CGE Speakers Series – Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

CGE Speakers Series – Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – 03 2022 (002)

My Introductory remarks

Hello to all, and thank you for joining us today to discuss this timely, tragic, and thorny topic. Before I hand it over to the guests, and then open the floor to Q and A, I have been asked to provide an introduction to the situation in Ukraine.

This introduction will serve two purposes: First, we have quite a few students joining us today, some of whom may require a few background facts to better contextualize the conversations that will follow.

Second, in a time where journalists increasingly do the work of lawyers and politicians, someone has to pick up the work of journalists – that is, to report the facts, and just the facts.

What is evident to the world today is that a sovereign nation has been brutally invaded. As of this weak, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified a total of 1,151 civilian deaths as a result of Russia’s military attack on Ukraine. But what are the events leading up to this horrible war? As the saying goes, there are always three sides to every story. Yours, mine, and the truth. But in this story there are far more than three sides. We have the Russian side, the aggressor in this story, that also claims to be the main aggrieved party.

We have the Ukrainian sides, as there at least two, that of the Pro-Russian separatists and that of the Pro-Western, most current, government. Then of course there is the EU, NATO, different foreign policy establishments in the US, and fence-sitters across the globe from China to Brazil. Whenever there are so many competing interests in a conflict, it is helpful to anchor the search for facts as far back in history as possible, and in as narrow a geographic area as possible. This helps us avoid the propagandistic tugs of the present, and the amateur generalizations of the armchair grand-strategist. In this spirit, let us start with the history of Crimea (or Krym as they say in both Ukrainian and Russian).

Crimea is a peninsula situated along the northern coast of the Black Sea. Its possession is one of the major bones of contention between modern day Russia and Ukraine. Controlled by Mongols and then Ottomans for centuries, in 1783 the peninsula became part of the expanding Russian Empire and then later of the Soviet Union. In 1954 Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev signed a decree transferring Crimea from the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic to the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, both of course part of the same overall Soviet Union.

In July 1990, with the Soviet Union collapsing, Ukraine declares itself an independent, neutral, and non-nuclear state. These three things are clearly stated and applauded around the world. The neutrality part is in reference to joining any military alliances, like NATO. Shortly after, in January 1991, Crimea holds a referendum in which 94% of the population, in large part Russian-speaking, elects to also become autonomous. The parliament of the new Ukrainian state at first
recognises this independence, and then changes its mind a few months later. Negotiations take place and by 1992 Crimea is granted special semi-autonomous status within Ukraine. Relations between the Ukrainian government and Crimea are tense throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Motions for more independence are met with tighter control by the central state on local government. Following the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, there are calls by some in Ukraine, and the West,
for Ukraine to join NATO.

By December of the same year the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice signs a Charter on Strategic Partnership, that, I quote: “emphasizes the continued commitment of the United States to support enhanced engagement between NATO and Ukraine.” However, a PEW poll conducted at the time finds that the majority of Ukrainians are opposed to joining NATO. The parliament even passes a law barring the country from joining any military bloc. This ends any real prospect of Ukraine actually joining NATO. But the majority Russian speaking population in Crimea is getting increasingly nervous. Between 2009 and 2011 the United Nations Development Program conducts a series of polls in Crimea, and finds that up to 70% of the population wants to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. We will come back to Crimea, but for the moment we must turn our attention to the history of events in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and dig up some facts there. Leonid Kuchma served as president from 1994 to 2005. Then the orange revolution happened. This was a series of protests against the winner of the 2004 elections, the pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych. Protest groups preferred the other candidate, the pro-West Viktor Yushchenko, and claimed the election was rigged. The largely peaceful protest was successful and Yushchenko was brought to power. But Yanukovych returns to power and becomes president in 2010.

In 2013 a second wave of protest begins against him. This was called the Euromaidan, a series of demonstrations which began in Independence Square. Maidan means square, and Euro is in reference to the European Union. The protestors were angry with Yanukovych for delaying a what seemed like a done deal with the European Union. Yanukovych instead suggested a new trilateral agreement between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. Violence quickly escalates and continues into early 2014. Ukrainian radical right-wing and ultranationalist groups, such as Svoboda, join the violence on the side of the protestors. The whole of Ukraine becomes increasingly unstable, and local officials in Crimea push to break from Ukraine. They are concerned about what may happen if the pro-West protestors come to power in Kyiv. In February 2014 the protestors succeed in taking over Kyiv. President Yunokovych flees to Kharkiv, a city in the east and the country is now quickly splitting in two. The new government in Kyiv goes ahead with the EU deal and officially makes joining NATO a national priority.

Undercover Russian soldiers spill into Crimea and take control of all the airports, seaports, and train stations, cutting the peninsula off from the rest of Ukraine. NATO calls this Russian presence an invasion. People in Crimea hold a referendum and organizers claim 97% elect to formally join the Russian Federation. Ukraine says the referendum is illegal. Anti-Ukrainian and anti-West jitters now spread to the northeast of the Crimean Peninsula in an area called the Donbas, which comprises two regions on the border with Russia, Luhansk and Donetsk. This area is resource rich, and before the war accounted for 25% of Ukrainian exports.

In May 2014 they also hold a referendum, in which organizers claim 89% vote in favor of breaking from Ukraine. A civil war starts and rages on for years, with Ukrainian forces portraying separatists as terrorists, and separatists portraying Ukrainian forces as invaders. On February 21 2022, Russia officially recognizes the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, and two days later invades Ukraine, purportedly in defense of these two states. It is an interesting irony of war that a large portion of the Russian bombs are falling on pro-Russian parts of the population. What does this all mean for the future of Ukraine? What are the connections between this war, corruption, crime, and the neo-authoritarian tendencies we see in governments around the world? What will be the fate of the free media, and the open internet? How will each side prosecute the human rights violations that inevitably occur. To the Ukrainian’s credit, they have promised to  investigate violations on their own side.

Will a new Iron curtain run through Kyiv this time, instead of Berlin, and will it not only be physical but also digital – i.e the so called splinternet? Has this war inaugurated a new phase in world history, where nuclear-weapon holding states outside the atlantic alliance are emboldened to use war as a policy tool?
Will China follow suit over Taiwan? And most importantly, can sovereign democratic countries no longer elect to determine their own political and military alliances? It would not be the first time that standing up for the right of self determination of smaller nations causes a wider conflict between greater ones.

These and related questions I leave to our guest speakers. Dr Inna Melnykovska is Assistant Professor of Comparative Political Economy at Central European University in Hungary. Dr Natalia Forrat is Visiting Associate in the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan. Frank Brown is Director of the Anti-Corruption and Governance Center of the Center for International Private Enterprise
in Washington DC. Before I hand it over to them, I would like to lay some ground rules for questions from the audience. Please wait until our speakers have all finished before asking questions. If you do have a questions please keep it brief and if possible address it to one or more of our speakers. You can use the raise hand
function in zoom, or ask to speak in a message in the chat. I will call on you in the order I see your raised hand or text in the chat.
Dr Melnykovska, over to you, thanks.