Some experts compare relations between Moscow and Kiev to those between the US and Cuba. Cuba, on the one hand, sought to be at the forefront of the fight against world capitalism, and on the other hand, was closely woven into American socio-political life. Nevertheless, there are factors that make the Russian-Ukrainian contradictions seem unlike the antagonistic relationship between Washington and Havana, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
For the past three decades, the logic of relations between Russia and the West has been based on the basic assumption that Moscow will accept any NATO move to change the balance of power in Europe. Indeed, Russia often had to be on the defensive, which gradually worsened its strategic positions not only on the continent, but even in the belt of nations along its immediate borders.
This was true until the moment when the West made a bet on Ukraine joining the transatlantic community, because the Kiev governments for many years built their national project as adversaries of Russia. Some experts compare relations between Moscow and Kiev to those between the US and Cuba. Cuba, on the one hand, sought to be at the forefront of the fight against world capitalism, and on the other hand, was closely woven into American socio-political life. This country contributed to the deployment of Soviet nuclear weapons to confront the United States, while not having its own military capabilities to fight Washington. Nevertheless, there are factors that make the Russian-Ukrainian contradictions seem unlike the antagonistic relationship between Washington and Havana.
First, unlike Cuba, Ukraine began intensive militarisation and began to turn into a significant military player in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union had powerful military capabilities, and Kiev became one of the largest heirs of Soviet military potential. Later on, NATO helped turn the Armed Forces of Ukraine develop into a qualitatively better army. According to various sources, the size of this army has reached 250,000 people, which is only one quarter of the Russian armed forces. If you add this figure to reservists and employees of other Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, then the number could reach a million, which is comparable to the size of the Russian army. Today, all this power is deployed at the front.
Second, in Ukraine there is an unresolved socio-cultural conflict between people with a pro-Russian identity and those who associate their worldview with the Western Ukrainian national idea. The position in power of the latter has predetermined the civil armed conflict with the East of the country. In the eight years since 2014, the Donbass region has constantly been under the military pressure of Kiev. This conflict has both predetermined the radicalisation of people with Russian identity in the Donbass, and the people with a pro-Western orientation, who had begun to perceive Russia as an eternal existential threat. The latter began to see victory over Russia as the purpose of their own destiny, believing that this would contribute to the resolution of the civil conflict in the East of the country.
Such a set of contradictions is rather comparable to the India-Pakistan dilemma; these nations have been at war for more than half a century over Jammu and Kashmir. Both countries emerged at the same time, when British India collapsed. For Pakistan, the emergence of statehood is directly related to opposition against India. Both states simultaneously created significant armed forces, which now include nuclear weapons. Pakistan began to build foreign policy ties with states hostile to India, trying to balance the threat emanating from Delhi.
The combination of these factors explains why Russia reacted calmly to the decision of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. If we compare the military potential of these states, it becomes obvious that they are significantly inferior to Ukraine in this respect. Moreover, there are no socio-cultural contradictions between Russia and the Nordic countries, as with Ukraine, which could immediately lead to an escalation of the military conflict.
Despite the fact that this conflict remains an armed confrontation between the two countries, it will affect the entire architecture of the world order and change the contours of Russia’s foreign policy strategy. Here are just some of the unknowns of the new global equation. It is still unclear what will become with the United Nations and what Russia’s place will be in it. How will the global economy and logistics function? How and where will Russian energy resources be exported? Will the European Union remain economically stable and durable, as it was with cheap Russian resources?
It is obvious that Russia’s relations with the West are qualitatively changing. The most understandable constant in such metamorphoses is that Russia and the NATO countries will now be adversaries in the spirit of the second half of the 1940s, the time of the emerging hard bipolarity. However, the contours of the changing relationship between the US and Europe are also visible. Now the Europeans will not have a choice between partners, being forced to focus only on the United States. Due to a lack of strategic diversification, they will be forced to submit to a NATO discipline. Since they are unable to work with Russia, they are forced to rely on American military protection, which will cost them much more. In this regard, Europe will lose its strategic autonomy, which is likely to be one of the main consequences of the unfolding crisis.