On Russia’s Coercion of Ukraine
Previously published on Jan 9, 2014
From time to time, Cold War issues sneak their way back into the news cycle. Russia's move to tighten its economic ties with Ukraine can effectively be interpreted through the lens of the Cold War. Ukraine is a buffer state between Russia and the US influenced West, i.e. Europe, while the former Soviet State is also a part of Russia's immediate sphere of influence.
With the European Union expanding, the Westernization of Ukraine represents a heightened threat to Russian influence. Consequently, Russia, which is trying to reclaim its superpower status, uses its renewed economic power more and more to ensure it can maintain a meaningful sphere of influence. As a natural gas and oil supplier for a large part of Europe, Russia has economic influence thanks to its status as a supplier and the revenue it receives from those fossil fuels.
Certainly, Russia's use of economic power to sustain its sphere of influence hints at an insecure state. That said, Russia's pardoning of political prisoners, including Putin's political opponent oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, along with Putin's more diplomatic approach toward foreign policy, such as in the case of Edward Snowden, suggest Russia is turning to soft power over heavy handed threats. In many ways, this suggests Putin feels more secure in his authority and Russia's stability; however, it also suggests he is adapting to the dynamics of our International Community, which rejects brutal, coercive behavior.
Either way, it seems the goal is to strengthen Russia's sphere of influence and the legitimacy of its authority throughout the world. Unfortunately, Russia has yet to be fully assimilated into the International Community, despite the fact the Cold War ended in the mid to late 1980's. A large part of this is that Russia is ill-democratic, i.e. Russian democracy is more superficial and could easily return to pure authoritarianism. Another part is a failure of our global economy and political community to treat Russia as a global partner.
Russia's blame in this failure stems from its desire to maintain Russian super power status. Instead of becoming a member of an economic block of countries, Russia seeks to dominate its partners and neighbors. Western blame in the failure to fully incorporate Russia into the International Community stems from our fear of potential Russian dominance.
There is a large segment of Ukrainians who fear the oppression of Russian influence, just as Americans feared British dominance even decades after the Revolutionary War. There is also an innate fear that tightening economic ties with Russia will lead to Russian supremacy. It should go without saying that Russia's coercive actions against Ukraine and other East European nations only reinforce these fears.