You are on page 1of 6

Schaffner 1

Thomas Schaffner
Prof. David Bosco
Yoonbin Ha
World Politics
Theories applied to the Ukrainian Conflict
In late 2013 young Kievans took to the streets in protest of governmental corruption and
new laws that restricted rights on protest and speech. The protesters saw recent statements by
then-president Viktor Yanukovych as moves away from integration with the European Union and
towards alignment with Russian Federation. The protests intensified over several months and
culminated in several days of violence, which saw riot police switching to live ammunition and
over 100 protesters were killed1. As violence swept through the streets, Yanukovych boarded a
helicopter and fled to Russia. Dawn rose on a country reeling from violence and lacking
executive leadership.
Hardly twenty-four hours had passed when unmarked, masked troops appeared in the
Crimean peninsula. The soldiers began to seize strategic locations such as Ukrainian naval
facilities and other military installations. Ukraines military, weakened from decades of
corruption and lacking central leadership was forced to stand by idly. In the succeeding weeks,
allegations that the self defense militias were in fact Russian troops began to pile up. Crimeans
had historically identified ethnically and politically with Russia, and eventually Vladimir Putin
announced a referendum on the annexation of Crimea.
1 "World Report 2015: Ukraine." Human Rights Watch. January 7, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2015.

Schaffner 2

Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Donetsk, clashes began after perceived moves by the
interim government to disadvantage Russian speakers, a majority in the east of the country.2
Soon, as in Crimea the forces in the Donetsk region began to become better armed and expand in
numbers and area controlled,combatants began claiming loyalty to the breakaway Donetsk
People's Republic. (DNR) The conflict in the east became a full war, with rumors of Russian
intervention to aid the breakaway republic. Since fighting between the Ukrainian Armed Forces
and DNR forces began more than 9,000 people have been killed3.
The conflict moved Europe to a precarious position, NATO and the EU were immediately
critical of Russias violation of Ukraine's sovereignty in Crimea and Donetsk. Tension in Europe
reached a level not seen since the fall of the Berlin wall. The leaders of France, Russia, Germany
and Ukraine eventually met in Minsk in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,
although their agreed-upon ceasefire was slow to come into effect, the conflict has since slowed
and frozen, leaving a shaky but promising peace.
There are many potential causes for the war and instability that has stricken Ukraine over the
past year, ethnic and linguistic divisions, Russian fears of losing control over Ukraine to NATO
or the European Union, want for control of the industry heavy and coal rich Donets basin.4
Although it is impossible to really know what is going through the head of political leaders, we
can glimpse their motivation by applying different theories.

2 "Ukraine: Percentage Who Identify As Ethnic Russians Or Say Russian Is Their First Language."
RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Accessed October 5, 2015.

3 "World Report 2015: Ukraine." Human Rights Watch.

4 "Donets Basin | Region, Europe." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed October 4, 2015.

Schaffner 3

To accurately view modern events through the prism of world politics a synthesis of
theories should be examined, liberalism and realism, can co-exist within limits. A combination of
these two prominent theories with a weight on the economic approach offered by a neo-liberal
theory. This theory allows for both the security dilemma to exist and cooperation to be
potentially mutually rewarding. A theory that accepts the basic tenants of power and security
dominating a nation's national interest, and acknowledges the role of interdependent states and
democratic peace would best fit to describe the situation in Ukraine.
Realism, the theory that all politics essentially comes down to concerns of power and
security of one's state, or, as Thucydides described, the strong do what they have the power to
do and the weak accept what they have to accept.5 Morals and ideology take a back seat to quest
for material that can facilitate power. A realist would argue that Russias intervention in Ukraine
was to secure natural strategic resources, such as relatively untapped shale deposits.6 Or to
assure Ukraine position inside Russia's sphere of influence, preventing the spread of the
perceived offensive NATO and EU expansion. But, realism also argues that cooperation is
always flawed because of the same logic behind the prisoner's dilemma,7 an actor stands to gain
more from betraying the trust of another actor. Does this mean that the ceasefire negotiated at
Minsk is doomed?
Liberalism, a counter theory to realism, would argue that the Minsk agreement has hope.
Liberalism, differs crucially from realism, stating cooperation can sometimes be the most

5 Art, Robert J. "Power, Principle, and Legitimacy in Statecraft." International Politics: Enduring Concepts
and Contemporary Issues, 8. 12th ed. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

6 "Shale Development in Ukraine." Vinson Elkins. Accessed October 5, 2015.

7 Bosco, David. "Realism." Lecture, American University, Washington DC, September 14, 2015.

Schaffner 4

rational direction a state can take.8 By adjusting the pay offor benefits a country receives for
each action anarchy can be negated.9 For example Germany, along with much of western and
Central Europe has much to gain from the continuation of good relations with the Russian
Federation. Western European countries are chief recipients of Russian petroleum.10 This gives
Russia a source of income while allowing Western European countries to buy at prices
competitively lower than offered by other markets. This mutually beneficial trade assures that all
parties involved have something to lose if cooperation fails, it also gives both parties a position
of power to negotiate from, and thus reach a more equal agreement. Interdependents, like
Germany and Russia are interested in preserving stable and amiable relations, as both parties
benefit. In general more contact leads to less conflict.
The role of non-state actors in the conflict has also been crucial, the DNR though not a
recognised sovereign state essential operates as a state, but international organisation such as the
OSCE have played an important role in the ceasefire efforts despite the claim by Morgenthau
that non-governmental organisations simply parrot the dominant power.11 International
monitoring organisation can contribute by providing, as the OSCE does, accurate information
about the state of the conflict, which can than aid in cooperation. Non-state actors can affect
states when they help set norms that are agreed upon, and therefore aid meaning cooperation
between states12
8 Bosco, David. "Liberalism." Lecture, American University, Washington DC, September 21, 2015.
9 Art, Robert J. The mitigation of Anarchy.International Politics,67.
10 "Russia." Observatory of Economic Complexity. Accessed October 4, 2015.

12 Bosco, Liberalism

Schaffner 5

A realist, from the perspective of NATO, would rebut, stating that the security gained by Ukraine
balancing against Russia outweighs the security gained by the wealth from Russia-Europe trade.
While a Russian realist might argue that the fruits of cooperation are outweighed by the risk of
potential NATO expansion into Ukraine. This is a classic example of the realist security
dilemma. NATO perceives its expansion into Eastern Europe as a non-aggressive expansion of
its own security interests, a defensive measure. Russia on the other hand views the alliances
expansion as an aggressive threat that to its own security, an attempted encirclement, with Putin
claiming that "Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us."13 Both
sides are attempting actions which they claim are defensive, but the other side perceives as an
offensive threat to their security, this in turn increases tension between these actors.
On the other hand can an organisation like NATO even exist in a perfectly realist world?
The realist view of the alliance would say it is simply a product of balancing and bandwagoning,
a relic from the cold war, where weaker countries flocked to whichever side they felt would best
serve their interests. Liberalism offers the concept of economic ties and democracy eliminating
security threats between nations, which would imply that NATO has managed to mitigate
anarchy between its member states. The fact that a serious conflict between the United States and
France seems humorously ridiculous is perhaps the clearest evidence that we live in a liberal

13 Lockie, Alex. "Putin Just Made More Revealing Comments about His Opinions of NATO." Business
Insider. June 8, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.

Schaffner 6