Funding Ukraine's Recovery

Ukraine needs 60–100 billion euros in investment in the next 10 years in order to rebuild its economy and reach the GDP level it had in 2013, according to Gunter Deuber, an analyst at Vienna’s Raiffeisen Bank International. One half will have to come from the European Union and the United States; the other half from private investors.

Ukraine’s Chess Champion—and Putin

You may not be aware of the fact that the women’s world chess champion is now a 22-year-old Ukrainian, Mariya Muzychuk. A native of Stryi, in the western province of Lviv, Muzychuk won the title on April 5th, after defeating Russia’s Natalia Pogonina in a four-game match. The victory garnered Muzychuk the title of Grandmaster, the highest designation in the world of chess. 

Meet Motorola, Self-Confessed War Criminal of the Donbas

The latest entry into the Donbas enclave’s Pantheon of heroes is one Arsenii Sergeevich Pavlov, a slight 32 year-old Russian from Russia who sports the nom de guerre, Motorola. 

Why Pavlov chose this ridiculous moniker is unclear. Was his first cell phone a Motorola? Is he even aware that Motorola was a telecommunications firm founded in a country he detests almost as much as Ukraine—America? 

Russia Expected to Escalate War in Ukraine Soon

That’s what a number of prominent experts think. Andrii Parubii, the vice speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament and former national security adviser, stated on March 27th that there is a “high risk” of a “full-scale military operation” in the next few weeks. An expert team led by Wesley Clark, a retired US Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander, informed the Atlantic Council in Washington on March 30th that “Ukrainian forces expect [an] attack within the next 60 days.

Ukraine as a Vital Security Interest for Europe

An American official in Brussels recently informed me of a meeting he had with a highly placed European Union diplomat during which the latter “stressed that Ukraine is an ‘almost existential’ issue for Europe.”

The phrase “almost existential” is worth looking at more closely. Existential issues concern the life or death of the subject concerned. A Russian attack on Germany would be an existential issue for Germany. A Russian attack on Tajikistan would be an existential issue for Tajikistan, but a non-existential issue for Germany. An almost existential issue for some country is thus something that almost concerns—or is almost equivalent to—the life and death of that country. Seen in this light, the claim that Ukraine is almost existential for Europe amounts to saying that Ukraine’s life or death is almost equivalent to the life or death of Europe.

Is There Economic Reform in Ukraine?

If you listen to Ukrainians tell it, there’s been absolutely no reform within the last year. Their frustration is understandable—they want the positive effects of major change now—but their perception just doesn’t correspond to the facts.

The much awaited reform process is actually under way—though quietly and unobtrusively. The Education Ministry and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have led the way with restructuring universities and the police force, probably because they don’t deal directly with high-stakes corruption and the power of the oligarchs. Some personnel cuts have been introduced in the presidential administration and the government bureaucracy; more are forecast. A law (albeit flawed) on lustration has been adopted and has already led to some high-level resignations and prosecutions. An Anti-Corruption Bureau has been approved, and a head is currently being sought.

The Decline of the Russian Empire

The following is an interview with Rein Taagepera, professor emeritus of the University of Tartu, in Estonia, and the University of California, Irvine.


MOTYL: Professor Taagepera, you were the first social scientist to have studied the rise and fall of empires in a rigorous social-scientific manner. So let’s start with a big-picture question. Why do empires decay?

TAAGEPERA: Empires rarely stand still. They initially outrun their internal flaws through external expansion. Once they stop growing, these flaws accumulate. Expansion is self-reinforcing, and so is decay. To change course, one must give up on past glory and start anew.

MOTYL: How do empires react to decay?

TAAGEPERA: It is psychologically easier to give up on overseas holdings than on territorially contiguous ones, however disparate these may be ethnically. While losing vigor, Poland-Lithuania and Austria-Hungary largely maintained their territory, until their final collapse. In contrast, the Ottoman Empire began to lose ground slowly already in the 1700s.

Ukrainian Jewish Leader on Russian Aggression

Josef Zissels is the chairman of the General Council of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. He is sitting in the middle of a long table in the Ukrainian Restaurant in downtown New York. Before him is a bowl of borscht. As he eats, he shares his views of the current crisis in Ukraine with nine specialists and activists.

Zissels does not mince words. “There is no civil war in Ukraine,” he says. “There is a Russian aggression supported by local collaborators.” The war with Russia will be “long,” and Ukraine needs to construct a “militarist economy” like Israel’s. The Maidan Revolution had nothing to do with ethnicity, language, or religion. It was a “civilizational conflict” between those Ukrainians who supported Europe and those who supported Russia.

Has Putin Lost Germany?

A recently released German documentary about Vladimir Putin—Mensch Putin!—paints a decidedly unflattering picture of Russia’s leader. He is, according to the film, a disturbingly insecure man with a deeply rooted need to compensate for his inadequacies with manifestations of physical prowess and the exercise of power.

“So what else is new?” Putin’s many critics might ask.  The answer is: the film is German, produced by none other than the venerable ZDF, or Germany’s equivalent of BBC or PBS. That makes the film a touchstone of changing German attitudes toward Putin. The film updates former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s characterization of Putin as a “lupenreiner Demokrat” (“flawless democrat”) to something closer to Russia’s version of Hitler lite. What other German leader was a disturbingly insecure man with a deeply rooted need to compensate for his inadequacies with manifestations of physical prowess and the exercise of power? Germans will get the implied comparison, even if it remains unarticulated in the documentary.

Why Russia Will Lose in Ukraine

So who’s winning the war in eastern Ukraine—Russia or Ukraine? The answer is not as simple as it might seem, because victory means different things for each side.

A Russian victory could take one of two forms: territorial expansion into large parts of southeastern Ukraine or the imposition on Ukraine of disadvantageous peace terms. Or it could take both forms. But neither has happened, and neither is likely to happen.

Anything short of such a victory amounts to a defeat for Russia. Having destroyed the Russian economy, transformed Russia into a rogue state, and alienated Russia’s allies in the “near abroad,” Vladimir Putin loses if he doesn’t win big.

In contrast, Ukraine wins as long as it does not lose big. If Ukraine can contain the aggression, it will demonstrate that it possesses the will and the military capacity to deter the Kremlin, stop Putin and his proxies, and survive as an independent democratic state.

Trusting or Containing Putin?

Now that the first step toward a negotiated settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war may have been reached in Minsk, the question of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reliability as a negotiating partner should be on everyone’s mind.

In a word, can he be trusted with anything? The answer, unfortunately, is no—for several important reasons.

First, by invading and annexing the Crimea, Putin violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom agreed to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine’s adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Putin’s subsequent justification—that the Maidan Revolution ushered in a new Ukrainian state that was not a signatory of the memorandum—was a preposterous claim that, if generalized, would subvert every treaty ever signed. Subsequently, Putin also violated the April 17th Geneva accords and the September 5th Minsk Protocol, both of which outlined specific steps toward defusing the conflict.

The Case for Arming Ukraine

No one could make the case against supplying weapons to Ukraine better than my good friend Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at City College of New York. So, if his best shot falls short, then it’s safe to say that there is no sound argument against America’s provision of military hardware to Ukraine.

That best shot appeared last week as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. And it falls far short of what it sets out to be—a persuasive critique of a report released by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that argues for US supplies of weapons to Ukraine. Here’s Menon’s first charge:

Putin's War on Civilians Defines Terrorism

Russian President Vladimir Putin is rapidly cementing his reputation as a sponsor of terrorism in Ukraine. One could, with some stretch of the imagination, have qualified the earlier violence perpetrated by his proxies in eastern Ukraine as mere “separatism.” In a blog post on April 14, 2014, however, I suggested that it qualified as terrorism, and that Putin’s Russia was therefore a state sponsor of terrorism. I then provided the definition of terrorism found in Section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code:

(1) the term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country;

(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and

(3) the term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.

Free Nadia Savchenko!

Vladimir Putin’s star political prisoner—Nadia Savchenko—is a 34-year-old Ukrainian helicopter pilot who served with a volunteer battalion in eastern Ukraine this summer and was taken prisoner by Putin’s proxies. She was subsequently charged with abetting the deaths of two Russian journalists who died in an artillery exchange between Ukrainian and Russian forces. Currently imprisoned in Moscow, Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since December 13, 2014. Needless to say, her life is in danger.

On January 9th, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called for Savchenko’s “immediate release”: “We’re deeply concerned by reports that Russia has moved Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko to solitary confinement.”

At a December 18th news conference, Putin made the following comments about Savchenko

What to Expect from Russia, Ukraine in 2015?

What should we expect from Ukraine and Russia in 2015?

My guess is: more of the same. And that’s both the good news and the bad news.

Ukraine will consolidate its democratic institutions, while Vladimir Putin’s Russia will consolidate its fascist regime. Although Ukrainians will complain more than Russians, their country will actually be getting stronger, while the hypercentralized state structure centered on Putin’s cult of the macho personality gets weaker. Democratically ruled peoples whine publicly; dictatorially ruled peoples whine privately. The fact that 80-plus percent of Russians are likely to continue to support Putin won’t mean that 80-plus percent are happy with life in Putin’s crumbling realm.


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