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Mulvey 1
Dylan Mulvey
Professor Ferraro
World Politics
12 March 2015
The Realist Perspectives of the Crisis in Ukraine
In ...
Mulvey 2
under de facto Russian control, the peninsula serves as the home base for the Russian navy's Black Sea
Fleet. Add...
Mulvey 3
“unequal gains” (Class Syllabus, Korab-Karpowicz). As such, the structural realist would interpret the
policies o...
Mulvey 4
prepared for conflict. Structural realism views Putin's challenge to Ukraine's political integrity as being
purel...
Mulvey 5
Works Cited
Ferraro, Vincent. “Classical Realism.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. 29 January 2015. Lecture....
Mulvey 5
Works Cited
Ferraro, Vincent. “Classical Realism.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. 29 January 2015. Lecture....
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The Realist Perspectives of the Crisis in Ukraine

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The Realist Perspectives of the Crisis in Ukraine

  1. 1. Mulvey 1 Dylan Mulvey Professor Ferraro World Politics 12 March 2015 The Realist Perspectives of the Crisis in Ukraine In early 2014, mass protests swept across Ukraine in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russian stance. The protesters, largely in favor of aligning Ukraine with the West, ousted Yanukovych who was then forced exile in Russia. After an election held several months later, the new President Petro Poroshenko was sworn into office. Unfortunately for Ukraine, this was not the end of the turmoil as many parts of its country began to declare secession, including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia following a shaky referendum, as well as the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Amidst a civil war, more problems came for Ukraine when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his support to the secessionist movements and accepted the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation. In regards to international relations, a classical realist would interpret Putin's policy as being offensive and driven for power, while a structural realist would interpret Putin's policy as being more defensive in search of security. For a classical realist, it is the flawed nature of humans and the inherently flawed systems run by them that form the fundamental cause of war (Class Lecture, 29 January 2015). As such, a classical realist would view Putin's policy in Ukraine as a result of innate violent tendencies that led the Russian President to work to assure Russian influence and domination over the country for his country's “power” and “interests” (Course Syllabus, Korab-Karpowicz). For Russia, the unique geopolitical position held by Ukraine makes it valuable to Russian interests. In the case of Crimea, which is now
  2. 2. Mulvey 2 under de facto Russian control, the peninsula serves as the home base for the Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet. Additionally, the region has a population of approximately 60% ethnic Russians and strong historical ties to Russian leading back to the 18th century (Adam Taylor). By placing Crimea once again under Russian control, Putin is gaining for himself the image of a strong leader at home and prestige for the country among certain members of the international community, if at the cost of a bit of infamy. Putin is also following in accordance with another one of the classical realist principles: the “balance of power.” The “balance of power” dictates that states prefer to increase their power by diplomatic outlets first and then, when all else fails, proceed to take military action (Class Syllabus, Morton Kaplan). This is precisely what Putin is doing in regards to the recent negotiations with himself and the leaders of Germany, France, and Ukraine (Chris Johnston). From the perspective of a classical realist, Putin would take advantage of these negotiations to quell the threat of the Western powers throwing their financial support to Ukraine, all the while maintaining the gains he had already acquired over the past year. However, if the negotiations did fall through, that would mean the fighting in eastern Ukraine would continue, to which German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented, “I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily,” which indicates that Putin presumably has the upper hand and will further advance his interests in the region, likely taking what he can of the pro-Russian east, either through cession or a satellite (Chris Johnston). The view of the classical realist seems to promote the notion that Putin's role in the crisis in Ukraine is motivated wholly by his innate human affinity for violence and lust for power. Although it heavily draws upon classical realism and is in many respects similar to it, structural realism modifies the classical view on international relations by putting an emphasis on the anarchic character of world politics (Class Lecture, 29 January 2015). Because of the anarchic order that perpetuates throughout international conflict, states are faced with the issues of “insecurity” and fear of
  3. 3. Mulvey 3 “unequal gains” (Class Syllabus, Korab-Karpowicz). As such, the structural realist would interpret the policies of Putin as being preemptive and in the interest of his state's security. For example, in reference to the crisis in Ukraine, Putin asserts his support of the pro-Russian rebels because losing Ukraine to the West would be a disaster for Russia amidst a post-Soviet era in which the European Union and NATO continue to admit members nearer and nearer to Russia's borders, many of whom had been allies of or even a part of the Soviet Union. Faced with a clear challenge to its security, Russian, under the leadership of Putin, had to prevent the loss of its naval base in Crimea, first and foremost, and then issue support to the pro-Russian rebels in the hopes that they would break away and form a new government friendly to Russia that could serve as a buffer. Putin's opposition of the EU and NATO further reflects the realist notion of a “balance of power”, in which one of the rules declares that states will work against alliances that grow too powerful (Class Syllabus, Morton Kaplan). The structural realist clearly views Russia as being on the defensive as it fears Western influence over Ukraine will threaten its security. As for the recent meeting amongst Putin and the representatives from Europe and Ukraine, a structural realist would presume the meeting would take a turn for the worst and, highly likely, war. This pessimistic view of the diplomatic venture stems from the structural realist belief that, because of the anarchic nature international relations, powers live in a constant state of paranoia and “afraid that the possible gains resulting from cooperation may favor other states more than itself, and thus lead it to dependence on others” (Class Syllabus, Korab-Karpowicz). The Russian Federation is left in something of a prisoner's dilemma in which cooperation between the two belligerents, although preferable to the alternative of a war, is impossible because of the fear that the other side will not follow through on their side of the deal. In reference to the recent negotiations, this would mean that Putin would be cautious and reluctant to make a deal because, if he let his guard down and had the pro- Russian side disarm and demobilize, the other side could at a later date fall through on their agreement and impose their demands, leaving Putin in a difficult position as Russia and the rebels would be less
  4. 4. Mulvey 4 prepared for conflict. Structural realism views Putin's challenge to Ukraine's political integrity as being purely for the well-being of his nation's security and defense. Overall, the structural view of realism seems to be the most compelling explanation of Vladimir Putin's role in the recent turmoil in Ukraine. Despite the fact that Putin's policies may come across as being incessant power grabs, it is imperative to recognize the geopolitical situation Russia is currently facing. With its sphere of influence slowly being absorbed into the West over the past few decades, Putin is working to assure the security of his state by maintaining a border area between Russia and the West, as well as preserving the well-being of his navy in the Black Sea. Any difficulties perceived by the West regarding the negotiations must be carefully viewed because it is paramount for Russia to reach an agreement in which they are able to sustain their security. The anarchic system puts Putin in a unprivileged position in which his state must endure against an ever-growing coalition of unfriendly states which it has conflicting interests with. Although it is undeniable that Putin is looking for his state's interests, it is necessary to look at this event through a structural realist's lens because this challenge of Ukraine's autonomy is not an opportunistic attempt to increase power, but rather a calculated effort to preserve the status quo and guarantee the security of the Russian state.
  5. 5. Mulvey 5 Works Cited Ferraro, Vincent. “Classical Realism.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. 29 January 2015. Lecture. Johnston, Christopher. "Ukraine Crisis Will Not Be Solved by Military Means, Says Angela Merkel." theguardian.com. The Guardian, 07 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. Kaplan, Morton A. System and Process in International Politics. (New York, 1957). Korab-Karpowicz, W. Julian. "Political Realism in International Relations". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Taylor, Adam. "To Understand Crimea, Take a Look Back at Its Complicated History." washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
  6. 6. Mulvey 5 Works Cited Ferraro, Vincent. “Classical Realism.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. 29 January 2015. Lecture. Johnston, Christopher. "Ukraine Crisis Will Not Be Solved by Military Means, Says Angela Merkel." theguardian.com. The Guardian, 07 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. Kaplan, Morton A. System and Process in International Politics. (New York, 1957). Korab-Karpowicz, W. Julian. "Political Realism in International Relations". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Taylor, Adam. "To Understand Crimea, Take a Look Back at Its Complicated History." washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

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