The Russian-Ukrainian War in 10 Questions and Answers

September 8, 2014
Figurines from the collection of pro-Russian militants called "Toy Soldiers of Novorossiya." Photo: Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin

Staunton, September 8 – The current ceasefire ends one phase of the war between Russia and Ukraine making this a good time to consider the impact of the conflict in the broadest terms, as Moscow commentator Konstantin Gaaze does so in ten questions and answers.

Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.

But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.

His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”

“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.

Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.

“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”

Fourth, Gaaze asks, “Why did Russia need peace? Why didn’t Moscow invade Ukraine openly with military marches as it did in Ossetia?” The reason is that Russia wanted to defend itself against possible sanctions, although it could not prevent all of them, because Russia is despite everything “an economy open to the world” and thus subject to influence.

In the new world, “the ruble is not the yuan; its course is not set by the Politburo but by the exchange. The [Russian] Central Bank pays for its stability, and it has a lot of money, but not enough to pay for a third world war.”

Fifth, “did Russian soldiers die in Ukraine? And if so, why?” There is clear evidence that they did, but it is important to understand why. “They died not because they were sent there to win. And not because they were sent to save someone. They died because Moscow wanted to show Kiev, Brussels and Washington that this was possible in principle.”

Sixth, Gaaze asks, “what awaits Ukraine?” The answer is difficult times, years of reforms and a prolonged economic crisis. Brussels and Washington will help but they will also offend by their demands. “Sanctions from Russia which will not put Ukraine on its knees will nonetheless make it very sick. At the end, Ukraine will have a European future, but only at a high price.

Gaaze’s seventh question is “What will be changed in Russia?” His answer is that “everything already has been changed. Putin has destroyed the opposition, destroyed any chance that Russia will become part of the European world. But “that does not mean that Putin will rule in Russia forever, and that Crimea guarantees him decades of popular love and devotion.”

In fact, the Moscow commentator says, “just the reverse is true.” Crimea was “a kind of shock therapy for national consciousness.” It has allowed millions of Russians to get over the “bitter taste of defeat in the earlier cold war.” But it has not filled that void, and now “looking at its leader, the people will ever more often think about what it wants from him.”

It is far from clear that Putin will be able to deal with this challenge, Gaaze says.

Eighth, “what awaits Russia in the world?” The answer is simple: “War. A long and very cold war with the West, in which Russia sooner or later will lose because it has bet on the state and not on the market, on order and stability and not on the ability of society to change.” In short, “it will lose precisely for the reason that it won the first round of this war.”

That is, because the enthusiasm the war engendered in Russia could not make the country better or better able to respond to the challenges of the future.

Gaaze’s ninth question is “Will sanctions be lifted?” Not anytime soon, he says. Russia won’t remove its embargo on Western products “sooner than a year or even two,” and “Europe will not lift its sanctions against the Russian financial sector sooner than three months from now and more likely not sooner than a year or two.

And finally he asks “Is Crimea ours?” The Moscow commentator points out that it is no easy think to seize part of a neighboring country because “a time of troubles or revolution has begun there.” That is “not simply amoral; it is impermissible, both from the point of view of law and from that of good sense.”

“Europe will never recognize the annexation of Crimea. Russia will never pull out,” Gaaze says. And as a result, “Crimea will live the life of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, always relying on subsidies … without visas to Europe or the United States … and “proudly holding on” until the subsidies from outside end, as they suddenly could.