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Comment and Opinion

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pour Poutin, la sécurité de la Russie se joue en Ukraine

by Vadim Kamenka

For Putin, Russia’s Security is at Stake in Ukraine

Interview with Jean Radvanyi

Translated Monday 12 May 2014, by Richard Pond

Jean Radvanyi is a professor at INALCO (France’s National Institute for the Languages and Civilisations of the East) and author of "Retour d’une autre Russie" (Return of Another Russia). He deciphers Russia’s position for us, and questions NATO’s expansionism.

Humanité: How do you explain the Russian stance on the uprisings in eastern Ukraine?

Jean Radvanyi: There are two points to discuss. First of all, the events in Ukraine, a fragile and very divided country. To develop, it absolutely must maintain good relations with both Russia and the European Union. To reach that sort of compromise, both these big powers must send the same, strong signal.

The second aspect of this crisis doesn’t really concern Ukraine, which is serving as the vehicle for a set of questions that Russians have been asking for several years with regard to the redefinition of European security. At the Munich summit in 2007, Vladimir Putin posed these questions clearly: does NATO aim to expand as far as Russia’s borders, to include Ukraine and Georgia? Do Europeans agree with that? And how do Russians react to this idea? Unfortunately, what’s happening in Ukraine - with the extremes radicalising - could lead to dialogue but could also lead to a breakdown in relations - which is very worrying.

Humanité: Could Russia intervene militarily in the eastern part of Ukraine?

JR: Fundamentally, the Russian authorities don’t want to annex the east of the country. The risk of diving into a quagmire that the Russians have nothing to gain from, destabilising their own borders, is pushing them towards non-intervention. But the way they’re acting, in amassing their troops at the Ukrainian border, in supporting opposition and separatist forces, leaves some room for uncertainty. While most of these forces want a federal solution, radicals within these groups demand either an autonomous Donetsk Republic, which quietly existed at the start of the 1920s, or reattachment to Russia. Unfortunately, the Kremlin’s position is not clear enough on this point. By allowing all the Russian press to support the most radical groups, which advocate separatism, Putin is sending very dangerous signals.

Humanité: Neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Georgia are vitally important to Russia. Will this red line push Vladimir Putin towards using force?

JR: Russia has not found positive arguments to attract the eastern countries on its border. In its relations with the former Soviet republics tempted to develop closer relations with the EU or NATO, Russia continues to have recourse to economic pressure, export controls (the gas war with Ukraine), as well as political and sometimes military pressure (Georgia, Crimea). Its attitude has pushed public opinion in these countries towards the EU. In Ukraine, part of the population still looks towards Russia, with which it retains very strong economic ties. And if we are not moving towards a de-escalation, the scenario of a civil war, completely uncontrollable as far as the EU and Russia are concerned, appears unavoidable.

Humanité: How much responsibility do Europe and the United States have in this crisis?

JR: A series of decisions taken not only in Moscow but also in Kiev, Brussels and Washington has shaken the world with a major military ordeal. Some of the American leaders, including Hillary Clinton, still seek to weaken Russia definitively, and they’ve never abandoned Zbigniew Brzezinski’s strategy: encirclement of Russia. They are even supported by certain European countries, such as Poland or Sweden. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact allowed them to expand their domination towards the East. Russia is defending its strategic interests, which are just as legitimate as the interests of the United States and the main Western countries in their various zones of influence. Western doubletalk, calling international law sacred at the same time as violating it, irritates Moscow.

Humanité: Is federalism among the conceivable solutions in order to escape the impasse?

JR: As far as solutions to [Ukraine’s] domestic problems are concerned, giving autonomy to the eastern regions could be the proper course. That could take the form of federalism - a lot of countries operate this way and do so without bringing national unity into question. But there are also needs to be genuine neutrality from the military point of view in Ukraine. This means that NATO needs to halt its eastward expansion.

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