The US’s last presidential race winner Donald Trump’s positive messages to Russia during the election campaign, caused criticisms from his opponents but on the Russian front, it created a rarely encountered public perception in favour of an American presidential candidate. Even after Trump was elected as the president, maintaining positive statements about Russia has stregthened expectations that the relations between the US and Russia would get better. Nonetheless, Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s being recently resigned on charges of ‘some bargains’ were negotiated during a phone call with Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador of Russia to the US, before Trump officially took office, about 35 Russian diplomats decided to be deported by Obama administration, and after that the statement made by the White House indicating that ‘it was being expected by President Trump that Crimea given back to Ukraine’ has presently disappointed the normalization expactations between the two country. In addition, enactment regarding the recognition of the ‘passports’ of seccesionist Donetsk and Lugansk regions by Vladimir Putin against the decision taken at the NATO meeting to enhance the military deployment at the Black Sea signals that new serious tensions may occur.
Is Russia Preparing to Invade Ukraine?
Russia’a decision to recognize ‘passports’ of seccesionist regions in Ukraine, undoubtedly brought to mind the Abkhazian and South Osetian scenario. Years ago, a similar decision was made in Russia which was also put into practice in the separatist divisions of Gerorgia, Abkhazia and South Osetia; in the year of 2008 Russia had military intervention to Georgia under the pretext of saving its ‘citizens/compatriots’ and at least recognizing these area’s independence and connect de facto itself. Russia continued its similar expansionist policy in the former Soviet geography, described as ‘near abroad’ (??????? ?????????), at Crimea in 2014. Upon persuasion of Viktor Yanukoviç, his Ukranian counterpart at that time, by Putin for the involvement of Kiev to the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), which is ranked as the small format of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) constituted with the initiative of Moscow, on promises of financial support and discount in natural gas and Ukraine’s putting an hold on the process of signing the ‘European Union Association Agreement’ Western Powers provoked the convenient conditions in this country and promoted the ‘Maidan Protests’.
Since independence in 1991, corruption, bribery and insufficient use of national resources, and in the historical process ‘Russian contrast’ which had on state’s western side, suggested such a popular uprising in Ukraine. At least, this rebellion caused Yanukovic’s resignation and him asylum in Russia. ‘Maidan Coup’ of West was seen as ‘game rule violation’ by Russia. The Kremlin organized Russian-speaking compatriots against the Western counterparts in this country in order to keep Ukraine out of the Western engagement and organized them in accordance with the concept of hybrid warfare and encouraged their revolt against the new Kiev Administration. At the same time, Russia held referendum in March 2014, in the Crimea, which was legally territorial part of Ukraine, annexing the historic peninsula itself. Russian organizational capability and achievement of a very effective military resistance in Ukraine in a short period of time for the sake of keeping its national interests in this crisis was doubtlessly unexpected for Western powers. As a matter of course, the Ukrainian crisis deepened further and caused the West to apply political and economic sanctions to Russia.
It is useful to emphasize here that Ukraine is not a country that can easily be abandoned by Russia to its fate. So that, on the global level, Ukraine not only has the geo-economic importance for international energy and trade routes, but also has a deep geo-cultural ‘fault line’ with its Slavic-Orthodox, Slavic-Catholic and Muslim-Tatar elements. Located in the center of Eurasia with Turkey, Ukraine has an undeniable role for international, politically, economically and security-focused projects. Therefore, Ukraine's geopolitical position is of great importance for regional and global stability. Lastly, current Ukraine is historically Russian’s (????) mainland, center for its first state, acceptance and spread geography of Slavic-Orthodoxy, and ‘clearest’ start point of about 1100 years’ Russian historical memory. Briefly, Ukraine is a ‘touchstone’ of the construction of Russian national identity and civilization. From this aspect, it can be said that beyond the geopolitics, security and economy, Ukraine rather is a deeper matter, related to socio-psychological perception of Russians that evocatives the origins of ‘Russian existentialism’. It can therefore be argued that current Russia without ‘Eastern Ukraine’, which includes Kiev in geographical terms, is not a ‘full’ Russia under the consciousness of a Russian. It should also not be ignored that in a presumptive ‘state of emergency’ if a military attack to Ukraine by Russia ‘is required’, this perception which is engraved in most Russians’ subconscious, seriously enables Kremlin administration to ‘legitimize’ its intervention in the internal public. The ‘Russian Federation Military Doctrine’, which was published both in 2010 and 2014, has already recognized "the right to military intervention on the grounds of protecting the rights of its compatriots living outside Russia's borders".
Enemy Need for American Geo-Strategy
On the other hand, it would not be wrong to state that American gambits in the 'near abroad' of Russia, especially through Ukraine, which provoke Moscow, is a strategic choice for Washington. NATO, established under the leadership of the United States, to combat communism and Soviet expansion in the framework of international power balances after World War II, ‘the concept of existence cause and strategic structuring’ has become a serious uncertainty as a result of the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the enemy bloc, in 1991. As a matter of fact, the Russians assumed that NATO would no longer exist and the ‘Common European House’ (????? ??????????? ???) that would include the new Russia, which has passed the market economy, would now be established. However, the US saw "the opportunity to dominate the world on its own" in the face of the unexpected collapse of the arch-rivals Soviets and restructured its foreign policy in this direction. Events in the Balkans in the 1990s also provided favorable conditions for the restructuring of NATO, and a new influential role to this organization as a 'stabilizer' was laid down by the US. Although Moscow has put in place a new foreign policy concept against the inconvenience it has experienced with the Primakov Doctrine, due to the severe political, economic, social and ethnic crises of the internal transition period, the desired effect of foreign policy was not demonstrated until 2000's.
The US, on the other hand, assumed that the void in the spherical geopolitics that emerged after the Cold War could only be filled in by itself, in favor of all political, economic and military factors for it. This situation, which has mobilized the strategic interests of the US on the world stage, has been formulated very clearly by the famous American strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. According to Brzezinski, consolidation of the US's global hegemonic power depends on its domination of Eurasia, therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the US to prevent from domination of another power in Eurasia on its own or making alliances against the US in Eurasia.
With this basic geo-strategic account, the US has made a decisive step forward in its move towards a new foreign policy against Russia, which aimed at being a central power once again in the post-Soviet geography, and has ensured the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become members of NATO in 1999. Until 2001, the US, trying to follow the strategy of spreading global hegemony without ‘enemy’, terrorist attacks to the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 have created a tremendous excuse to realize this purpose. In other words, this unexpected terrorist act, creating a shock effect on both national and international public, has given the US a solid internal and external legitimacy “in fighting against terrorism”. Thus, NATO was given the task of "fighting against international terrorism" and the definition of this new task was supported by the member countries.
The US geo-strategic moves, starting with a military intervention in Afghanistan by Washington after the events of September 11 that opened a new page in the history of international relations, on the Eurasian chess board, have simultaneously led to the growing strength of the national security threat posed by Moscow from "the unipolar world order". Ever since, the US has been tring to prevent Russia from becoming an active force in Eurasia from one side; and from the other side has been working to spread the American-centered ecopolitical order.
In this context, the US has clearly encouraged ‘colorful revolutions’ in the former Soviet countries seen as the backyard of Russia since 2003, some of which had been succeeded in Georgia (2003 / “Rose Revolution”), Ukraine (2004 / “Orange Revolution”) and Kyrgyzstan (2005 / “Tulip Revolution”), but did not happen in Uzbekhstan (2005 / Andican events) and in Belarussia (2006 / Jeans Revolution). More importantly, the US made Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia a NATO member in 2004, gaining a very strategic advantage over its ‘geopolitical enemy’ Russia. Thus, the US has successfully led the wave of NATO expansion towards the East, continuing to the present day, just for its own geopolitical interests. Conversely, Russians have rightfully accused the West of breaking promises made after the fall of the Iron Curtain, saying that NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe violated commitments made during the negotiations over German reunification.
In this respect, the fact that the "American unipolarity" that emerged in international relations after 1991 has been fully transformed into a global hegemony is directly related to the strengthening of the current US geo-strategic superiority, this geopolitical approach sustained by Washington makes it inevitable for a conflict of interest between Russia and the US on the Eurasian axis. In other words, it should be emphasized that the ‘great strategies’ that have steadily been carried out by these two countries play a very critical role at the core of the Russo-American conflict of interest. In order to sustain the global hegemonic power status in the 21st century, two basic geo-economic models based on the Euro-Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific must be built in collaboration with the American-centered ecopolitical world order and NATO's legitimacy must be maintained by the US. The ideal ‘enemy’ for NATO's existence and legitimacy is no more than Russia. It can be said that the geopolitical struggle created consciously with Russia over Ukraine has met the need of an ‘enemy’ in this regard, which serves to reinforce the present geo-strategic superiority of the Eurasian chessboard to the US.
Despite the end of the Cold War, emergence of ‘the American unipolarity’ in the world politics has led a necessity for Washington to spread it on the global stage on the one hand, but on the other has paved way for Russian anxiety caused by being exposed to a new geopolitical collapse that will abolish its existence altogether. This situation has inevitably made the ‘Pax Americana’ to be up against ‘Pax Russica’. As can be seen from the examination of the history of the states, geopolitical struggle is based on a system that assigns only winners and losers. So this geopolitical reality soon re-established the current struggle for power between the US and Russia. In this way Ukraine, remained in the midst of the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the US and strengthened its geo-strategic position in the regional security equation, which served as the ‘buffer zone’ for these two centers of power. For this reason, it can be predicted that Russia will pursue a foreign policy that is even open to the hot war in this ongoing geopolitical struggle, in order to prevent the joining of Ukraine to the NATO in the coming period. Such a scenario could trigger the new Cold War, which is, for sure, needed for the US.
* This is the enhanced version of the author's article that firstly published in Turkish newspaper "Karar".
** Ferit Temur is a Turkish expert on the post-Soviet region.