Ukraine Crisis Lecture at University of South Carolina

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 – 2:30pm at University of South Carolina

Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute working in Wilson Center in Washington gave a lecture on Ukraine Crisis. The talk was sponsored by Russian and Eurasian Studies of University of South Carolina.

The death toll from the war in Ukraine’s southeast is in the thousands, the government in Kyiv is on the edge of bankruptcy, and mutual hostility between Russia and the West has not been so intense for more than a quarter century. The intensity of this ongoing crisis threatens not only to upend the precarious security balance in the post-Soviet space and beyond, but to reinforce a serious challenge to the very political and economic system that Ukrainians embraced when they turned out to support the so-called Euro-Maidan by the hundreds of thousands a year ago.

With poor prospects for a comprehensive diplomatic settlement, and political pressure for escalation from all sides, what can be done to contain the damage?  Is crisis and confrontation the new normal for Europe and Eurasia, and if so will these problems come home to roost in the West?

Matthew lived in Kiev close to where it all started in May 2013, though he lived there a year before.

In his opening remark, he talked about the corruption, the main reason why people took the streets of Kiev in the first place. The lavish lifestyle of Viktor Yanukovych, and the poverty of the country was portrayed through his photos of the time he was in Ukraine.

Then there was the European Union joining deal from which Viktor Yanukovych backed up. At this point, Matthew talked about the perception of people, which is joining EU means better life than before. That lead to my first question, which I asked later on. Is joining EU means well-off? For example, Bulgaria is suffering largely after joining EU. Greece is a more recent example.

Then Russia was backing Ukraine on this. The reasons are quite obvious, NATO for the last 25 years has been trying to increase influence on the belly of Russian peninsula. And Putin do not want it right on the western side of Russia.

Then protest did get massive and Viktor Yanukovych at a point fled the country. The south western side of the country was taken at first by separatist and later, it was taken peacefully by Russia.

Now, why Putin had to intervene at this? There were three core explanation, which are not exactly international:

1) the regime survival, the same can happen to PutinPutin‘s Image about religion

2) Putin‘s credibility: What has happened in Ukraine, can in a sense give an up rise in Russia as well. Though there is a difference, Viktor Yanukovych was afraid of the oligarchs in Ukraine, but Putin is strong against them, and he made sure that they are not at top of the things.

3) Putin‘s geopolitical vision: euro-Asian zone, free trading space.

Now, could Ukraine have tried to take take back Crimea? Ukrainian military had 35000 military troops and 5000 were ready at the time, which is even less than the reserve force of South Carolina.

Present scenario: Donetsk and the eastern south part is now almost controlled by separatist which is now more than 10% of the land mass. We see the fighting in Donetsk right now, the airport is completely demolished, which was built in 2012. It had state of the art technology.

The protest was about a new Ukraine. But now, Ukrainian economy is totally destroyed. 700000 people have left Ukraine. Less than 10 million dollar left in Bank for the government. And is the new regime trustworthy? Candy man, Petro Poroshenko is now the president, who used to be with everybody. He is a billionaire. He was in all of the previous two government. Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who is also a billionaire and Jew, has recently became governor of Dnipropetrovsk and have 5000 private soldiers under him. All this tells us how much change has come in new Ukraine.

Ukraine’s media is mostly run by Oligarch and these are in Russian language, because that is the most popular language. Then, these Oligarchs have their own battle. Their media reflect their own opinion. Whose media to trust?

Petro Poroshenko came to United States to ask for weapons, money and to thank United States. To Matthews opinion, it will be a disaster to help with those, they need money for humanitarian reason not war. Also, it is not known what is happening at the border, the Russian Authority says they are not sending troops and people are joining voluntarily at the war.

He was asked What not do, what might be a sensible strategy for dealing with the situation. He suggested that international world should not do silly, things. Not to put new ideas in place without consulting Ukraine or Russia. Cause there is no easy and early solution of this conflict. For example, Hungary recently announced they will give passports to Ukrainian people, who have Hungarian tie. Such things can damage the process of peace.

Media war: Media has to play reliable, authentic role.  Whats happening at border, is something we need to know. West can intervene, international observers can be used.

Question was asked about sanctions: did sanction work? If used for moral reason, maybe. But economically and potentially it does not weaken Russia in the long run. Because the world needs oil and Russia has oil.

Can Ukraine succeed in keeping it together? A complex scenario in front of Ukraine. Often the people in the ground level do not take orders from the top, recent incidents of killing head of the team of commander has surfaced that pretty much. Anti corruption laws has not been imposed yet. Corruption will be hard to deal with, as people is used to. More time needed to change the mentality. Biggest problem according to Matthew is any idea coming without both sides consent, is dangerous. Like joe bidel said in about Iraq, slice iraq into shia, sunni, kurdis parts.
One of the thing that adds fuel to this complexity is ethnicity. Ethnicity is something that has a complex place in this, because most Ukrainians speak Russian. And they have ties to Russia in one way or another.
Private Military is taking opportunity and private contractors are taking part in this war. What will happen to them if the war stops as they get paid now? The incentive for fighters is different to Kievs incentive because of their difference in opinion, another reason why soldiers often do not listen to their commanders.

Is the net affect is to bring international world in it? What are the practical problem to international world. Right now, the problem is the fear of spreading the violence. The International World should not do things for showing.  Doing no harm, avoiding ripple effect as strategic patience should be the key for International community.

Is it predictable when this can end? No. This is something unique of it’s kind. The Russia denied it’s involvement with separatist, but they have never tried to stop the conflict. AS United States chance of going into Ukraine is 0 and Europe much less likely to get into war, the timeline seems to increase for the war in Ukraine.

Matthew’s lecture, brought a lot of enlightenment among the students. I would like to write an opinion piece on that later.


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