UKRAINE WATCH: Understanding the Crisis

UPDATED March 27

March 5, 2014: The risks of escalation in the Ukraine must not be ignored. The Global Security Institute believes that a deeper understanding of the dynamics at work is imperative. Many in the media are quick to frame this in neo-Cold War, United States vs. Russia, black and white paradigm. Such a framing is dangerous, and unhelpful. 

We would therefore like to share with you, below, a series of articles that we think capture the nuance and complexity of the crisis. As we continue to meet with multiple decision makers and lead players in the Ukraine crisis, we have found these analyses to be particularly valuable. 

UPDATE: Those who are arguing that Russia would not have annexed Crimea if Ukraine had retained its nuclear weapons assail the very logic of the NPT: that nuclear weapons do not make a nation more secure. It is irrefutable that, had nuclear weapons been a factor, the current crisis in Ukraine would be much more, not less, dangerous for all involved. Jonathan Granoff comments to the IPS: “Non-Nuclear Ukraine Haunts Security Summit in The Hague,IPS, March 26, 2014.



1. Hard Facts as Background from Mother Jones

2. Ukraine: The Value of Risk Analysis in Foreseeing Crises

A serious mature analysis that contains links to insightful articles by the brilliant analyst, Ambassador Jack Matlock, who was so insturmental in ending the Cold War when he served as US Ambassador to the USSR under President Reagan. He was consistently correct in his analysis then and certainly one of the wisest commentators on Russia and the Ukraine now. 

3. Amb. Nick Burns from Harvard on how US should proceed

4. From the Guardian, Why NATO and US Should Cool Down

5. Should Ukraine Have Gotten Rid of Its Cold War Nukes? by Elaine M. Grossman

With Russian troops now occupying Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Kiev’s beleagered interim leaders may be thinking twice about their nation’s 1994 decision to abandon nuclear weapons. The East European country actually held the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But Kiev in 1994 agreed to transfer all its atomic arms to Russia for elimination, shortly thereafter joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear nation, and within two years was weapons-free. At the time, John Mearsheimer was one of very few who saw it as an unwise move. “As soon as it declared independence, Ukraine should have been quietly encouraged to fashion its own nuclear deterrent,” the University of Chicago scholar wrote in a 1993 Foreign Policy piece. “A nuclear Ukraine … is imperative to maintain peace between Ukraine and Russia. … Ukraine cannot defend itself against a nuclear-armed Russia with conventional weapons, and no state, including the United States, is going to extent to it a meaningful security guarantee.” Today Moscow is sending more troops to Ukraine, where it bases its Black Sea Fleet, amid consternation in Washington and throughout Europe that the nation’s entire eastern region might soon fall under Russian control. President Obama last Friday threatened that there would be “costs” to Russia if it intervened, but stopped short of offering specifics. Is Mearsheimer — still a political science professor at Chicago — feeling vindicated? “I do think they should have kept their nukes,” he said on Sunday via email. “If Ukraine had a real nuclear deterrent, the Russians would not be threatening to invade it.” (Global Security Newswire) 

6. What’s behind Russia’s moves in Ukraine? Fear of NATO by Edward W. Walker

The causes of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine are many, but most fundamentally its roots can be found in an enormously consequential decision made by the United States and its allies in the early 1990s. Faced with a strategic challenge of constructing a new security architecture for post-Cold War Europe, the decision was made to embark on a program of gradual NATO expansion to the east. A first round of accession took place in 1999, with membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. That was followed in 2004 by membership for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, and in 2009 by membership for Albania and Croatia. Officially, NATO’s position is that any country that wishes to join the alliance and meet its accession criteria will be welcomed. In practice, however, there was never any serious prospect that Russia would be allowed to join. Indeed, for many of NATO’s new members, the primary incentive to join was to deter aggression by, and deflect pressure from, Moscow. There can be no doubt that NATO expansion has brought many benefits to the alliance’s new member-states. But it has also contributed greatly to the acute geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West that has now come to a head over Ukraine. 

7. Putin’s Cynical Choice by Eugene Robinson for Real Clear Politics

Let’s be real. It’s one thing to say that Russia’s takeover of the Crimean Peninsula “cannot be allowed to stand,” as many foreign policy sages have proclaimed. It’s quite another to do something about it. Is it just me, or does the rhetoric abotu the crisis in Ukraine sound as if all of Washington is suffering from amnesia? We’re supposed to be shocked — shocked! — that a great military power would cook up a pretect to invade a smaller, weaker nation? I’m sorry, but has everyone forgotten the unfortunate events in Iraq a few years ago? My sentiments, to be clear, are with the legitimate Ukrainian government, not with the neo-imperialist regime in Russia.  But the United States, frankly, has limited standing to insist on absolute respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states. Before Iraq there was Afghanistan, there was the Gulf War, there was Panama, there was Grenada. And even as we condemn Moscow for its outrageous aggression, we reserve the right to fire deadly missiles into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else. None of this gives President Vladimir Putin the right to pluck Crimea from the rest of Ukraine and effectively reincorporate the historic peninsula into the Russian empire. But it’s hard to base U.S. objectives on principle — even if Putin’s claim that Russian nationals in Crimea were somehow being threatened turn out to be as hollow as the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein ahd weapons of mass destruction. 

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