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Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and Identity

Courtesy of gωen/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 April 2017.

This is an excerpt from Migration and the Ukraine Crisis: A Two-Country Perspective – an E-IR Edited Collection.

This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The active phase of the conflict began in March 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and continued with Moscow’s support for the separatist movements in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The main object of interest here is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. At the same time, as I show in the first section, it is hardly possible to consider ‘public opinion’ as ontologically separate from the public debate waged mainly by the elites, as well as from the state’s policies and the way they are legitimated. The issue is not just that public opinion is influenced by the state propaganda, but that both are part of the same broader discursive domain where meaning is constructed and reproduced.

Accordingly, this chapter starts with an analysis of Russian public opinion on the conflict and its relationship to the official propaganda. I then go on to discuss how the attitudes to Ukraine and the wider assessment of Russian foreign policy in recent years are related to the complex ways in which the Russian nation is defined and how the concept of the ‘Russian world’ plays into the picture. The final section focuses on the broader context of what Russians see as Western expansionism and how they justify Russia’s conduct in terms of the need to defend the country’s sovereignty and moral integrity against Western subversion. It is not my ambition in this chapter to present any original analysis of primary sources; rather, I see my task as summing up the findings of the existing studies (including my own) and highlighting the key issues that have come up in the scholarly debate so far.

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The Nuclear Fallout of Trump’s Possible Détente with Putin

Courtesy of Laura Blanchard/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 16 February 2017.

While the new US administration should be looking for areas of cooperation with Russia where possible, it should do so without compromising the United States’ principled stance on Ukraine. Any such compromise will have grave repercussions not only for security in Eastern Europe but also for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

“We can talk about the economy, we can talk about social security—the biggest problem this world has is nuclear proliferation.” Donald Trump, “Meet the Press,” October 1999.

Speaking on February 2, 2017, at the Security Council meeting called by Ukraine in the wake of the renewed escalation of fighting in the Donbas, newly-appointed US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military interventions.” She also reassured the world that sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea will remain in place until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.

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Empire by Other Means: Russia’s Strategy for the 21st Century

Courtesy of Jürgen/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online on 2 February 2017.

During the first phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on 28 January, both sides agreed on the need to improve the US-Russian relationship. While it’s still uncertain how this new relationship will evolve, the conclusion of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing that “we’re not likely to ever be friends” is telling. More importantly, Tillerson noted that the Kremlin has “a geographic plan” and that it is “taking actions to implement that plan.”

Russia has much more than a simple territorial plan. In fact, in recent decades Moscow has actively pursued Putin’s long-term vision of reestablishing Russian power and influence in the former states of the Soviet Union and not shied away from redrawing borders and launching military campaigns.

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The Order of Battle of the Ukrainian Armed Forces

Kiev

Courtesy of Adam Reeder/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 9 December 2016.

The United States and its partners can improve regional security and stability in Eastern Europe by supporting the modernization and reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine more aggressively. Ukraine has suffered from consistent Russian military aggression since Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula and militarily intervened in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in 2014. The overall unpreparedness of the Ukrainian military and its inability to match the capabilities of Russian forces allowed Russian and Russian proxy forces to gain a foothold in eastern Ukraine from which they continue to destabilize the entire country. The Ukrainian armed forces have been partially restructured and strengthened in the face of this constant pressure, enough to stabilize the front lines for a time.  They require significantly more support of all varieties, however, if they are to stop the advance of Russia and its proxies permanently, to say nothing of reversing the armed occupation of Ukrainian territory.

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Is it Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement?

Hand-shakeOn June 22, Ambassador John Herbst and David Kramer debated whether we should bury the Minsk agreement, the troubled ceasefire agreement in Ukraine, at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, DC. Their remarks have been adapted from the debate.

It’s Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement

By David J. Kramer

The Minsk ceasefire agreement, signed February 15, 2015, by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France, along with representatives from the OSCE and from Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR, respectively), is simply not working. It is time to scrap it and make clear to Russia, through a declaration from Western nations, that sanctions will remain in place—and will be increased over time—unless Russia meets several key conditions. These include withdrawal of its forces and weapons from Ukraine (including Crimea), respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, control of the border restored to Ukrainian authorities, and the return to Ukraine of those citizens it kidnapped from Ukrainian territory. Further negotiations with Moscow are pointless given that Russian officials won’t even acknowledge the presence of their forces on Ukrainian soil.

There have not been any new sanctions imposed on Russia despite its failure to live up to a single condition under the Minsk accord. Instead, a number of European leaders, led by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, along with the French parliament and others, have irresponsibly called for an easing if not outright lifting of sanctions. Without German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renewal of EU sanctions would be in jeopardy.

Defenders of Minsk argue it has reduced the fighting. In fact, more than four thousand Ukrainians have been killed since the second Minsk deal was signed last year, almost half the number of total casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2014. A serious uptick in fighting in the past two months further belies the claim that Minsk has preserved the peace.

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