Ukraine: What Russia Wants
By Wojciech Kononczuk, Senior Scholar, Centre for Eastern Studies (Warsaw)
Reviewed by John Handley, vice president, American Diplomacy
With Russian troops currently occupying large portions of the Crimea, this article provides important background information on the Ukrainian crisis that has, as of this writing, forced Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, out of the capital. The author, a visiting scholar at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, believes “Russia can accept any Ukrainian government as long as it does not offer a genuine change to the existing dysfunctional system, modernization according to European standards, and consequently a pro-Western foreign policy.” If correct, the current situation in Kiev does not bode well for the reformers.
For Russia, the Ukrainian crisis is both a foreign-policy problem and a domestic one. Ukraine's weak economy and reliance on relatively inexpensive petroleum products reinforces Ukrainian vulnerability to Russian economic blackmail. If all parties seek a political solution, Russia hopes at least to return Ukraine to a parliamentary-presidential system or better yet to a federal state. Neither will work to save the country from its current dysfunctional state. The former was tried between 2006-2010 and resulted in the paralysis of the state institutions; the latter would give some pro-Russian regions veto power over the country's integration into the EU.
The author encourages the U.S. and the EU to become more involved by exploiting “some of the leverages they clearly have on the Ukrainian ruling elite, including its financial intelligence.” More important, the author maintains, is the fact that this crisis will have a major impact on the overall situation in post-Soviet Eastern Europe as well as on the domestic political process within Russia. It appears that Mr. Putin agrees with this assessment and is willing to invade the Crimea to “protect” Russian interests.