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The Ukraine Crisis Continues

Ryszard Zięba, a rare neorealist scholar in the Polish academia, is a full professor emeritus of international relations and security studies at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, the University of Warsaw. He has a M.A., Ph.D. and state Ph.D. (habilitation) degrees from the University of Warsaw, and the title of Professor of Humanities conferred by the President of the Republic of Poland. He has written many publications on international security, Europeanism, foreign policy of Poland and other central and Eastern European countries and the theory of international relations, represented as Poland’s Foreign and Security Policy: Problems of Compatibility with the Changing International Order.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine can be regarded as the biggest geopolitical mess in Europe after the cold war. It has now evolved into a political event of comprehensive sanctions against Russia jointly carried out by the whole western group. In response to these problems, the Center conducted an exclusive interview with Professor Ryszard Zięba, hoping to understand his views on the Russian Ukrainian conflict from the perspective of international relations theory.

Ryszard Zięba:The Ukraine Crisis Continues

The security dilemma introduced in 1950 by John Hertz for IR analyzes is to this day one of the models of security policy. Neorealists such as Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt apply it to the security policies of the great powers in the anarchic international system. They argue that every increase in the capacity of a single power produces a compensating response from its rivals. This means that increasing the state of ownership, i.e. the military potential or sphere of influence of the West, prompts its rivals, i.e. Russia and China, to act to prevent and / or counteract. Defensive realists (K. Waltz or Charles Glaser) believe that only actions ensuring a dynamic balance are sufficient, while offensive realists, especially Mearsheimer, indicate that this policy of increasing its power of a given entity induces his rivals to act beyond defending their own security, and so offensive. This causes the international system to change under the influence of the offensive actions of the rival parties. So the security dilemma still applies by striving to balance of threats (S. Walt).

NATO's expansion to the East after the Cold War has been opposed by Russia from its very beginning. This opposition intensified especially after the accession to the North Atlantic Alliance in 2004 of the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were part of the USSR in 1940–1991. When NATO continued its "open door" policy, encouraging the admission of new post-Soviet states to its group, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Munich security conference in February 2007, announced measures to stop NATO's expansion. This did not impress all allies, and in April 2008, under pressure from the US (and Poland), NATO member states announced at the NATO Summit held in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO”. This turned out to be unacceptable for Moscow.

Russia was especially painfully picked up by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine at the turn of 2004/2005. The possibility for Ukraine to implement the Euro-Atlantic option was not accepted by all of Russia's main political forces. Even, most Russians do not accept Ukrainians as a separate nation. In particular, the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO was not acceptable to Moscow. Russia's political elite believe that the West, especially the US, is moving closer to Russia's borders, posing a deadly threat to its national security. A significant expression of Russia's determination to stop NATO's expansion to the east was the demonstration of strength through a disproportionate military response to Georgia's August 2008 attack of the CIS peacekeepers stationed in South Ossetia, which announced its secession from Georgia. The US and the entire West condemned Russia's military actions against Georgia, but continued to insist on further pursuit the policy of expanding NATO to the post-Soviet area.

The next stage in the development of the security dilemma in relations between NATO and Russia was marked by the so-called the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine started in autumn 2013. It was an expression of the protest of the pro-Western-oriented part of Ukraine's society against the policy of the authorities postponing the signing of an agreement on deepened association of Ukraine with the European Union and corruption in the government apparatus. In February, President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown, and nationalist and pro-Western forces took power. Russia assessed it as a coup d'état and used the situation for a bloodless annexation of Crimea (inhabited in over 60% by ethnic Russians), and then gave political and military support to the two oblasts of Lugansk and Donetsk wishing to break away from "fascist" Ukraine and join Russia. Putin, justifying in the Russian Duma the annexation of Crimea and the port in Sevastopol that is contrary to international law, invoked the need to prevent the takeover of these territories by NATO.

In general, American neorealists (J. Mearsheimer, Stephen Cohen, Jack Matlock) recognized that the Ukrainian crisis and Russia's behavior in it were caused by the USA and its allies. On the other hand, in the mainstream in Western countries, condemnation of Russia dominated and supported the policy of further NATO enlargement. The USA and NATO continued the policy of NATO enlargement, in 2009 Albania and Croatia were admitted to the alliance, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. In the eastern direction, the West headed towards the admission of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova (to the EU). Successive Ukrainian governments, from 2014, tightened their cooperation with the West, and Ukraine was intensively rearmed by the US and European NATO members. It was a controversial policy as it meant the supply of weapons to one of the parties to the conflict in Donbas. Ukraine, with the support of the West, did not respect the peace agreements concluded in Minsk in 2014 and 2015 to end this civil war. In Russia, there was growing impatience with the policies of Ukraine and NATO.

The situation worsened when Joe Biden became the US President in 2021, who is trying to implement the policy of "expanding democracy and freedom" and ensuring Ukraine the possibility of joining NATO with the help of Ukrainians. Russia perceives this as expanding the American sphere of influence and as a direct threat to its security. Since the fall of 2021, it has accumulated over 100,000 armed forces on the border with Ukraine and at the same time demanded negotiations with NATO on a new European security architecture that would ensure equal security to all its participants.

The agreement was not reached, and as a result, on February 24, 2022, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “special operation” aimed at de-Nazification and demilitarization of Ukraine and forcing it to abandon its efforts to join NATO. In this war, the Russian blitzkrieg plan failed, and Ukraine, constantly rearmed by the West, puts up stiff resistance to Russian troops. The war in Ukraine continues and causes many casualties of the civilian population and has generated up to 10 million refugees, of which nearly 3.5 million are people fleeing abroad, including 2.4 million to Poland.

The war in Ukraine is a dirty war, and a ceasefire agreement is difficult to reach as it is a proxy war between Russia and NATO. There is no will to end it because both sides set goals that cannot be fully achieved. When starting hostilities, Russia did not expect such strong resistance from the Ukrainians and their will to join the West, and the unity of the West in supporting Ukraine and imposing economic sanctions on Russia. However, apart from supplying weapons to Ukraine, including the offensive one, it assumed unrealistically that this was a war with Russian President Putin. US President Biden, speaking in Warsaw on March 26, 2022, spoke in favor of removing Putin from power. Leaving aside this highly inappropriate behavior, then the question must be asked, with whom will the United States want a peace agreement?

I want to show Chinese readers, researchers and other interested persons that not all people in NATO countries have lost their minds and support US politics without thinking. Such an agreement must be concluded by all parties to the conflict, not only by Russia and Ukraine. The only reasonable agreement must include the resignation of Ukraine from membership in NATO, so the USA and NATO should participate in some form in this accord. NATO's "open door" policy is unsustainable in the long run. Without it, it is impossible to communicate with Russia. All parties must recognize their vital interests in security and development opportunities. For Ukraine, neutral status and a chance for EU membership are enough. If Russia and Ukraine agree to this, they will be able to agree on other matters. International aid will be needed in humanitarian matters and the reconstruction of Ukraine.


Contact: Zhao Xiaoli

Interviewer: Xu houkun

Translator: Li Yuhan

Proofreader: Xu houkun



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