Several recent posts to the blog – The Ukraine: Unfinished Business and Uncomfortable Truths, Canada has a Key Role to Play in Ukraine’s Future, and The Ukraine: Unfinished Business – have discussed how building trust will be an important component in stabilizing Ukraine. For those wanting more detail than a blog post can provide, attached is an article by Milana Nikolko and David Carment on the matter – Social Capital Development in Multiethnic Crimea: Global Regional and Local Constraints and Opportunities.
As originally published by Embassy.
As coverage of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine shifts focus away from the protests in Kiev and the installment of a shaky and inexperienced government, a new dominant narrative has begun to emerge in Canadian media.
It is a narrative rich in irony, mixed with hysteria and moral outrage, driven by a singular underlying theme: Russia bad, West good and Ukraine victim.
It is reminiscent of former United States secretary of state John Foster Dulles’ Cold War mindset that saw Russians as only capable of acting in bad faith.
This narrative is unhelpful. Ultimately the blame game gets in the way of constructive dialogue which is really the only way out of this mess.
For anyone sifting through all the messages sent, from reporters on the ground to those reacting in Washington, there has been a clear disconnect.
This morning, Vladimir Putin held a press conference explaining Russia’s presence in Crimea that created more confusion than clarity. The Russian president seemed to be simultaneously pulling back and doubling down. I will let other Kremlinologists try to figure out what Putin meant and what he is likely to do. I simply want to make the point that there is little that the U.S., Canada, and NATO can do about the situation in Ukraine.
It has taken a few days, but various folks are now reminding us that this is not about Obama being weak. This is about the West having few options. American officials did not roll back the Soviet Army after the Second World War, nor did any American president respond with force to Soviet interventions in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Poland. No, Russia is not the Soviet Union, but the larger dynamic is the same: great power – which the U.S. still has – does not mean infinite capability.
Lots of folks are speculating about what Ukraine/Crimea/Russia is like, including not Abkhazia. Right now, the analogies that come to mind for me are: coups d’etat and poker.
Coup? Yes, because in a coup, the anti-incumbents (for want of a better term), move first, trying to create facts on the ground that are hard to reverse. If this fait accompli is successful, the incumbents are then put in a position where they are the ones with the pressure to use force. The onus is on them. Which is why Putin would be smart to stick to Crimea. Other deployments in Ukraine might mean trying to push Ukrainians aside, which would then put the onus on using force back on Russians.
Lots of folks are hoping for NATO to do something to stop Putin in Crimea. As always, I am reminded of Mike Lombardi (formerly of NFL.com and more recently formerly of Cleveland Browns) who reminds us not to confuse hope with a plan.
Still, let’s think about this for a second anyway. Let’s say that folks within NATO want something to be done, either fast-tracking Ukraine into NATO (I almost could not type that amidst my laughs–NATO, fast track!) or deploying NATO troops to the countries neighboring Ukraine or something else.
Get consensus at NATO. Oops. To be clear, what we mean by consensus is not that every country has to agree or contribute (see ye old NATO book on the latter), but that no country or group of countries feels strongly enough to “break silence” and object to a course of action. Gaining consensus can be very hard to do, especially when countries have very conflicting interests. Who might object to NATO acting?
When not teaching graduate students at Carleton University’s School of International Affairs, much of my practical work abroad has focused on deeply divided societies experiencing protracted conflict and sporadic bouts of violence. The bulk of my efforts in these fragile states, entails training organisations in conflict early warning, conflict resolution and conflict prevention. This practical work means engaging local civil society organisations who are the focal points of activity when government institutions are weak, divided or incapable of acting on behalf of the public interest. Sometimes, I have the opportunity to work alongside representatives from governmental and intergovernmental agencies whose analytical needs are much different than civil society organisations. Whereas civil society is often seen as using conflict analysis as part of their advocacy toolkit, pushing for specific policy options, policy makers are expected to use their information gathering and analysis for public administration purposes; to determine how a particular policy choice might play out within their constituency for example, or to establish if a religious or ethnic minority within their group is at risk so appropriate action can be taken in advance of the outbreak of conflict. These mechanisms and the training efforts that go into them have been applied in Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Serbia among other places with a reasonable degree of success. However, such a forward looking, preventive approach assumes that government actors are both willing and able to use evidence to advance the public good and that they stand above parochial interests.
If John Baird’s upcoming visit to Ukraine is to be successful, it must satisfy two overarching goals. The first will be to assure Ukraine’s interim leadership that Canada remains committed to supporting an inclusive and open democratic society that is tolerant of all minorities and political parties. The second is to find a way to wean the Ukraine away from its dependence on an informal economy. These two goals are intertwined and go to the heart of Ukraine’s structural problems.
Ukraine remains the only European country deemed essential to Canada’s bilateral aid program. Even before Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, the promotion of democracy in Ukraine was a long standing area of focus for the Canadian government. But clearly these efforts were not enough. There are two reasons for that.