Showing posts with label Ukraine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ukraine. Show all posts

4 March 2020

The Marvelous Misadventures of the U.S.-Ukraine Relationship

by Mark Episkopos

The impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives have demonstrated a near-unanimous consensus among Washington experts and politicians regarding Ukraine policy, best expressed in the closing remarks of Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.): “We should care about Ukraine. We should care about a country struggling to be free and a Democracy . . . but of course, it’s about more than Ukraine. It’s about us. It’s about our national security. Their fight is our fight. Their defense is our defense. When Russia remakes the map of Europe for the first time since World War II by dint of military force and Ukraine fights back, it is our fight too.”

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor echoed a similar sentiment in a recent New York Times op-ed: “To support Ukraine,” wrote Taylor, "is to support a rules-based international order that enabled major powers in Europe to avoid war for seven decades. It is to support democracy over autocracy. It is to support freedom over unfreedom. Most Americans do.”

The Washington consensus offers what is admittedly a gripping narrative: not only the U.S. government but every American citizen is morally bound to support a fledgling Ukrainian nation locked in a mortal struggle to defend its democracy against foreign invasion.

12 February 2020

Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia

by Jonathan Masters

Ukraine has long played an important, yet sometimes overlooked, role in the global security order. Today, the country appears to be on the front lines of a renewed great-power rivalry that many analysts say will dominate international relations in the decades ahead. 

Motivated by many factors, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has triggered the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War. While the United States and its allies have taken significant punitive actions against Russia, they have made little headway in helping to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. 

In recent elections, Ukrainians have clearly indicated that they see their future in Europe, but the country continues to grapple with extreme corruption and deep regional rifts that could impede its path.

Why has Ukraine become a geopolitical flash point?

Will Belarus Be the Next Ukraine?

By Jeffrey Mankoff

As political upheaval, a slow-burning war with Russia, and a general sense of chaos have engulfed Ukraine over the past six years, neighboring Belarus has come to seem like an oasis of stability: stagnant but calm. In recent weeks, that calm has been shattered by oil cutoffs, protests, government shuffles, snap military exercises, and sharp criticism of Russia by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus owes its stability in part to a closeness with Russia that it has never strongly resisted. But the equilibrium of that relationship has begun to change as Russia has stepped up efforts to yoke Belarus even more tightly to Moscow. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin began pushing to revive a half-forgotten agreement, the 1999 Union Treaty, which would allow the two countries to harmonize nearly every aspect of public policy. Some Kremlin officials have even implied that they would pursue political integration with Belarus, including a joint parliament and executive—steps that would effectively set the two states on a path toward unification. For added emphasis, Russia has threatened to stop furnishing its neighbor with cheap oil. 

4 February 2020

Kozak to Replace Surkov as Putin’s Top Aide on Ukraine (Part One)

By: Vladimir Socor

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently intends to replace Vladislav Surkov with Dmitry Kozak as principal executant of Putin’s policies toward Ukraine, including Ukraine’s Russian-occupied areas. Surkov and Kozak have also covered other “frozen-conflict” theaters in their respective portfolios until now. The Kremlin has not issued official announcements about replacing Surkov with Kozak or redistributing their portfolios as yet. Nevertheless, it is the consensus view among observers in both Ukraine and Russia that the stage is set for Kozak to take over the lead from Surkov on Ukraine policy.

Surkov is closely associated with Putin’s own implacable hostility toward Ukraine as a nation-state. However, Putin has apparently decided to create the semblance of a dialogue as a second track in the relationship with Ukraine. This necessitates sidelining Surkov to impress Kyiv, albeit without changing the substance of Moscow’s policies.

On January 24, Putin transferred Kozak from the position of deputy prime minister to that of deputy head of the presidential administration. This move lifts Kozak to the top of decision-making processes next to Putin. The president has created this post specially for Kozak (on top of two pre-existing posts of deputy head of the presidential administration) (, January 24, 2020). It is also a more senior post entailing a wider range of responsibilities, compared with Surkov’s status as presidential aide.

28 January 2020

Top Conflicts to Watch in 2020: A Crisis Between Russia and Ukraine

by Thomas Graham

One of the highest rated concerns in this year’s Preventive Priorities Survey was the outbreak of a severe crisis between Russia and Ukraine following increased fighting in eastern Ukraine, and/or a major military clash in contested areas. In contrast to the results of the survey, I would argue that the likelihood of such a crisis is actually low. For the past several months, Russia and Ukraine have pursued confidence-building measures, such as prisoner exchanges and separation of forces in eastern Ukraine (the Donbas), to reduce the risk of serious conflict. Moscow has little interest in escalating the fighting: instead, it is focused on persuading the European Union to ease sanctions that have been dragging its economy. Kyiv has little capacity for a sustained military effort and worries about whether Europe would have its back, especially as French President Emmanuel Macron appears intent on pursuing détente with Russia. The Donbas separatists themselves have little room for maneuver, absent strong backing from Moscow.

The low likelihood of a crisis, however, does not mean that the Russian-Ukrainian dispute is close to resolution. Russian leaders have yet to be reconciled to Ukraine’s independence. Russia’s security and prosperity, they believe, require that Ukraine be tightly bound to Russia. Ukraine, however, has resisted Russia’s embrace, seeking to reinforce its independence through closer ties to Europe and the United States. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and fomented rebellion in the Donbas to forestall what it feared was Ukraine’s rapid movement away from Russia toward Europe after a pro-Western popular uprising ousted the Russian-backed president. The intensity of the conflict in the Donbas, which has taken more than 13,000 lives, has subsided considerably since 2014-15, but fighting continues along the line of contact separating the belligerents. Moscow denies Western accusations that its forces have participated directly in the fighting. The Normandy Format—France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine—was created in 2014 with the aim of resolving the conflict.

17 January 2020

How a Journalist in Kyiv Responded to the Downing of a Ukrainian Passenger Plane

By Masha Gessen
Source Link

Angelina Kariakina had barely slept, in the early hours of January 8th, when her phone rang. Kariakina is the editor-in-chief of Hromadske.TV, Ukraine’s independent, collectively run online-and-satellite-based television station, and before she fell asleep, she had been coördinating Hromadske’s coverage of Iranian missile strikes against U.S. air bases. Now, a colleague who was on vacation in a country a few time zones ahead of Ukraine was calling to say that a Ukrainian passenger plane had crashed soon after takeoff from the Tehran airport. Kariakina got up and started reporting.

Kariakina, who is thirty-four, was in a unique position to report the story and grasp its context. She was, until very recently, married to an Iranian-born Ukrainian citizen, and lived briefly in Tehran, in 2008 and 2009. Her father and an entire community of family friends are pilots.

She called her father first. The crash was being reported as an accident—an early theory had it that an engine had caught on fire right after takeoff. This would have been the first fatal accident in the twenty-seven-year history of Ukraine’s national carrier, Ukraine International Airlines. Her father immediately questioned the official version. He said that a Boeing 737, which he had flown, can stay in the air for up to half an hour with one of its engines on fire, giving the pilots enough time for two attempts at landing. Kariakina made more calls—to family friends—and they affirmed her father’s opinion. She also learned that the crew included three experienced pilots. She began to suspect that the plane had been shot down, but she felt that Hromadske couldn’t advance this theory until an official source did. (Iran has since admitted to mistakenly shooting down the plane, killing a hundred and seventy-six passengers.)

16 January 2020

Western Officials Believe Iran Shot Down Ukrainian Airliner

Source Link

Officials in the U.S. and Canadian governments believe Iranian missiles shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, adding a new layer of complication to the dramatic escalation in tensions between Iran and the United States.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. “This may well have been unintentional.”

A U.S. official who spoke to Foreign Policy also suggested the plane could have been mistakenly shot down by Iranian missile systems. The downing of the plane came immediately after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Iranian air defenses would have been on high alert at that time.

6 January 2020

Ukraine’s Unfinished Revolution – Analysis

By Igor Torbakov*
Source Link

(Eurasianet) — Ukraine’s post-Soviet existence has been marked by social upheaval and political dysfunction. To understand why stability and prosperity has proven so elusive in the country, look at the political and social conditions that governed Ukraine’s transition from communism to independence.

The Soviet Union’s implosion in 1991 caught the elites in each of its 15 constituent republics unprepared. At the time, Ukraine, along with the other republics, lacked a well-developed, inclusive notion of national identity, a mature political culture, pluralistic institutions and wide acceptance of the idea of a loyal opposition. Under such conditions, Communist cadres enjoyed an advantageous position amid the scramble to lead newly independent Ukraine. The competition wasn’t strong.

Ultimately, the momentous events of 1991 can’t be considered the logical conclusion of a protracted and heroic national-liberation struggle, but rather a deal struck by the three major groups comprising Ukraine’s population – communists, nationalists and the mainly Russian-speaking workers in eastern areas.

5 January 2020

The Shoals of Ukraine

By Serhii Plokhy and M. E. Sarotte 
At first, it might seem surprising that Ukraine, a country on the fringes of Europe, is suddenly at the turbulent center of American politics and foreign policy. With an impeachment inquiry in Washington adding further detail to the story of the Trump administration’s efforts to tie U.S. security assistance for the country to Ukrainian cooperation in investigating President Donald Trump’s Democratic opponents, Trump’s presidency itself hangs in the balance. And the repercussions go even further, raising questions about the legitimacy and sustainability of U.S. power itself.

In fact, that Ukraine is at the center of this storm should not be surprising at all. Over the past quarter century, nearly all major efforts at establishing a durable post–Cold War order on the Eurasian continent have foundered on the shoals of Ukraine. For it is in Ukraine that the disconnect between triumphalist end-of-history delusions and the ongoing realities of great-power competition can be seen in its starkest form.

20 December 2019

Giuliani Hints at New Defense: So What If Trump Did It?

Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Harvard University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. His books include “The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President.”

Slowly but perceptibly, the Trump administration is moving towards a concrete defense in the president’s Senate impeachment trial: Not that Donald Trump didn’t pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, but that he did — and that there’s nothing wrong with it.

The latest indication of this direction comes from the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who in a couple of press interviews has acknowledged his role in advising President Trump to arrange the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, because Giuliani believed she stood in the way of getting those investigations.

If Trump wanted to focus on the impeachment defense that there was no quid pro quo and that he innocently asked for the investigations in order to fight corruption, then it would be genuinely crazy for his personal lawyer to reveal the specifics of how and what he communicated to the president. Giuliani’s statements are terribly harmful to Trump’s case — and he has now effectively waived attorney-client privilege, so he could be called to testify.

The Dead End of the Normandy Format


Putin and his regime are thugs and kleptocrats. Only they can bring peace to Ukraine—not comfortable dilettantes at diplomatic summits.

On December 9, Ukraine’s new President Volodomyr Zelensky met face to face in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He retained his dignity and ceded nothing—quite an accomplishment, given the pressures and competing interests bearing down on him and his hapless and struggling nation. After long meetings, the perpetrator and the victim only agreed to swap prisoners, impose ceasefires in certain areas, and meet again in April. Zelensky later described the outcome as a “draw,” a success against his nemesis. 

Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany met as members of the so-called Normandy Format, which aims to resolve a war that began after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. Initially, talks involved Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union in Geneva in 2014, under the auspices of the United Nations. But these failed and Putin rejected out of hand participation by the two power blocs. He then cherry picked France and Germany instead. 

17 December 2019

Why the U.S. Needs a Seat at the Table in Talks to End the War in Eastern Ukraine

Candace Rondeaux 

More than five years after Russia annexed Crimea, with the war in eastern Ukraine grinding on, is a détente between Moscow and Kyiv finally within reach? It might have been tempting to think so with the summit this week in Paris between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was only a few months ago, after all, that Putin and Zelensky had their first phone call, which led to Russia and Ukraine swapping dozens of prisoners and agreeing to consider reopening talks over the political future of the breakaway Donbas region.

Yet despite some progress in Paris, a détente is still far off. Until Russia backs off its demand that Zelensky deal directly with the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the sustainability of any deal will be in doubt. Moreover, unless and until Russia makes room at the negotiating table for the United States, movement toward a negotiated settlement will be incremental at best. ...

15 December 2019

If Ukraine Is Impeachable, What’s Afghanistan?

Source Link

As the House Judiciary Committee drafts articles of impeachment intended to remove President Donald Trump from office, let us pause to reflect on the subject of relative malfeasance. Allow me to stipulate that Trump is unfit for office. He is a coarse, vulgar, and dishonest demagogue. Yet I want to suggest that his transgressions, while notable, pale in comparison with a far greater crime that unfolded right before our eyes, for years, well before his election.

That crime is the Afghan War. Now, withholding security assistance from a beleaguered nation threatened by Russia in return for political favors is a despicable act. This is true even if that nation is one that Washington only recently decided to classify as vital to U.S. interests. 

But a misguided war that drags on inconclusively for more than 18 years is, I submit, a far greater crime. This is especially the case if that war has cost the United States more than $1 trillion, with 2,300 U.S. troops and more than 3,800 American contractors killed, and another 20,000 GIs wounded in action, many grievously. And that’s not counting the more than 100,000 members of Afghan security forces and Afghan civilians killed along the way.

14 December 2019

Can the Paris Summit End Ukraine’s War?

By Robert McMahon

The summit will feature the highest-profile talks in years on the war between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists, but the parties will have to bridge major divides to find a permanent end to the conflict.

The leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine—the so-called Normandy Four group—are due to meet December 9 in Paris to renew negotiations to end the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine. While diplomatic momentum has grown in recent months, high obstacles remain before all sides can reach a lasting settlement.

Separatists, enabled by Russian forces, moved to seize power in the Donbas region in April 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The actions followed a pro-democracy uprising that led to the flight of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. The Donbas is now divided, with separatists controlling areas around the industrial centers of Donetsk and Luhansk, while the other part remains under Ukrainian government administration. Some fighting continues along the front line, but the war is largely stalled. It has exacted a heavy toll: thirteen thousand people have been killed, more than twenty thousand wounded, and about 1.5 million people internally displaced in Ukraine.

A Formula for Peace?

13 December 2019

Russia has strong hand to play at Paris meeting on eastern Ukraine

A group of European leaders meeting in Paris on Monday aims to revive progress on terms for peace in eastern Ukraine, an effort that has largely stalled since the second Minsk agreement was signed in February 2015.

Why it matters: It’s the first such meeting in more than three years among France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia — the so-called Normandy Four. Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the talks with his greatest leverage yet, which does not bode well for Ukraine.

Between the lines: International developments have converged to strengthen Russia's hand.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team are new to the diplomatic game and likely ill-equipped to confront the experienced Russian delegation — particularly Putin, who prepares thoroughly for high-level meetings and knows his French and German counterparts well. Back home, Zelensky faces falling approval ratings and protests against a feared "capitulation" to Russia on the Donbas.

French President Emmanuel Macron is pursuing his Russia "reset." He has vetoed further enlargement of the EU to the Balkans (an unhelpful signal for Ukraine’s accession aspirations), undermined NATO solidarity with comments about the alliance's "brain death" and announced that Russia is not a threat to Europe.

Ukraine’s Leader to Face Down Putin for First Time


While Washington has been fixated on U.S. President Donald Trump’s interactions with his Ukrainian counterpart—and whether those conversations represent an impeachable offense for the American leader—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been focused on ending the war in his country’s east, where more than 13,000 people have been killed in a five-year-long battle against Russian-backed separatists.

Now Zelensky finds himself somewhat hobbled by the impeachment controversy back in Washington as he prepares to hold his first-ever meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday. There, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France, collectively known as the Normandy group, will meet together for the first time in three years to discuss ways to resolve the conflict. 

The talks are not expected to yield any breakthroughs, but the stakes could hardly be higher for Ukraine’s neophyte president as he contends with a distracted Washington and a stubborn Moscow—as well as a French president who has sought rapprochement with Putin

Ukraine’s Divided House Still Stands

By Brian Milakovsky 

Ukrainians register the deepening scandal around the alleged quid pro quo—U.S. President Donald Trump’s pressuring of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—as a sideshow to the mind-bending problem that has hung over their country since 2014: Should Ukraine reintegrate the territories of its eastern region, known as Donbas, that are controlled by Russia and its separatist clients? If so, when? And how?

The war is now in its fifth year. During this time, the Donbas has split in two. One part, centering on the industrial cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, is administered by separatists installed by the Kremlin. The other part remains under the administration of the Ukrainian government in Kyiv. Heavy fighting is confined to a narrow strip along the front, and thousands of people cross back and forth between Russia-controlled and government-controlled areas every day. But trade is extremely limited, because Kyiv imposed a blockade in 2017 when separatist authorities “nationalized” factories and mines.

11 December 2019

How Donald Trump Is Making It Harder to End the War in Ukraine

By Joshua Yaffa
Source Link

On Monday, in Paris, Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin will meet, for the first time, for face-to-face peace talks on a five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine that has cost more than thirteen thousand lives. Ending the war in the Donbass has been the primary policy goal for Zelensky since he took office last May. “I am focussed on the Donbass, on ending this war,” he told me in Kyiv this summer, when I was reporting a profile of him for the magazine. Ukrainian voters had given him a “quota of trust,” as he put it, and it was time to bring the war to a close.

Yet unlike on matters of, say, land-sale reform or anti-corruption legislation, that is not something that Zelensky, or any Ukrainian President, can will into being. Zelensky needs the acquiescence, or at least participation, of Putin, who provides the military firepower and diplomatic backing that props up the Donbass’s separatist enclaves. Making things even more complicated for Zelensky, and affecting both his and Putin’s calculations, are the impeachment hearings in Washington, where President Trump is accused of suborning U.S. policy toward Ukraine in the service of his own political bugbears.

From the moment of Zelensky’s inauguration, last May, he and his advisers saw relations with Trump as imperative to the goal of reaching a negotiated settlement to the Donbass war. The hope in Kyiv was that Zelensky and Trump could meet as soon as possible, and that Zelensky could sell to Trump the idea of playing the “grand peacemaker” in Ukraine, Alyona Getmanchuk, the director of New Europe Center, a foreign-policy think-tank, told me. The United States provides hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance, and its suspension by Trump for alleged political reasons is a central argument for impeachment. But Washington has no formal role in the multiparty “Normandy Format” talks between Russia and Ukraine that began in 2014, stalled in 2016, and will resume in Paris on Monday.

8 December 2019

Why care about Ukraine and the Budapest Memorandum

Steven Pifer

Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the United States has provided Ukraine with $3 billion in reform and military assistance and $3 billion in loan guarantees. U.S. troops in western Ukraine train their Ukrainian colleagues. Washington, in concert with the European Union, has taken steps to isolate Moscow politically and imposed a series of economic and visa sanctions on Russia and Russians.

The furor over President Donald Trump’s sordid bid to extort the president of Ukraine into investigating his potential 2020 political opponent raises an obvious question: Why should the United States care so much about Ukraine, a country 5,000 miles away? A big part of the reason is that U.S. officials told the Ukrainians the United States would care when negotiating the Budapest Memorandum on security assurances, signed 25 years ago this week.


In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, Russia, and Britain committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. Those assurances played a key role in persuading the Ukrainian government in Kyiv to give up what amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, consisting of some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.

5 December 2019

The Shoals of Ukraine

By Serhii Plokhy and M. E. Sarotte 

At first, it might seem surprising that Ukraine, a country on the fringes of Europe, is suddenly at the turbulent center of American politics and foreign policy. With an impeachment inquiry in Washington adding further detail to the story of the Trump administration’s efforts to tie U.S. security assistance for the country to Ukrainian cooperation in investigating President Donald Trump’s Democratic opponents, Trump’s presidency itself hangs in the balance. And the repercussions go even further, raising questions about the legitimacy and sustainability of U.S. power itself.

In fact, that Ukraine is at the center of this storm should not be surprising at all. Over the past quarter century, nearly all major efforts at establishing a durable post–Cold War order on the Eurasian continent have foundered on the shoals of Ukraine. For it is in Ukraine that the disconnect between triumphalist end-of-history delusions and the ongoing realities of great-power competition can be seen in its starkest form.