On Holiday with a Tank: Russian Ambitions and Action in Ukraine

November 11, 2014 • Articles • Views: 2416

Prepared by Anna Morgan, Ukrainian Events in London

An excellent discussion took place yesterday (10th November 2014) at King’s College in London, organized by the War Studies Society.  A full lecture hall of over 300 students had an opportunity to listen and ask questions to a remarkable line up of speakers.

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First to speak was Simon Smith, British Ambassador to Ukraine with his presenation “The view from Kyiv”

Naming the current conflict in Ukraine the ‘biggest challenge to the world diplomacy’, he briefly explained what happened in Ukraine roughly one year ago. Having spent many hours on the Maidan and talking to protesters, his summary of the reasons why the revolution happened were as follows:

Enough is enough” –  a short definition of what the reasons behind the Ukrainian revolution were.  People had had enough of a corrupt ineffective post-soviet administration.  Millions of people realised that they could not tolerate the idea of this administration continuing to sell the interests of Ukraine for their own personal gain and monetary increase.  Moreover, the people of Ukraine did not want to let the then President Yanukovych and his corrupt administration an opportunity to win the Parliamentary elections in 2015. Enough really was enough.

On 22nd February 2014 the former President Yanukovych fled the country to Russia; this marked an unprecedented 48 hours of extraordinary time that became a victory of the people over the corrupt administration.  But the victory didn’t last long, as Russian President began to once more meddle and destabilise Ukraine.

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So what was the threat that Russia saw in Ukraine signing an assosiation agreement with European Union?  Upon its implementation the following were due to take place: tackling corruption; setting up an effective judiciary and police force, providing  transparancy in cutoms and taxes.  All of these are traditional essentials for foreign investments, development and the formation of a civil society and market economy.

This agreement was supposed to turn Ukraine from the country often described as ‘the the one with the biggest potential’ into the one that is actualy fulfilling this potential.

All of these have represented the biggest threat to the Russian business and administration model; this has been regarded by the Kremlin as a post-soviet approach with ‘different way of doing things’.  Ukraine leaning towards the West would mean a definite end of this post-soviet space, and Russia’s dreams of an alternative – Eurasian Commmon Economic space.

Sian MacLeod, Additional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, FCO “1991 and All That”

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When in 1991 Ukraine got its independence, it joined the world community with agreed borders, which Russia among other countries recognised.

Nevertheless Russia never intended to leave Ukraine to develop in its own way and continued to meddle. During the times of Organge Revolution in 2004, Russia sent its forces to tackle the peaceful uprising. There were no ‘green men’ that time, but many double-edged political advisors, campaigners and provocateurs. Back then, the Kremlin also used gas as a major pressure point.

The propaganda machine that has been blurting out since the 1990s has been continuing to develop a narrative thatUkraine has never existed as an independent country, it has always been a part of Russia and finally that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine needs protection.  And so, later on in the year all such narratives about an illegal fascist government, who Russia blamed on the US and EU for supporting the ‘coup’, were brought to life.

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So why is Russia using so many resourses to be involved in this conflict? Why does it matter so much? Is it because of the naval base in Sevastopol? Or is it the irritatingly close relationship that Ukraine and EU were about to develop? Perhaps is it about Putin’s dream to restore an imperialistic Russian empire where Ukraine is absolutely necessary to build a Moscow-centric system.  Or is it also the fear of a risk of contagion from Ukrainian democracy and freedom of thought, that could spawn in Russia?

The west must remember that the trigger to the current crises was Ukraine’s wish to follow European path. This was good for Ukraine, the EU and objectively would have been good for Russia.

To date, it is clear to see that Russia’s expansion ambitions present a threat to Moldova, Georgia, and other countries-members of NATO such as Poland. Russian actions are thereby unacceptable.

Edward Lucas, Senior Editor at the Economist

A few points he raised about Putin:

  • He doesn’t like former Soviet countries going West-ward, and wants to “regain” those countries that he thinks he’s loosing.
  • The EU are ripping up his business model… that is based on a corrupt selling of gas.
  • He feels that the best way to rewrite the rules is to break them. And so far, he’s been succeeding in this.
  • Putin doesn’t care about Ukraine. He sees the fight in Ukraine as the tool of humiliating NATO.
  • He’s prepared to accept economic pain, he’s ready to lie, to use military forces, while the West is not ready to respond equally.
  • He sees weekness and he advances his attacks. In this hybrid war any point of weekness is used, whether it is economy, an information war or other.

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The West now needs to stop supporting a deluded approach that ‘sanctions are working’ and ‘Putin is scared’.  President Putin has enough money to tolerate such sanctions; he simply, doesn’t care. He knows that Europe is not prepared to go touch his corrupt money in European banks.

“One thing England could do is to seize Kremlin’s money that are laundered right here in London. We could go after the lawyers, bankers and accountants that are invlolved. We are not doing it and that is why Putin is winning” said Edward Lucas.

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The Q&A session was impressive.  Many hands were raised in the air, willing to ask questions. Students too young to remember Organge Revolution in Ukraine nevertheless showed great knowledge of the history and grounds of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

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Students reminded the panel of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and Ukraine’s right and legal possibility to restart its Nuclear Program and student from France asked the speakers opinion of what can actualy be done to stop Russian agression. The grotesque information war was not left untouched. Its flagship – Russia Today – has constantly spewed out false propaganda and that it should be scrutinised, sanctioned and taken to account.

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More photos from the event see in our Facebook album.

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