The Russia–Georgia War: Causes and Consequences
Nicolai N. Petro
Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Crisis of August 2008: Roots and Lessons
East or West? Ukraine’s Quandary
Courting the Bear: A New Era for Russian–Western Relations
A ‘Reset’ for Relations?: Understanding Russian Grievances
Robert D. English
Blaming Moscow: The Power of the Anti-Russia Lobby
Andrei P. Tsygankov
NATO: The End of the Permanent Alliance
Western Values as Power Politics: The Struggle for Mastery in Eurasia
Russia’s Demographic Crisis: The Threat to ‘Sovereign Democracy’
Graeme P. Herd and Grace Allen
Pakistan: Anatomy of a Crisis
Imperial Footprint: America’s Foreign Military Bases
Holy and Contested City
Volume 11 ● Winter/Spring 2009—After Georgia
East or West? Ukraine’s Quandary
The Russia–Georgia war scared the Ukrainians. It demonstrated that Moscow is willing and able to use military force on a scale heretofore unseen in its dealings with post-Soviet states. Also, the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia made plain that Moscow no longer considers itself bound by the underlying principle of the post-Soviet settlement that the borders of the old Soviet republics should be respected as the borders of the now independent states.
Despite the problems it revealed about its hardware and training, for Russia the war was a military success. Moreover, it came at a low cost in terms of international reactions. No major or long-lasting sanctions were imposed on Russia. Still, there were costs in terms especially of Western countries now trusting Russia less than before the war. The negative effects of this loss of trust, however, are not necessarily immediate or alarming, and therefore probably do not concern the present Russian leadership very much.
My aim here is to examine some of the most important effects of the Russia–Georgia war on Ukraine, and also to discuss to what extent these effects might lead to changes in Ukrainian policy. Three areas stand out as particularly important in terms of the impact the war could have on Ukraine: Ukraine’s relations with Russia; Ukraine’s domestic political stability and cohesion; and Ukraine’s aspirations for membership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). I will argue that the war is likely to have significant and enduring effects on Russian–Ukrainian relations, but only minor effects in the two other areas. I will also argue that any efforts by Ukraine to minimise the chances of ending up itself in a military conflict with Russia are likely to be muted, partial and ineffective unless the Ukrainian political elite is able to break its tradition of continual infighting.
My analysis begins with a short introduction to Ukrainian elite geopolitical orientations.
In terms of geopolitical sympathies, the Ukrainian elite can be divided roughly into a pro-Western and a pro-Russian camp. The pro-Western camp consists of the so-called Orange parties (President Viktor Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine–National Self-Defence” political coalition, the supporters of Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, and to some extent the centrist Litvin bloc); a majority in the foreign-policy and security establishments (the Ukrainian officer corps, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs); and most of the foreign-policy and political commentariat (government and independent think-tanks, pundits and analysts in the media). The pro-Russian camp consists of the various left-wing parties (of which the Ukrainian Communist Party is by far the most important), the Party of Regions, and significant sectors of the local bureaucracy in eastern and southern Ukraine and the Crimea.
A major question about the pro-Russian camp is the extent to which its pro-Russian rhetoric is genuine. Undoubtedly, many politicians in this camp have ideological and/or identity-based motives for advocating close relations with Russia. However, others utilise this rhetoric primarily to attract votes in eastern and southern Ukraine, and in the Crimea. Since Ukraine attained independence in 1991, events have shown that the country’s politicians tend to forget many of their pro-Russian slogans once in office. Both former president, Leonid Kuchma, and former prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, now leader of the Party of Regions, exemplify this tendency. Kuchma quickly abandoned most of the pro-Russian slogans from his election campaign after he became president in 1995. When he went to Moscow after his victory to discuss the reinvigoration of the Ukraine–Russia relationship, he was told that reinvigoration was good but would have to take place on Russian terms. Faced with this message, Kuchma first turned to the West and then adopted the so-called “multi-vector approach”, whereby Ukraine would shift allegiance between Russia and the West at its own convenience, or even attempt to tilt towards both simultaneously. Similar pragmatism is evident in the adaptable position of Victor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions on the question of Ukraine’s joining NATO. Today, in opposition, this party is the main force against NATO membership. However, when Yanukovych was prime minister for the first time (2002–4), his government was much more sympathetic to membership and even dispatched troops to help the United States in Iraq.
Reading the War
The Russia–Georgia war demonstrated that what many Ukrainians had thought impossible, or at least highly unlikely, could in fact take place. Independently of where they put the blame, the fact that Russia used such massive military force against a former Soviet republic made a huge impression. One of Prime Minister Timoshenko’s advisers, Oleh Medvedev, speaking on 14 September 2008 at a seminar in Kiev held to examine the security implications of the conflict, said that “if anybody had said two months ago that Russia could come to attack Ukraine, most of us would have laughed. But the events in Georgia sobered us up”.
It is possible that the pro-Russian camp, too, has become more afraid of Russia. For many in this camp, pro-Russianness is to a significant extent an opposition strategy. The pro-Russian camp has been in office and has a reasonable chance of coming to office again. With realistic chances of again governing Ukraine, few of its leading members are ready to return to Russian domination. In that light, the Russia–Georgia war is bound to have hit some nerves, even if for tactical electoral reasons criticism of Russia will be carefully avoided.
One widespread Ukrainian reading of the war that I found during conversations with politicians and political analysts in Kiev was that the conflict occurred because Georgia’s leader, President Mikheil Saakashvili, had walked into a trap set by Moscow. The war was premeditated by Russia, which just needed a pretext to initiate it. The lesson for Ukraine is that it needs to be better than Georgia in indentifying and avoiding traps. On this interpretation, the blame lies with Russia for seeking violent conflict, but also with Saakashvili for being stupid enough to allow himself to be trapped.
Many Ukrainians also tend to explain aggressive Russian behaviour with reference merely to the fact that Russia is a great power. Hostile behaviour by Russia is seen as something natural and unavoidable, and as something that most great powers engage in. Ukraine is just unlucky to be the neighbour of such a power.
Ukrainian outrage was provoked not only by the war itself, but also by Russian accusations that Ukraine had fuelled the conflict by selling arms to Georgia. Nobody has denied that these arms were sold, but the Ukrainian leadership has claimed that this happened before the war and did not break international conventions. Still, the accusations led to the setting-up of an investigative committee by the Ukrainian parliament in order to find out whether anybody with executive power had behaved illegally. The committee found no evidence of foul play, but the Russian accusations and the parliamentary investigation created additional turbulence within the political elite. For many, this furore was yet another example of Russia’s ability to create problems in Ukraine, and therefore one more reason to keep Russia at a distance.
The fact that the war made a huge impression on the Ukrainian political elite, including possibly the pro-Russian camp, does not necessarily mean that it remains high on Ukraine’s agenda today. Since August 2008, Ukraine has experienced a serious gas dispute with Russia and become one of the European countries most badly hit by the international financial crisis. Political discussions in Kiev today are clearly dominated by these latter events and not by the Russia–Georgia war. The financial crisis in particular is a leading political theme. The gas and financial crises have made the Russia–Georgia war a less salient issue than it otherwise would have been.
The war has made an already improbable rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine even more unlikely. This is especially so because both countries are now more likely to take preparatory steps with an eye to future conflict. Such steps can in turn be seen by each party as unreasonably hostile, and thus lay the ground for future security dilemmas. Compromises on day-to-day problems, such as the January 2009 gas crisis, when Russia cut vital gas supplies to Ukraine in a price dispute, will still be found, but at the deeper level of strategic thinking and planning the parting of ways is becoming more cemented.
The result is a considerable loss of trust on both sides. Trust may be defined as “a bet on the future contingent actions of others”.1 One can of course argue that there was little trust in the Russia–Ukraine relationship in the first place, and thus that there was little to be lost. That, however, would probably be to underestimate the effects of the Russia–Georgia war. To Ukraine, the war showed that Russia was willing to use force to an extent hitherto unknown in state-to-state conflicts in the post-Soviet space. To Russia, Ukrainian policy before and during the war demonstrated that Kiev was ready to use any means short of direct military involvement to aid Russia’s enemies. Ukrainian arms sales to Georgia before the war, President Yushchenko’s vocal support of Tbilisi during the fighting, and Kiev’s efforts to limit Russia’s use of the Black Sea Fleet, all infuriated Moscow. It seems fair to say that as a result of the war, Russia and Ukraine have crossed a threshold in terms of their mutual distrust. It may not be the last threshold, and it may not even be a threshold of no return, but it is nevertheless a significant threshold. For Russia, Ukraine’s strong diplomatic support for Tbilisi and its sales of military hardware to Georgia constitute the threshold. For Ukraine, the threshold is marked by Russia’s heavy military response towards Georgia and its disregard of post-Soviet borders in recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Many Ukrainians now expect that the combination of Russian military success against Georgia and its low international costs is likely to lower the point at which Moscow contemplates the use of military force in the future. For example, during the January 2009 gas crisis, the Ukrainian media carried speculation that Russia might decide to use military force in the energy dispute. Such speculation was uncommon in Ukraine before the Russia–Georgia war.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were calls for a rapid strengthening of the Ukrainian armed forces. Some even urged a return to the nuclear-weapons capability that Ukraine possessed in the Soviet era. It is quite possible that Ukraine has the technical and industrial capacity to produce such weapons if it so desired. However, most of the calls for stronger defence were about conventional weapons.
The calls were to some extent followed up by action. Ukraine’s minister of defence announced that additional military units would be moved to the Crimea and towards other parts of the border with Russia. In addition, there has been a re-emphasis on deterrence capabilities. First and foremost, a planned reduction in troop numbers was halted by a decree from the Ukrainian Defence and Security Council in January 2009. The end to conscription planned for 2010 was postponed for five years. The official explanation for the decision was that the government had not provided sufficient funds to cover the move, and also that it had been slow in implementing military reform. The measure was, however, also widely seen as a response to the Russia–Georgia war. Ukraine now looks set to maintain an armed force of about 150,000 troops for some time.
Other steps to enhance Ukraine’s deterrence capability are the modernisation of the air force’s MiG-29 fighters, the efforts to supply the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet with new corvettes, and, most explicitly of all, the building of a new tactical missile system. This system cannot be used in peace operations abroad, and therefore has no use other than as a deterrent, most obviously against Russian attack. The decision to build the system was taken long before the Georgia war, but was given higher priority as a result of the war.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that the Russia–Georgia war has led to military hysteria in Ukraine. The idea of outright war with Russia is still alien to all but the most anti-Russian parts of the Ukrainian political establishment. Instead, there seems to be an increased focus on the possibility of smaller-scale military encroachments by the Russian side in order to achieve limited political objectives. If something like that were to happen, many expect that it would evolve from some conflict connected with the Crimea.
There are several issues that could spark controversy here, such as the territorial disputes in the Azov straits and Azov Sea and conflicts between Crimean Russian-speakers and Tatars. However, the most important Crimea-related test of the ability of the two states to resolve conflicts peacefully is the termination in 2017 of the basing agreement for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. What will happen in 2017 is already a matter of major controversy between the two states. Moscow has made clear that it would like to prolong the agreement, but Kiev has said this is out of the question. In autumn 2008, Kiev approached Moscow with a proposal to begin immediately the planning process for the transfer of the Russian fleet away from Sevastopol. This initiative angered the Russian side. Unless very pro-Russian political forces win the Ukrainian presidential elections scheduled for January 2010, the relationship between the two countries is heading for rocky waters in 2017.
After the Russia–Georgia war, some international observers suggested that because the Ukrainian military (about 150,000 troops) is much larger than the Georgian (about 30,000 troops), that alone would serve as a significant deterrent against Moscow—a belief that appears to be shared by Ukraine’s political and military leadership and to underlie its previously discussed decision to boost the country’s defensive capabilities. The assumption can, however, be questioned. There has been very little rearmament of the Ukrainian military since 1991, which, moreover, is relatively sharply divided between the 30,000-strong Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF) and the rest. The RRF get most of the training, and also most of what little new equipment is purchased. Thus, it could be argued that in reality only the RRF would be able to mount serious resistance to a foreign aggressor. That would especially be the case if there was a significant element of surprise in the attack, and if its political goals were limited. If the Russians, too, thought that only the RRF was capable of serious opposition, the deterrence effect of Ukraine’s overall troop numbers could be smaller than Kiev expects.
Ukraine’s Geopolitical Divides
Moreover, the Ukrainian population is split in its geopolitical sympathies. The stereotype is that Ukraine west of the river Dnieper is pro-Western and east of the Dnieper pro-Russian. That is only partially true. The regional divisions of identity and political preference have no clear demarcation line. Instead of a clear-cut split between east and west, there is in fact a split between east (32 per cent of the population), south (15 per cent of the population, including Crimea), centre (30 per cent of the population) and west (23 per cent of the population). The crucial component here is central Ukraine, which serves as a moderating force by combining elements of identity and political preference from both east and west. It is further important to bear in mind that popular pro-Russian sympathies in the east and south of the country are not necessarily anti-Ukrainian in sentiment or political effect. This is one reason why all attempts to instigate a serious separatist movement in eastern Ukraine have failed. Most eastern Ukrainians have accepted life in an independent Ukraine; they just feel strongly that the country should remain on good terms with Russia. The east–west divide in the Ukrainian population is real and difficult to mend, but also less politically explosive than often assumed.
The Russia–Georgia war could potentially exacerbate the east–west split in the Ukrainian population in at least two ways. First, Ukraine could become an even more polarised society, which in turn could make it harder to reach the national compromises necessary to build a more coherent and stable society. Second, the successful secessions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia could serve as precedents for political forces with similar ideas in Ukraine. The suggestion that Crimea could, with Russian support, become the next post-Soviet breakaway state was much discussed internationally after the Russia–Georgia war. This is a possibility, but overall the war is unlikely to have much effect on Ukraine’s internal stability.
One sociological survey shows that attitudes towards the Russia–Georgia war among the Ukrainian population largely followed expected regional patterns. The south and east showed most sympathy for the Russian side, the west showed most sympathy for the Georgian side, and central Ukraine was evenly divided. The survey, however, also shows a number of other notable points. For example, only in southern Ukraine (including Crimea) did more than 50 per cent of respondents identify Georgia as “the real aggressor” (56.8 per cent). In largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, 37.2 per cent saw Georgia as the “real aggressor”, 13.8 per cent saw Russia in that role, and 18.6 per cent saw Russia and Georgia as equally being aggressors. Only 30.7 per cent of respondents in eastern Ukraine saw the Russian military response as justified. In the other regions, the Russian military response was regarded as justified by 54.6 per cent in southern Ukraine, 12.9 per cent in central Ukraine, and 4.2 per cent in western Ukraine. Thus, sympathy for Russia’s handling of the conflict might be said to be notably low, at least in eastern Ukraine. In the same survey, 25 per cent of respondents in western Ukraine found Georgia’s behaviour legitimate, as against only 8.1 per cent in central Ukraine.2
Another survey further shows that the elite conviction that Georgia fell into a trap set by Russia also has strong popular support.3 To the question whether Georgia’s behaviour was an “emotional response to Russian provocations”, more than 50 per cent answered “yes” in all Ukrainian regions (61.5 per cent in central Ukraine, 58 per cent in western Ukraine, 56.3 per cent in eastern Ukraine and 53.5 per cent in southern Ukraine). Considered together, these surveys indicate that many, especially in southern Ukraine, simultaneously think that Georgia fell into a trap set by Moscow, and that the Russian actions were legitimate. The major finding, however, is that both central and eastern Ukraine have a moderating effect on political polarisation, and therefore on the potential for political tensions in Ukraine as a result of the war.
Neither does it look as if the war is going to increase the possibility of separatism in Ukraine. Separatism ceased to be a serious concern for Kiev after the failure of Iurii Meshkov, president of the Crimean Republic, an administrative region of Ukraine, to pull Crimea away from Ukraine in the mid-1990s. This was the only attempt at separatism in independent Ukraine that had a significant popular basis. The Crimean separatist leaders, however, were united on little more than their hatred of the central government. Kiev was therefore able to defuse the whole movement by granting Crimea a higher degree of autonomy than other regions of Ukraine. Apart from pro-Russian sentiment, there is little that Crimea has in common with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The latter have been outside Georgian control since the early 1990s, whereas Crimea has been under Kiev’s control. There is still the potential for popular support for separatism in Crimea, but this potential was not awoken by the Russia–Georgia war.
The issue of separatism also briefly resurfaced in eastern Ukraine in connection with the “Orange Revolution” of November 2004–January 2005 that brought Viktor Yushchenko to power. At that time, many influential eastern Ukrainian politicians gathered in Donetsk to demand a “South-Eastern Autonomous Region” modelled on the special privileges currently enjoyed by Crimea. There were also calls for separating eastern regions from Ukraine, but the main emphasis was on the more moderate demands for autonomy. Ultimately, nothing came of the demands for separatism or autonomy.
Despite the limited potential for separatism in Ukraine, the Russia–Georgia war has renewed Kiev’s sensitivity to the issue. There has been more talk in Ukrainian political circles about the danger of “fifth columns” than has been heard in a long time. In December 2008, the Ukrainian security service SBU announced that it had stopped the activity of pro-Russian separatist organisations enjoying Russian financial backing in three Ukrainian regions—Donetsk, Crimea and Transcarpathia. Since none of these organisations can be said to have had much popular backing or even public visibility, one might question whether their closure constitutes a victory in a battle against separatism. There is a danger that official zealousness against separatism could actually provoke more support for such organisations than they would otherwise be able to garner. However, a large-scale hunt for pro-Russian fifth columnists does not seem to be on the agenda in Ukraine.
EU and NATO Entry?
The war is not likely to have much effect on Ukraine’s integration with the West. The inability of the Ukrainian political elite to transform the democratic victory of the Orange Revolution into efficient and reform-oriented government counts heavily against the country’s eventual membership of Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO, outweighing any increased sympathy in the West with Ukraine’s precarious security situation. However, there are signs that short of actual EU and NATO membership, Western countries might be somewhat more ready than they were before the war to support Ukraine in its “Westernisation”. The war probably brought home to more leaders in the West that developments in the non-Russian former Soviet republics are not something that can be safely ignored. That is especially the case with Ukraine, because of the country’s size and geographical location.
In terms of Ukraine’s EU prospects, mixed signals are now coming from Brussels. On the one hand, “Ukraine fatigue”, a feeling of deep disappointment with the Ukrainian political elite after the Orange Revolution, seems more pronounced than ever. On the other hand, the idea that in some distant future there may be a place for Ukraine in the European Union might actually have become stronger. At least, statements by EU leaders to the effect that Ukraine can never become a member are now rare.
As regards NATO, some in the West may have become more wary of the possibility that Ukrainian membership could make an invocation of Article 5 of the alliance’s charter uncomfortably likely. (Article 5 deems that an attack on any one NATO member is an attack on all, and obliges the alliance to come to that state’s defence.) Discussions in the Western media about whether the West would be willing to fight Russia over Ukraine were the latter a NATO member showed that some countries considered the costs of admitting Ukraine to be unacceptably high. However, others, principally the United States under the presidency of George W. Bush, were motivated by the Russia–Georgia war to increase their support for Ukraine’s NATO entry. Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said in November 2008 that the main reason why Defence Secretary Robert Gates had decided to attend a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Estonia that month was that in the aftermath of the Russia–Georgia war he wanted to send “a very strong signal of his support for Ukraine and the Baltic states and our other NATO allies from Eastern Europe that the United States stands firmly behind them”.4
Still, the chief pre-war obstacles to Ukraine’s NATO membership probably remain the most important ones today: the political instability of the Ukrainian elite; the low popular support in Ukraine for NATO entry; and the reluctance of several European NATO members, most notably Germany and France, to antagonise Russia.
The war had no significant impact on the small popular support in Ukraine for NATO membership. One survey found a slight increase in support from 20.9 per cent to 22.3 per cent from June to September 2008, but by December 2008 the support had dropped to 17.8 per cent. Other surveys showed similar figures.
Infighting and Corruption
Regardless of their political differences, Ukraine’s leaders undoubtedly agree that their country is in a significantly more demanding regional position today than it was before the Russia–Georgia war. The challenge thus becomes whether or not the country will be able to influence actively the new regional dynamics. It is obviously better to try to influence events with an eye to promoting Ukrainian national interests than just to react to the statements and actions of others. However, if Ukraine is to become a subject, rather than an object, in these processes, domestic agreement must be reached on at least some important issues, and the ability to implement the policies agreed upon must also be found.
The political history of Ukraine since independence in 1991, however, suggests that the country has particular problems in formulating a proactive policy. This lack of what might be called “state capacity” is caused mainly by two distinct, but interlinked, features of contemporary Ukrainian political life: the lack of social capital and the rentier character of the Ukrainian state.
First, Ukraine is a country with little social capital. Bo Rothstein argues that social capital should be understood as “the number of social contacts multiplied by the quality of trust in these relationships”.5 In the Ukrainian political elite there is no shortage of contacts, but the “quality of trust in these relationships” is dismal, not only between the various political forces, but also to a great extent within them. In such a climate, there is a strong tendency to approach political issues more in terms of influencing the domestic balance of power than of promoting the national interest.
Second, the main sources of political friction in Ukraine are still money and power, not ideas and policy alternatives. Rent-seeking, understood as the exploitation of political office for personal material gain, is widespread in the Ukrainian system. This is not to say that ideas and policy alternatives are unimportant, but as motives for seeking political office, they are often less important than money and power. Leading politicians frequently suspect one another of ruthlessly exploiting political office to promote their business interests, and therefore judge that they have no alternative but to do the same. This means that an issue such as how to avoid a Georgia-like scenario receives much less attention than it would if the political leadership was less made up of opportunists and rent-seekers. This combination of low social capital and rent-seeking prevents adequate policy responses being made to external shocks. This was most clearly demonstrated by Ukraine’s handling of the January 2009 gas crisis. Conflicting players on the Ukrainian side, seeking private gain, both contributed to the outbreak of the crisis and undermined the country’s ability to speak with one voice during it.
Thus, it would be no surprise if the lessons from the Russia–Georgia war resulted in few or no efforts to make Ukraine a subject rather than an object of regional developments. Vis-à-vis Russia, Ukraine has two major and not necessarily mutually exclusive options in this regard. It can try to deter Russia, and it can try to improve relations with Moscow. As regards deterrence, Ukraine can do two things. It can increase its own military strength and/or join a military alliance. Both moves are easily hindered by the above-mentioned twin problems that reduce Ukraine’s state capacity. The main reason why Ukraine missed its window of opportunity to get MAP (Membership Action Plan) status in NATO in 2008 was the unstoppable infighting of the Ukrainian political elite.
The same phenomena have also hampered military reform. Rent-seekers have little interest in military reform other than as a means of profiting from the privatisation of valuable pieces of military property. Similarly, military reform has often been exploited in domestic power struggles. Unless the problems of low social capital and rent-seeking behaviour are addressed, the political class’s traditional lack of interest in the armed forces is likely to continue. When Ukraine experienced continuous economic growth from 1999 to 2008, this did not lead to significantly more defence spending. And, given the international financial crisis, with Ukraine being one of the countries hardest hit, spending on defence has declined even more. The proposed outlay for the armed forces in 2009 is only 0.85 per cent of GDP, down from 1.3 per cent in 2008.
Ukraine’s other main option besides deterrence for avoiding a Georgia scenario is to improve relations with Russia. However, this also requires that the Ukrainian elite agree on a common approach. Instead, the tendency today is that each political force tries by itself to manage the bilateral relationship with Russia. Thus, Ukraine has not one but several unco-ordinated Russia strategies. Consequently, Russia has no real partner for discussions, and Moscow is constantly tempted to increase its influence in Ukraine by playing the different Ukrainian actors off against one another.
The Russia–Georgia war did have a serious impact on strategic thinking among much of the Ukrainian political elite, but not much on actual policy. Those who had already argued that Russia was dangerous felt vindicated and their anti-Moscow stance hardened. Some of those who publicly tended to support Russian positions might, at least in their strategic thinking, have become more wary of Russia. These effects, however, seem to be mostly an elite phenomenon. On the popular level, beyond a temporary small upsurge in support for NATO membership, opinion surveys show little change in how Ukrainians think about friends and foes.
The war had little impact on Ukrainian policy. It does not appear to have led to an overhaul of Ukraine’s Russia strategy. Like other major events, the war ended up being treated more as a weapon in the domestic power struggle than as an issue requiring a policy response. Moreover, the war’s potential to affect Ukrainian political thinking was seriously diluted by the January 2009 gas dispute and the international financial crisis.
The main conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that less has changed in Ukrainian political life as a result of the Russia–Georgia war than might have been expected. This is especially striking given the relatively radical change in the rules of the game in the post-Soviet space that the war created. It is, however, possible that the effect is stronger than current political action and rhetoric seem to indicate. It is likely that in Ukrainian strategic thought, currently muted by domestic political squabbles, a more serious re-evaluation of relations with Russia is taking place because of the war. This re-evaluation may surface as policy if Ukrainian politics become less domestically troubled in the future.
1. Bo Rothstein, Social Traps and the Problem of Trust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 108.
2. Survey carried out by the sociological service of the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies, 21–9 September 2008.
3. Survey carried out by Taylor Nelson Sofrez Ukraine, 11–22 August 2008, for the Ukrainian weekly Zerkalo Nedely.
4. Thom Shanker, “On NATO’s Table, Ukraine and a Test of Russian Ties”, New York Times, 11 November 2008.
5. Rothstein, Social Traps, p. 66.