What You Need To Know:
✓ Russia needs to win a conclusive victory fairly quickly because this conflict is not economically sustainable for them;
✓ Since the post-Cold War order was established Russia has wanted to discuss the new world order with the West;
✓ Some in the West now understand that this is long term struggle, but it is unclear how much longer some EU members states will support the sanctions;
✓ It is unlikely that Russia will target Georgia next, rather, the next two countries will be Moldova and Belarus because they are more vulnerable;
✓ Things are being achieved in Ukraine primarily because of the civil society which is increasingly strong and self-confident.
“The appearance of a stalemate is deceptive. If the West’s sanctions remain in place and the oil price remains low it will be very difficult for the Russian state to function in the way it does now,” James Sherr, associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House told Hromadske. The current occupation regime in Donbas is not sustainable economically and Russia no interest in subsidizing it, said Sherr, the situation, therefore, will not remain frozen forever.
“They [Russia] need to win a conclusive victory fairly quickly or time starts to work against them. This creates a dangerous situation because they are under pressure to do something more here,” said Sherr.”It might not mean they will take Mariupol but it might mean the kind of military offensive that produced Minsk 1 and 2”.
Since the post-Cold War order was established Russia has wanted to discuss the new world order with the West, said Sherr. Russia does not see this as conflict with Ukraine, it views as a conflict in Ukraine but with the West. According to Sherr, the solution from Russia’s perspective is to have that conversation with the West, not only about Ukraine but about elsewhere in the former Soviet space, central and eastern Europe.
Some in the West now understand that this is long term struggle, said Sherr. In 2015, the West has been more realistic about what it is facing compared to 2014, when many were talking about the ‘Ukraine Crisis’ - as if it was something short term. However, the West is also more tired now than it was last year, explained Sherr. Several EU states who imposed sanctions on Russia at the cost of their own economies thought that they would have an effect within a few months. It might take a couple of years and thus it is questionable whether or not they will continue to support the policy, Sherr told Hromadske.
In terms of developments in the rest of the region, according to Sherr, it is unlikely that Russia will target Georgia next. Firstly, the Georgians are very astute and secondly, NATO has a much higher profile there so there is more certainty that they will respond. The next two countries will be Moldova and Belarus because they are more vulnerable. Nobody wants to see Putin defeated more than Alexander Lukashenko because he knows if he is not defeated in Ukraine, he will be next, said Sherr.If Moldova is attacked it is far from certain if the EU or NATO will respond. Romania would respond but it is unclear how. At the moment Russia is doing everything to make Moldova dysfunctional, said Sherr. In the Baltic region, furthered Sherr, one of the dangers is miscalculated accident. It is unclear what could happen if a Russian military plane collided with an SAS Boeing, for instance.
Sherr also discussed the question of Ukraine’s energy dependence. According to him, steps have been taken towards making Ukraine more energy efficient. Ukraine is now surviving with a very low level of imports from Russia compared to what it was. However, there is still work to be done improving investor confidence.
One of the worst realities for Ukraine, according to Sherr, is that the system and the culture of power has survived 2 revolutions and is now surviving a war. Things are being achieved in Ukraine primarily because of the civil society which is increasingly strong and self-confident. The state, however, is still a major problem for people “so far much more talk about change than real change.
Hromadske International's Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke with James Sherr on May 28, 2015.