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Moscow’s Painful Adjustment to the Post-Soviet Space

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Thirty years ago, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, many observers expressed their surprise at the relatively peaceful nature of the Soviet disintegration. The deconstruction of other great European empires—including the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese—was followed by large-scale armed conflicts, some of which lasted for several decades and were accompanied by hundreds of thousands, or even millions of victims. The post-Soviet space, of course, also witnessed military violence and armed conflicts in the early 1990s (Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Chechnya, and Dagestan), but most of these conflicts were of a relatively modest scale and duration.

Military conflicts within the territory of the former USSR were often successfully “frozen” and only from time to time did they draw attention to themselves with outbreaks of escalation. The gloomy prophecies about the spread of nuclear weapons across the territory of the former USSR, about multimillion refugee flows to neighboring countries, about widespread ethnic cleansing, about the unstoppable rise of religious fundamentalism, international terrorism, etc., did not actually come true immediately after the Soviet disintegration. It must be admitted that the initial stage of the imperial deconstruction passed surprisingly peacefully and even somewhat orderly, especially if we take into account that nobody had been working on any contingency plans for the Soviet disintegration in advance.

Analysts offered a variety of explanations for this remarkable feature. In particular, references were made to the cynicism and opportunism of the late Communist nomenklatura, who preferred opportunities for personal enrichment to the continuous commitment to preserving the great Soviet power. It was also noted that the USSR had been a very peculiar entity in which the imperial metropolis had not so much economically exploited its colonial outskirts as had subsidized them at the expense of its own development prospects; many in the Russian Federation had considered the Soviet imperial periphery to be not an asset, but rather a liability for the Russian core. Attention was drawn to the generally favorable international situation, which allowed for the avoidance of fierce conflicts and bloody wars over the “Soviet legacy” in 1990s.

Gradual Imperial Disintegration

Without going into a detailed analysis of these and other hypotheses concerning the specifics of the disintegration processes in the territory of the former USSR, I could offer yet another explanation, which does not necessarily contradict those mentioned above. In my opinion, the Soviet Union did not actually collapse at the end of 1991, but only entered a long, complex, and contradictory process of a gradual imperial disintegration. Thirty years ago, the leaders of the already former Soviet republics only proclaimed the goal of creating independent states on the site of the slowly imploding Soviet social, economic, and political institutions, but the process of building new statehoods lasted for several decades and continues even to this day.

For a very long time, the main part of the post-Soviet space—with the possible exception of the three Baltic states—remained essentially a single entity in terms of economic ties, transportation and logistics infrastructure, standards of education, science, culture, and, most importantly, in terms of the mentality of the political and business elites in power. It took at least another generation for this entity to begin to fade into the past. Therefore, the real collapse of the USSR is only taking place today, literally in front of our eyes, and the states that have emerged in the post-Soviet space have yet to go through all the challenges, risks, and pains of imperial disintegration.

The superficial nature of the Soviet disintegration at the end of 1991 becomes especially evident when compared with somewhat similar events in modern history, such as Britain’s exit from the European Union. Almost four years passed between the June 2016 Brexit referendum and the formal end of the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union on February 1, 2020; these years were filled with intensive negotiations, sharp political struggles both in London and in Brussels, nonstop expert consultations, and a difficult search for compromises on the terms of further cooperation between the UK and the EU. Over these four years, many detailed documents have been prepared and agreed upon regulating the mutual rights and obligations of Brussels and London. Moreover, clarification of these rights and obligations continues to this day.

The Belovezh Accords, which declared the end of the Soviet Union and proclaimed the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), were drafted, agreed upon, and signed in a few days; the 14-article document is only two pages long. In fact, in the Belovezh Accords only the most general declaration of intent was adopted, a brief and very ambiguous memorandum of understanding, which each of the participants could interpret at their discretion. It is impossible to even imagine a Brexit agreement concluded so hastily and so casually.

However, while Brexit was only about the withdrawal of one country from a multilateral integration project, in the case of the Belovezh Accords, the task was the orderly deconstruction of a single state with the history of cohabitation of different national, ethnic, and religious groups, dating back more than a couple of centuries.

Thirty years ago, it was not at all obvious that all the national projects of the Soviet Union’s republics would necessarily succeed. There were serious doubts about the political and economic viability, or about the efficiency, of many of them. In Moscow, for a long time, the general mood remained arrogant and self-serving: “They will not go anywhere, they will sooner or later come back to us.” Perhaps, under another set of circumstances, the post-Soviet states under the Russian leadership could indeed have formed some kind of viable integration grouping along the lines of the EU or at least the European Economic Community that preceded the EU. Such hopes and plans were certainly popular within the team of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and, possibly, also within the “early” Vladimir Putin leadership.

New Integration Structures

It is no coincidence that in official Russian foreign policy documents, relations with the partners of the “near abroad” were invariably given first place in the hierarchy of Moscow’s geographical priorities, despite the fact that Russia’s real foreign policy ambitions and aspirations since 1991 were gravitating in a western direction. For a long time, the mechanisms of the CIS were perceived in the Kremlin not as instruments of a “civilized divorce” with Russia’s post-Soviet neighbors, but as the first shoots of new integration structures. Consolidation of the post-Soviet space was considered an absolutely necessary condition for Russia’s return to the former status of a great power and for ensuring its rapid and sustainable development.

However, 30 years on, this goal has not been achieved. There are many reasons for this failure. One can refer to an extremely variegated and heterogeneous composition of the CIS, objectively divergent, not convergent trajectories of economic, political, and cultural development of post-Soviet societies. One can also mention the unhelpful positions of the West, which has always been suspicious even of the hypothetical possibility of recreating the Soviet Union in any form. One should also note an objective asymmetry in the economic and political potentials between Russia and its neighbors, which complicated the search for a stable multilateral balance of interests acceptable to all. Of course, one has to keep in mind the “Big Brother” syndrome that has often manifested itself in Russian policies, Moscow’s unwillingness to fully take into account specific interests, expectations, and, especially, the political and psychological traumas of the emerging elites of the new states.

Failed Role Model

But the main roots of Russia’s failures to consolidate the post-Soviet space around Moscow, as it seems to me, is not even in these factors. The fundamental problem of post-Soviet “Eurasian” integration was that over the 30 years of its independent existence, Russia has not been able to find an effective model of social and economic development that would be perceived as a role model in neighboring countries. Already from the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, the tasks of maintaining social and political stability in the country began to receive priority in the Kremlin over the tasks of social and economic modernization.

One could argue about whether the conservatism of the Russian leadership under “mature” Vladimir Putin was justified, but the price that had to be paid for it was the loss of the former social and economic dynamism. It seems that the preservation of the archaic social and economic system was the main reason why, during the post-Soviet period, Russia did not become for its CIS neighbors what Germany (and, partially, France) turned out to be for its partners in the European Economic Community in 1960s and in 1970s.

Accordingly, the role of the main economic locomotive of Eurasia turned out to be beyond Moscow’s strength. Moreover, Russia had to compete for influence in the Eurasian space with such ambitious and energetic players as the EU in the West, China in the East, and Turkey in the South. In this competition Moscow was gradually losing ground, which contributed to growing sentiments of isolation and insecurity.

What are the main tools that Moscow used to promote its influence in the territory of the former USSR over the last three decades? First, Russia positioned itself as the main (and even the only) guarantor of national security of the post-Soviet states. The attitude toward attempts of any external players to expand their military or political influence in this territory, including proposals to send UN peacekeeping forces to the zone of a particular conflict, was always explicitly negative in Moscow. The Russian leadership clearly did not like any alternative security providers in its backyard.

Problematic Territorial Disputes

For a long time, no foreign actor had any fundamental security claims to the southern contours of the borders of the former USSR, but Moscow’s intention to keep its military and political hegemony in the west and the southwest of the post-Soviet space was perceived with more unambiguity since at least the mid-1990s. On top of that, over these 30 years Russia accumulated a significant amount of problems relating to partially or completely unrecognized territories (Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, Transnistria, and Nagorno-Karabakh). All of them, to one degree or another, proved to be an encumbrance for Russia—both in terms its interaction with its neighbors and in terms of its cooperation with the West.

Second, Russia could offer its neighbors subsidized prices for exports of oil, gas, and other commodity items. This mechanism worked relatively well in the context of the continuing shortage of energy and raw materials resources in the world and the concomitant constant growth of world prices for Russian exports. Let’s not forget that in the first years after the Soviet collapse, the economies of most CIS countries remained essentially Soviet, and therefore energy- and resource-intensive, which predetermined the high level of dependence of these countries on the supply of cheap energy and raw materials from Russia.

However, in the second decade of the 21st century, the “producer market” was replaced by the “consumer market,” which began to gradually reduce the importance of Russian energy bonuses for neighboring states. Slow but inevitable processes of structural changes in the economies of most CIS countries also contributed to this change. It received an additional impetus in the form of the transition to “clean” energy sources that has begun all over the world, and Russian energy companies have become less and less willing over time to sacrifice their specific corporate interests in the name of abstract state priorities.

Third, Moscow sought to attract its neighbors by creating preferential conditions for them to access the Russian market for goods and services, as well as the labor market, in the form of labor migration from the CIS countries. Such preferences were of significant importance within the context of the rapid growth of the Russian economy in the first decade of the 21st century and the unwillingness or unpreparedness of most CIS countries to actively explore the consumer and labor markets of the “far abroad.”

Waning Dynamism

But even these opportunities did not last forever. Since the beginning of the second decade of this century, the Russian economy has been losing its former dynamism, increasingly lagging behind the world average growth rate. The CIS countries, for their part, have been increasingly diversifying their foreign economic relations, expanding cooperation with China, the EU, South Asia, and the Middle East. A certain role in this process is played by restrictive economic measures that Moscow has repeatedly applied to Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and even to Belarus, forcing these countries to more aggressively develop alternative export markets.

Fourth, Russia has long claimed to be the “representative of the interests” of the CIS states in international organizations ranging from the UN Security Council to the G8 and G20. But this task has become less and less attainable over time—the interests of Moscow and its closest neighbors diverged more and more clearly, solidarity voting in international organizations was harder and harder to achieve; clashes of interests in many multilateral fora have been becoming more and more frequent. Even in such exclusive formats as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the positions of Moscow and capitals of other CIS countries have often diverged significantly.

This set of Russian tools for working with the countries of the “near abroad,” of course, is not limited to the four instruments mentioned above. There are also education export opportunities with budget quotas for students from the CIS, programs to promote Russian culture and language, bilateral and multilateral technology chains, etc. But all these tools in the conditions of a predominantly rent-seeking Russia’s economy have limited efficiency. The limitations become particularly apparent in the presence of many alternative partners—from China to the EU—actively developing the post-Soviet space, as well as in view of more and more economic sanctions imposed upon Russia by the West after 2014.

In addition, the formation of new national identities in the former Soviet republics was based largely on the maximum possible distancing from Russia—including its history, culture, and language. Inevitably, Russia found itself in the position of a symbolic “other” against which the ethnic and cultural nationalism of the former imperial outskirts had to push back in their process of state-building. Therefore, the rise of anti-Russian nationalism in many CIS countries, the creation of alternative “national histories” and the formation of a national-ethnic political mythology, the critical rethinking of the experience of living together in the Soviet multinational state—all this was almost inevitable.

Changed Approach to Post-Soviet Space

At present, it is difficult to build any complete and convincing picture of how the evolution of Russian approaches to its closest neighbors took place. Perhaps someday the now classified archival data will allow for a comprehensive analysis of the heated discussions that undoubtedly took place on this issue in Yeltsin’s and Putin’s “inner circles.” Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the war in Georgia in August 2008 and, especially, the subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states were already the results of a significant transformation in the Kremlin’s initial strategy toward its partners in the post-Soviet space.

After all, as early as 2008, it was abundantly clear that the recognition of Georgia‘s two breakaway regions created a long-term fundamental problem in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, since no Georgian government would be able to accept the loss of one-fifth of the country’s territory. And without the active involvement of Tbilisi, no attempts at a comprehensive economic or political regional reintegration of the South Caucasus under the Russian leadership are possible even in theory.

But, of course, a much clearer indicator of the revision of previous attitudes was the Kremlin’s behavior during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, which was so significantly different from the Russian reaction to the “Orange Revolution” in Kyiv a decade earlier. The swift operation in Crimea and the strong support for the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) in eastern Ukraine, the extremely harsh official rhetoric against the new Ukrainian leadership—all this become a clear signal that the Kremlin was ready to accept the long-term hostility of Ukraine (or, at least, of the Ukrainian political mainstream) toward Russia as an historical inevitability. Accordingly, the events of 2014 put an end to any plans for the comprehensive reintegration of the former Soviet space around Russia, if there still were such plans by that time.

From this moment on, the process of transferring relations with the post-Soviet states to a “self-sustained” basis becomes especially noticeable, including the gradual reduction of direct and indirect economic subsidies to Russia’s neighbors, tough defense of Russian interests in trade and investment spheres, active competition with neighbors in the markets of third countries, etc. Of course, multilateral economic projects continued: In 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) began to operate. However, the importance of the EAEU for Russia remained very limited—the share of the member countries of this organization accounts for less than 10 percent of the total volume of Russian foreign trade (the share of the EU in Germany’s foreign trade is almost 60 percent).

Although the EAEU, of course, remains an important mechanism for promoting Moscow’s economic interests, the movement toward a single economic space within this structure is very slow, which is especially noticeable against the background of active integration processes in other regions of the world. Moscow’s cautious attempts to give the EAEU a political dimension did not receive any visible support of other member countries and did not produce any tangible results.

The Last Act?

The launch of a “special military operation” in Ukraine is clearly an exception from the trend toward a more rational, more risk aversive, and more pragmatic approach to the post-Soviet space. It seems that in the eyes of the leadership in the Kremlin, a West-oriented Ukraine collaborating closely with NATO presented a formidable challenge not only to Russia’s security interests, but even to Russia’s existence. Any rational cost-benefit analysis would suggest that the Kremlin has a lot to lose, but not much to gain by trying to reconstruct Ukraine by military means. It is premature to analyze the outcome of the Kremlin’s move in Ukraine, but one can speculate that this will be remembered as the last act of the 30-years-long drama of Russia struggling with its imperial legacy.

The paradoxical result of Russia’s foreign policy over the past 30 years is that the country has been able to turn into a very active global power without becoming a legitimate regional leader. Moreover, the very Russian globalism of recent years can be considered a kind of political compensation for Moscow’s many failures in its attempts to build constructive and stable relations with many of its closest neighbors. Nevertheless, the task of building such relations should sooner or later return to the top of Moscow’s main foreign policy priorities. It will be much more difficult now than it was back in 1991. Still, without addressing this critical problem, any successes in other areas of the Russian foreign policy will inevitably depreciate.

From our partner RIAC

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Biden forces Russia to retake all of Ukraine, and maybe even Lithuania

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Image source: kremlin.ru

The Soviet Union had included what now are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

There is no indication that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had intended on February 24th anything more than to add to Russia the extremely pro-Russian former Donbass region of Ukraine. Russian troops were, however, sent also to surround Ukraine’s capital Kiev only in order to prevent Ukrainian troops there going south and joining Ukraine’s troops who already for eight years had been and still were in Donbass, so that Ukraine could then reinforce its Donbass troops against Russia’s invasion. Once Russia determined that its forces and the (highly pro-Russian) local Donbass Government forces in Donbass were clearly on the path toward victory there, the Russian troops surrounding Kiev became withdrawn southward toward Donbass. The clearer that it has since become that Russia would succeed in its Donbass operation, the more that America and its allies supplied weapons to Ukraine, and the less willing, to negotiate with Russia, this made Ukraine’s Government. That encouragement to Ukraine’s Government, from the U.S. and its allies, caused Ukraine’s Government to commit itself to victory at any cost against Russia (even promising to invade Crimea to retake it). The negotiations between Russia and Ukraine therefore collapsed.

Biden seems to have made some sort of deal with Ukraine’s President Zelensky that if Ukraine would do that (resist Russia all the way), then America and its allies would commit to Ukraine all the way up to World War III, but not by sending troops, only weapons and economic aid, which total so far this year the U.S. has been authorized in an amount of $54 billion. America’s allies have donated far less. Basically, the deal is between Biden and Zelensky, to fight Russia all the way to a “victory” by Ukraine (actually by America) against Russia.

However, now that Ukraine is losing its war, Biden and his allies are allowing the war to expand closer and closer to WW III. Ukraine has several times bombed nearby cities in Russia, though constantly promising that it won’t.  And now, Lithuania, which is part of America’s alliance, has closed Russia’s rail traffic through Lithuania into Russia’s province of Kaliningrad. Analogous would be if an anti-U.S. Canada were to block U,.S. rail traffic between the lower 48 states and the American state of Alaska. That sort of thing violates international law and is the international-law equivalent of a declaration of war, which Lithuania has now done (though not yet formally declared), with the approval of the U.S. and of America’s other allies, all of which are thereby daring Russia to enforce its own international-law rights by Russia’s bombing any Lithuanian-or-allied forces that would attempt to enforce the U.S.-and-allied blockade against Kaliningrad.

An excellent discussion of the ramifications of this situation can be found here.

where the reasons why this pushes Russia, to retake all of Ukraine, plus to retake Lithuania, are well explained. Whether Putin will decide to do that, however, is not yet known. What is known is that if Russia is forced to either go to war against the U.S. and its allies, or else to continue to allow this international-law violation by Lithuania being backed-up by America, against Russia, then either Putin will back down and Biden will win, or else Biden will back down and Putin will win, or else we all will experience WW III no longer in just its proxy-war (Ukrainian battlefield) stage (such as has been the case), nor in any other merely traditional-war stage, but finally as an all-out nuclear exchange, which will be completed within less than an hour and doom everyone.

Biden has already decided to bring on a global recession or even depression in order to defeat Russia, but whether he will go all the way to WW III in order to force Russia to become just another ‘U.S. ally’ (but it would be the biggest one of all, since Russia is by far the world’’s biggest country, even without its former partners in the Soviet Union), isn’t yet known.

As Russia’s Government has said on many occasions, what is at stake for Russia in this matter is “existential,” namely whether or not Russia will continue to exist as a free nation, since it will not accept becoming yet another U.S. colony. However, for America, as America’s own Government has said on many occasions, what is at stake is continuation of U.S. hegemony over the world, or else there coming to be no hegemon. That fixed objective of the U.S. Government has been stated in many ways, but perhaps the clearest of all being by President Barack Obama on 28 May 2014, when addressing America’s future generals:

The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come. … Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums. … It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.

To be a “hegemon” is to be the only nation that is indispensable — all others are, according to that view, dispensable. Russia’s Government is now being tested to determine whether it will accept being dispensable, or else continue as it has been at least since 1991, as a free country, no mere colony of some foreign government.

In order for the U.S. to win this conflict, the entire world will have to accept rule by America’s Government (i.e., being a U.S. ‘ally’). In order for Russia to win this conflict, the U.S. Government would have to change what has been its overriding objective ever since, actually, 25 July 1945: hegemony.

NOTE: Officially, the term “hegemony” is merely a synonym for “domination.” The reason dictionaries lie about it is: a term that means domination over all other countries conveys a Hitlerian image, and the U.S. Government wants to avoid being viewed as Hitlerian. The fact is that no country can be a hegemon unless it dominates over all other countries — leads an all-inclusive global empire (even if never officially declared to be an “empire” at all). The correct usage of the term “hegemon” therefore is exclusive (“the hegemon”), not not merely one of several (“a hegemon”). In any case, Obama made the point unambiguously clear by asserting that “The United States is … the one indispensable country.” Hitler felt the same way about Germany. This is the challenge that Russia faces. America ideologically switched sides right after WW II. But Russia remains (and passionately) anti-nazi. So, if Russia will have to retake all of Ukraine, and also Lithuania, in order to continue its own independence, it will do that, because Russia has remained anti-nazi. How Biden would respond to that is unknown.

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Why the Russian Invasion to Ukraine is a Miscalculation on the Feasibility of Conquest

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In the midst of a recovering world from the pandemic, a war in Europe is the last thing anybody would ever wish for. The conflict has been boiling down since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and Russia’s troop buildup outside of the Ukrainian borders has been happening since February 2021, when it announced a large troop deployment for a ‘large scale exercise’. By December in the same year, Russia made an 8-point wish list amidst rising tensions and on February 24th 2022, Russia started its invasion of Ukraine under the guise of what Putin says is a ‘special military operation’. The following day, heavy Russian artillery marches towards Kyiv expecting an easy path, however they were met by heavy resistance from the Ukrainian military and civilians.[1] Within the following months, the struggle to take over Kyiv has proven Russia’s miscalculation on what Van Evera terms as the ‘feasibility of conquest’. But in order to fully understand where miscalculation lies, it is important to note the background and sources of insecurity between all parties involved.

In Putin’s worldview, the legitimacy of the Ukrainian identity and statehood is a precarious issue. He has long stated and emphasized on Eastern Slav unity between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, suggesting that the political destiny of the three nations is inseparable with one another. This “unity paradigm” as coined by Zenon Kohut, or the commitment to the believe that Eastern Slavic states encompasses an “all-Russian” people and thus part of Russia’s sphere of influence (as suggested by the conception of the Ruskii miir)) is what lead to Russia’s primary source of insecurity in recent years. The denial of the Ukrainian identity and statehood by Russia is engrossed within the long historical narratives of Russia’s imperial tradition, and thereby perceiving Ukraine’s desire to separate from Moscow’s influence as a product of “external forces”. As a growing Ukrainian identity is eventually established due to the three-decade process of ‘Ukranization’, calls for integration with the European Union and NATO is a hard pill to swallow for the Kremlin. Should Ukraine adopt a ‘western European identity’ and join NATO, Russia is faced with a reality of a disintegrated Eastern Europe community. In haste, Russia attempts to bring Ukraine back into its arms through military force, under calculations that ethnic Russians living on the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine still holds post-imperial consciousness and pro-Russian sentiments.[2] Therefore, a pro-Western and anti-Russia Ukrainian statehood who potentially could be holding a NATO base is the greatest source of insecurity for Russia.

Another view is that Russia’s motivation in Ukraine is based on its identification as a great power state. But its slow growing economy, old population, and security problems within its vast territory makes it not resemble like one. Hence, Russia’s great power status undeniably rests on three things; membership in the UNSC, its nuclear weapons, and its position as the largest state in Eastern Europe. But all these have been challenged before by Western Europe and the US allies, noting the intervention in Iraq and the 2008 recognition of Kosovo which it perceives as efforts to undermine its position in the UNSC. Growing numbers of NATO bases in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the Czech Republic, have also threatened Russia’s edge on its nuclear ability. The idea to admit Ukraine and Georgia into NATO as reiterated by Bush’s administration in 2008 also became a threat to its relevance in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, Russia saw Ukraine moving away from its reaches when it proposed the signing of the EU association agreements.[3] All of this have fueled to become Russia’s primary source of insecurity and motivations as to why it is so adamant in ‘reacquiring’ its neighbor back. [4] This further explains why Russia justifies the invasion under two narratives; one, as a reaction to the encroachment by NATO and the West and two, as a historically justified view that Ukraine belongs to Russia.[5]

On the contrary, Ukraine’s greatest source of insecurity is its unpredictably aggressive and large neighbor who views their sovereignty as illegitimate. As a smaller and developing state compared to Russia, Ukraine views Russia’s meddling in its political affairs as an unwanted intervention. The decoupling of the Russian and Ukrainian identity has started since long ago from laws regarding using the Ukrainian language as the national language and establishing a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. As Ukraine’s political outlooks diverge from Russia, its insecurity lies in its stubborn neighbor refusing to acknowledge their distinctiveness as a sovereign and legitimate state.[6] The 2014 annexation of Crimea has further spurred concerns over its territorial integrity and without being part of any official security alliances, Ukraine is faced with the reality that a war with Russia means fighting on the battlefield alone.

Despite this, the concern over Ukrainian security is not an exclusively Ukrainian agenda, but also a concern for the Western European states and the Atlantic alliance. Russia’s invasion has proved itself as a predatory state with blatant disregard to existing notions of sovereignty and its behavior risks tipping the international security collective, noting that some Eastern European states like Poland—who is a member of NATO and borders Russia and Ukraine—are in close range with the on-going war. Hence, for most of the international community, the primary source of insecurity is the anarchic state of the international system that allows the violation of sovereignty norms, kickstarting worries of their own sovereignties in the face of predatory states. Furthermore, the war has undermined the geopolitical stability of the European continent since the last World War II. As most of these countries identify themselves as ‘democratic adherers to freedom and liberty’, as well as being geographically situated within the region of the conflict, an unsettled Europe risks destabilizing the region’s development as a whole.

As the war has led to the further decoupling of Europe, Ukraine’s resilience (with the help of Western governments support) has taken Russia by surprise. According to Van Evera, the concept on ‘feasibility of conquest’—or in other words, why states would initiate invasions and wars—is shaped by four factors such as military technology, geographic factors, social and political factors, and the nature of diplomacy in relations to the conflict.[7] In hindsight, Russia’s military technology and power outnumbers Ukraine as the former spends 10 times as much on their defense spending than the latter. It has three times the artillery of Ukraine and 10 times as many aircrafts[8]. But the miscalculation lies on the emphasis on its military prowess, forgetting other factors like geographical feasibility, social-political leadership and solidarity, and the diplomatic context of the conflict. To be fair, Russia seems to have thought its military campaign against Ukraine would be a three-day march to takeover Kyiv without much resistance. Therefore, it was left unprepared towards fighting a war that has lasted up to almost 5 months. This is just as Van Evera has written; aggressive operations can penetrate enemy defenses but a reckless operation will expose one’s own defenses.[9]

Russia is not prepared to fight this war. Not only did it did not have a long-term plan on how its invasion was going to play out, Russian forces were underequipped; riding on old armored vehicles, facing gas, food, and water shortages leading to a generally disorganized war effort. This might also be caused by two factors; firstly, its political system and secondly, due to the lack of information among its troops. Russia is known to maintain elite loyalty by profiting off government provisions within procurement systems—including military procurement—which led to widespread corruption. The corruption with the military procurement has left Russian troops fighting in Ukraine with inadequate supplies causing them to loot civilian homes in an attempt to fulfill their water and food needs. Energy shortages has also left many Russian tanks and armored vehicles unable to move any further and are left disregarded on the sides of Ukrainian streets. Furthermore, despite its overwhelming numbers, the Russian air force has failed to dominate the skies due to the lack of tactical strategy.[10]  Additionally, it seemed that the invasion was kept under wraps amongst military officials which led to a lot of the Russian troops losing morale quickly as they do not understand why they are fighting a war in a country where many of them have familial ties.[11]

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have opted to capitalize on Russia’s strategic failure. Since the 2014 Crimean annexation, it has received weapons supply from western nations. In 2016, Ukraine and NATO did a training program for the Ukrainian special forces, but never truly expecting that the training would be put to test so soon.[12] Amidst the current war, the US and its allies in NATO and the EU have committed to sending weaponry such as Javelin antitank missiles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and stinger surface-to-air missiles.[13] The Ukrainians have adopted a strategy to wear down the Russian offense by sticking into the defense position. This is due to Ukrainian’s consciousness of its own military prowess; power-wise, Ukraine understands its limitations and optimizes what is has effectively. The weapons shipment from the West have also helped it strengthened its defense, as military technology that focuses on lethal firepower and mobility are best suited for defense.[14] The geographical factor definitely falls into the Ukrainian’s favor, as local knowledge on its geography has created an effective environment for its guerilla warfare. Many Ukrainian troops have opted to fortify cities instead of engaging with the Russians out in the open as seen in the struggle in Mykoliv city in order to save their military supplies and engage with Russians in the most efficient manner possible. Russia’s initial strategy to seize and encircle Kyiv through the Hostomel airfield had failed as the Ukrainian forces defense-dominant strategy have managed to holdout the Russian air and missile strikes and prevented them from further advancing towards Kyiv.

Barriers and fortifications are put up by destroying bridges and highways to prevent tanks from mobilizing. A strategy of the Ukrainians is to destroy the Russian convoy with artillery shells and antitank missiles whenever the vehicles were on the open highway. This relates to Van Evera’s point on strong fortification and human made obstacles like urban sprawls that are essential in the creation of a strong defense.[15] This can be seen in how Kyiv has been barricaded with large concrete blocks, sandbags, tires, and tanker trucks. Similarly, trenches have been dug out surrounding the city of Irpin as Russia’s lack of knowledge around Irpin has left their tanks stuck in small streets, making them easy targets for the Ukrainian military.[16] It should be noted that local knowledge is not simply limited in the geographical sense, but can also be sourced from civilian intel. Residents in several Ukrainian cities who were either unable to get out or refuse to leave have helped provide intel on Russian movements using their cellphones. [17] The war has further consolidated Ukrainian solidarity and Zelenskyy’s leadership when he opted to stay and fight in the capital alongside his countrymen. The charismatic leader’s popular government has garnered the ability to raise its citizens loyalty and organize them for effective guerilla resistance.[18] This can be seen in how voluntary Ukrainian citizens have joined in taking up arms in defending their cities via guerilla warfare. Many citizens have participated in building Molotov cocktails in the frontlines and even farmers are contributing by towing away Russian armored vehicles. [19] Furthermore, smaller arsenals are distributed amongst guerilla fighters noting the usefulness of assault rifles, machine guns, light mortars, and mines for defensive powers, which reaffirms the Ukrainian fighters’ commitment to defend instead of attack. [20]

This just goes in line with Van Evera’s writing on the usage of local knowledge which can hinder conquest. Similarly, Van Evera also states that when states do not have the adequate critical resources, conquest can also be hindered.[21] He also noted that the diplomatic factor that influences conquest feasibility are within these three arrangements; collective security systems, defensive alliance, and balancing behavior by neutral states.[22] The latter is most true in the context of Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts in garnering international support and sympathy towards its side of the war. Despite not being part of a collective security system or a formal defensive alliance, Ukraine has managed to gain the support of states like the US and EU members to play the role as ‘neutral balancers’, or those who join the weaker party in order to balance the more powerful party. Though they do not fight within the war directly, they are fighting in proxy by sending weaponry and supplies to Ukraine and imposing severe economic sanctions. Ukraine, for its part, is helping its ally states by stalling the war in order to make Russia suffer from the brunt of its sanctions. Furthermore, the involvement of balancing parties—who are also a part of a security collective like NATO—makes Russia’s aggression limited towards Ukraine, since expanding its aggression towards the balancing parties would enlarge the scale of the war. But this situation is also made feasible due to the political regimes within the balancing states involved which have strong willingness to intervene in preventing the expansion of regional hegemonies.[23] Should these states pursue isolationist policies; the war situation would be a completely different story.

The city of Lysychansk is likely to become Russia’s next target as it has been bombarding the city with airstrikes. In the other side of the river separating Lysychansk with the city of Severodonestsk, the street fighting and ground assaults has made humanitarian assistance to enter very difficult in the Luhansk region. Meanwhile, the struggle in Kharkiv continuous as Russia’s ground assaults to the northeast pushes’ Ukrainian troops away from Russian-occupied frontiers near the Russian border.[24] Amidst it all, there is no denying that the invasion to Ukraine for Russia’s part is a heavy miscalculation on the feasibility of conquest since it only focused on assumptions on its military powers. It neglects the other factors that should have been utilized to serve its own goals and is now being capitalized by the Ukrainian forces in holding out against the aggression. From differing perceptions of threat that have led to different security concerns for both parties—and to an extent, to balancing parties as well—there is one salient takeaway within this war. It is undeniable that the Russia-Ukraine War marks a rise in concerns regarding a state’s national security, noting the existence of predatory behavior within the international system. But security itself is an issue of specific context in which actors have different interpretations on what they deem as threatening and secure. In an international arena that is now buzzing with security concerns, a diverse spectrum of security concerns in relation to the Russia-Ukraine War has emerged. For some it might be concerns on how the war is impacting the slow-going post-pandemic recovery with rising food and oil prices that are predicted to cause instability in volatile regions like Africa and the Middle East, as well as straining developing and emerging economies in Asia and Latin America whilst Central and South Asian states risks getting their share of aid diverted to the Ukrainian cause.[25] For others, it might be the threat on the breach of sovereignty norms and the reminder of the constant precarity within the international life due to the existence of predatory behavior. Time can only tell how the Russia-Ukraine War will play out, but in the meantime, there is no denying that everyone is on the edge of their seats in following its development. Therefore, the Russian invasion in Ukraine has become one of the most pressing security issues in the 21st century.


[1] Reuters, “A Timeline of War as Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Enters Third Month,” Hindustan Times, April 23, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/a-timeline-of-war-as-russia-s-invasion-of-ukraine-enters-third-month-101650699536819.html.

[2] Jeffrey Mankoff, “Russia’s War in Ukraine: Identity, History, and Conflict,” www.csis.org, April 22, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-war-ukraine-identity-history-and-conflict.

[3] Ruth Deyermond, “What Are Russia’s Real Motivations in Ukraine? We Need to Understand Them | Ruth Deyermond,” The Guardian, April 27, 2014, sec. Opinion, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/27/russia-motivations-ukraine-crisis.

[4] Kristen de Groot, “Putin’s Motivation behind the Attack on Ukraine,” Penn Today, February 24, 2022, https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/putins-motivation-behind-attack-ukraine.

[5] Sebastian Shindler, “Opinion – Russian Motives in Ukraine and Western Response Options,” E-International Relations, February 28, 2022, https://www.e-ir.info/2022/02/28/opinion-russian-motives-in-ukraine-and-western-response-options/.

[6] Jeffrey Mankoff, “Russia’s War in Ukraine: Identity, History, and Conflict,” www.csis.org, April 22, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-war-ukraine-identity-history-and-conflict

[7] Van Evera, 1998, p.16

[8] Jeffrey Mankoff, “Russia’s War in Ukraine: Identity, History, and Conflict,” www.csis.org, April 22, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-war-ukraine-identity-history-and-conflict

[9] Van Evera, 1998, p.18

[10] France 24, “Five Reasons Why Ukraine Has Been Able to Stall Russian Advance,” France 24, March 8, 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220308-five-reasons-why-ukraine-has-been-able-to-stall-russian-advance.

[11] Zack Beauchamp, “9 Big Questions about Russia’s War in Ukraine, Answered,” Vox, March 30, 2022, https://www.vox.com/22989379/russia-ukraine-war-putin-zelenskyy-us-nato-explainer-questions.

[12] Sudarsan Raghavan, “How Kyiv’s Outgunned Defenders Have Kept Russian Forces from Capturing the Capital,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/15/ukraine-kyiv-russia-war/.

[13]France 24, “Five Reasons Why Ukraine Has Been Able to Stall Russian Advance,” France 24, March 8, 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220308-five-reasons-why-ukraine-has-been-able-to-stall-russian-advance.

[14] Van Evera, 1998, pp.16-17

[15] Van Evera, 1998, pp.16-19

[16] Van Evera, 1998, p.20

[17] Sudarsan Raghavan, “How Kyiv’s Outgunned Defenders Have Kept Russian Forces from Capturing the Capital,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/15/ukraine-kyiv-russia-war/.

[18] Van Evera, 1998, p.20

[19] Sudarsan Raghavan, “How Kyiv’s Outgunned Defenders Have Kept Russian Forces from Capturing the Capital,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/15/ukraine-kyiv-russia-war/.

[20] Sudarsan Raghavan, “How Kyiv’s Outgunned Defenders Have Kept Russian Forces from Capturing the Capital,” Washington Post, March 15, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/15/ukraine-kyiv-russia-war/.

[21] Van Evera, 1998, p.20

[22] Van Evera, 1998, pp.21-22

[23] Van Evera, 1998, pp.21-22

[24] The Washington Post, “Latest Russia-Ukraine War News Updates,” The Washington Post, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/06/18/russia-ukraine-war-putin-news-live-updates/.

[25] IMF, “How War in Ukraine Is Reverberating across World’s Regions,” IMF Blog, March 15, 2022, https://blogs.imf.org/2022/03/15/how-war-in-ukraine-is-reverberating-across-worlds-regions/.

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Corporate Business and Career Development in the Higher Education System in Russia

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Far ahead of the special session that thoroughly reviewed and discussed Russia’s education and the employment market at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russian legislators have, on May 25, launched a Telegram survey on the future of higher education and the Bologna system in Russia.

Russia’s State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel calling for a new higher education system in the country based on the best contemporary and Soviet practices. “We would be right to create an effective national higher education system based on today’s and Soviet practices,” Vyacheslav Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel. “The existing higher education system needs change, as per 90% of the respondents,” Volodin reported, saying that more than 413,000 people had been surveyed.

The Duma speaker said this and other issues would be discussed at a parliamentary session on June 27, with Science and Higher Education Minister Valery Falkov, as well as representatives from the country’s universities and education experts expected to attend.

At the St. Petersburg forum, its traditional face-to-face format for the first time in two years after coronavirus pandemic, during a special discussion entitled ‘How to Provide the Russian Economy with the Qualified Personnel?’ and looked at the question of the ‘qualification pit’ – the mismatch of skills and competencies of employees with the needs of employers is becoming more acute by the year. At the same time, according to the Ministry of Education, today more than 60% of schoolchildren choose secondary vocational education. Is it not enough? And what measures should be taken by the state and business to solve the current problem? 

There were more questions on aspects of education. How to attract employers to active, meaningful cooperation with educational organizations? How can business contribute to a better quality of personnel training? How can we increase employers’ satisfaction with the level of secondary vocational graduate training? How can the right conditions for mastering fundamentally new professional skills and competencies be created? How can we reduce the time necessary for the adaptation of new personnel in production and increase the efficiency of the process?

Some experts have argued that the integration of creative industries into the educational process is becoming an important trend and necessity of the 21st century. Thus getting involve in educating and training of furture professionals should be viewed as an integral part of any sector of the economy from the nuclear industry to agriculture and construction. 

Deputy CEO of the Roscongress Foundation and Director of the social platform of the Roscongress Foundation – the Innosocium Foundation Yelena Marinina explained at the session at St. Petersburg forum that the future and the trajectory of its development depend on the values, knowledge, and aspirations of today’s young people. 

There are new opportunities and the new horizons that are opening up in all areas are in high demand. It makes it imperative effectively utilizing the potential of graduates to accelerate economic growth. This explains the need to understand the relationship between employers and employees, and to stimulate cooperation, especially in a rapidly changing world, between business and educational institutions, Marinina asserted in her presentation.

Speaking at the SPIEF plenary session, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin strongly urges big business representatives to link their families’ future with Russia. “Recent events have only confirmed what I kept saying earlier: it’s safer at home. Those who didn’t want to hear this obvious message lost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in the West. This is how the supposedly safe haven for capital turned out,” the Russian leader stressed.

“Today I would also like to address our leaders, large companies owners, our major entrepreneurs and managers. Dear colleagues, friends, real, lasting success, a sense of dignity and self-respect come only when you connect your future, your children’s future with your Motherland,”  Putin reiterated.

Putin carefully noted that he has been in contact with many CEOs and company owners for a long time and knows their sentiments. It is, indeed, important to understand that business is much more than making a profit. It involves changing the life around, contributing to the development of your hometown, region, country as a whole is an extremely important thing for self-realization. Nothing can replace service to people and society. This is the meaning of life, the genuine meaning of work.

During several ocassions of award ceremonies of young talented entrepreneurs in the Kremlin, Putin has, long ago, supported the implementation of the strategic socio-economic initiative entitled Professionalism. The initiative is aimed at complex reset of the whole system of secondary vocational education. 

The key task is to ensure the training of specialists in professions that are truly in demand in a shorter period of time. This will provide a possibility to build a new sectoral model of personnel training, synchronized with the demands of the labor market. It will help stipulate employment for graduates and, as a consequence, give a new impetus to the development of regional economies.

As of 1 September 2022, 150,000 students will be involved in training at educational production centers. The primary focus is on key working professions and specializations in areas such as metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and transportation. The new approach that lies at the heart of the project will help solve the issue of targeted training for the priority sectors of the economy under the conditions of import substitution.

New documents were signed by Alexander Stuglev, Chairman and CEO of the Roscongress Foundation, Elena Chernova, First Vice Rector of St. Petersburg State University, Ivan Lobanov, Rector of Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, and Marina Buntova, CEO of TALENTI. These documents stipulate joining forces in implementing state policy aimed at improving the socio-economic sector, creating conditions meant to assist students and young professionals in professional orientation and successful employment. 

Under the agreement, the Roscongress Foundation will be involved in forming a database of the main beneficiaries of the projects, organizing classes and events held as part of these joint projects. In addition, the agreements provide for cooperation between the parties in conducting joint internships, theoretical classes and training seminars for young people, including using ‘Country’s Potential’ digital platform.

According to the organizers’ website information, about 2,700 business representatives from 90 countries were expected to attend – far below the 13,500 participants from 140 countries previous years. Some business leaders had concerns about attending the forum due to the sanctions against Russia. Under the chosen theme ‘New Opportunities in a New World’ that reflects the changing global situations, the conference runs from June 15 to June 18 and it is the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) since its establishment. 

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