Australian Centre on China in the World, Canberra, ACT, Australia
Dear Conference participants,
As it happens the first day of your conference, the 24th of August, is also Ukrainian Independence Day and I am therefore unable to take part, as I will be in Kyiv to celebrate the 25th anniversary of an independent Ukrainian state with my people and my president.
All the same, given the fact that today’s discussion at the conference directly concerns Ukraine (the annexation of Crimea and armed aggression in the Donetsk region), and considering that today there is hardly a country in the world which is threatened more by “the intentions of Putin’s Russia” than Ukraine, I, as a former representative of the academic community, would like to bring to your attention some brief remarks which relate directly to the subject matter of this conference.
General discussion in political and academic circles these past two years gives one reason to conclude that the policies of the Russian Federation after the Cold War were not conducive to the growth of stability and security – neither in Europe, nor in the world.
With the end of the Cold War and a rejection of the concept of “bipolarity”, no universal system of security was created, either on a global or a regional scale, and the Russian Federation, having been left without a springboard to help regain its strength, followed the erroneous path of maintaining its influence and restoring its status as a “world power” through the continued monopolization of power and militarization within the state, and through the creation of regimes loyal to Russia in neighbouring countries in the so-called “Eurasian region”.
Having nothing better to offer its former allies in the post-Soviet regions in terms of values or economic growth, the Russian Federation set about creating artificial unions and associations with unproductive and inefficient agendas, forming alliances with bogus regimes such as Abkhazia and Transnistria, undertaking militarization and imposing Russian game rules on surrounding states.
The ideology of the Cold war as a conflict between two civilized approaches – Western (capitalist) and Eastern (Communist, totalitarian) – was replaced by Russia’s overtly chauvinist imperial approach of reviving spheres of influence by the establishment of a neo-Soviet “Eurasian region”.
Various political and economic pressures were applied to those who refused to become a part of this reality (for example the “gas wars”, trade protectionism), while military might was used against the “particularly recalcitrant”. Examples of this are Moldova in 1992, Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine today.
Indeed, the conflict that we see in Eastern Ukraine today was not initiated by Ukraine. It was initiated through the rejection by Ukrainian society of the values and principles which the Yanukovych regime, with support from the Russian Federation, had imposed on the people.
Let us recall recent history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine attained its independence on 24 August 1991 and began its journey into statehood as a stable and predictable international player.
In 1993 the Ukrainian parliament passed a law “On principles of internal and foreign policy”, which foresaw a course toward European integration.
In 1994 Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world, and became a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In return for taking this step Ukraine obtained a guarantee from key world players, first and foremost the nuclear powers, including the Russian Federation, that no form of aggression or pressure would be applied to it and that Ukraine’s borders and territorial integrity would be securely maintained and defended.
Despite this, the Russian Federation continued to pressure Ukraine economically and politically, trying to impose its neo-Soviet ideology, which finally led to the Orange Revolution in 2004.
In 2008, during the NATO Bucharest Summit, Ukraine approached its Western partners to provide a Membership Action Plan (MAP), but was refused. This action was wrongly interpreted by the Russian Federation as NATO’s willingness to accept the concept of “zones of influence”. An immediate consequence of this was the Russian war with Georgia in August 2008.
After coming to power in Ukraine in 2010, the pro-Moscow president Yanukovych began a new round of dismantling Ukraine’s European course and even Ukrainian statehood. The terms under which the Black Sea Fleet was based in Crimea were changed, legislation was changed concerning Ukraine’s aspirations of becoming a member of NATO, and finally negotiations on association were suspended between the EU and Ukraine. This was the last straw for the people, who realized that they were losing their right to a European future. Thus in 2013 the Ukrainian people assembled in the capital’s central Independence Square, prepared to die for the sake of their civilizational choice. The Revolution of Dignity took place and new democratic forces came to power. Despite the misinformation being spread by Russian propaganda, none of the radical nationalist parties were elected to the subsequent Ukrainian parliament in 2014.
The new president, the new government and parliament immediately amended such legislation as “On the National Security of Ukraine” and “On Domestic and Foreign Policy”, which was directed at deepening cooperation with the EU and NATO, as well as to meet criteria necessary for attaining membership of these organizations.
Moscow’s reaction was not long in coming. Russia realized that this was the last chance to stop Ukraine and resolve the issue of Crimea “return” into Russia’s fold. Ukraine was then confronted by the unpexpected aggression of the Russian Federation – a former strategic partner, a close neighbour and a guarantor of Ukraine’s security within the framework of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, as well as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Thus today we are witnessing a civilizational war waged by the Russian Federation against an independent country in Europe (Ukraine’s territory is greater than that of France). A country which was a founding member of the United Nations, which voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal, which was and still is a prospective member of the world community and which shares common Western values.
It is wrong to apportion equal blame and responsibility to both sides of the conflict in Ukraine. Because in this war Russia is the aggressor. Ukraine is defending its territory. Yes, Ukraine still must undertake many internal reforms and stabilize its economy, but for this to take place we need peace, while at present Ukraine must spend close to $5 million a day to defend its territory against Russian aggression. During this war over 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed and 21,000 wounded in the conflict zone in Eastern Ukraine.
The tactics employed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine are no different to those it employs in other parts of the world, such as Transnistria and Syria. First Russia creates a problem, then it suggests ways of solving it, and then becomes an active participant in the solution. The principle of “hybrid warfare” is nothing new or significantly different from past Russian and Soviet doctrines. This is the customary imperial Russian way of achieving its political goals and waging war by employing various means, including non-military (Afghanistan).
Thus, when some politicians talk about leaving Ukraine and the Russian Federation to sort out their own problems – that is, they have continually fought and made peace over the centuries – this is a fallacy. Yes, we know the Russian Federation, we know how it acts and how it is accustomed to act, but we also know, what it takes note of and what can stop it. Russia is afraid of unity, solidarity and decisive action as a response from democratic countries, professing recognized human civilized values, including the rule of law, in particular respect for international law.
The war launched by the Russian Federation against Ukraine demonstrates the “indivisible character of global security”, the possibility of the accidental involvement of third parties (for example the catastrophe of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17), the high likelihood of the “domino principle” (for example in the South China Sea, based on the false premise “if it’s all right for Russia, why not for us?”).
Thus, returning to the topic of the conference, I wanted to conclude: the Russian Federation has not learned the main lesson of the Cold War – that continued militarization and “neo-imperialism” will lead to the threat of a new conflict. By opting for power – military, political, economical – the Russian Federation has ceased being a good neighbour and a partner, becoming instead a threat to practically all countries along its borders.
In fact, the Russian Federation has forced other countries and power centres to think about their own security by enhancing existing military-political alliances and conducting a military build-up, which until recently seemed an outdated anachronism of the Cold War.
While it is too early today to speak of the revival of a classic Cold War or a new threat of one appearing, we can speak of the necessity to counteract the neo-imperialist policies of the Russian Federation, manifested by its “hybrid war” against a string of neighbouring countries (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova). Or as it was called by the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, General Gerasimov – “the blitzkrieg of the 21st century”.
This action must be taken so that the Cold War is not repeated and truly becomes a thing of the past.
Dr. Mykola Kulinich
Former Rector of Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine
Professor Kyiv Taras Shevchenko National University