a particularly risky candidate. The Georgians are involved in “frozen” territorial disputes with breakaway provinces–such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia–backed by Russia. They’d really like to take them back, they really want de jure independence, and the Russians would love to stop them. Georgian President Saakashvili also seems to feel emboldened by their existing ties with the United States, and a road to NATO membership may make them feel even more willing to push these matters. Not a favorable entanglement, given the lack of any clear strategic rationale for Georgian membership.

3. This is already a bad time for NATO cohesion, in part because of its planned Balkan expansion, but mostly because of frictions over Afghanistan. The alliance is in real danger of becoming irrelevant, and it makes no sense to take steps likely to increase friction before its members reach some consensus on its role in the current order.

I’ve been working on a longer post involving related issues, so I should have more to say about this later.

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