Ukraine in Crisis

On 28 January, 2015 Sapienza University of Rome hosted a conference entitled “Historical Roots and Geopolitical Implications of the Ukrainian Crisis”. The conference was organized by The Doctorate School in “History of Europe” of Sapienza University of Rome jointly with the Link Campus University and the International Center for Policies Studies. The conference attracted considerable interest and was attended by the Rector of Sapienza University Prof. Dr. Eugenio Gaudio, Deputy Rector of Sapienza University on General Affairs Antonello Folco Biagini and the President of Link Campus University Vincenzo Scotti as well as experts and students. The conference has been chaired by Andrea Carteny (Sapienza University of Rome) and Gabriele Natalizia (Link Campus University) and hosted the key-note speeches of Yaroslav Hrytsak (Ukrainian Catholic University) Why history still matters: Euromaidan in a wider historical perspective, Yaroslav Kovalchuk (International Center for Policy Studies) Why does Russia need Ukraine? and Olexiy Semeniy (Institute for Global Transformations) Ukraine Crisis 2013-2014. Geopolitical and Security Dimensions.

Ukraine in Crisis -

Developments in Ukraine have been remaining the headline of the world’s media since the Vilnius Summit in 2013, when the president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign Association Agreement with European Union. After years of negotiations over Association Agreement, Ukrainians were disappointed with the decision of the president and went out to Kiev’s Maidan to protest it. Maidan upraising was the beginning of the 2nd phase tussle over Ukraine between the West and Russia.

Russian political influence in Ukraine for the first time challenged in 2005 when Orange Revolution managed to win the second run of presidential elections. But Orange Revolution didn’t succeed in state authority. Existence of two parallel governments in the country, one by President Yushchenko and another by Prime Minister Yulia Timoschenko ended with the failure of Orange Revolution. Russian backed Viktor Yanukovych who was accused in fraud during 2005 elections was democratically elected in 2010 elections.

Scramble over former Soviet republics heated once again when European Union launched Eastern Partnership program with 6 Eastern neighbors: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Official Kremlin accepted European integration of these 6 countries as a direct threat to Russia’s national security and in order to prevent this process introduced its Customs Union policy with former Soviet republics. Russia put all its efforts to discourage these 6 countries from close cooperation with European Union by vowing greater economic support and threatening to impose trade block.

Moscow’s suppression forced the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych to annul long waited Association Agreement with EU and choose closer relations with Russia. But Ukrainian government faced with its biggest challenge after pro European supporters of the country occupied the independence square of Kiev (Maidan later to be called Euromaidan) and demanded resignation of the president. Government’s attempts to disperse the protestors led to number of death and injuries from the both sides. Causalities among civilians astounded legitimacy of Yanukovich and resulted with his exile to Russia.

Annexation of Crimea

Official Moscow commented events in Kiev as an illegal coup d’état against legitimate government and accused The United States and the European Union with supporting nationalists and extremists in Ukraine. On the pretext of protecting Russian speaking population in Crimea military forces of Russia entered to Crimea and within a short period held referendum to annex Crimean peninsula. Annexation of Crimea was also justified by Moscow with historical roots of Crimea and Russia.

Confronted separatist activities

But Russia didn’t stop with annexation of Crimea and expanded its military moves into other parts of the Ukraine. Although Russia denies its military involvement in Eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Lugansk regions) but self declared separatist states strongly supported from Moscow. In response to deliberate destabilization and subversive activities of Russia in Ukraine, the United States and the European Union imposed severe sanctions to Russia. Punitive sanctions from the Western countries are estimated to force Russian Federation to ceasefire and restore territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Lessons learned from the past

Ukrainian crisis is similar to other frozen conflicts in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Moldova (Transnistria), where official Kremlin backed separatist activities in those regions. Another conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh region also could be given as an example. But unlike from other conflicts Russia indirectly involved in Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Artificially ignited nationalism and separatism in former Soviet republics continued to be a mainstream policy of Russian Federation during the last two decades. Breakaway regions inside the country guarantee Russian military existence and prevent European integration process in those countries.

Ukrainian Crisis direct threat to European Security

Europe has remained the continent of peace and stability after the end of WWII. The main idea behind the establishment of European Union was to achieve permanent peace among the European states but crisis in Ukraine created concerns over the security issues in Europe. Especially three Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) and Poland, which was member of Eastern Block, alarmed with anxieties of their national sovereignty.

Sanctions to forestall aggression

Although laid sanctions and embargoes to Russian economy haven’t abstained official Moscow but Russian economy severely affected from the consequences of sanctions. Sanctions imposed by Obama’s Administration and European Union made Russian economy to experience its hardest times since the collapse of Soviet Union. Russian national currency (Ruble) has fallen dramatically against the US Dollars and Euro, inflation has increased and its economic growth has slowed down. Falling oil prices also severely affected Russian economy and become an additional driver of Russia’s economic crisis.

Balance of power in Ukraine

Starting from 2005 all governments in Ukraine breached balance of power either on the favor of West or Russia. None of them achieved to pursue balanced policy towards global powers. Former President Viktor Yanukovych pursued pro Russian policy looking indifferent to European integration and opposition on the contrary, immediately after overthrowing President Yanukovich, Ukrainian Parliament repealed controversial language bill which was adopted in 2012 by giving Russian language an official status.

Solution to Ukraine Crisis

In order to overcome obstacles Ukraine desperately needs financial aid from international community. The United States and the European Union have pointed out that bailout for Ukraine could be launched only after implementation economic and political reforms. Some experts call Western countries to launch “Marshall Plan” towards Ukraine, which is win-win strategy both for Ukraine and European Union from their point of view. Unification of Germany was possible because of economic development in Western Germany with the financial aid from “Marshall Plan”. Huge economic gap between Western and Eastern Germany pushed Eastern part to strive for unification.

For the time being long term ceasefire agreement between conflict parties and to start political negotiations could be the only right recipe to the crisis in Ukraine. But frozen conflict increases the concerns over war possibilities in the future. Lack of peace agreement and uncertainty in the region may aggravate tension and led to military clashes. Also frozen conflict can prevent Ukrainian government from fulfilling political and economic pledges. Such a situation might be acceptable only for Russia as it keeps Ukraine far from European integration. But this policy also keeps Russian economy under pressure and isolated from the world.