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In this fully revised and updated in-depth analysis of the war in Ukraine, Paul D'Anieri explores the dynamics within Ukraine, between Ukraine and Russia, and between Russia and the West that emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union and eventually resulted in Russia's invasion in 2022. Proceeding chronologically, this book shows how Ukraine's separation from Russia in 1991, at the time called a 'civilized divorce,' led to Europe's most violent conflict since WWII. It argues the conflict came about because of three underlying factors-the security dilemma, the impact of democratization on geopolitics, and the incompatible goals of a post-Cold War Europe. Rather than a peaceful situation that was squandered, D'Anieri argues that these were deep-seated pre-existing disagreements that could not be bridged, with concerning implications for the prospects of resolution of the Ukraine conflict.
Under Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine became increasingly autocratic. His concentration of political power and economic assets engendered opposition, but Ukraine seemed stable. While Yanukovych turned Ukraine toward Russia, making significant concessions in return for cheaper energy, he resisted the economic integration that Putin sought, hoping instead for a more popular Association Agreement with the EU. His efforts to play Russia and the EU against one another made Ukraine’s status a zero-sum game internationally. By 2013, it looked like Russia was primed to finally achieve the goal of reeling Ukraine back in, as Yanukovych succumbed to Russian pressure and delayed signing the EU Association Agreement.
The Orange Revolution initially appeared as a victory for democracy in Ukraine and as a geopolitical victory for the West. Those two ideas – democratic revolution and geopolitics – became tightly linked in the eyes of Russian leaders, but whereas western thinkers saw democracy as fostering peace, Russia saw it as a weapon. The Orange Revolution also made Ukraine appear to be the fulcrum of security dilemma politics in central Europe. Both Russia and the West saw the other’s designs on Ukraine as threatening their security and as undermining the status quo. Meanwhile, the Orange Revolution fizzled, Viktor Yanukovych made a remarkable comeback, and Russia reasserted itself, bolstered by Putin’s popularity and by booming energy prices.
The introduction poses the question of how we should best understand the military conflict that began in 2014, showing why the prevailing explanations are insufficient. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many analysts believed that the problems of security in central Europe had disappeared. Security challenges did not disappear in 1991 and resurface later, but rather persisted. This chapter uses three concepts in international relations theory – the security dilemma, loss aversion, and the democratic peace – that will be used throughout the book to show why the new conflicts could not easily be managed.
D'Anieri explores the dynamics within Ukraine, between Ukraine and Russia, and between Russia and the West, that emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union and eventually led to war in 2014. Proceeding chronologically, this book shows how Ukraine's separation from Russia in 1991, at the time called a 'civilized divorce', led to what many are now calling 'a new Cold War'. He argues that the conflict has worsened because of three underlying factors - the security dilemma, the impact of democratization on geopolitics, and the incompatible goals of a post-Cold War Europe. Rather than a peaceful situation that was squandered, D'Anieri argues that these were deep-seated pre-existing disagreements that could not be bridged, with concerning implications for the resolution of the Ukraine conflict. The book also shows how this war fits into broader patterns of contemporary international conflict and should therefore appeal to researchers working on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia's relations with the West, and conflict and geopolitics more generally.
The 1997 Russia-Ukraine Friendship Treaty appeared to confirm Ukraine’s borders and to settle the status of the Black Sea Fleet and Sevastopol, but many leading Russian politicians opposed it. Ukraine balanced its fear of Russia by becoming a leading participant in NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Meanwhile, the war in Yugoslavia exposed the tension between the western insistence on “European norms” and Russia’s insistence on its prerogatives as a traditional great power. By 1999, Russia was furious at NATO over expansion and Kosovo, and still sought to reintegrate Ukraine. However, the question of Ukraine remained largely distinct from Russia’s broader relationship with the West.
After 1999, Ukraine and Russia both slid toward autocracy. As Leonid Kuchma’s autocracy made him a less fit partner for the West, he moved closer to Russia, and Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election looked set to solidify Russia’s position in Ukraine. The overturning of that rigged election via the Orange Revolution shocked the Russian leadership. In addition to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Ukraine, revolution now appeared to threaten the Putin regime. By merging the Ukraine-Russia conflict with the growing Russia-West conflict, this episode made both harder to solve.
As communism collapsed, disagreements emerged that endured until 2014. Russia struggled unsuccessfully to keep Ukraine in a new Moscow-led union and disagreement over the Black Sea Fleet and its base in Crimea proved unresolvable. Meanwhile, Russia and the West advanced different visions for post-Cold War Europe. Pressured by both Russia and the United States, Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons in return for security assurances. Already in 1993, the prospect that a “red-brown” coalition of communists and fascists would come to power in Moscow prompted many countries to look for ways to guard against Russian reassertion, exacerbating the security dilemma.
The delay of the Association Agreement spurred protests, and violent repression caused them to grow. Yanukovych’s ouster outraged Putin, who again saw a revolution thwart Russia’s position in Ukraine. He saw an irresistible opportunity to respond. Seizing Crimea regained a territory Russia had always wanted; it showed that Russia could defy the West; it boosted Putin’s domestic popularity; and it hamstrung Ukraine’s new government. The conflict then spread to eastern Ukraine, where the shooting down of a passenger aircraft dramatically increased international outrage at Russia’s actions. The West enacted sanctions, while the conflict itself stabilized territorially in the February 2015 Minsk-2 agreement.
Russia’s incursions into Ukraine shattered any remaining illusions about order in post-Cold War Europe, leaving Ukraine and the West struggling to respond while Russia reveled in its fait accompli and started to come to grips with its isolation. What caused the conflict? The summary stresses that multiple factors interacted. From the outset, the actors’ goals were incompatible, even if that was obscured by the euphoria that accompanied the fall of communism. Viewing the situation as one of conflicting goals in a classic security dilemma not only revises our understanding of what happened, but changes our thinking on what the future might look like. While many choices could have been made differently, the grounds for conflict were deeply rooted, and the actors were much more constrained, both internationally and domestically, than the literature focused on blame would have us believe. The implication is that neither schemes to make Ukraine a neutral country nor waiting for Vladimir Putin to pass from the scene is likely to resolve the conflict.