Wednesday, 21 September 2016 14:10

Ukraine within the International Security System: 25 Years of Development



Petro Kopka, COSA Head of Research Programs


It just so happened that Ukraine’s emergence and development as an independent state coincided with the disintegration of the old system of international relations based on global standoff between two ideologies. Today, 25 years later, the resulting vacuum is still not filled completely. This is especially apparent in the area of international security.


At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan calling it international help to the fraternal Afghan people. From that moment on, the USSR as a state and the so-called Socialist Bloc were effectively doomed. International sanctions combined with low energy prices, the weak old-fashioned Soviet economy, the lack of incentive for improving the manufacturing efficiency and workforce productivity, and extremely high military expenses took their toll in the end. Twelve years later, at the end of 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.


These two dates mark the beginning and the end of an era that saw the ending of a period in the history of humankind and laid the foundation for its further development.


The decisions made in the USSR in 1985 concerning the Perestroika, Glasnost and democratization became a catalyst for heterogeneous and ambiguous processes that had been latently developing in the Soviet society and the member states of the so-called Socialist commonwealth where they started to become real and tangible for the first time.


Disintegration processes that had started with the mass civil demonstrations in the satellite states of the USSR triggered an avalanche. As a result, in February 1991, the military structure of the Warsaw Pact was abolished and in July of the same year, representatives of the member states signed the Protocol in Prague officially ending the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance (the so-called Warsaw Pact of 14 May 1955).


Thus ended not only the primary instrument providing collective security for the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, but also one of the two basic elements of the post-war international security architecture that had been acting as a counterweight to the NATO in the ideological, political, and military confrontation between the capitalist and socialist systems.


For a brief period of time, the post-Soviet part of Europe experienced an institutional vacuum of collective security. The countries of Central Europe and the newly independent Baltic states were returning to their traditional civilizational Ecumene they had been torn out of after World War II, which meant that sooner or later they would join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and it would be responsible for their military security.


The Collective Security Treaty signed in Tashkent on 15 May 1992 set in motion the integration processes for security in the former Soviet Union countries. The Treaty was signed by the then-leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.


In 1993, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia joined the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Later, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan withdrew from the Treaty. In 1994, when the Treaty took effect, there were nine member states of the organisation. Today, there are only six.


While the Collective Security Treaty may be viewed as an exclusively post-Soviet agreement, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) founded in 2001 to include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan could be safely called a regional organisation.


Officially, the SCO is neither a military bloc nor a regular open security forum, but the issues the organisation is meant to address are directly connected to increasing the stability and security over a wide geographical area comprising the member states as well as fighting terrorism and separatism, i.e. these issues belong to the area of collective security.


BRICS, the organisation founded in 2006 as part of the St. Petersburg Economics Forum, was supposed to have an even higher status. Since it included member states from three continents (Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa), it was viewed as a global project.


All the aforementioned organisations were created with Russia’s initiative and active participation. As envisioned by Moscow, their task was to oppose the West and the USA in particular in all the areas of international relations. Therefore, they had to have a defence component from the very beginning. Nevertheless, later events have shown that these countries are not particularly eager to join forces in the military sector. In this regard, the CSTO stands apart as it was designed primarily as a military bloc, a mini Warsaw Pact of sorts.


They all counted on building primarily economic ties, especially China, a county that desperately needs access to international markets (above all, the Russian and Central Asian markets) for its export-oriented economy. Beijing saw no point in creating blocs that would oppose prospective consumers of Chinese goods. Moreover, China was none too happy about being in the same alliance with its unpredictable Northern neighbour due to their shared history of grievances.


The fact that China is conducting international consultations regarding the possibility of creating a new political and military alliance, as the Russian analysts have dubbed it, is a clear sign that the developments in Central Asia as far as collective security is concerned are not going the way Moscow wanted. This new alliance is supposed to include Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Tajikistan, a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which has traditionally been within the area of Russia’s interest. Russian experts believe this may undermine Russia’s authority within the SCO and CSTO in Central Asia, which was not that high to begin with.


The reasons for Russia’s activity in the area of collective security are simple enough. The end of the Cold War had left Russia in an unfavourable position. Moreover, as the standoff between the blocs had ended, NATO was not dissolved together with the Warsaw Pact, as Moscow had been hoping. Given all this, Russian leaders were disturbed and incensed. That is why merely a year after the dissolution of the USSR Russia started building its own military and political defence structures, but on a smaller scale and using materials available at the time.


It got worse from then on. Eager to improve Russia’s international image, the country’s new leaders adopted a policy of “Russia getting off its knees”. They focused primarily on rebuilding Russia’s military power, while the international energy prices at the time created an illusion that it was possible.


Thus, we may conclude that after the collapse of the bipolar system Russia and the West continued to move in opposite directions. While the West focused on economic development and implementing innovative technologies in mass production, Russia was actively engaged in militarizing its society. The militarization was based on two primary directives, “Russia is surrounded by enemies” and “Those who are not with us are against us”.


Foreign policy rhetoric and Russia’s behaviour on the international arena changed in accordance with the chosen course. Previously, Moscow tried not to set itself in direct opposition to the rest of the world, successfully blending in and creating an image of itself as a young European democracy. In 1997, these efforts were rewarded when Russia was accepted into the “club of the chosen ones”, the G7, which turned into G8. After the political course was changed, the Kremlin started speaking in harsher tones and Russia openly stated it was ready to protect its interests from external encroachment.


The peak of this process and the undisputable warning to the rest of the world about the “reformed” Russia’s new approach to international relations was the Russian President’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007. Its main message was that over more than a thousand years of its history, Russia usually had the authority to pursue independent foreign policy and modern Russia would not abandon this tradition.


These words were supported by action in August 2008 during the Russo-Georgian War.


Far too busy with its own problems, the West failed to react to the Russian President’s speech in a proper manner. Inexplicably, even after Russian aggression against Georgia Russia continued as a member of the G8. Nevertheless, it was obvious even then that a new civilizational chasm opened between Russia and the West.


After the dissolution of the USSR and the Socialist system Europe turned its attention to the integration process. Political and economic harmonisation took centre stage while security policy was relegated to the sidelines due to the absence of direct threats.


After the events in former Yugoslavia, NATO started playing an increasingly smaller part in Europe. On the one hand, this was because the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact deprived the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation of the objectives it had been pursuing during the Cold War. There were no tasks equal to the magnitude of bipolar confrontation and it seemed that no such tasks would emerge in the near future. On the other hand, Brussels was primarily concerned with formalising pan-European processes and had no time to spare for building a military powerbase.


The NATO expansion through adding new member states was also less than constructive, since old bylaws continued to regulate the organisation’s activity, including actions taken in emergency.


Problems manifested themselves as early as the military operation in former Yugoslavia. It was clear even then that relations between the political and military parts of NATO need fundamental changing, especially where consensus decision-making is concerned. Otherwise, not a single issue demanding immediate military response could be solved effectively.


Meanwhile, the United States of America limited their political and military presence in Europe pursuing the policy of reasonable isolationism and saving their resources. In other words, the US abandoned their “missionary activities” in favour of isolationism.


Thus, Europe found itself with next to no collective defence potential. NATO existed only nominally, having turned into a sluggish bureaucratic monstrosity. Talks about creating a separate defence structure like the Western European Union or contingency troops gradually subsided due to lack of resources and absence of practical necessity for such organisations.


Nevertheless, as 2014 has shown us, it is far too early to “disarm”. Many countries in the world, including European states, started paying more attention to their own military needs and defence budgets.


The recent 27th NATO summit that took place on 8-9 July 2016 in Warsaw proves that this is exactly the case. During the summit, a number of decisions were made to increase the part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in solving urgent problems of Europe and the whole world.


Specifically, the US gave NATO the authority to control the ballistic missile defence system in Europe designed to deter Iranian missiles. For the first time in history, the EU and NATO signed a treaty on co-operation concerning the threats of migration crisis, hybrid warfare, and cyberattacks. Due to the latter threat, cyberspace was declared a new zone of strategic operations.


Ukraine: A Thorny Path to National Security


All this time, Ukraine was trying to solve a two-part problem: how to preserve its independence in the face of globalisation and fulfil its obligation to remain a non-aligned state.


In particular, the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine of 16 July 1990 states that Ukraine intends to become a neutral country “that does not take part in military blocs and follows three non-nuclear principles: not to accept, manufacture or purchase nuclear weapons”. Moreover, Article 17 of the current Constitution of Ukraine prohibits establishing foreign military bases on Ukrainian soil.


At the time, Ukrainian leaders understood that something more solid than declarations was necessary to preserve the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Consequently, Ukrainian authorities started pursuing the policy of dynamic neutrality. Ukraine’s multi-vector foreign policy of the middle and late 1990s had the same goal.


The objective was to establish friendly relations with as many international actors as possible, including those responsible for global and international security, without breaking Ukraine’s obligations. In this way, Ukraine was hoping to balance and neutralise the negative influence and danger coming from Moscow both covertly and openly.


Thus, in 1991, Ukraine becomes a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and starts developing relations with NATO as one of its strategic partners.


The Madrid summit of 1997 saw the signing of one of the most important documents in the relations between Ukraine and NATO, the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Ukraine.


In April 2005, at the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission in Vilnius, which was conducted at the highest level of foreign policy institutions, Ukraine was officially invited to an intensified dialogue with NATO concerning its future membership and necessary reforms.


In April 2008, the heads of state and governments of member states of NATO decided that Ukraine would become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. This decision was included in the final communique of the NATO summit in Bucharest.


It was at this summit, during the closed session of the Russia-NATO Commission, that the current President of Russia said to his then-colleague George W. Bush that Ukraine was not even a state.


On the one hand, this emotional and undiplomatic phrase clearly reflected Russia’s arrogant treatment of the independent Ukraine. On the other hand, it showed that Moscow was ready to pay any price to keep Ukraine within the sphere of its influence.


Russia had reasons to react this way. While formally remaining a member of the CIS, Ukraine was in no hurry to join Moscow’s security initiatives and reintegration projects within the former Soviet Union.


Moreover, Kyiv attempted to become the centre of the GUAM Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development that included Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, but not Russia. Founded in 1997, GUAM continues to operate today. In 2001, the member states signed the Charter of the organisation, and in 2006, they adopted its Statute.


Ukraine’s independence and activity truly alarmed Moscow. The Kremlin did everything in its power to stop Ukraine’s drift towards Europe, control its foreign policy, and prevent the healthy development of its internal political and economic processes that could significantly improve the quality of life in Ukraine.


Moscow was unscrupulous in its methods and instruments. It used anything from threats and compromising the reputation of Ukrainian policy abroad to bribing Ukrainian officials. Ukraine became the first victim of the bottomless supply of “Gazprom money”. It was later that Russia started using the excess profits from gas export to buy the loyalty of various European politicians.


The pressure on Ukraine increased proportionately with the rising energy prices on international markets resulting in the revival of the Russian military industrial complex. While Boris Yeltsin was President, it was understood that some lines could not be crossed, but ever since the young “St. Petersburg Team” came to the Kremlin these lines became increasingly blurred until they disappeared altogether.


Moscow clearly showed it was serious about controlling Ukraine back in 2003 when Russia unilaterally decided to build a dam between its coast and the Tuzla Island in the Sea of Azov without consulting or even informing Ukraine. The Kremlin did this to show “who was boss” and force Ukraine to be more compliant during the negotiations on the status of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.


In a letter to his colleague, Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote that if there was a rifle hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, it must go off by the end. Russia’s military preparations of the last decade had to find a practical use sooner or later.


The new Russia, freshly “risen off its knees”, tried its hand at military action on 8 August 2008 in Georgia. It was not a completely smooth operation, but neither was it a failure. Using “euphemisms” typical of its media landscape, Moscow painted a picture it wanted to show on television, claiming Russia was protecting the population of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the “atrocities” of Tbilisi.


The vague and ambiguous wording of the EU Investigation Report on the August 2008 war in South Caucasus confirmed the Russian version of events and looked more like an act of reconciliation with Moscow that results of a real investigation.


The fact of the matter is that six months prior to the events in Georgia, in February 2008, the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija declared independence from Serbia and became the Republic of Kosovo. Next day, the new republic was recognised by a number of states, including the USA. This triggered an extremely negative reaction from Moscow. Soon, Russia responded in kind, “exchanging” Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Kosovo. Georgia’s interests were not taken into account.


Such a liberal interpretation of the international law had a negative impact on further events and cost Ukraine a part of its territory, production facilities, and thousands of lives.


By 2014, Moscow had analysed all the flaws and errors of the brief Georgian campaign so as not to repeat them in Ukraine. The ambiguous reaction of the international community was also taken into account. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was executed under the pretence of protecting the Russian-speaking population from the “Kyiv junta” that took power after a coup d’état and ousting the legitimately elected President as opposed to the Georgian operation carried to force the Georgian authorities to make peace.


Nevertheless, both actions were to show the world that the new Russia was prepared to defend its interests using any means necessary, including (and perhaps primarily) military methods. When the Russian President stated that Moscow was ready to use nuclear weapons, the world changed completely. It means that the conventional methods of international security are outdated and cannot solve the new emerging problems.


It should be noted that 25 years after the end of the Cold War the world came much closer to shooting war, and politicians being good or bad is not the issue, although personality factor continues to play a very important part.


The thing is that the world has become a much more complex and diversified place than it was during the years of ideological standoff. Within the bipolar system, every global event was a point somewhere between the two extremes. It was true even in the countries of the so-called Third World. Any attempt to go beyond the bipolar limits was obstructed at best and drew sanctions at worst.


This system was by no means ideal. Neither could it solve each and every problem, but it provided the means to prevent things from spiralling out of control. The same cannot be said about the current state of international relations. The sooner the international community understands it, the faster the world will become more stable and predictable.


In the meantime, Ukraine has to be aggressive and persistent in fighting for its place in the changing world of today, cementing it on the global political and economic map without hesitation. Ukraine must remember that no one will ever offer it a place voluntarily.


Now that Ukraine has experience in countering aggression, it must offer its own methods of fighting new kinds of expansion (especially in its military form) to the global community and Europe in particular. Ukraine has to be active in drawing supporters from among the members of international organisations it participates in. To this end, Ukraine must widen its participation in sub-regional, regional, and global political as well as economic projects.


Ukraine has to be tenacious and consistent in standing its ground in those international organisations that provide financial aid and other kinds of support, never letting itself forget that such aid is not given for free. It will have to be returned with interest.


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and heaven helps those who help themselves.




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