[Francisco Pascual de la Parte, The returning empire. The Ukrainian War 2014-2017: Origin, development, international environment and consequences. Editions of the University of Oviedo. Oviedo, 2017. 470 pages]
REVIEW / Vitaliy Stepanyuk[English version].
In this research on the War of Ukraine and the Russian intervention in the confrontation, the author analyses the conflict focusing on its precedents and the international context in which it is developing. For that purpose, he also analyses with special emphasis the relations of Russia with other states, particularly since the fall of the USSR. Above everything, this study encompasses the interaction of Russia with the United States, the European Union, the surrounding countries resulted from the disintegration of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania...), the Caucasus, Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan...), China and the participation of Russia in the Middle East conflict. All these relations have, in some way, repercussions on the Ukrainian conflict or are a consequence of this conflict.
The book is structured, as the author himself explains in its first pages, in such a way that it allows different manners of reading it. For those who want to have a general knowledge of the Ukrainian issue, they could only read the beginning of the book, which gives a brief overview of the conflict from two completely different perspectives. For those who want also to understand the historical environment which led to the conflict, they may also read the Introduction. Chapter II explains the origin of Russian suspicion towards liberal ideas and Western inability to understand Russian social concerns and changes. Those people who would like to assimilate the conflict in all its details and understand its political, strategic, legal, economic, military and cultural consequences should read the rest of the book. Finally, those who just want to comprehend the possible solutions to the dispute can directly read the last two chapters. At the end of the book, readers can also find both a wide bibliography used to write this volume and some appendices with documents, texts and maps relevant to the study of the conflict.
The Ukrainian issue started at the end of 2013 with the protests on Kiev's Maidan Square. Almost six years after that, the conflict seems to have fallen in the oversight, but the truth is that war is still going on and that the end to it is not visible yet. When it started, it was a clash nobody expected. Hundreds of people came out to the streets asking for better life conditions and the end of corruption. Mass average made a wide coverage of all that happened, and all the world was conscious and up-to-date with what was occurring in Ukraine. Initially held in a peaceful way, the protests turned violent because of the repressions of the government forces. The president fled the country and a new government, which was pro-European oriented and accepted by the majority of the citizens, was established. However, this achievement was responded by the Russian intervention in Ukrainian territory, resulting in the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, claiming that they were just protecting their Russian citizens there. Besides, an armed conflict started in the Donbass region, in the East side of Ukraine, between Ukrainian troops and a separatist movement supported by Russia.
This is just a brief summary of how the conflict originated but, actually, it is much more complex than it seems. According to the book, Ukrainian War is not an isolated conflict which happened unexpectedly. In fact, the author argues that the reaction of Russia was quite presumable in those years, because of the internal and external conditions of the country directed by Putin and the ideas that had arisen in Russian mentality. There were eight warnings of what could happen in Ukraine and nobody realized it: some examples are civilian protests in Kazakhstan in 1986, the War of Nagorno Karabakh (a region between Armenia and Azerbaijan) started in 1988, the war of Transnistria (in Moldova) started in 1990, the separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (two regions of Georgia)... Russia normally supported and helped separatist movements, alleging in some cases that it had to protect the Russian minorities that were living in those places. This was a quite clear image of Russia's position towards its surrounding neighbors and it reflected that, despite having accepted at the beginning the independence of these former Soviet republics after the fall of the USSR, Russia was not interested in losing its sphere and power of influence in those regions.
One interesting idea shown in the book is the fact that, even though the USSR collapsed and the Soviet institutions disappeared, the idea of a strong empire, the distrust and rivalry with the West powers and the concept of a strong State comprising all the power remained present. All these topics didn't extinguished but survived, and they shape nowadays Russian internal and external politics, defining especially Kremlin's relations with foreign powers. The essence of the USSR persisted under another flag, because the Soviet elites remained without being condemned or imprisoned. Some people could also reason that the survival of the Soviet thought and State's Power is due to the ineffective reformation process hold by the West liberal powers in the USSR after its fall. We have to bear in mind that the sudden incursion of West customs and ideas in a Russian society not prepared to assimilate them, without an organized and ruled strategy to adapt to that change, provoked horrible impacts in the people of Russia. By the end of the nineties, the majority of Russians were thinking that the introduction of the so called "democratic reforms" and free market, with their unexpected results of a massive scale corruption and social deterioration, had been a great mistake.
In that sense, the arrival of Putin meant the establishment of order in a chaotic society, even though it meant the end of democratic reforms. Besides, the people of Russia saw in Putin a leader capable of facing the Western powers (not as Yeltsin, the previous Russian president, who had had a weak position towards them) and taking Russia to the place it should occupy: Russia as a great empire.
One of the main consequences of the Ukrainian conflict is that the context of the relations between Russia and the Western powers has frozen in a dramatic way. Even though their relations were bad after the collapse of the USSR, those relations deteriorated much more because of the annexation of Crimea and the War in Ukraine.
The Kremlin adopted suspicion as a principle (especially towards the West). Concurrently, Russia was encouraging cooperation with China, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, India, Brazil and South Africa as a means to face NATO, the EU and the United States. On the one side, president Putin wanted to reduce the weight of that Western powers in the international economic sphere. On the other side, Russia also started to develop stronger relations with alternative countries in order to face the economic sanctions imposed to it by the European Union. Because of these two reasons, Russia created the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), constituted in May 2014, with the objective of constructing an economic integration on the basis of a customs union. Nowadays, the EAEU is composed by five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
In addition, Russia has extremely denounced NATO's expansion to the East European countries. Moreover, the Kremlin has expressed this issue as an excuse in order to start the development of a strong military and establishing new alliances. Together with some allies, Russia has organized some massive military trainings near Poland's and Balkan States' borders. In turn, Russia is also working to create disputes among NATO members and weaken the organization.
Particularly, the Ukrainian conflict has also shown the differences between Russian determination and the West indecision, meaning that Russia was capable of carrying out violent and illegal measures without being responded with strong and concrete solutions by the West. It could be analyzed that Russia uses, above all, hard power, taking advantage of economic (the sale of oil and gas for example) and military means in order to dictate another nation's actions through coercion. Its use of soft power occupies, in some way, a subordinate place.
According to some analysts, the hybrid warfare of Russia against the West included not only troops, weapons and computers (hackers), but also the creation of "frozen conflicts" (for example, the Syrian war) which established Russia as an indispensable part to solve those conflicts, and the use of propaganda, mass average and their Services of Intelligence. In addition, the Kremlin was also involved in financing other countries' pro-Russian political parties.
Russian activity is incomprehensible if we don't take into consideration the strong and powerful propaganda (even more powerful than the USSR propaganda system) used by Russian authorities to justify Government's behavior both towards its own people and towards the international community. One of the most used argument is blaming the United States for all the conflicts that are occurring in the world and justifying Russia's actions as a reaction to an aggressive position of the United States. According to Russian average, United States' supposedly main objective was to oppress Russia and foment global disorder. In that sense, Russian general tendency was to replace the liberal democracy by the national idea, with great exaltations to patriotism in order to create a sense of unity, against a defined adversary, the liberal-democratic States and International Organizations.
Another interesting topic is the deep explanation made by the author about how different is Russian's vision of the world, security, relations among nations, Rule of Law... in comparison with the Western conceptions. Whereas The West is centered on the defense and application of International Law, Russia claims the idea that each country is responsible for its own security, taking any measure needed (even if it contradicts International Law or any International Treaty or Agreement). Definitely, what is seen nowadays is a New Cold War consisting in a bloc of liberal-democratic States, which tend to the achievement of a wide trade and globalized finances, against another bloc of the main totalitarian and capitalist-authoritarian regimes, with a clear tendency towards militarization.
Success and perspective
It gives a profound and wide view of what is nowadays Russian external politics. It highlights the idea that the Ukrainian conflict is not an isolated dispute, rather a conflict that is inserted in a much more complex web of circumstances. By means of reading this book, one can realize that international relations don't function as a patterned and structured mechanism, but as a field were countries have different views about how the world is established and about which should be the rules that comprise it. We could say that there is a struggle nowadays between a Liberalist view (which emphasizes international cooperation and the rejection of power as the only way to act in the international sphere -supported by the West) and a Realistic view (which explains the foreign affairs in terms of power, state-centrism and anarchy -supported by Russia) of International Relations.
One of the strong points of the book is that it displays different stances of a lot of analysts about the conflict, with critics to both Russian and Western activities. This enables the reader to compare the conflict under different perspectives and acquire a complete and critical view of the topic. Moreover, readers could also learn and comprehend the actual state of things of other countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions which are almost unknown in the Western society.
The book is an excellent research work, which enables anyone who reads it to be able to examine the complicated reality that surrounds the Ukrainian War and to go in depth in the study of the relations among nations.