Analysis of Ukraine Developments and Prediction of Russia’s Reaction

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Interview with Elaheh Koolaee

More than three months have passed since the beginning of the ongoing political developments in Ukraine. During this period, Russia’s reaction has been limited to diplomatic measures and, of course, a series of other limited measures. However, now that the Winter Olympics have come to an end in the Russian resort city of Sochi, Moscow seems to have stepped up its activities with regard to Ukraine’s developments. As the Sochi games drew to an end, Russia had no more reason to remain inactive. At the same time, new measures taken by Russia have stoked tension in the Crimean peninsula, thus increasing the chances of the disintegration of Ukraine. The Tehran-based Tabnak news website has conducted the following interview with Dr. Elaheh Koolaee, a professor of regional studies at University of Tehran. She is the author of two books, “Politics and Governance in Central Eurasia” and “The Myth of Color Revolutions,” on developments in Eurasia. The complete text of the interview follows.

Q: Dr. Koolaee, why the developments in Ukraine led to street clashes and the final ouster of the president [Viktor Yanukovych]?

A: The intensity of pressures resulting from people’s demands, on the one hand, and economic difficulties, on the other hand, combined with effective foreign support for people’s demands have been very influential in causing the deterioration of the situation [in Ukraine]. In fact, it was generally expected that the ongoing developments would be something similar to developments in 2004 and the country’s color revolution [at that time], when the problems were solved at a low cost and without violence. However, as we have witnessed in this case, due to violent crackdown by the government forces, the protests faced the country’s leaders with a very difficult situation, which finally caused [president] Yanukovych to flee the country. However, the main issue here seems to be lack of due attention to tools and the special sensitivity that Russia has toward this country and all other former republics of the Soviet Union. In fact, during the past few years, Russia has shown on various occasions that it is very sensitive about domestic developments in these countries and will not easily allow them to get out of its political orbit. The military action against Georgia in 2008 is still fresh in the memory of many regional and international observers.

Q: Why Russia did not show a decisive reaction right at the beginning of developments in Ukraine?

A: The important point is that when the developments in Ukraine got under way, Russia was busy preparing and holding the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Therefore, since Russia had given priority to holding of the games, and in view of the hefty budget allocated to the event by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, conditions were in favor of facilitating domestic developments in Ukraine. However, what is currently going on in the country is somehow the result of lack of due attention to the tools that Russia can wield in Ukraine. As we know, more than 20 percent of Ukrainian people are of Russian origin. In certain regions, such as Crimean peninsula, Russian people account for the majority of the population. Therefore, due to their special ties with Moscow, it would not be hard to predict that Ukraine is in for very difficult times. In the meantime, for Russophiles, the type of relations with Moscow and general orientations of the leaders of the two countries are also of very high importance. The notable point here is that from the viewpoint of the Russian nationalists, the [Ukrainian capital] city of Kiev is the birthplace of the Russian government. Therefore, the mere idea of the separation of this country from Moscow and its move toward the West is totally intolerable for both Moscow and the Russian nationalists. Russia’s show of force in recent days and subsequent to the termination of Sochi Winter Olympics is a telltale sign of the firm resolve of Russia to nip in the bud any powerful and effective tendency in the Ukrainian government to bolster its ties with the European Union and with the United States in particular.

Q: Do you think that the Russian government will take a measure in Ukraine which would be reminiscent of its military intervention in Georgia?

A: The government of Russia does not need to take military action in Ukraine as it did in Georgia. As I said before, the eastern part of Ukraine is of high importance [to Russia], especially the Crimean peninsula, where the Sevastopol port city is located. Part of the Russian naval fleet is positioned in this region and there have been constant disputes between the two governments over the use of this port. This issue provides Russia with very important capacities and levers which can be used as a tool by the Kremlin to achieve its main goal which is to prevent further leaning of Ukrainian government toward the West.

Q: Is there any possibility for the disintegration of Ukraine?

A: The issue of disintegration has been always a possible scenario not only for Ukraine, but also for other countries where large Russophile minorities live, such as Kazakhstan.

Q: American officials and NATO have threatened Russia not to take any rash measure in Ukraine. What is your opinion about such threats?

A: The presence of a minority of Russian origin in Ukraine has provided Russia with an undeniable capacity to go ahead with its diplomatic goals in that country, and such a capacity has been of importance to Russia in other countries as well. Therefore, when it comes to issues related to the Crimean peninsula, it is evident that if Russophiles decided to take any action with Russia’s support, it would be considered an action against Ukraine. Similar instances have been already observed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Despite lack of international recognition, the Russians recognized those regions as independent regions and established diplomatic ties with them in order to increase pressure on the Georgian government. Even before the current crisis, Russia and Ukraine were apparently engaged in serious dispute over the use of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol and this issue even dragged both countries to the brink of full-blown military conflict. By staging military maneuvers and show of military force, Russia is actually trying to demonstrate its upper hand in developments that are taking place in this country. Also the degree of corruption among leaders of past color revolution is now comparable with the corruption in Yanukovych government. It seems that the ongoing developments in Ukraine have actually turned into an arena for a direct faceoff between Russia and the United States and this situation can be analyzed on the basis of differences that have existed between the two countries in recent years both with regard to issues in the Middle East and other issues.

Q: Some analysts believe that following heir failure in Syria, the Americans, in particular, and the West, in general, are trying to shift their focus to Ukraine. In fact, the proxy war between the United States and Russia has moved from Syria to Ukraine. Do you agree with this?

A: Undoubtedly, increasing differences between Russia and the United States have been clearly demonstrated in sensitive regions such as Ukraine. During past years, especially after the beginning of Putin’s third term in office as president, we have witnessed escalation of Russia’s differences with Europe and the United States. In fact, it would be logical to assume that such differences have been demonstrated through proxy wars fought by each side. The very important point here, however, is that Russians have learned their lessons from the Cold War. They are not trying to revive the Cold War conditions. Ivanov has clearly emphasized this point that Russia does by no means want to launch a new Cold War with the United States. Russians have not forgotten the experiences of the Cold War under the former Soviet Union and the hefty cost that it inflicted on them. However, this is also a reality that the existing geopolitical differences between Russia and the United States cannot be easily ignored. Therefore, both countries are trying to find grounds to settle their old scores and Ukraine is one of those grounds.

Q: How do you see the future outlook of Ukraine?

A: It is really difficult to predict the future outlook of Ukraine. However, in the light of past years’ experiences, it seems that at the end of the day foreign elements involved in the country’s domestic developments and the necessity of establishing security and stability in this region will have the last say. At the same time, both sides are trying to take advantage of all facilities and tools at their disposal to achieve their own specific goals. However, the two sides are also aware of the possible dangers that may result from spillover of this crisis in view of the common threats that are facing the United States, Russia and Europe as a result of the rapid spread of various kinds of radicalism in different parts of the world. Therefore, all the involved parties are trying to somehow manage the crisis and it would be logical to expect that players involved in this crisis will finally try to contain it through rational solutions.

Key Word: Ukraine Developments, Russia’s Reaction, Viktor Yanukovych, Military Intervention, Georgia, NATO, US, Syria, Koolaee

Source: Tabnak News Website
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: IRINN, Tabnak

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