Op-Ed: The conflict over Ukraine: a tragedy of mistranslation – KyivPost


Those unfamiliar with the former Soviet states have found it difficult to understand why Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to start a war against his Slavic neighbors in Ukraine. American and European foreign policy, more grounded in realism, where practical and economic factors determine foreign policy, are perhaps easier to understand for a foreigner.

However, Russia’s foreign policy goals are more opaque and driven by factors that are more difficult to understand unless you look at them through the lens of Russian history and see that they form the basis of policy. current constructivist foreigner of the Russian Federation.

Russia has a relatively linear foreign policy – once you understand the “logic” used by the Kremlin. The reasoning Putin uses when discussing how he will “defend” Russia is based on an interpretation of the West that is entirely different from how a person educated in the West would understand the modern world – and modernity. The scars of the battles of centuries ago taught the Czars and Putin the importance of having “buffer zones” that serve as battlegrounds, thwarting a Western incursion before it could reach Moscow.

Ukraine – which means the rough equivalent of “border country” – is a country that Russia has historically considered to be part of its territories. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the three East Slavic countries and the most important republics of the Soviet Union, are considered by Putin to be part of the historical lands and identity of Russia. The historical memory of the Russians is that the Slavic peoples were converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 988 when Kyivan Rus (a medieval state with its center in Kiev), was baptized. Putin’s June 2021 letter on the subject succinctly sets out his point of view that the historical proximity between Ukraine and Russia is so immediate that Ukraine’s future is intrinsically linked to Russia.

Putin’s lack of confidence in the West is based on the 2004 membership of the former Soviet Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) in NATO. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin said US President Bill Clinton promised this would not happen, and this is seen as a betrayal on the part of the West which took advantage of the weakness of post-Soviet Russia. .

So when Putin saw that Ukraine hoped to go in the same direction as the Baltic states, he interpreted it as a window of opportunity for the West (i.e. the United States) to engulf its ally. . The alarm bells sounded in Moscow sparked a classic movement in the Russian playbook.

As happened with Transnistria in Moldova (early 1990s), and South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia (2008), Russia acted in 2014 to destabilize Ukraine by starting a conflict. Moscow hoped that a clash in the largely Russian-speaking Donbass and Crimea would later turn into a “frozen conflict” (i.e. a former “hot conflict” that has largely subsided, but remains legally unresolved. ).

This strategy aims to prevent the occupied country with a frozen conflict from being able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and close the door to the European Union. Ultimately, it is Putin’s desire: to keep the West at bay and not to encroach closer to Moscow.

The West, although it has already handled Russia’s frozen conflict strategy, has not improved the way it handles such situations. As history has shown, US sanctions do not necessarily achieve the desired result (Case study: US sanctions against Cuba since 1960). Likewise, making general promises of NATO membership, without clear deadlines, may go against the national security of countries which falsely translate the pledge as a real guarantee of quasi-NATO support. towards them, while it would be wiser to interpret these promises as rather statements of general support and when the NATO countries (i.e. the United States) will not oppose the future accession of this country to the Organization.

Thus, the populist Ukrainian politicians who promise their constituents that they will join NATO “soon” are both offering empty promises – because the decision to join NATO is ultimately not in their hands – but also give to Ukrainian citizens a false sense of belonging to NATO. gift a security which does not exist since the fact of being a “partner” of NATO does not ensure security as “membership” of NATO would.

What can we expect from Moscow next? It seems clear that Moscow will not be intimidated by more sanctions. Expelling Russia from SWIFT is difficult, but it could also run counter to the long-term US national security interests, as it would make it harder for US intelligence to track the money – making it thus secondarily the surveillance of American sanctions. against Russia stronger. More importantly, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the expulsion of Russia from SWIFT, by the United States, would be considered “an act of war” against Russia – something the United States, having recently fled Afghanistan, are probably unwilling to risk.

Russia, historically, like the Soviet Union before it, has often used the brinkmanship strategy as its preferred strategy to get what it wanted from the West. Raising the stakes so much that the West blinks might be what Putin is on his mind right now.

Given the Russian elections two years away and Putin’s declining popularity due to the state of the Russian economy, Covid, and recent pension reforms, it would appear to be against the interests of the twenty-one-year-old Russian leader. to risk a military conflict with Ukraine today which could lead to further internal destabilization of his own country if the war turns out not to be the resounding victory he hoped for. Russian citizens may well lose the taste of their president’s push to conquer Ukraine once the bodies of their sons return from a war with a “brotherly nation” the need for the average Russian does not understand.

While it’s unclear what Putin might plan next, it looks like he has already achieved his goal: all eyes are on Russia – giving it “player” status. Biden has publicly stated that the United States will not send troops to support Ukraine if Russia were to invade. In the coming weeks we’ll see what Putin wants, but for now it looks like there isn’t much to gain from further attacks on Ukraine, only additional risks to his own claim. in power, if he threw the dice for an invasion of Ukraine.

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