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The Global Context of the Ukrainian Crisis: Preconditions and Consequences

Dr. A.A. Sushentsov's lecture at MGIMO University

Dear colleagues, I am happy to welcome you all at MGIMO today. In addition to faculty staff and students, we’re glad to have our distinguished guests here, so I will introduce myself. My name is Andrey Sushentsov, I am the Dean of the School of International Relations at MGIMO University. Today, we are opening a series of lectures that will focus on the Ukrainian crisis and its various dimensions, including the global implications of the crisis, which will be the subject of my today’s lecture.

The subject of our today’s lecture is the Ukrainian crisis and its global consequences. I realize that one lecture will not be enough to cover this topic, so I will focus on the two key aspects; firstly, the European security crisis, which was probably the main driving force behind this crisis, and the delayed crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Expansion of the West’s sphere of influence

If we try to succinctly explain the linear logic of Russian-Western relations, which first led to the escalation of tensions in Europe, and then triggered this crisis, it can be described as follows. The West has the initiative and is constantly expanding its sphere of influence in Europe closer to the Russian borders, focusing not only on Europe but on other important regions as well, all while trying to present its own security system, with the United States as its center, as a universal one.

What lies at the heart of this strategy, which was set out in the early ‘90s under the Bill Clinton administration, is a metaphor that was employed by Anthony Lake, National Security Adviser to the Clinton administration, in his speech at Johns Hopkins University. When addressing the students and the faculty, he said that during the Cold War, one could succinctly explain the U.S. strategy against the USSR looking at a map where blue and red areas clashed.

 “During the Cold War, even children understood America’s security mission; as they looked at those maps on their schoolroom walls, they knew we were trying to contain the creeping expansion of that big, red blob. Today, at great risk of oversimplification, we might visualize our security mission as promoting the enlargement of the “blue areas” of market democracies […] Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies; now we should seek to enlarge their reach, particularly in places that are of special significance to us.”

Such phrasing sounds a bit ideologically deterministic, even Marxist in a way. History moves in a certain direction, it has an end, there’s a right and a wrong side, and everything the United States does is on the right side of history.

Thus, countries that do not submit to the United States and act independently are on the wrong side of history. This propagandist concept, quite realistic in its infancy when it was proposed in the early years of the Cold War, eventually started to increasingly dominate over strategic considerations.

30 years of Russia’s diplomatic efforts

This policy gradually started lacking rational, sober, calculated steps, relying solely on ideology instead. In the early ‘90s, Russia also took an active part in this determinism and the stream of public expectations it had created. The first Yeltsin administration including Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev seemed to share the ideas the U.S. presented as an ideological framework for the new world: the ideas of freedom, free trade, liberalization, and democratization.

For instance, in his notorious 1992 publication in the Survival magazine, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev suggested that the only way for Russia to survive was to join the West, that is, to allow Americans to implement their strategy. However, already during Yeltsin’s administration, a critical analysis of Russia’s national interests began to show that following this American strategy puts Russian interests in danger.

This tension, completely objective in nature, began to accumulate back then. It became clear there was more to this American strategy than the ideas Russia readily accepted at the time. Behind it were the military capabilities, the сcoercive capabilities that Americans didn’t hesitate to use.

They are willing to use force in circumstances where they feel progress is not being made fast enough, or when there is an opportunity to speed up the process in order to reach the right endpoint of history. At first, this was merely irritating, then it started causing increasingly active resistance by Russia.

Leading Western analysts also predicted that the era of Russia meekly following America’s lead would inevitably come to an end, Russians would finally come to their senses and retaliate. One of the people to actively promote this idea in the mainstream American media, was George Kennan, one of the founding fathers of the Containment strategy.

In a plethora of publications and interviews in the mid-to-late ‘90s, he stated that a new Cold War was beginning, the expansion of NATO was completely unwarranted, that it was a disastrous mistake, and that Russians would eventually react, and their reaction will completely different from what is expected, despite the fact that they swallowed the bitter pill of NATO expansion at the time. This prophecy from his 1998 interview has become quite iconic, if you take a look at how events have unfolded since then.

But as tensions in Russian-Western relations began to rise, Andrey Kozyrev was forced to take active, and sometimes outrageous steps to demonstrate Russia’s deep-seated dissatisfaction with the way events were starting to unfold.

There was one particular incident that went down in history. It took place at the Security and Cooperation Council session in Stockholm in 1992. The Cold War had just ended, a new government came into power in Moscow, and the Foreign Minister was said to be be pro-Western.  And then he takes the stage and delivers a short, vivid and very tough speech to an audience of foreign ministers, national security advisers, experts, and journalists. The key points of the speech were that Russia was strongly opposed to any NATO expansion to the East, and would have to respond if that was to take place. Russia would protect the rights of Russians in the post-Soviet space and, overall, viewed the Western bloc as hostile.

Having said that in under five minutes, he left the stage, causing a sense of shock in the entire audience.  Western officials were perplexed by what had just happened, as they expected him to say completely different things. After a while, Kozyrev returned to the floor and said that the speech had been a stunt intended as a wake-up call to the West. He said that Russia had a huge job to do: create an inclusive security system on the European continent that was not targeted against Russia.

 “Russia must be part of this system,” he said, “And if it is not, the next Russian foreign minister will mean what I’ve just told you, and he’ll mean every word of it.”

This speech provoked many reactions, and witnesses of those events recall the episode as the one that really influenced their understanding of the strategic situation on in Russian-Western relations at the time. Still, it had no profound consequences.

In a plethora of other speeches in the early 1990s, Russia’s top-ranking officials used similar theses earnestly. In his 1994 Budapest address, Boris Yeltsin said that “Europe, not having yet freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War, is in danger of plunging into a cold peace,” meaning a system of interaction full of hostility and mistrust, which will gradually lay the groundwork for a system of mutual deterrence.

Another famous example is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Bundestag that he delivered in German. The most quoted part of this speech is probably the one about the common future of Russia and Europe, but the significant part of the same speech was dedicated to the major structural problem of European security: the existence of NATO and its expansion to the east, and the disagreement with Russia on the issue. These same theses were expounded on, clearly and ominously, in Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech in 2007 and have been repeated by the Russian leadership many times ever since.

The last major warning, in fact, was voiced in November and December of last year, when Moscow came out with a series of diplomatic initiatives, containing all the same points that have been discussed since the beginning of the ‘90s. So, is it fair to say that Western analysts and experts misunderstood the nature of Russia’s demands, or did they just prefer not to recognize them fully?

Unfortunately, we cannot draw such a conclusion. The materials made public by WikiLeaks in 2008 prepared by American diplomats across the globe, including the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, show a very high level of awareness and understanding of Russia’s position. For instance, the current head of the CIA, William Burns, was the U.S. ambassador to Moscow at the time; he belongs to the generation of American leaders who still know how to think strategically.

And these materials show that Americans are acutely aware of Russia’s standpoint. They know how sensitive Moscow is to pressure on its interests in Eastern Europe. Moreover, they express great surprise at Moscow’s willingness to defend its interests to the point of using force. There are two very important memos from the U.S. Embassy in Russia. The first one is called “Njet means njet,” which means “no means no.” It is very easy to find on Google.

It outlines Russia’s “red lines” regarding NATO expansion and the Ukrainian crisis. This note contains a rather important statement that the issue of Ukraine’s admission to NATO is, first and foremost, of vital importance to Russia and is, secondly, extremely polarizing for Ukrainian society. This issue, if raised quickly and without due preparation, could potentially cause civil confrontation and even a civil war.

In this case, Russia will have to interfere, the note reads, even if it does not want to. This allows us to conclude that Americans were well aware of both Russia’s interests and its willingness to defend them. In February of that same year, seeing the growing tension between Moscow and Washington, William Burns sent another memo, in which he stated that a direct military clash was far from impossible. This involved three issues that the United States was trying to get Moscow to agree to.

The first was the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia, the second was the recognition of Kosovo, and the third was the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe. As the Bush administration tried to push these three issues simultaneously in his final year of presidency, Bill Burns claimed that the extent of accumulated tension was so high that a “train wreck” as he called it was likely to happen.

Russia was bound to clash with the U.S. on one of these issues, so he urged Washington to offer the Russians not three, but one of them at a time. This proposal fell on deaf years, but the very phrasing of the question (Russia will accept everything, the main thing is to break the bad news bit by bit) is very typical of the American approach to Russian interests in Eurasia as a whole and in Europe in particular. This logic is based on thinking from a position of power, on the thinking of a hegemon in unipolar world.

If we were to summarize Russian-American relations with a single metaphor, a good metaphor can be found in Vladimir Putin‘s dialogue with George W. Bush on the issue of the deployment of the American missile defense system in Europe. Putin, who was on friendly terms with Bush, asked him: “George, look, why are you putting a missile defense system in Europe when you say it’s against Iran? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put it closer to this country, like in the Middle East or the Caucasus?”

A little later, Russia even suggested creating a joint missile defense system, using Russian infrastructure in the Caucasus. But America didn’t go for this at the time. Vladimir Putin sealed his speech with the argument that if missile defense is deployed, Russia will be forced to create a counterthreat, for example, deploy weapons in Kaliningrad or take other steps to level out the risks.

Having heard these reasonable arguments, which he was, by the way, already tired of hearing, George Bush responded with a three-part formula. He said:

“Vladimir, we are not enemies. So you do what you want. And we will do what we want.”

The correct way to read this formula is as follows: “We are not enemies,” that is, “We will not intentionally act against your interests. What we do is aimed not against Russia but against others. We mostly seek to pursue our own interests, so it has nothing to do with you.

But if your interests are affected as a result, sorry, we didn’t mean it, but life is complicated.” The “do whatever you want” part means that “whatever you do, the disparity of our potentials is so great that it won’t hurt us in any way, so do whatever you want, you are too weak to cause us harm  anyway. And the third part, “we’ll do what we want,” means that “we don’t think you have the right to veto any of our moves or actions.”

This is the pure logic of the unipolar moment, with which Russia, of course, has never agreed, despite Bush and Putin being on friendly terms. And in the light of the events that proceeded to unfold, Russia saw not only American arrogance, but also a strategic mistake. Our country’s position, its analytical conclusions about the development of international processes indicated that polycentricity and multipolarity are more than just figures of speech. As other centers of power, with interests completely autonomous from the West and the United States, emerge, they will be set and ready to defend these interests, including by force.

US Global leadership crisis

And not only Russia, other countries as well. And in the light of this situation, America pursuing a one-sided line of pressure, with only a stick and no carrots, in fact means departing from its classic Cold War containment strategy, where it was important to have a large group of neutral countries that were conditionally positive toward the United States, even if they did not take part in their military and political alliance.

We can clearly see this strategy of pressure right now, when the U.S. would need, for example, not to put pressure on China, but on the contrary, create an enabling environment for it to distance itself from Moscow, if we think from the American perspective. But apparently, their analytical mistake is this very unipolar moment, unipolar dominance that they are trying at all costs to forcibly establish now.

What this leads to is an erosion of their global leadership. In general, for many countries (although not for Russia), their U.S.-centered international system was quite comfortable. But in fact, the United States is breaking down the consensus around its leadership with its own fair hands. They are also breaking down the international institutions that have been the cornerstone of international affairs since World War II and the end of the Cold War.

This also applies to values: Americans do not take into account how different the world is, how different the Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Brazilian, or Russian worldview is from the Western paradigm. The question of values, or “cultural differences”, as some may put it, is gaining momentum and becoming the driving force behind these countries’ policies.

The U.S. approach to its military allies is pragmatic, even cynical to an extent; in fact, these alliances are increasingly used as mere tools. For example, to sell a batch of large submarines, you can form a nice military alliance with Australia, meanwhile disregarding the interests of allied France by excluding Paris from this tender.

When coalitions they create on occasion essentially become a consequence or a way to legitimize some kind of unilateral American action, this, of course, starts to cause dull irritation. And now we’re faced with a somewhat philosophical question: how would the other side act in America’s shoes if for an extended period of time, no country could oppose it, contain it, afford to say “no”, or prevent some of America’s actions.

Apparently, human nature pushes us to experiment until we run into a brick wall, and, then, fearing for our life, begin to avoid this kind of behavior.

Actually, this policy of unilateral pressure led to the fact that, realizing they cannot afford a war with Russia, America began to expand its pressure toolbox, in the quest to damage Russian interests without military confrontation. We are talking information provocation, economic pressure, and sanction regimes, which took their final form long before the Ukrainian crisis, now simply following the same guidelines, but on a much larger scale.

In fact, long before the Ukrainian crisis, sanctions were a tool of containing Russia, defeating Russian national interests, rights, they were a form of an illegal trade barrier. And, of course, the myriad of sanctions and information provocations we have been seeing in the light of the Ukrainian crisis, shows the lengths this tactic has gone to today.

If we compare that with our country’s position, with what we consider optimal for the relations with the United States, and what the model relationship would look like for us… Russia’s understanding of international processes, if we describe the content of Russia’s strategic documents metaphorically (The Foreign Policy Concept, The National Security Strategy, The Military Doctrine), is that there are several significant centers of political, military and economic  influence in the world and their common goal is to maintain peace.

And a good metaphor – Atlantes hold the sky on their shoulders (each major country being responsible for one section of the sky). When Atlantes start fighting each other, they prevent each other from upholding their section of the sky. Thus, they switch from their primary task – holding the sky – to a secondary one – fighting other Atlantes – and eventually, the global order collapses.

This, of course, is a more static concept than America’s concept of “history moving in a certain direction,” which is dynamic. But I think the Russian vision, which is shared by other countries (China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.), is more true-to-life, more realistic. That is, if we look at international relations from a scientific perspective, the quintessential scientific understanding of how countries regulate their conflicts was established by the ancient Greeks, Thucydides to be precise, when describing the rivalry between Sparta and Athens.

The balance of power potentials, the search for a point of balance of interests, a compromise that has to be based on the understanding that one’s political goal can no longer be achieved by military means – this, I think, is the idea which is closest to the laws of natural science – the quintessence of the vast experience of humanity conveyed through the science of international relations.

And the Russian concept plays into this experience, this quintessential scientific knowledge, much better than America’s deterministic “End of History” concept. And if we take a look at the examples of this concept in action, Russian-Chinese relations, especially in Central Asia, serve as an excellent illustration.

Russia and China are located on the same continent, Eurasia, and share a rather long border. The two countries have little in common in regard to their main areas of surplus and GDP production, and population. 70% of Russia’s GDP and population are located in the European part, and 70% of China’s GDP and population are located diagonally along the Pacific coast.

So, China borders on Russia with its lesser developed regions, which are facing population decline rather than its increase. And the fact that Russia and China stand, so to speak, back to back, with the vector of Russia’s attention and interests directed westward, and China’s toward the Pacific Ocean, of course, helps a lot.

Nevertheless, history has seen multiple conflicts and wars between Russia and China, including quite bloody ones, and both countries are well aware that they can seriously hurt each other. The relations between Russia and China rest on their shared understanding of the fact that they may, under certain circumstances, become rivals. Moreover, there have also been a few unsettled territorial disputes, which, fortunately, have been successfully resolved.

But this painful experience gave the two countries an understanding of the fragility of peace and stability in the region, and taught them to adopt a cautious, judicious attitude towards each other. There is no great love or sympathy between Russia and China; the countries do not see each other as friends or relatives. When crossing the Russian-Chinese border, for instance, a Russian person realizes that they are a European, and everything around is very different from what they are normally used to seeing in the European part of their country.

Of course, when coming to the European Union, a Russian person understands that what they see is also quite different from their experience. The Russian identity is quite different from the European identity, as it was formed under special historical conditions. But the gap between Russia and China is significantly greater. And this was how the experience of cautious behavior with regard to each other was adopted in Russian-Chinese relations. These relations are based on the principles of sovereignty, respect for territorial integrity, non-interference in each other’s affairs, relations of equality, which was practically impossible to achieve with United States, peaceful coexistence and respect for international law.

I think that if these conditions could be implemented in Russian-American relations, it would be a good enough basis for peace between our countries. But, take, for example, the principle of non-interference; are Americans prepared not to interfere into Russia’s domestic affairs? I think the answer here is obvious. Are they ready for the relations of equality? Not at all. Meanwhile, Russia and China in the declaration of 1997 proposed their relations as a new paragon of relations between states.

They proposed a model for other countries, with the idea that, over time, it could become the new global norm. The declaration also mentions the fact that differences in social systems, ideologies, or systems of values, cannot be an obstacle to normal relations between states. And, of course, all these ideas fundamentally contradict the idea that history has one direction, and that there is only one idea that can unite everyone, with all international processes moving towards that point.

We are gradually approaching the breakdown of the system that has existed in Europe after the end of the Cold War. We are happy to have here, with us, today our professors who teach courses on the history of international relations and contemporary international relations. I am generally all in favor of teaching our students, the students of the School of IR, the principle of historicism as the basis for studying international relations.

MGIMO students and graduates should be able to put what is happening right now in the context of long-lasting trends and historical events. They should also be able to determine the patterns leading up to this situation. Unfortunately, this is not at all facilitated by the informatization and digitalization of our lives. We are all anxiously watching the world through news sites and Telegram channels that catch our attention here and now, not giving us any background. As a result, we don’t the complete logic of the events.

The principle of historicism tells a different story: almost nothing new is happening, a lot of what is going on is recurrent, and many things logically follow one another. It is necessary to understand the logic of these events correctly, if you are going to try to influence them.

We can assume, as it has previously occurred in history, that the current crisis is bound to culminate in large-scale negotiations on a new system of relations in Europe, with the main participants likely being Russia and the United States. As we can now see from U.S. behavior, they are deliberately making some symbolic steps that must be interpreted as steps towards de-escalation. In fact, this was the logic behind their behavior during the most acute phases of the Cold War crises.

For example, we can cite today’s prisoner swap, with the pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko being exchanged for the American ex-marine Trevor Reid, which took place at the peak of the crisis. Prior to that, Trevor Reid had been in a Russian prison for almost 4 years, while Yaroshenko had been jailed in America for over 12 years.

Why now? And the exchange is taking place in a third country, just like in the Bridge of Spies: in the novel, two delegations compromise with each other and exchange citizens. This is a textbook example of Cold War practices.

Last week, the United States announced a unilateral moratorium on testing anti-satellite weapons. Never mind that they have already tested, adopted and could actively use them. Symbolically, this shows that they are sort of taking a step back.

Before that, two weeks ago, they canceled a pre-planned test of a new type of missile that would have strengthened the nuclear triad. They are trying to avoid a situation reminiscent of the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy suddenly learned that an American nuclear weapon had been tested somewhere in the Pacific. He called up the military, asked who gave the order, and why it had been done, and they answered that it was a scheduled test that had been planned long before. It just so happened that such a step was taken in the acute phase of the crisis, which, of course, was regarded by Moscow as a step of escalation.

I believe that these negotiations with the United States on security in Europe will be led by the Russian delegation, while representatives of European countries joining the process only in its second phase. The reason for this is that European leadership has taken a position that can only be called a vacation from strategic thinking: not a single European country thinks in the categories of power politics, responsible military behavior, or grand strategy anymore.

The reason is that after the end of World War II, it was the U.S. that became the main military guarantor for the countries of Western Europe, that is, NATO countries, and then extended these military guarantees to the former countries of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Most of them felt comfortable not being burdened with high levels of military spending, as well as having no active foreign policy that could potentially lead to conflicts and crises. And, except maybe France and the UK, they all refrained from pursuing an active foreign policy.

As for France and Britain, at a fairly early stage of the Cold War, after the Suez crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union let them know that the world had become bipolar, so they also withdrew, or at least became second-league players in world politics. Britain is now actively following the lead of the United States, and while France can not but follow the United States, it is still trying to pursue a path resembling autonomy.

This vacation from strategic thinking is an illusion, and a very dangerous one, in my opinion, for any country, allowing itself to be mentally calm by thinking that the world is completely safe and there will never be another military or political crisis.

This approach leads to the fact that now it is easier for Russia to discuss the crisis with American experts rather than with European ones. The latter tend to have very emotional reactions; they are not ready to listen.

Of course, we want to ask them, “Do you think you can afford not to talk to us now? Can you afford these emotional reactions? Don’t you realize what we are talking about? Don’t you understand the seriousness of the European security issues?”

Of course, it’s once again a question of human nature, how quickly we get used to good things, and how hard it is for us to overcome painful experiences, and, how, unfortunately, before it gets any better, it gets worse.

A rather out of the blue, but important example to mention here is Turkey’s policy, which, despite being a member of NATO and working towards the strategic goal of joining the European Union, manages to pursue a completely autonomous policy, different from both the United States and Western Europe.

Turkey is actively using its armed forces, takes real action, even performs military operations in almost all directions: Syria, Northern Iraq, Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh. There was a crisis with Russia in 2015, which almost turned into regional confrontation. At one point, Turkey also used force against a NATO ally, Greece.

So, what makes Turkey different, and why hasn’t it joined the European countries on their vacation from strategic thinking? Turkey is fully responsible for all its actions. If it had received a substantial military strike from Russia in 2015, it is unclear whether Article 5 of the UN Charter would have been applied.

This is very invigorating for the Turkish elites, as they realize that the weight of this active foreign policy rests entirely on their shoulders, and that they will be the ones to pay for it.

I assume that the negotiations on the new security system in Europe will include the items Russian diplomacy proposed to the United States and NATO in November and December. In general, all these items have been on the agenda for 30 years, and if there is one positive consequence of the Ukrainian crisis, or at least its more acute phase now, it will be a new, stronger security system in Europe, even if it is based on mutual hostility, deterrence, or forward-basing. And, apparently, the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act will fall victim to the current events.

But this new system will incorporate the best practices of the Cold War: mutually reserved behavior, a feeling that any incident might provoke a major military crisis, an acute understanding of the fact that our countries have a lot to lose. I think our Western colleagues lacked this understanding, this sense a pre-war situation before this crisis.

In fact, the entire last year and the year before, resembled some kind of pre-war situation if we take a look at the news on the situation on Russia’s western border. NATO warplane overflights, ships sailing in violation of the state border (take, for instance, a British destroyer deliberately sailing close to Crimea), constant information provocations, active economic sanctions, and massive weapon supplies to Ukraine. Things have gotten completely ridiculous.

In July 2021, Spanish military jets were stationed in Lithuania, so Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez together with Lithuanian President Nauseda, came to see them. They gave a press conference at the air base against the background of aircraft hangars. The conference was broadcasted on national television and shown live on Euronews. Suddenly, right in the middle of the press conference, the military alarm went off. The officials ran out in terror, the planes came out of the hangars and onto the runway, supposedly due to the launch of a Russian warplane.

Here it is, the sense of suspense in a pre-war situation. It’s a typical information provocation, the Lithuanians, apparently, decided to arrange. This sense of impunity for provocative behavior against our country must cease once and for all. They should take accountability for such inconsiderate and rude steps.

Of course, the crisis is now in its very acute phase. It is a military crisis, with a significant number of casualties, but in many respects, Russia’s military behavior is still extremely reserved and cautious. The president’s statement today signals that this reserve has a limit, though: he is asking his opponents to return to good judgement.

Ultimately, the situation before February 14th was a political and diplomatic dead end. Americans and Westerners refused to discuss structural issues of European security with us, based on the premise that Russia is not only on the wrong side of history, but also a declining power, a country that will inevitably lose its foreign policy weight.

For a certain period of time, Russia can just be ignored. “The Russians will change their minds,” and all that. And what about Biden’s insulting statement when he responded to Russia’s written demands for security guarantees at a press conference by saying that they won’t give any written guarantees, and we would just have to take their word for it? For the last thirty years, we have been actively believing all this, and it is what ultimately led us to the situation in which we are today.

Looking at the second layer of this crisis, Russian-Ukrainian relations, we can state that this crisis is of a delayed nature. All post-Soviet states were, in a way, state experiments.

In general, there is a scientific concept that suggests looking at all states as open-ended experiments. The durability and the success of the experiment depend on the persistence, rationality, good judgement, and priorities national elites have, as well as the resources they are ready to spend on these priorities, and the internal consensus of civil society within these countries.

All post-Soviet countries seem very different by all of these measures. Some, like Ukraine and Georgia, could not keep their hands off a very tempting and effective tool for internal mobilization – nationalism. Especially its extreme manifestations, when people are divided into first and second-class citizens. First-class citizens are ideologically loyal, support the correct system of signs, gestures, language, historical metaphors, and symbols.

And those in the minority need to be re-educated. As a friend of mine in Kharkiv wrote on Facebook, his child came to daycare on a national holiday, but did not wear a vyshyvanka (an embroidered shirt in Ukrainian and Belarusian national costumes), and was excluded from the holiday along with a group of other children. He had to watch the holiday as a viewer while other kids participated in it.

This division into first and second-class citizens is extremely destructive to Ukrainian politics. I believe that if Russia were to follow the path of such Russian ethnic nationalism, a similar path could await us. But our political environment and system relies on the consensus of all our citizens, all peoples and nations. For Russia, what is happening in Ukraine is only partly a matter of foreign policy.

As for Ukraine, what is happening in Russia is also only partly a matter of its foreign policy. To a great extent, it is a question of domestic policy, too. Any Russian news that interests our citizens is likely to affect Ukrainians as well. From soccer to major accomplishments or tragedies.

It’s the same in Ukraine. When there is some kind of discrimination against the members of the Russian community or Russian identity, when their churches are taken away, opposition media are shut down, politicians disappear, journalists are killed, children are not allowed into daycare, students cannot study in Russian or hold a Victory Day parade on May 9th, it becomes big news here in our country, and any critic of the government can come out and say: “Why is our government not doing enough for our people in Ukraine?” In this experiment, this quest for the foundations of its statehood, Ukraine has been facing a formidable challenge since the early ’90s:

 “How to make the two pillars of Ukrainian statehood, the people of Ukrainian and Russian identity, feel equally comfortable, build an inclusive system where their rights are respected?” Unfortunately, due to the wobbly nature of Ukrainian politics, the great role of oligarchic capital, oligarch-owned media manipulations, and the crisis-like nature of each electoral cycle, every election still runs against some major crisis on a local, regional, or even international scale.

The elites started to pit Russian and Ukrainian origins in politics against each other quite early on, practically since the early 1990s. This eventually led to them adopting a domination course, accentuating the Ukrainian identity and ousting the Russian identity along with its symbols and citizens.

In their fight for the so-called Galician consensus, the people of Western Ukraine, who consider its pro-Western orientation as the main pillar of Ukrainian statehood, adopted a particular dialect of the Ukrainian language, the system of historical signs and symbols in support of those who fought against the Soviet Union on the side of Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic War. This was later codified in public policy, for instance, teaching in Russian and teaching of the Russian language was cut, and the use of Russian in formal appeals to the authorities was prohibited.

Ukraine’s foreign policy aim of joining NATO was the most obvious external reflection of the domestic policy the elites in Kiev had taken on quite a while ago. This aim in itself already posed a security threat to Russia. What Russian leaders call the military expansion of NATO to the Ukrainian territory should not be treated as a light metaphor.  From our country’s standpoint, this is quite a painful system of relations that turn Ukraine into a military springboard for offensive against our country.

Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe after Russia, with a population of about 40 million people. The Armed Forces of Ukraine consist of about 220-240 thousand people. If we count the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Border Guard Service and other special services, this number can amount to 400-450 thousand.

In comparison, Russian armed forces only consist of 1 million people, so even in terms of quantitative balance, Ukraine is a strong competitor. Its army is the third largest in Europe after Russia and Turkey, if we regard Turkey as a European country. And seeing Ukraine’s significant potential to contain Russia and the triumph of representatives of this “Galician consensus”, the West has chosen to support these forces in order to form a military counterweight to Russia in Eastern Europe.

If this had proved successful, the goal of focusing our country’s attention on its “cousin” country that has military and political plans against it could have been achieved.

A whole series of military agreements signed by the United States, Britain, and NATO with Ukraine led to the fact that Ukraine, especially after 2014, began to actively pursue militarization. Ukraine’s military budget in relation to its GDP skyrocketed to almost 6 %. This is comparable to Israel’s military spending, and Israel is in an extremely difficult international environment and is forced to defend itself from all its neighbors, constantly waging wars against them.

Ukraine has even started speculating about the possibility of rapid nuclear weapon development, especially a dirty bomb. Many Western experts have taken this lightheartedly, saying that the West would never allow Ukraine to create these weapons.

But the facts tell a completely different story: a month ago, Russian pranksters called the UK Defense Secretary and started asking him questions on behalf of the Ukrainian defense minister, saying, in particular, that they wanted to create their own nuclear program. He swallowed a lump in his throat and replied that this was, of course, an unexpected  phrasing of the question, but the Western partners are always ready to support their Ukrainian friends in any endeavor. For Westerners, of course, the creation of such a system of relations is an extremely fortunate development.

Basically, it is possible to, quite safely, without taking any responsibility for the security of Ukraine, supply it with weapons and forces making Russia pay undivided attention to it. In general, the goals of these bilateral relations are not even hidden. For example, the August document between the U.S. and Ukraine states that military and technical cooperation is aimed at improving Ukraine’s military capabilities to ensure its territorial integrity and increased interoperability with NATO.

So, the issue on the table is Donbass and Crimea. And more specifically: it is effective cooperation against Russian aggression, including active training and military drills. That is, this goal is not just poorly concealed – it is openly declared, actively postulated, and it seems that we should take this document quite literally. This goal is promoted by the United States itself.

Britain is not too far behind the United States in this regard. In the end, they see this as an excellent opportunity. In some ways, they must have recognized, in this Russia-Ukraine dichotomy, a familiar system that resembles, although not too closely, the India-Pakistan relationship.

Both countries date back to the same time of the collapse of the British Empire. For Pakistan, the confrontation with India was the formative experience all social processes began to develop around. The military has come to play a dominant role in its domestic policy, with yet another episode of its active involvement taking place just two weeks ago.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is so active, in fact, that it might as well have its own foreign policy course: assisting the Taliban and bringing them to power in Afghanistan, developing a network of underground camps to carry out sabotage on Indian territory. Not to mention the fact that India and Pakistan have gone through a whole series of border conflicts, some of them quite bloody, by the way, and have both developed nuclear weapons.

The two have created such a system of fundamental mutual deterrence that it essentially prevents India from taking any drastic steps against Pakistan. And, apparently, Westerners saw the potential for creating a similar system of relations between Russia and Ukraine. I probably won’t go into detail about the political divide in Ukraine described on these slides.

Many of these facts are well-known to you, they often appear in various speeches, and I think you can get this information from open sources now. The question is how autonomous, how subjective the Ukrainian leadership is, whether it is an American client forced to do only what Washington says.

This is a very important question, and I don’t think it is that simple. Ukraine does not always listen when U.S. leaders urge it to be reserved or not to provoke the Russians. There is a famous phone reprimand that Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States at the time, gave to Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, for his military provocation on the border with Crimea.

At the time, a group of Ukrainian saboteurs tried to perform a terrorist attack, but they were ambushed, some of them were killed, and none of this was coordinated with the United States. This could have led to a major Russian-Ukrainian crisis, and because the Ukrainians did it of their own accord, Biden reprimanded Poroshenko on the phone. The recording of this call was later made public.

In 2015, when addressing the government in the Verkhovna Rada in Kiev, Biden put across an overall correct message about not forcing Russians out of political life and the importance of building an inclusive system. He spoke in biblical metaphors:  “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” He advised not to ban Russian channels or political parties, and to focus on building a united country instead. But Poroshenko, and later Zelensky, who came to power with roughly the same slogans, eventually realized that it would be most effective for them to rely on nationalists and work towards the Galician consensus.

But Ukraine is in a peculiar situation right now. Zelensky may garner a lot of attention as president of a war-stricken country, but the moment the hostilities in Ukraine end, the same political issues that have been present in this country for decades will resurface: elite groups will continue fighting for power, accuse the president of making mistakes a lot of which have been made during the crisis.

Sometimes it seems that people in Kiev do not realize that the currency they use to pay the West for this preferential, privileged treatment is, in fact, the Ukrainian territories.

The first version of Russia’s diplomatic proposals for Ukraine made in the first week of the crisis is likely to change closer to the end. Let’s now move on to the possible outcome scenarios. Three such key scenarios might emerge. The first was proposed by the Russian leadership immediately at the onset of the active phase of the crisis, on February 25th or 26th.

According to this scenario, the goal is to reach an agreement with the current Ukrainian political leadership. The package deal should, at the same time, recognize Ukraine’s neutrality as enshrined in the constitution, recognize Crimea as Russian territory, recognize Donbass as independent, and put aside [or ignore] the issue of Ukrainian sovereignty over these territories.

Apparently, it was the willingness of the Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul to agree to this formula that gave the Russian leadership reason to be optimistic about a diplomatic settlement at the time. Amongst other things, certain military steps were taken. Moscow is now convinced that the Ukrainians – whether of their own accord or with the West egging them on – have decided to drag this crisis out, thinking that time is on their side, that they will most definitely win, and that there is a good chance that Russian interests will ultimately be crushed.

And this brings us to the second scenario. The first scenario was convenient for everyone in that the agreement would have been signed with a legitimate Ukrainian government, which was legitimately elected by the Ukrainian people, meaning that this agreement could not but be perceived as legitimate by Ukraine’s allies in the West. And overall, it could be used as a platform to return to resolving the situation by diplomatic means, but with a twist. Discuss the problem of European security before the Ukrainian crisis begins to turn into a completely catastrophic military scenario.

However, we can see that this phase has passed, and the second phase is approaching. In this phase, the results of negotiations will be dictated by the situation on the ground. This is the premise both Russia and the United States stand on. The Ukrainians, I believe, are deluded as to what effect the arms being shipped to them from the West will have. At the moment, the situation at the front is bad for them, so they are shifting public attention to propaganda, for instance, the fact that old Polish tanks or American missile systems will soon arrive, and the offensive will begin anew.

There are, of course, tangible attacks on Russian territory, and this scenario is too sensitive for Russia to rule out the possibility of targeting the decision-making center in Kiev. The development of this second scenario will, in fact, be closely related to how the military situation on the ground develops, which specific territories will be under Russian control by the time Ukraine is seriously ready to discuss peace once again.

Will it be the same president who leads Ukraine now? These are just questions, hypotheses, so there is no clarity here. Besides, in this scenario, there is a risk that the West will not accept the new agreement, and it will take a considerable amount of time – from several years to maybe a decade – for a large gray zone, which will not be legalized or codified in any way, to appear in the east of Europe, and become a testing ground for building a new European security system.

The third scenario, which, in my opinion, is less likely, but still impossible to completely rule out, is the most dangerous one. The West, which is already using Ukraine as a tool (it is largely indifferent to what specific borders Ukraine will have after the crisis and how many people will remain there), will follow the logic of inflicting damage on Russia by all means, minimizing, of course, the negative consequences for itself.

Here, we are talking about the military defeat of some Russian regions, which, of course, immediately raises the question of the possibility of a nuclear war between us, but mainly about internal political destabilization, revisiting the techniques and methods the West used in the post-Soviet space and in Russia to provoke domestic discontent, support the opposition, and prepare a color revolution in order to shift Russia’s attention from foreign to domestic policy.

Of course, this is one of the most common, expected scenarios. I believe that Moscow understands that in this already very serious game, which is now becoming strategic, the West will use all the tools. But I still believe that this scenario is not the most likely, as the United States knows that Ukrainian resources are finite, and understands that the only thing that makes this conflict so long is the fact that Russia is essentially fighting half-heartedly.

If Russian troops conducted military operations the way the U.S. troops had, say, in Iraq in 2003, we wouldn’t be seeing full buildings in Mariupol, there would only be bare walls and piles of bricks and concrete instead. In 2004, when they stormed Raqqa, American soldiers simply razed the city to the ground.

I realize how cynical this may sound, and I am aware of that. But for all the terror of death and the fact that war is always a tragedy and a disaster, the surgical precision of Russian strikes for a military theater of this scale is still unprecedented, that is, no country has ever conducted such a carefully-thought-out operation in such an enormous war theater.

Individual American analysts give due credit to the Russian way of waging this war, and even do so publicly. This lecture takes place on April 27, 2022, when the balance of the parties’ interests has not yet been found, and a military solution is not yet obvious.

And it is not, most importantly, the only possible solution. Russia would be ready to return to the first scenario (maybe with some adjustments), if Kiev asked for peace now. But the situation is escalating day by day, Today, Russian Foreign Minister responded to a question about the possibility of referendums on independence in the territories occupied by Russian troops by saying that the fate of Ukraine will be decided by the Ukrainian people, not ruling out such a scenario.

The final form of the Russian proposal to Kiev, which will emerge at the end of the acute phase of the crisis, I believe, might be significantly different from the one that was devised during the first phase of the war. Let’s hope that common sense will prevail, and history will do us good this time, teaching everyone a valuable lesson.

Finally, let’s hope that this crisis, and, perhaps, one of its few positive consequences, will provide an opportunity to finally establish a lasting security system in Europe, even if the result of this process will be seen only in the long-term.

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