Ukraine and european security - Prof Sarah Birch

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Prof Sarah Birch's lecture at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs, Kuala Lumpur on July 1, 2014.

Text of Ukraine and european security - Prof Sarah Birch

  • Ukraine and European Security Sarah Birch University of Glasgow 1 July 2014
  • Ukraine as buffer between East and West Ukraine lies at the geographical heart of Europe But it is also lies on the border between the eastern and western halves of the continent This is reflected in the name U-krana, which etymologically means on the edge This edge can be seen in positive terms as a bridge; yet Ukraine has often been a battleground between rival forces vying for control of Europe.
  • A brief history of Ukraine Between the world wars, the Ukrainian lands were divided into eastern Soviet Ukraine and western Ukraine controlled by Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. During the 20th century, heavy industry was built up in Soviet Ukraine (coal, steel), attracting ethnic Russians to settle, especially in the far east In 1944, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed western Ukraine, western Belarus and the Baltic republics. At this point, Crimea was part of Soviet Russia. Following the Second World War, Stalin deported most of the Crimean Tatars to Siberia, and their homes were seized by ethnic Russians, who settled in great numbers in Crimea during the 10-year period between 1945 and 1954. In 1954 Crimea was transferred from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian institutions In 1991-1992, the territory of Soviet Ukraine became an independent state, as did the other 14 Soviet republics. Ukraine has a semi-presidential executive, with a president and a prime minister The most recent parliamentary election was conducted under a mixed-member (half PR, half FPTP) electoral system Ukraine is divided into 25 regions plus the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The regions have very little power, however. This institutional set-up means that whoever controls the presidency has considerable control
  • Ethnicity in Ukraine Approximately 80% of citizens define themselves as ethnic Ukrainians Ethnic Russians are the largest minority (15%). Most Ukrainians are bilingual, though a substantial minority speak Russian as their language of preference. Regional divisions define Ukrainian politics. There is a pro-Russian and largely Russian-speaking east, a pro-European largely Ukrainian- speaking west, with a large area in the middle that has ill-defined identities and language use. Ethnic identity in Ukraine thus forms a continuum, which prevents Ukraine from dividing politically along clear lines.
  • National identification, first weeks of 2014 (Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme Robertson)
  • Regionalism and institutional centralisation: a toxic mix Ukraines centralised institutions have given considerable power to the president Regional political divides mean that party politics is dominated by east-west divisions This means that one region is bound always to feel under-represented in state institutions This gives an incentives to people from that region to use protest and other extra-institutional means to voice their concerns
  • Corruption Corruption is one of the most significant political issues in Ukraine Ukraine became very corrupt in the post-Soviet period, as state assets were privatised via dubious means. Anti-corruption sentiment has been behind a number of protest movements since independence, including the movement that culminated in the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, when egregious electoral fraud sparked mass popular demonstration which led the election to be re-run.
  • Viktor Yanukovych Viktor Yanukovych, of the eastern-based Party of Regions, was the (ultimately) unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004. Yanukovych won a relatively fair election in 2010, however. His period in office was characterised by a marked increase in corruption, with members of Yanukovychs immediate family as beneficiaries. Yanukovych wavered between pro-Western and pro-Russian policies. In 2013, a wave of protest was mounted against Yanukovychs last- minute decision to abandon plans for an association agreement with the European Union, following intense pressure from Russia.
  • The Euromaidan Following European tradition, the demonstrators camped out in Kievs central Independence Square. Their encampment was largely non- violent. Like most protests movements the Euromaidan protest included small numbers of more radical elements with undemocratic views. The protesters demands were initially focused on the EU Association agreement, but they soon widened to include other aspects of Yanukovychs rule, including most prominently corruption
  • The Euromaidan
  • The protest turns violent Promised negotiations over the protestors demands did not materialise A law was introduced effectively banning demonstration by the opposition The protestors became radicalised and some of them decided to resort to violence, which resulted in violent retaliation from the police, who killed 5 protestors on 22 January 18-20 February: Yanukovych sent in the riot police to clear the Maidan; the protestors resisted with improvised weapons and burning barricades. The police and the protestors clashed repeatedly, leaving 88 dead (including 16 policemen).
  • Burning barricades on the Euromaidan
  • Yanukovych flees following agreement On 21 February Yanukovych tried unsuccessfully to mobilise the army to act against the protests. The foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany brokered a compromise on under which there would be early elections, constitutional reforms and a temporary coalition government. Yanukovych had 48 hours in which to implement the agreement, however, on the very night it was signed, he fled Kiev. He failed to make contact with members of the Ukrainian parliament or government and the result was a leadership vacuum.
  • Parliament confirms new government The following evening, the Ukrainian parliament invoked a provision in the constitution under which if a president is unable to fulfil his duties, he can be replaced by an acting president. This was done peacefully by a two-thirds majority. Acting president Oleksandr Turchinov was appointed and presidential elections called for May. The Party of the Regions disowned Yanukovych. The government was replaced by a coalition government made up of centrist and right-wing parties.
  • The aftermath of the revolution There was mass euphoria at the downfall of Yanukovych, whose regime was unpopular throughout the country due to its excessive corruption. Ukraine came out of this revolution far stronger, as it was for the first time united, with the exception of Crimea and the partial exception of Eastern Ukraine. Ukraines high level of centralisation and the centralising institution of the president meant that almost all power was now in control of a government with which many in the east felt little affinity.
  • The Russian reaction The new government was perceived by Russia as a threat to its vision of Ukraine as a strategic buffer. The Russian economy has suffered in recent years, and President Putin has been threatened with mass protests. Putins control over Russia and Russias role as a regional power have thus both been under strain recently. Russians actions in Ukraine can be seen as a defensive move by Putin to shore up his flagging strength and slow Russias decline as a world power.
  • Russia occupies Crimea Russia occupied Crimea in contravention of the 1994 Budapest accords, in which Ukraine agreed to renounce its nuclear weapons in exchange for Russian guarantees that it would respect Ukraines territorial integrity. The seizure of Crimea could quite well not have been Putins plan. Crimea lacks its own water supply. Crimea was also heavily subsidised by the government in Kiev. The occupation of Crimea has alienated Russia from the West and drawn Ukraine closer to Western powers. The Russian economy has, by contrast, suffered considerably. The only positive outcome for Putin of the occupation of Crimea was that Putins own popularity ratings rose.
  • Russian efforts to destabilise eastern Ukraine Following the occupation of Crimea, Russia began to destabilise eastern Ukraine, sending undercover members of its military intelligence, mercenaries and other volunteers to foment unrest. This has led so far to 300+ deaths. Ukrainian efforts to quell the unrest are ongoing, though there are still some areas of the east that are under the control of insurgents. Following the election of president Petro Poroshenko on 25 May on 55% of the vote, the new Ukrainian government is beginning to consolidate its grip on power and bring order to the country.
  • Assessment of the revolution and its aftermath Russia may have won the battle in Crimea, but it has lost this war, as it has lost the hear