Many of you may recall the news coverage of the Russian annexation of parts of the Ukraine last year. This week on the 19th October the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University hosted a lecture given by Mr Steven Pifer, the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, regarding Russia’s aggressive policies, which saw Russia act in an aggressive manner not seen since the years of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
To sum up events of the last year, it started with pro-EU demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and Pro-Russian protests in the Crimea demonstrating difference of regional opinion, with the Russian supporters demanding to join Russia. Capitalising on that internal split paramilitary forces known as ‘little green men’ began to seize strategic locations within Crimea, including the parliament building and airports. These ‘little green men’ were trained professionals without insignia, but all wore Russian army uniform and carried Russian military equipment. After these forces took full control of Crimea, an ethnic Russian was assigned as the new Prime Minister of Crimea. This action was a violation of Article 1 of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum which demands that Ukrainian borders and sovereignty be respected by Russia. Following this, Russian forces went into Donetsk where fighting erupted between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Since then, there has been a failed ceasefire and a second one now tenuously remains in place.
With this as the topic and Mr Pifer’s impressive political career and involvement with Ukraine I had no doubt that he would deliver an interesting and engaging lecture. I was not disappointed. Mr Pifer’s lecture focused on the possible effects towards transatlantic security, as well as what now is required of the US, the EU, and NATO. One reason he argued for concern was due to the readiness of Russia to use military force in order to change borders as they please. As well as the fact that their actions have been defended by the Kremlin who claim that they reserve a right to protect ethnic Russians regardless of their location or nationality. Putin’s aims, as suggested by Mr Pifer, are to resurrect the Russian sphere of influence as seen during the years of the USSR. Putin does not want economic responsibility over these countries like the USSR did, but does aspire to ensure that bordering countries are pro-Russian rather than pro-European Union.
The necessary actions by western nations and organisations, as Mr Pifer puts it, can be put into three stages. Deter, Contain, and Engage. Firstly, NATO should attempt to deter Russia with military presence. If NATO are able to clearly show that they are prepared, Kremlin calculations regarding possible military actions may be less rash making any repeat violations less likely. The NATO presence would hopefully be enough to deter Russian encroachment into other neighbouring countries.
Secondly, there is a necessity for constraint. This means not allowing Putin’s Russia to gain a sphere of influence. Supporting neighbouring countries to Russia such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia financially as well as militarily will help do this. The etymology of the word ‘Ukraine’ derives from the Old East Slavic word ‘ukraina’ meaning ‘borderland’. This is exactly what Ukraine (as well as Moldova, Georgia, etc.) acts as, the borderland between the EU/western nations and Russia. Maintaining influence and support from these borderland nations is therefore crucial in thwarting the Russian effort to evolve its sphere of influence. This does not come cheap. In his lecture, Mr Pifer suggested that 5-7 billion US government dollars should be designated to supporting Ukraine. Supporting “borderland” nations and promoting democratic values could even lead to future EU membership. Deterring Russian aggression is not only limited to supporting countries like Ukraine, but also requires economic sanctions on Russia. These sanctions are felt by Russian banks and industries, and should remain for as long as the situation in Crimea and Ukraine continues. The Russian economy is said to have contracted around 4% in just a matter of months following the imposition of sanctions.
Lastly, but by no means least, an effort must be made to engage with Russia. Guidelines should be laid out to ensure that there are no misunderstandings between NATO and Russian forces. This applies to any location, like Syria for example, where Russian military and NATO forces can come into contact with one another. According to Mr Pifer, Putin’s regime has a tendency to evoke fear with other nations which makes these sorts of agreements difficult. It is however a point that NATO will have to work on, to ensure no fatal accidents occur which could escalate international tensions.
Mr Pifer is clearly committed and knowledgeable in the issue, and it is reassuring that he believes that by continuing to follow these three policies, the safety of nations bordering Russia as well as those further west should continue. Without implementing these measures however, his view was that we would see a continuation of last year’s events, endangering the security of nations bordering Russia, and then even transatlantic security. Certainly something to think about.
Will Chamberlain studies BA History at the University of Essex, UK, and is currently studying History in the Faculty of Arts at Charles University for an academic year. Originally from London, he enjoys travel, sport, history, and experiencing new cultures. As well as this, he enjoys writing and photography which led to his interest in journalism and blogging. He was keen to write for iForum to gain experience and improve his skills in journalism, as well as meet other aspiring writers.