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

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

European Regional Security Damaged: Back to Realpolitik?

Guest Contributor:

Mykola Kapitonenko

Along with possible future implications, which are so actively speculated about, Russia’s active revisionist policy in Europe and beyond is generating a new reality on the ground in real-time mode. It turns out not so much that President Putin has lost touch with reality, but rather that his vision and perception of reality is being actively imposed on Europe’s political agenda. Politics is not only about material factors, but also ideas and perceptions. The ability to shape agenda and reframe values is an important power asset and the way this asset is being currently used by Putin undermines European security.

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published 27 October 2015: Democracy, EU, History, Military, NATO, Russia, Security

The Minsk Trap

Guest Contributor:

Kirk Bennett

The Ukrainian parliamentary debate on constitutional reform to promote decentralization has occurred under enormous pressure from the West for Kyiv to uphold its end of the Minsk Agreements, negotiated in September 2014 and February 2015 to secure a ceasefire in the Russo-Ukrainian War. The fatal clashes outside the Ukrainian Rada on August 31, as well as the alarming fissures appearing in the ruling coalition, underscore the extreme fragility of the Ukrainian domestic situation, which ought to prompt a serious reexamination of the Western approach to the peace process in Ukraine.

This reassessment should begin with a sober recognition of the glaring shortcomings of the Minsk Agreements. First and foremost, they have not really ended the fighting. While neither side has fully upheld the ceasefire, the most blatant violations have clearly been on the Russian side, which launched offensives to seize the Donetsk Airport in September and the town of Debaltseve in February before the ink was even dry on the two agreements. These land grabs were not merely conducted with total impunity; worse still, the Kremlin was allowed to impose even more disadvantageous terms on Kyiv in Minsk II than in Minsk I. The rewarding of Moscow for violating the ceasefire has created a horrendous precedent that can only encourage further Russian depredations.

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published 14 September 2015: Democracy, EU, Europe, History, NATO, Reform, Russia