Everyone Loses: The Ukraine Crisis and the Ruinous Contest for Post-Soviet Eurasia
Samuel Charap and Timothy J. Colton
When protest and then war broke out in 2013/14 in Ukraine, many people in the US couldn’t find Ukraine, much less the Crimea or the Donbass, on a map, and for most people that’s probably still the case. Even the experts seemed and seem to be baffled by what is going on over there and why the situation won’t resolve.
Except that it’s not really that complicated. As Charap and Colton discuss here, the current crisis in Ukraine has been inevitably in the making for over 25 years, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Actually, it’s been in the making much longer than that. The close yet uneasy relationship between Russia and Ukraine dates back a millennium, to the age of Rus’, the medieval collection of principalities that spawned both modern countries. Then there was the Soviet period, but perhaps the less said about that the better, other than to note Khrushchev’s decision to gift the Crimea to (the) Ukraine, despite its 100+ years as specifically Russian territory, something that came back to haunt both countries once they became separate political entities.
But the present problems arose as a result of what Charap and Colton describe as “zero-sum” policies pursued by all sides, which has resulted in, as the authors note, everyone being worse off. The authors trace the past 25 years of miscommunication and increasingly entrenched positions on both the Russian and the US/EU/NATO sides, with Ukraine caught in the middle and all too willing to play the great powers off against each other.
For Western readers who follow the issue, Russia’s truculence will come as no surprise. But for many readers, the book’s dissection of the missteps, lack of vision, and sheer arrogance on the US/EU/NATO side will probably be enlightening. The misunderstandings and the fraught issue of what would happen to NATO following the collapse of the USSR, the fact that the West often appeared to be, and in many cases was, hypocritical or even overtly deceptive, and the shaky situation of the post-Color Revolution post-Soviet space, in which the vaunted (in the West) peaceful regime changes led not to reform, but to even more corruption and infighting, have all formed a perfect storm to create the frozen conflict in the Donbass, now in its fourth year.
It’s a bold move to put out a book on a current conflict, because things could have changed dramatically by the time the book reaches the world, but in this case Charap and Colton’s pessimistic assessment that things are unlikely to improve soon has thus far been proven correct. Regular skirmishes continue to mar the non-peace of the Donbass, while Kyiv covers itself in less and less glory, picking fights with former heroes Saakashvili and Savchenko and spiraling into further and further disfunction, as Moscow, Washington, and Berlin posture and rattle their sabres.
Is there a way out of this? The authors would like to think so, but hold out little hope. As they conclude:
“The uncomfortable truth is that today neither Russia nor the West believes that the other would be willing to accept a compromise. Those who rule Russia are convinced that the West will forever push to extend its reach right up to Russia’s borders, and even inside them. Many Western policymakers are convinced that Russia for its part is a predator state, absolutely committed to domination of its neighbors.
“Sadly, neither of these threat perceptions is completely baseless. Those who hold them can rightly point to numerous reasons why the talks we propose might fail. But the frightening consequences fo a lengthy confrontation more than justify an attempt to find agreement. Not making such an attempt–and thus ensuring a new cold war–would be the height of policy negligence. One cold war was enough.”
“Everyone Loses” is a thoroughly researched book, but still short and easily read by those who want to know more about the current situation in Ukraine and especially the Donbass, and know that what’s being printed in the papers isn’t the full story. A thought-provoking and timely study of a critical issue, well worth reading by academics and non-academics alike.