The developments surrounding Russia’s policies when it comes to Ukraine have continued to surprise observers within Europe and the rest of the world. Most of the Russian intervention tactics caught the attention of critics, most of whom who felt that t President Vladimir Putin was reacting from what he considered Western-organized underhanded regime changes. The fact that Ukraine was now aligned towards the West posed a challenge to the Sovereignty of Russia. As a reaction to this threat, the Russian Army invaded Eastern Ukraine in August 2014 and seized some of the territories that were previously held by Ukraine. The bloody conflict was informed by Russia’s foreign policy whereby the country sought to defend the unofficial Donetsk and Lugansk Republics within Ukraine.
One observer has noted that the main aim of the Russian-offensive is to show to the administration in Kyiv that it cannot solve the standoff using military methods, and that it is essential to establish discussions with the separatists as far as the status of Ukraine is concerned1. Eventually, these forms of military intervention were supposed to make Ukraine dependent on Putin’s government. However, the consternation that has accompanied Russia’s actions has put both Russia and Ukraine in difficult positions with the latter’s problems being more compounded. On the other hand, Russia has cornered Ukraine’s dream of operating independently from Moscow and in cahoots with Western forces. It is not yet clear how these policies will help or hurt Russia in the end because at the moment Ukraine can still turn the tables. This paper evaluates the foreign policy goals of the Russian Federation that led it to intervene in Ukraine and weighs the effectiveness of this action.
The reason that was explicitly communicated to the public when Russian intervened in Ukraine was that the military incursion would avert the eminent collapse of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. According to Russian foreign policy oversights, the intervention in Ukraine would “hinder and postpone the opportunity to implement Russia’s plans for the political subordination of Ukraine”2. This intervention provided the perfect opportunity for Russia to carry out underlying plans of bringing Ukraine under its sphere of influence. At the same time, Russia argued that the country was responsible for the welfare of the Donbas population. Consequently, from the outset the military intervention in Russia was all about taking care of national interests.
It is also clear that Russia is not above using patriarchal or bullying tactics when it comes to the intervention. On the one hand, Russia seeks to show that the country is not above using military tactics whenever political dialogue with separatists fails. However, the Russian foreign policy dictum fails to consider the importance of negotiations that do not go the country’s way. On the other hand, the intervention has sent a clear indication to the Ukrainians that their actions and decisions can be a cause of costly military interventions. Therefore, the military success that gives Ukraine the confidence to come face-to-face with Russia is completely rendered diminutive when the two rivals are cast against each other. For example, Russia has demonstrated that it can simply upset the armed expertise of the Ukrainian military and it can boost its armed forces’ presence in eastern Ukraine and uphold its military dominance, irrespective of the quantity of Ukrainian armed that are deployed to the ‘eastern front3. This action is meant to put pressure on various Ukraine quarters including the Ukrainian President who has led his country into believing that it can rise above the influence of Russia. Eventually, Russia is counting on one or several opposing parties submitting to its demands as a result of the sustained pressure.
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is also informed by the country’s foreign policy in relation to the Western influencers. Through the intervention, Russia is able to show Western countries such as Germany that the country is prepared to take advantage of their military ineffectiveness. Ukraine is basically a ‘failed Western project’ and Russia is capitalizing on this failure to highlight both its effectiveness and the ineptitude of Western leaders. In the pursuit of this goal, Russia has also issued a warning to the Western countries that support Ukraine not to intervene in this standoff.
For example, on August 29, 2014, President Putin made references to Russia being a nuclear power, a statement that was meant to warn Western countries against interfering in the conflict4. Russia continues to insist on the legitimacy of the proposed ceasefire between the country and Ukraine. Consequently, the loud message to Western influencers is that the only solution to the conflict is if Ukraine agrees to the ceasefire deal with Russia. It is also the responsibility of the Western influencers to convince Ukraine to the proposed agreement if they are concerned with stability in Eastern Ukraine as popular rhetoric from the West suggests. On the other side of the divide, Ukraine continues to feel the pressure being exerted by Russia without the help that the former had expected from Western allies. Russia holds on to its policies in the hope that Ukraine will eventually seek to be at its mercy.
Another goal that Russia hopes to achieve through its intervention in Ukraine is to demonstrate that the theory that is formulated by the Russian President on the geopolitical and political standing of Ukraine ought to be considered seriously, and should be a major consideration in any future negotiations5. Russia fears that Ukraine might set a precedence of anarchy whereby countries can feel free to re-evaluate their policies with Moscow at their discretion. Therefore, it is Russia’s goal to use all its military resources as a message to all other stakeholders. For instance, Russia’s military action in Eastern Ukraine coincided with a conference of the ‘Eurasian Union’. In the meeting, the Russian President put it clearly that Ukraine is a component of the historically demarcated “natural area of authority of Russia; and of the area of the process of economic integration (controlled by Russia); that the states which are part of the area have only limited sovereignty”6. Therefore, these areas are not at liberty to chart out policies that are in conflict with Russian sovereignty.
Russia also sought to use the Ukrainian intervention to propagate the foreign policies that are associated with the ‘Novorossiya’ concept. This concept is often used to create clear demarcations between nationalists and separatists. Anybody who dares to rise against the Novorossiya concept is considered an enemy of the Russian Empire. Russia’s reluctance to grant Ukraine complete autonomy is hinged on this concept. On the other hand, the concept has often been a political project of Russia because it preserves the country’s regional and global superiority. In this case, the concept is used to make sure that Ukraine remains unstable both economically and politically. Complete independence of Ukraine would spell doom for the Novorossiya concept, a reality that Russia is not ready to face.
The actions that were taken by Russia were worth it if they are considered from the point-of-view of the country’s foreign policies. First, Russia managed to neutralize Kyiv’s bid for Eastern Ukraine with relative ease. This success means that at this point Ukraine does not have the resources to make a reasonable bid for the area north of Donetsk-Lugansk. This means that the message that Russia meant to send to the separationist elements has been successful. It was also Russia’s goal to ensure that Ukrainians understood that they couldn’t exist independently without the ‘mercy’ of either Russia or other Western powers. Eventually, Russia sought to make it clear that the Ukrainian society found Russia to be the better and more reliable alternative. Russia’s tactics worked because the atmosphere in the Ukrainian society has persistently worsened as criticism is increasing, mainly “directed to the military control and officials, even if this could also spread to the most senior civilian authorities”7. Ukrainians look back to the days when their country was at peace with Russia nostalgically.
It is in Russia’s best interest for its citizens and those in neighboring states to view Western forces as unreliable allies. Up to this point, Ukrainian authorities have not yet received any solid support from the Western countries that they had hoped would come to their aid. For instance, “the authorities in Kyiv have given top priority to intensifying their diplomatic efforts to strengthen their international support, especially from the EU and the United States”8. The other efforts have been directed towards getting countries and organizations to sanction Russia. In the beginning, the Russian intervention in Ukraine was a big gamble for the country. However, it is now clear that this policy risk did not affect Russia as negatively as it was initially thought. Currently, Ukraine is a standalone entity and its diminishing options point to a reconciliation with Russia. This action would be the ultimate victory for Russia whereby all the country’s foreign policies would have been worth it.
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Ericson, Richard, and Lester Zeager. “Ukraine Crisis 2014: A Study of Russian-Western Strategic Interaction.” Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy 21, no. 2 (2015): 153-190.
Marten, Kimberly. “Putin’s Choices: Explaining Russian Foreign Policy and Intervention in Ukraine.” The Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 189-204.
Norberg, Johan, and Fredrik Westerlund. “Russia and Ukraine: Military-strategic Options, and Possible Risks, for Moscow.” RUFS Briefing 22, no. 1 (2014): 32-35.
Simao, Licinia. “The Ukrainian Conflict in Russian Foreign Policy: Rethinking the Interconnections between Domestic and Foreign Policy Strategies.” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 3 (2016): 491-511.
Tsygankov, Andrei. Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity. Washington: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Way, Lucan. “The Limits of Autocracy Promotion: The Case of Russia in the ‘Near Abroad’.” European Journal of Political Research 54, no. 4 (2015): 691-706.
- Kimberly Marten, “Putin’s Choices: Explaining Russian Foreign Policy and Intervention in Ukraine,” The Washington Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2015): 189.
- Richard Ericson and Lester Zeager, “Ukraine Crisis 2014: A Study of Russian-Western Strategic Interaction,” Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy 21, no. 2 (2015): 159.
- Roy Allison, “Russian ‘Deniable’ Intervention in Ukraine: how and why Russia Broke the Rules,” International Affairs 90, no. 6 (2014): 1265.
- Johan Norberg and Fredrik Westerlund, “Russia and Ukraine: Military-strategic Options, and Possible Risks, for Moscow,” RUFS Briefing 22, no. 1 (2014): 32.
- Licinia Simao, “The Ukrainian Conflict in Russian Foreign Policy: Rethinking the Interconnections between Domestic and Foreign Policy Strategies,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 3 (2016): 497.
- Lucan Way, “The Limits of Autocracy Promotion: The Case of Russia in the ‘Near Abroad’,” European Journal of Political Research 54, no. 4 (2015): 695.
- Andrei Tsygankov, Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity (Washington: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 23.