But Moscow doesn’t see Ukraine as a military problem. It’s a political problem. It needs to figure out how to sever Ukraine’s ties with western Europe once and for all—without worsening Russia’s existing international isolation and economic crisis even further.
Igor Lukes is a professor of history at Boston University, who focuses on central European history since World War I. He is also an Honorary Consul General of the Czech Republic. Below is ILNA's interview with this authentic analyst about recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
ILNA: What is the role of the NATO, EU and the United States in tensions between Russia and Ukraine?
In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, NATO and the US cannot be treated as one entity. After all, it’s France and Germany that were party to the Minsk Agreement. But NATO’s military and the West’s ability to impose further sanctions on the Kremlin have so far postponed Russia’s complete takeover of Ukraine by Russia.
ILNA: Will these tensions lead to war? In your opinion what is the likelihood of an outbreak of war?
It’s a curious situation. Tim Snyder noted several years ago that Russia could have easily occupied the whole of Ukraine right at the beginning of the crisis, together with Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. Except for sanctions and diplomatic protests, nobody would have resisted such a move by providing Ukraine with a militarily meaningful assistance at that time. Instead, the Kremlin has chosen to conserve the situation as a frozen conflict. By now, the situation has changed: Ukraine is better prepared to resist, its military is much stronger, and NATO’s reaction to all-out Russian aggression is more likely—in some form. The best I can say is that the Kremlin’s long-term future objectives have remained unclear.
ILNA: Some people believe that since use of Turkish made drone by Azerbaijan in recent Azerbaijan and Armenia war changed the military situation in favor of Azerbaijan. Doing the same thing by Ukraine (buying drones from Turkey) is the main reason for recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine?
It might have sharpened the crisis. But Moscow doesn’t see Ukraine as a military problem. It’s a political problem. It needs to figure out how to sever Ukraine’s ties with western Europe once and for all—without worsening Russia’s existing international isolation and economic crisis even further.
ILNA: Some consider Turkey as the main player behind the Black sea region’s tensions and they believe that Turkey creates these tensions to put pressure on Russia. In your opinion, what are the implications of Turkey’s support of Ukraine on S-400 missile system deal and Turk stream projects?
As so many times before—including in World War I and World War II—Turkey has tried to sit on the fence between the east and west and wait who would come up with a better deal. Its actions show it: One day Turkey shoots down a Russian fighter plane, the next day it buys—in opposition to NATO—a Russian weapons systems. Its potential role in the Ukrainian situation is unreadable.
ILNA: Some people believe that Russia is exaggerating the tensions with Ukraine so that it can use it as a pressure lever against anti-Russian sanctions imposed on itself by the west. What is your opinion on this?
That argument is illogical. You wish to alleviate the present sanctions imposed because of your occupation of Ukrainian territory, and so you threaten further aggression? But that would be certain to result in ever harsher sanctions—this time, perhaps, excluding Russia from the global banking system and hitting the oligarchs around the Kremlin, possibly including Putin.
ILNA: What is your evaluation of unsuccessful military coup in Ukraine, possible Russian involvement and Russia’s denial of playing any role in it?
This is a hypothetical scenario, and I can’t comment on it in any detail. Let me just note that Russia is an intelligence state. It lags behind in everything but it’s a pioneer in cyber warfare, disinformation, psychological operations, deception, and camouflage.
ILNA: Russia’s intelligence agency recently released an evaluation that situation in the region is similar to 2008 which led to a war between Georgia and Russia. What is your opinion on this matter?
In 2008, Moscow learned that the West had no instruments with which to channel Russia’s behavior in a more positive direction. At that time, Russia was in a better shape than today. It could thumb its nose on Washington and the rest of the western alliance in 2008. This is not the case at the end of 2021.