Cometh the Hour; Cometh the Man?

The Editors:

There are two famous Soviet sayings that usually went hand in hand: что делать и кто виноват? (what is to be done and who is to blame?). The normal sequence was as follows: first to determine that really, nothing was to be done; then find someone to pin the blame on.

Ukraine was a part of this Soviet system for a long time and the system’s deep-seated cynicism unfortunately continues to permeate the country decades after the Soviet Union’s end. But two revolutions in ten years provide evidence that the country’s mentality is changing, at least among the Ukrainian people and provides hope that the country itself might also change.

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published 22 February 2016: Democracy, History, Reform, Russia

Sovereignty rests with the people; leaders come and go.

The Editors:

There is an American saying that neatly encapsulates the American approach to politics, or at least what used to be the American approach to politics: “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It is an expression of the essential pragmatism of Americans – the desire to see government make things better; not perfect – just better.

There have of course always been exceptions; 2015 might be another. But in general this is one of the reasons why the U.S. political system has been so stable for so long.

In Ukraine, by contrast the electorate seems more often to be looking for a savior – someone who will fix what’s wrong with society. And of course there have been profound things wrong with Ukrainian society.

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published 14 December 2015: Democracy, Europe, History, Reform, Security

Moscow’s Battle against Time

Guest Contributor:

By Mykola Kapitonenko

Among many other things Russia is trying to achieve in Ukraine, it is desperately struggling to turn back time. Preferably to the good old days when supplies of natural gas to its neighbors energy inefficient economies were successfully converted into political control, or – even better – when military dominance secured regional hegemony.

Kremlin’s ultimate goal is restoring a part of its former greatness. Two years ago Russia was firmly seated among the regional powers. It ranked in the top ten of world economies, enjoyed rocketing prices for natural gas and oil – country’s main commodities, and had become the economic center of gravity for large part of its immediate neighborhood. Powerful Russian lobbies operated in former Soviet republics and took advantage of systemic corruption there. Extra revenues from exporting energy resources enabled Russian leadership to buy influence in those countries, to carry out large-scale military modernization and pump up its military budget, and even to launch projects of regional integration, such as Eurasian Economic Union, tailored to further cement Kremlin’s control over post-Soviet space.

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published 8 December 2015: Democracy, Economics, Energy, Europe, Reform, Russia

UKRAINE, SYRIA AND EUROPEAN SECURITY

Guest Contributor:

By Kirk Bennett

A recent flare-up notwithstanding, a stable ceasefire seems to be taking hold in the Donbas. Recognizing that a Russian knock-out blow in Ukraine is currently not in the cards, and stung to action by the steady weakening of the Assad regime in the Syrian war of attrition, Moscow has palpably cycled down its pressure, both military and political, on Kyiv. The Kremlin has billed its intervention in Syria as a Russian contribution to a joint struggle of the civilized world against ISIS, and has at the same time taken pains to be seen as playing a helpful role in the Donbas, demonstratively reining in indigenous hard-liners (occasionally with extreme prejudice) and pushing to postpone local elections viewed by Kyiv as illegal and by the West as provocative. Accordingly, there has been an uptick in calls to reward Russia for its constructive behavior by relaxing or removing Western sanctions at the earliest opportunity.

Not long ago I wrote that, by a quirk of geopolitics, ISIS had become a de facto ally of Ukraine. I stand corrected. Ukraine’s real ally in Syria is none other than Bashar Assad. It is Russian alarm at the prospect of the Assad regime’s collapse – not the need to forge some grand coalition against ISIS – that has of necessity deflected the Kremlin’s attention from the grim, long-term struggle to undermine Ukrainian statehood. How things came to such a pass ought to be a cautionary tale for everyone, and above all for the Kremlin.

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published 30 November 2015: Democracy, EU, Europe, History, Military, NATO, Russia

Letter to Congress on ongoing crisis in Ukraine

Guest Contributor:

October 29, 2015

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Chairman
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C., 20510

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published 30 October 2015: Democracy, Economics, EU, Europe, NATO, Reform, Russia, Security