A test on the abandonment of Ukraine
Within just a few months, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has proved itself to be an outrageous campaign of Russian propaganda as well as a blatant disregard for human life and dignity. Since March 2014, Ukraine has withstood an unbelievable informational and military aggression from the Russian Federation illustrated by the annexation of Crimea, the spread of terrorism in eastern Ukraine, the tragic downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 with almost 300 people on board, an unauthorised “humanitarian” convoy with undisclosed cargo, the parading of captured Ukrainian soldiers by Russian-backed separatists and a massive increase in the Russian supply of advanced weaponry to pro-Moscow mercenaries in Ukraine.
The Minsk summit on August 26th brought another setback in this conflict. The Kremlin started officially referring to the terrorist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine as “Novorossiya” (New Russia). On August 31st, Vladimir Putin publicly announced that Novorossiya should become an independent state.
The horrifying storyboard of the worsening situation in the Russian-Ukrainian war provides a positive answer to a long-standing question: does Putin want war? It is clear that Putin seeks war, despite many international observers’ claims that Russia would not be able to afford it because of the economic costs. Neither the costs of war as such nor the economic sanctions against Russia will dissuade Putin from his war plans against Ukraine which any time could erupt into a full-blown ground invasion.
Some western observers, especially such recent Russian apologists as Stephen Cohen and John Mearsheimer, evaluate Putin’s actions from the perspective based on the western experience of interaction between state and society without understanding Moscow’s state-centric political nucleus. The ideological core of the Russian state is devoid of any propensity for democracy, checks and balances, limited government, free elections, independent judiciary and free press. This means that there are no internal mechanisms in Russia to curb the Kremlin’s aggression. All sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States, European Union and other countries are perfectly justified and necessary. The EU and NATO enlargement and the promotion of democracy and democratic values cannot be considered as “provocative policies” against Russia to excuse Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of Ukraine’s eastern regions. Many former Soviet republics and Warsaw pact countries have chosen democracy and joined the alliances that best represent their interests and aspirations. Ukraine has a right to follow the same path and defend its choice.
The economic sanctions against Putin’s military expansionism are necessary, but not sufficient in terms or their targeting and timing. The Russian political elite has already amassed enough cash to wait out the storm of western sanctions unscathed. Sanctions will hit the Russian society and the calculation that the public pressure will affect a change in the Kremlin’s behaviour is implausible. Russian society has no means of influencing the Russian government policies due to ever-creeping restrictions on political freedoms, especially the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, blogging, dissenting opinion, criticism of the government and so on. Even anti-war rallies calling for a stop to the Russian military aggression against Ukraine are prohibited in Russia. Furthermore, notions such as political credit and approval ratings are irrelevant since public opinion in Russia is shaped through massive propaganda to suit any preferred government policy. The former KGB apparatus is still running the country. Hence Russia has set the course on steep militarisation. Since 2013, Russia is spending a larger share of its GDP on military than the United States. When visiting the annexed Crimea on August 14th in Yalta, Putin declared that Russia plans to spend 550 billion US dollars by 2020 on rearmament.
In the long term, the economic sanctions will undermine the Russian economy. Before the sanctions start working, however, Ukraine is most likely going to be carved up into different Russian puppet territories like Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But this time the area of a frozen conflict will be at least ten times larger. The implications of letting Putin get away with the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of continental Ukraine are profound. Novorossiya will be an enormous black hole of corruption, terrorism and instability – a leverage that will be used by Putin to control the rest of Ukraine and to hold Europe hostage to fear and uncertainty.
The Russian-Ukrainian War and more specifically the Russian aggression, expansionism and militarisation, constitute a real threat that cannot be ignored by western leaders. The NATO summit in Wales will be a test on the abandonment of Ukraine and a commitment to peace in Europe.
NATO members urgently need to agree on the following: 1) an action plan to provide all the necessary and timely military aid to Ukraine in order to restore the territorial integrity of mainland Ukraine and 2) reopen the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine.
Volodymyr Valkov is a human rights activist, researcher, and political analyst, as well as a project manager at the American Jewish Ukrainian Bureau for Human Rights “UCSJ” in Lviv, Ukraine. He holds an MA in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.