How the Crisis in Ukraine Looks from the Inside
April 29, 2014
H.E. Archil Gegeshidize, Ambassador of Georgia to the United States
H.E. Igor Munteanu, Ambassador of Moldova to the United States
H.E. Olexander Motsyk, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States
It seems that, in the past couple of weeks, international politics have reverted back to the Cold War era. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, intensifying instances of unrest have swept across Eastern Ukraine – separatists groups are now operating in over a dozen Ukrainian towns – and tensions among the U.S., EU, and Russia have been reignited. So far, diplomatic efforts have failed to impact events on the ground, and the U.S. and EU have begun to enact harsher measures – namely economic sanctions – in order to influence Russian policies. However, given the degree of interconnectivity that is present in the Russian, European, global economies, it is unclear what effect sanctions will have on Russian leaders and also whether they might unintentionally hurt other countries within the EU and Eastern Europe.
In Eastern Europe though, leaders are more concerned about the immediate implications of Russia’s unilateral actions rather than the potential economic fallout down the road. From Georgia, Ambassador Gegeshidize is deeply troubled by Vladimer Putin’s desire to impose a “new international order,” geared solely to promoting Russian interests. In his mind, Russia’s actions are a direct response to the growing strength of the EU, NATO, and democracy throughout Eastern Europe. Rather than accept these developments and adjust to the changing region, Russia has instead attempted to create a buffer zone, acting in Georgia and now Ukraine, in order to divide Europe and maintain some influence in the former Soviet region. When Russia conducted military strikes throughout Georgia in 2008, the international community pardoned the country and allowed for it to reset political relations; hoping that it would act primarily as future NATO/Western partner. In the Ambassadors mind this was a mistake; that decision did not change Russia’s outlook and only temporarily deterred it from acting on its ambitions. What we now see from Russia is the resumption of that same ambition. This time the international community should recognize Russia as an adversary and enact policies that do not simply deter it from acting aggressively, but in fact contain and limit it in the years to come.
In neighboring Moldova, Ambassador Munteanu is equally concerned about Russian intimidation, but was not as harsh in condemning the Russian government nor did he call for long-term containment policies to be enacted against the country. He did, however, join the other speakers in condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, claiming that the move was based on false pretexts and narratives. Despite Russian claims, he and other international leaders saw no evidence that suggested ethnic Russians were being targeted and discriminated against in Crimea or any other parts of Eastern Ukraine. Further, even if Russia’s claims were true, he sees the unilateral way in which Russia has responded to the crisis as being completely inappropriate, and setting a dangerous precedence in which other countries could similarly act militarily in order to support “oppressed” minorities.
Ambassador Motsyk was similarly outraged at Russia’s unilateral action in Crimea – which Ukraine is continuing to supply with electricity, water, and other necessary goods – and stated that the government in Kiev would never recognize any further referendums or annexations. This crisis has, in his mind, been entirely manufactured by Russia and reflects a new more subtle form of warfare than was previously seen in Georgia. In this case, Russia is subtly waging war by supplying separatists groups on the ground and dictating the narrative through tightly controlled media outlets – in contrast to the brute force it used against Georgia in 2008. Further, he claims that in recent weeks Russia has repeatedly violated Ukrainian airspace in hopes of provoking a Ukrainian response that could then be used to justify further military actions. However, regardless of the means it employs, Russian actions have demonstrated its inability to cope with the post Soviet world, in which Ukraine and other countries are now entirely independent. Ambassador Motsyk claims this sentiment has been reflected in Crimea, where only 32% of the population participated in the recent referendum vote. It is his hope that upcoming presidential elections on May 25 will allow the people of Ukraine to voice their outright support for independence and democracy.
Regardless of how the Ukrainian crisis ends, it is already becoming apparent that Russia has succeeded in changing many international leaders’ global outlook. Amb. Munteanu warned that Russia’s actions could seriously hamper economic initiatives – like the New Silk Road Project – and deter businesses from investing in the region out of fear for Russia’s ability to manufacture instability. On the other hand, the crisis in Ukraine has seemingly strengthened the resolve of EU and U.S. to back Eastern European development, perhaps facilitating the EU integration process and also encouraging ex-Soviet countries to tackle their longstanding problems of corruption, and also further cutoff their historic ties to Russia. Even in the face of an escalating crisis all three ambassadors stated a renewed desire to achieve independence from Russian influence, to support democracy and transparency, and build stronger ties with the EU. With these strong calls for democracy, transparency, and inclusivity, it is hard to see how Russian tactics can succeed in Ukraine or the world at large.