Thursday, May 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Wins and Losses in Ukrainian Crisis Up to Now Compared

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 29 – In what he describes as an act of “political bookkeeping,” Andrey Lipsky, the deputy chief editor of “Novaya gazeta” describes what Russia has gained and what it has lost so far as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, thus providing a useful checklist of the balance now and its likely direction in the future.

            He identifies 14 sectors where Russia has suffered  political “losses” and three where he says Russia has had “profits.”  Lipsky’s balance sheet certainly suggests Vladimir Putin is facing “a deficit” as a result of events in Ukraine, but of course, unlike a financial spread sheet, there is no simple way to quantify either side of this ledger (

o   The 14 gains include:

o   Broken relations with Ukraine.  All talk about fraternal peoples has gone out the window, and “no government of Ukraine or any serious political force in that country will come to terms with the loss of its territory.” Worse, “Ukrainians will find it difficult to distinguish between the ‘bad’ Kremlin and the ‘good’ Russians.” They won’t forget all this, even if Moscow changes course.

o   The collapse of “the Eurasian project.” Without Ukraine, “it is almost meaningless,” Lipsky says. Moreover, neither Mensk nor Astana was enthusiastic about what Russia has done. And that means they may agree to an economic union if Russia insists, “But any political superstructures will be too dangerous” for them to accept.

o   The loss of  “the Russia world.”  The idea of a traditional Slavic, Orthodox and Russian community was supposed to be the format for the future. Moscow’s actions have called all of these elements into question and mean that “Russia will hardly be able to use it for its goals of ‘ingathering’” of Russian lands or even keeping its influence where it was on this basis.

o   A worsening of its relations with neighboring countries add former allies.

o   The international community’s decision to view Russia as “a threat to the world order” rather than part of it.

o   As a result of Ukraine, Lipsky says, “Russia has lost an important political-moral advantage in the international arena” because it could always point until Crimea to its “scrupulous observation of the procedues and norms of international law” and because “for the first time in its contemporary history, Russia is completely isolated internationally.”

o   Russia’s violation of the Budapest memorandum on the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders is leading other countries to assume that they cannot count on Moscow to live up to its other international agreements and to reconsider their own actions given this uncertainty.

o   As a result of Ukraine, “Russia’s leaders have lost the trust of their colleagues” and thus have lost room for maneuver with them.

o   The reputation of the Russian foreign ministry has been destroyed as a reliable partner.

o   As a result of Ukraine, Russia has lost the battle to restrain other post-Soviet states from joining NATO and the EU. Instead, it has accelerated that process.

o   Russia has lost almost all of the gains it made as a participant in Western structures.

o   The status of Russian communities beyond the borders of Russia has significantly deteriorated. Moscow’s talk of being their defender has backfired, and they know it.

o   Russia’s economic development has suffered and conditions have been created that mean this suffering will be prolonged.

o   Finally, the Ukrainian events have led to the deteriorating of the situation of the Russian opposition, independent media and those who disagree with the Kremlin. They have sparked “a witch hunt”within Russia, “and from history we know that witch hunts lead to the destruction of social strucutres, the splitting of society, the driving of the opposition into the underground, and the establishment of ineffective repressive political systems of an authoritarian and totalitarian type.”

            On the other side of the political ledge, Lipsky identifies three gains, although each of these comes with direct costs as well as the broader indirect costs just mentioned.

o   There is Crimea and Sevastpol, something that offers Moscow the chance to project power into the Black Sea and extract oil and gas from its seabed.

o   The Kremlin has succeeded in putting gin place “a mechanism for the consolidation of the Russian population around the patriotic idea of ‘assembling the Russian lands.”

o   And the Ukrainian events have provided a boost in Putin’s popularity.

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