The Best Writers3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 1 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaAn anti-government protester sits on the Founders ofKyiv monument during clashes with riot police incentral Kyiv on February 20, 2014. LouisaGouliamaki/AFP/GettyUkraine has struggled to forge an independent path, tornbetween Europe and the United States in the West andits long-standing ties to Russia in the East.Backgrounder by Jonathan MastersFebruary 5, 2020Ukraine: Conflict at theCrossroads of Europe andRussiaIntroductionUkraine has long played an important, yet sometimes overlooked, role in the globalsecurity order. Today, the country appears to be on the front lines of a renewed great-power rivalry that many analysts say will dominate international relations in the decadesahead.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 2 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaMore From Our ExpertsStephen SestanovichWhat to Expect From Putin’s Shake-UpRobert D. BlackwillImplementing Grand Strategy Toward ChinaThomas GrahamTop Conflicts to Watch in 2020: A Crisis Between Russia and UkraineMotivated by many factors, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has triggered the greatestsecurity crisis in Europe since the Cold War. While the United States and its allies havetaken significant punitive actions against Russia, they have made little headway in helpingto restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.In recent elections, Ukrainians have clearly indicated that they see their future in Europe,but the country continues to grapple with extreme corruption and deep regional rifts thatcould impede its path.Why has Ukraine become a geopolitical flash point?Ukraine was a cornerstone of the Soviet Union, the archrival of the United States duringthe Cold War. Behind only Russia, it was the second most populous and powerful of thefifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defenseindustries, and military, including the Black Sea Fleet and some of the nuclear arsenal.Ukraine was so vital to the union that its decision to sever ties in 1991 proved to be a coupde grâce for the ailing superpower.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 3 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaMore From Our ExpertsStephen SestanovichWhat to Expect From Putin’s Shake-UpRobert D. BlackwillImplementing Grand Strategy Toward ChinaThomas GrahamTop Conflicts to Watch in 2020: A Crisis Between Russia and UkraineIn its nearly three decades of independence, Ukraine has sought to forge its own path as asovereign state while looking to align more closely with Western institutions, includingthe European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, Kyivhas struggled to balance its foreign relations and to bridge deep internal divisions. A morenationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in western parts of the country has generallysupported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking communityin the east has favored closer ties with Russia.Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began armingand abetting separatists in the Donbas region in the country’s southeast. Russia’s seizureof Crimea was the first time since World War II that a European state annexed theterritory of another. Some fourteen thousand people have died in the conflict, thebloodiest in Europe since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.For many analysts, the conflict marked a clear shift in the global security environmentfrom a unipolar period of U.S. dominance to one defined by renewed competitionbetween great powers [PDF].3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 4 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 5 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 6 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaWhat are Russia’s interests in Ukraine?Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many waysUkraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision for itself in the world.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 7 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaFamily ties. Russia and Ukraine have strong familial bonds that go back centuries. Kyiv,Ukraine’s capital, is sometimes referred to as “the mother of Russian cities,” on par interms of cultural influence with Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was in Kyiv in the eighthand ninth centuries that Christianity was brought from Byzantium to the Slavic peoples.And it was Christianity that served as the anchor for Kievan Rus, the early Slavic statefrom which modern Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians draw their lineage.Russian diaspora. Among Russia’s top concerns is the welfare of the approximately eightmillion ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, according to a 2001 census, mostly in the southand east. Moscow claimed a duty to protect these people as a pretext for its actions inUkraine.Superpower image. After the Soviet collapse, many Russian politicians viewed the divorcewith Ukraine as a mistake of history and a threat to Russia’s standing as a great power.Losing a permanent hold on Ukraine, and letting it fall into the Western orbit, was seenby many as a major blow to Russia’s international prestige.Crimea. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in1954 to strengthen the “brotherly ties between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.”However, since the fall of the union, many Russian nationalists in both Russia and Crimeahave longed for a return of the peninsula. The city of Sevastopol is home port for Russia’sBlack Sea Fleet, the dominant maritime force in the region.Trade. Russia is Ukraine’s largest trading partner, although this link has withered in recentyears. Prior to its invasion of Crimea, Russia had hoped to pull Ukraine into its singlemarket, the Eurasian Economic Union, which today includes Armenia, Belarus,Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 8 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaEnergy. Russia supplied most of Ukraine’s gas until the Crimean invasion, after whichimports petered out and then stopped entirely in 2016. However, Russia still relies onUkrainian pipelines to pump its gas to customers in Central and Eastern Europe, and itpays billions of dollars per year in transit fees to Kyiv. In early 2020, Russia was close tocompleting Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea that some have warnedcould starve Ukraine of essential revenue. However, Russia is contracted to keep movinggas through Ukraine for several more years.Political sway. Russia has been intent on preserving its political influence in Ukraine andthroughout the former Soviet Union, particularly after its preferred candidate forUkrainian president in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, lost to a reformist competitor as part ofthe Orange Revolution popular movement. The shock in Ukraine came after a similarelectoral defeat for the Kremlin in Georgia in 2003, known as the Rose Revolution, andwas followed by another—the Tulip Revolution—in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Yanukovych laterbecame president of Ukraine, in 2010, amid voter discontent with the Orangegovernment.What motivated Russia’s moves against Ukraine?Western scholars disagree somewhat on the motivations behind Russia’s aggression inUkraine. Some emphasize NATO’s post Cold War enlargement, which Russia viewed withincreasing alarm. In 2004, NATO added seven members, its fifth expansion and largest oneto date, including the former Soviet Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Fouryears later, when NATO declared its intent to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the fold atsome point in the future, Russia made clear a redline had been crossed.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 9 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 10 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 11 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 12 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaIn the weeks leading up to NATO’s 2008 summit, President Vladimir Putin warned U.S.diplomats that steps to bring Ukraine into the alliance “would be a hostile act towardRussia.” Months later, Russia went to war with Georgia, seemingly showcasing Putin’swillingness to use force to secure Russia’s interests. (Some independent observers faultedGeorgia for initiating the so-called August War but blamed Russia for escalating hostilitiesinto a broader conflict.)Other experts dispute the assertion that Russia’s fear of NATO was its primary motive,countering that the NATO expansion question had largely dissolved after 2008 as Westerngovernments lost interest and Russia increased its influence in Ukraine. Rather, they say,the biggest factor behind Russia’s intervention was Putin’s fear of losing power at home,particularly after historic anti-government protests erupted in Russia in late 2011. Putinclaimed U.S. actors were sowing this unrest and thereafter began casting the United Statesas an archenemy to rally his political base. It was by looking through this Cold War reduxlens that he chose to intervene in Ukraine.Russia’s intervention in Ukraine proved to be immensely popular at home, pushingPutin’s approval ratings above 80 percent following a steady decline.What triggered the crisis?It was Ukraine’s ties with the European Union that brought tensions to a head withRussia. In late 2013, President Yanukovych, acting under pressure from his supporters inMoscow, scrapped plans to formalize a closer economic relationship with the EU. Russia3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 13 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiahad at the same time been pressing Ukraine to join the not-yet-formed Eurasian EconomicUnion. Many Ukrainians perceived the decision as a betrayal by a deeply corrupt andincompetent government, and it ignited countrywide protests known as Euromaidan.Putin framed the ensuing tumult of Euromaidan, which forced Yanukovych from power,as a Western-backed “fascist coup” that endangered the ethnic Russian majority inCrimea. (Western analysts dismissed this as a conspiracy theory reminiscent of the Sovietera.) In response, Putin ordered a covert invasion of Crimea that he later justified as arescue operation. “There is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partnershave crossed the line,” Putin said in a high-profile address formalizing the annexation.Putin employed a similar narrative to justify his support for separatists in southeasternUkraine, another region home to large numbers of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.He famously referred to the area as Novorossiya (New Russia), a term dating back toeighteenth-century imperial Russia. Armed Russian provocateurs, including some agentsof Russian security services, are believed to have played a central role in stirring the anti-Euromaidan secessionist movements in the region into a rebellion. However, unlikeCrimea, Russia continues to o!cially deny its involvement in the Donbas conflict.What are Russia’s objectives in Ukraine?Under Putin, Russia has been described as a revanchist power, keen to regain its formerpower and prestige. “It was always Putin’s goal to restore Russia to the status of a greatpower in northern Eurasia,” writes Gerard Toal, an international a”airs professor atVirginia Tech, in his book Near Abroad. “The end goal was not to re-create the SovietUnion but to make Russia great again.”By seizing Crimea, Russia has solidified its control of a critical foothold on the Black Sea.With a larger and more sophisticated military presence there, Russia can project powerdeeper into the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa, where it has traditionally3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 14 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiahad limited influence. Meanwhile, to the south, Russia is strengthening its military andenergy ties with Turkey, another Black Sea power.Russia’s strategic gains in the Donbas are more fragile. Supporting the separatists has, atleast temporarily, increased Russia’s bargaining power vis-à-vis Ukraine, but the region’sfuture is highly uncertain. Fostering political instability there may be Russia’s aim untilother factors shift in its favor.What are U.S. priorities in Ukraine?Immediately following the Soviet collapse, Washington’s priority was pushing Ukraine—along with Belarus and Kazakhstan—to forfeit its nuclear arsenal so that only Russiawould retain the former union’s weapons. At the same time, the United States rushed tobolster the shaky democracy in Russia. Some prominent observers at the time felt thatthe United States was premature in this courtship with Russia, and that it should haveworked more on fostering geopolitical pluralism in the rest of the former Soviet Union.Former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, in early 1994 in ForeignA!airs, described a healthy and stable Ukraine as a critical counterweight to Russia andthe lynchpin of what he advocated should be the new U.S. grand strategy after the ColdWar. “It cannot be stressed strongly enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be anempire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomesan empire,” he wrote.In the months after Brzezinski’s article was published, the United States, the UnitedKingdom, and Russia pledged via the Budapest Referendum to respect Ukraine’sindependence and sovereignty in return for it becoming a nonnuclear state.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 15 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaTwenty years later, as Russian forces seized Crimea, restoring and strengthening Ukraine’ssovereignty reemerged as a top U.S. and EU foreign policy priority. Other top U.S. interestsin Ukraine are rooting out corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and encouragingprivatization of state-owned businesses, particularly in the energy sector. ReorganizingNaftogaz, the state-run natural gas giant, has been a major focus of U.S. and EU policy.What are U.S. and EU policy in Ukraine?The United States remains committed to the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrityand sovereignty. It does not recognize Russia’s claims to Crimea, and it encourages Russiaand Ukraine to resolve the Donbas conflict via the Minsk agreements. Signed in 2014 and2015 and brokered by France and Germany, these accords call for a cease-fire, awithdrawal of heavy weapons, Ukrainian control over its border with Russia, and localelections and a special political status for certain areas of the region.Before the crisis, Ukraine was a top destination for U.S. foreign aid, receiving on averagemore than $200 million per year. In response to Russia’s aggression, Washington hasboosted its support to Kyiv, providing more than $600 million annually in developmentand security aid. For its part, the U.S. military has provided Ukrainian forces with trainingand equipment, including sniper rifles, grenade launchers, night-vision gear, radars, andJavelin anti-tank missiles. NATO allies hold yearly joint military exercises with Ukraine,including Sea Breeze and Rapid Trident. Although Ukraine remains a nonmember, Kyivhas recently a!rmed its goal to eventually gain full NATO membership.The United States and its allies have also taken retaliatory actions against Russia for itsactions in Ukraine. Over the years, Washington has imposed sanctions on hundreds ofRussian individuals, as well as parts of the Russian economy, including the defense,3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 16 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaenergy, and financial sectors. The European Union and countries including Australia,Canada, and Japan have imposed similar penalties. The Group of Eight, now known as theGroup of Seven, suspended Russia from its ranks indefinitely.The United States has also been active over Nord Stream 2, which it claims will giveMoscow greater political leverage over Ukraine and other European gas customers. In late2019, Washington imposed sanctions on companies involved in the pipeline’sconstruction.In recent months, U.S. relations with Ukraine became the subject of an impeachmentinvestigation into President Donald J. Trump. Democrats alleged that Trump abused hispower by withholding millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine to pressure Kyiv to investigatehis political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.What do Ukrainians want?Russia’s aggression in recent years has galvanized public support for Ukraine’s Westwardleanings. In the wake of Euromaidan, the country elected billionaire businessman PetroPoroshenko, a staunch proponent of EU and NATO integration, as president. In 2019,Poroshenko was defeated by Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor and comedian whocampaigned on a platform of anticorruption, economic renewal, and peace in the Donbas.Zelensky’s victory as a political outsider was viewed as a strong indicator of the public’sdeep dissatisfaction with the political establishment and its halting battle against endemiccorruption and an oligarchic economy.Analysts say that a critical test of Zelensky’s anticorruption e”ort will be how he manageshis controversial relationship with Igor Kolomoisky, an oligarch whose television stationhelped propel Zelensky to power. Kolomoisky is pushing to have the government returnPrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, to him after regulators nationalized it in 2016 amidfraud allegations.3/17/20, 11:41 AMUkraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia | Council on Foreign RelationsPage 17 of 17https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russiaCreative Commons: Some rights reserved.
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