The Ukraine crisis of 2014 remains one of the biggest recent major diplomatic crises in Europe as it brought to the fore old rivalries and power struggles that characterized the previous century. Critical in focus is how Russia handled the situation. Russia has been accused of taking an illegitimate and selfish approach to the war that is unacceptable in modern diplomatic strategies (Klotz, 2017). The unilateral stance of Russia's course of action in the Easter Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula has been criticized by everyone, especially the country's role in the final annexing of Crimea. This paper seeks to investigate Russian foreign policy motivations in the Ukraine crisis. The direct manner in which Russia got involved highlight the existence of economic, military and political intentions and motivations.
While the Ukraine crisis can be thought of being a result of many strategic and economic factors, there is the overall consensus that the crisis was borne out of mutually incomprehensible philosophies over state sovereignty and interstate relations. Pomeranz, Merry & Trudolyubov, (2016) argue that Russia has invested heavily in the pursuit of regional suzerainty and this has led to the use of its Great Power approach; with similar sentiments being held by Samokhvalov, (2017). Prior to the invasion, the Kremlin had made it clear that Russian foreign policy in the region was first motivated by strong national interests (interests that a given country is ready to go to war for) (Sasse, 2007). It is critical to note that Crimea has a significant number of people from Russian descent and it can be seen that Russian advances may have been guided by the need to take Crimea back home (Mortimer, 2014).
In the application of the Great Power approach, Russia pursued the policy of Derzhavnost, which is the belief in the "primary greatness of the Russian state." This policy has been pursued by Russia for many years, even during the pre-Soviet Russia era, and this has resulted in the practice of pure power politics abroad. This is clearly evident in how Russia handled Ukraine (Kofman, Migacheva, Nichiporuk, Radin & Oberholtzer, 2017).
Historically, Crimea has strong cultural and political ties to Russia, a factor that makes it hard for Russia to accept Ukraine's sovereignty. The territory was part of Russian territory until 60 years and Russia has justified the invasion of the territory as a means to defend its citizens (Treisman, 2016). For many years, Russia has viewed Crimea as part of its territory that was wrongly given to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, the then Soviet Union leader (Sasse, 2007). The territory did not revert back to Russia at the collapse of the Soviet Union. With more than 7.5 million ethnic Russians in the entire Ukraine, more than 60% of Crimean people are of Russian descent, it is easy to understand the motivations behind Russian interests in Crimea.
Of greater significance, however, is the significance of the territory from a military perspective. The port of Sevastopol in Crimea is the home of the Black Sea Fleet, the Russian navy. The navy has been based at the port since the fleet was established in 1783. The navy fleet is critical for the exercise of Russia's power in the Mediterranean and beyond. At the same time, the port is significant in Russia's quest to regain some of the political power it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is essential to appreciate that Russia has had agreements with Ukraine allowing it to use the port till 2042 with the option of extending the lease agreement till 2047 (German & Karagiannis, 2018). The significance of the port to Russia was evident in the 2008 war with Georgia when Russia used the port to stage blockages in the black sea and also for launches.
The annexation of Crimea was also a response of Russia to the extension of European Union's influence (Goldfrank, 2014). The Ukraine crisis was borne out of the citizen's rejection of Ukraine leadership's decision to take a loan from Russia instead of signing the Ukraine-EU Association agreement that sought to establish a political and economic association between the entities involved which would have ensured EU's support to economic, financial and judicial reforms to the country (Deyermond, 2014). The people revolted the move to partner with Russia, leading to the ouster of President Yanukovych and his government. The military strength of the EU through NATO is superior and the EU's economic power is also greater than Russia's (Weidenfeld, 2015; Mackow, 2015). Russia has long feared that the rapid expansion of the EU could weaken its economic and political power. The readiness of the EU to support Ukraine demonstrates the aggressiveness of Europe to advance its economic interests in the region and this demonstrates Russia's worry.
The EU has consistently implemented the European Neighborhood Policy, a foreign relations policy that seeks to tie countries that are east and south of the EU territory to the union. In advancing the policy, the EU has incorporated concepts such as democracy, supporting civil society organizations and human rights. The advancement of these norms was a clear threat to Putin, especially in Russia Rechetnikova, M., 2017. The meddling in Ukraine and the annex of Crimea brought the EU and Russia to conflict, with Russia arguing that the move was a rapprochement both geographically and economically. The annex was therefore a move to stop the eastward advancement of the EU (Wipperfurth, 2011). The situation was further complicated by the fact that public opinion in Ukraine favored the EU partnership over the Russian deal.
By 2014, President Vladimir Putin had developed a strong enemy stereotype of the West, particularly the United States, according to Mc Faul, (2014, p170) & Schroder (2014 p9). At the time of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin accused the West and the U.S. for not supporting dialogue and hence being co-supporters of the coup in Ukraine. The west had threatened Russia with sanctions, which Kremlin viewed as breach. Putin has further blamed the West of the political and economic problems that Russia faced at home (Herpen, 2015). The annexation of Crimea can, therefore, be seen as a move by Russia to confront the West whom Kremlin accused of having "crossed the line" in its support of militants in Ukraine (Hofbauer, H., 2017).
As mentioned above, Russia strived to counter the expansion of European and western military power by ensuring the destabilization of Ukraine and the entire Eastern Europe. This is well demonstrated from the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 where Russia sought to destroy the intention of Georgia of progressing towards NATO membership. According to Mackow (2015), it is unlikely for any state that is beleaguered by military conflicts to gain NATO membership. The Russian interests in Georgia are marked by the need to strengthen their political power; and this is evident by the fact that they do not offer Georgia with any substantive social, political or economic resuscitation. The same reflects in Ukraine (Gressel, 2015; Euractiv, 2018). The military conquest of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea can be attributed to the need to keep the EU, NATO and the West away, hence preserving Russia's dominance in the area.
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