Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Does Russia Really Need Ukraine?

| February 25, 2014

As the triumphant soldiers of Ukraine’s protest movement savor their victory on the streets and squares of Kiev, their commanders probably can’t help wondering how the Kremlin will respond to the ouster of Ukraine’s ‘pro-Russian’ president Viktor Yanukovych. Vladimir Putin has condemned the forceful seizure of power in Ukraine and suspended promised purchase of Ukrainian bonds. But the question remains: will Russia’s strongman get actively involved in the chaos of Ukrainian politics as he did back during the previous Ukrainian evolution when he rallied for Yanukovych?

I would argue there is no real need for the Russian leadership to get entangled in the Ukrainian quandary in an attempt to influence who becomes its next leader as long as Russia’s interests there—including the safety of ethnic Russians and the presence of the Black Sea fleet in the Crimea—are not threatened. In fact, Putin may even benefit if Yanukovych’s arch-foe Yulia Tymoshenko—who has been released from prison and already announced she would participate in the 2014 presidential elections—became the next leader of Ukraine. After all, she was the one who agreed to buy gas from Putin, as Ukraine's premier in 2009, at exorbitant prices, making Kiev even more vulnerable to economic pressure from Moscow.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has famously observed that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” Both proponents of the restoration of the Russian empire in Moscow and their Western opponents—who favor playing lower-budget versions of the Grand Game in the post-Soviet neighborhood—probably agree with such a proposition.


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For Academic Citation: Saradzhyan, Simon.“Does Russia Really Need Ukraine?.” The National Interest, February 25, 2014.

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