Ukrainian Crisis and the Resurgence of Russia

Ms. Aymen Ijaz, Assistant Research Officer IPRI, gave a presentation to IPRI scholars on the topic,Ukrainian Crisis and the Resurgence of Russia”, on December 23rd, 2015 at IPRI Conference Hall.

 

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Introduction
The Ukrainian Crisis was a political crisis that emerged in Ukraine in early 2014. The crisis had changed the geopolitical dynamics of the international system. The Russian-West relations that had begun since the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 have been strained after the crisis. The Ukraine crisis has opened a period of heightened rivalry and confrontation between former Cold War adversaries, i.e. US and Soviet Union. In order to understand the Ukrainian crisis, it was important to understand the geography of Ukraine and its Geo-strategic importance. Ukraine was a country in Eastern Europe, lying on the northern shores of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. It bordered a number of European countries, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary in the west, Belarus in the north, Moldova and Romania in the south-west and Russia in the east. Ukraine was the second-largest country by area in Europe after Russia.

Geostrategic Importance of Ukraine

The prime location allowed Ukraine to play a major role in Eastern and Central Europe. Ukraine’s strategic location made it a crucial player in the European energy transit network. Ukraine was an important market for both EU and Russian made goods. Economically, Ukraine was a major player in the field of weapons systems being manufacturer of ballistic missiles, large transport planes and launch pads for space carriers. Ukraine was also a major producer and exporter of steel. Ukraine had large natural gas deposits and some of the best offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the Black Sea. From the strategic point of view, Ukrainian port cities were important in both economic and military sense. The ports of Odessa and Sevastopol provided both military and commercial access for exports, particularly from Southern Russia. The geo-strategic location of Ukraine was important for both West and Russia.

Crisis at a Glance

In November 2013, Ukraine suspended a political and an economic association agreement that Kiev had to sign with the EU. Instead later in December 2013, Ukraine accepted a generous financial and economic package from Russia. The November 2013 decision led to mass protests in central Kiev. These protests became known as the Euromaidan, which resulted in resignation of Ukrainian President Yanukovych. His resignation led to unrest in Southern and Eastern Ukraine, from where he had drawn his support. Many anti-revolution activists started demonstrations in Crimea and other regions. A referendum was held in Crimea on 16 March, 2014 and finally Crimea joined Russia on 18 March, 2014. Elections were held in May 2014 in Ukraine and a new government of Petro Poroshenko was installed. In order to restore peace in the Donbass region, peace deal agreements were signed in September 2014 and February 2015 respectively between the Ukrainian government and the separatists. First Minsk-I Protocol (to ensure immediate ceasefire) was brokered by OSCE, Minsk-II was brokered by Germany and France.

Implications of Ukrainian Crisis

Ukrainian crisis had both domestic and international implications. For Ukraine, the crisis led to political unrest in the country. According to World Bank, the Ukrainian economy collapsed by 8% in 2014. There was a coal shortage within Ukraine, because coal was present in separatist controlled regions. Russia continued to pressurize Ukraine. The gas pipeline agreement with the EU through Ukraine was cancelled. As for Russia, it was ousted out of the G8 and heavy economic sanctions were imposed on it. The crisis resulted in devaluation of ruble. Russia’s economic ties with Europe were strained. As the NATO response was limited in the crisis, therefore the Eastern European countries were concerned about their national security. Hence, the Ukrainian crisis politically and economically affected the region.  

Reasons behind Resurgence of Russia

The Ukrainian crisis was a mere display of resurgence of Russia. However, there are certain other factors behind the resurgence of Russia. Russia’s history, its geopolitics and military might keep the Russian quest for great power status always alive. Similarly, Russia had an incredibly traumatic history during the 20th century, the failings of the Soviet empire, economic stagnation, and a misplaced focus on developing arms and technology in what eventually became a failed arms race with the United States and finally the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had compelled Russia to resurge. The role of leadership is important in resurgence of Russia. After becoming the president, Putin revisited the state policy and brought about three sets of documents: the National Security Concept, the Foreign Policy Concept, and the Military Doctrine that together highlighted Russia’s areas of interest and influence. Putin has made himself and his policies extremely popular with the Russian public. Another factor is the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church has passionately supported Putin as he casts Russia’s challenges in a framework of “foreign devils” vs. “Holy Russia.”

The major factor behind Russia’s resurgence is the security factor. The NATO expansion, the colour revolutions in the CIS and Balkan states, the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and now the Ukrainian crisis, all led to disturbing the security of Russia. Similarly, Russia is depending on its oil exports and its future pipeline projects. Ukraine association with the EU would have affected its economy. Any threat to Russia’s economy could force Russia to take steps to protect its economic interests. The limited role of NATO also led to the Ukrainian crisis because none of the NATO members, including the United States were ready to provide military support to Ukraine and risk a military conflict with Russia. The emergence of the concept of multipolarity and the gradual decline of the US influence in the world has also increased Russia’s confidence to resurge again in the global politics.

Factors Indicating Resurgence of Russia

There are several factors that indicate the resurgence of Russia such as revival of nationalism e.g. Putin’s revival of Soviet-style military parades in Red Square. Another signal is the political resurgence of Russia. Its role is growing in the politics of the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Russia is selling arms to most of Middle Eastern states and has expanded its naval presence in the region. It has intervened in the Syrian crisis, played a key role in the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran and is extending trade and economic ties with the European and Central Asian states. Russia is playing a prominent role in the maritime security in the Asia pacific region. It is also improving trade and defence relations with the South Asian countries i.e. Pakistan and India. Russia has built stronger economic ties with China. In fact, Russia is building alliances through multilateral organizations such as Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS to enhance its global outreach. The economic recovery of the ruble was another indication of Russia’s resurgence. Russia had one of the best stock markets in 2015. It has also signed many gas pipeline projects with Korea, Japan, China, Greece, Turkey such as Trans-Korea Gas Pipeline, South European Pipeline and Nord Stream II, Altai etc.)

There has been a military resurgence of Russia as well. Russia has the second strongest military power in the world, the world’s largest tank fleet, the second largest aircraft fleet behind the US, and the third largest submarine fleet behind the US and China. The Kremlin’s military spending has increased by almost thrice since 2008 and is expected to grow by 44% more in the next three years. Russia has created a new military branch to counter NATO. The introduction of Military Doctrine in 2010 and Military Reforms in 2011 with the rapid modernization of Russia’s Pacific fleet in 2015 demonstrate that the Russian military has revived its strength and power. In the nuclear field, Russia is gradually replacing its aging stockpile of Soviet-era nuclear weapons with an arsenal that are suitable for the 21st century’s evolving security environment.

Challenges to Resurgence of Russia

There are several challenges to resurgence of Russia. With the rise of the concept of multipolarity, Russia has to compete politically and economically with other powerful states in the international arena. Russia has limited influence and political clout. It has economic constraints and less advanced military and technology vis-à-vis the US. The prevailing domination of the US in terms of political, military and economic sphere would continue to challenge the resurgence of Russia.

Global Implications of Resurgence of Russia

There are grave implications of Ukrainian crisis and the revival of Russia. Russia has reasserted itself as a global power. The NATO’s limited response during the Ukrainian crisis has shown NATO’s inability to provide security to Eastern European countries on military grounds. The resurgence of Russia is likely to revive the Cold War scenario with the shift in Global power balance. Both the US and Russia would provide economic incentives to smaller and weaker states to build their alliance blocks.

Relevance to Pakistan

The government of Pakistan emphasized on the need for talks and diplomacy as the only option to resolve the matter.

Recommendations

Pakistan needs to diversify its foreign policy with all major world powers, including Russia. Russia would also like to extend its ties with Pakistan. Growing Russia-China ties would also open new prospects and opportunities for Pakistan. In the view of Russia’s search for new markets for its defence equipment and technology sale, Pakistan would be an additional good option for Russia. It would also be able to focus on increasing trade with and investment in Pakistan. There are prospects of collaboration on CPEC between both the countries.

Conclusion

The political, economic and military resurgence of Russia is evident through its pro-active role in the global politics presently.

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About the Author

Ms Aymen Ijaz is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Ms Aymen holds the credit of being awarded “Vice Chancellor’s Medal” for securing top position in M.Phil International Relations from School of Political Science and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. She has also done her M.Sc IR from QAU. Before joining IPRI, she has worked as a Research Intern with Inter- Services Public Relations (ISPR) and South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). Ms Aymen has worked as a Project Co-Researcher with the magazine, “The Diplomatic Insight”. She has also taught as a Visiting Faculty at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad. Ms. Aymen has hosted/co-ordinated number of national and international conferences. She contributes regularly to leading national and international dailies. Ms. Aymen focuses on international and regional issues with particular focus on South Asia. Her areas of interests include nuclear non-proliferation, international security, arms control/disarmament, nuclear and strategic studies. E-mail: research.pak@gmail.com

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