This is a guest post by Zachary Selden, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida and former Deputy Secretary General for Policy at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
There is a lot of commentary out there on Ukraine right now, but there is not a lot being said about Russian foreign policy interests. From 2003-2011, I spend a lot of time in the NATO world dealing with Russian diplomats and politicians. I remember sitting across the table from Deputy PM Dimitry Rogozin back when he was the Russian ambassador to NATO. I remember all too many meetings with Russian Duma members where they played out conspiracy theories that would make a 9-11 Truthers meeting look thoughtful and balanced. I’m no Russia expert, but I think I have some insight.
First, what do they really want? Its pretty simple: Russia wants to politically and economically control the “near abroad” and weaken any potential competitor for influence in the region. No secret there. Against that scorecard, they are doing well at the moment. Even if Russia does nothing more in Ukraine’s east, they have effectively blocked Ukraine from closer association with the EU and NATO. Why? Because neither NATO nor the EU is going to take in a state with territorial disputes. If you want to make an EU official break out in hives, just whisper “Cyprus” in his ear and watch the itching begin. Russia’s actions in Georgia effectively block them from joining NATO, so the strategy works. Russia now effectively holds a trump card over any western-oriented Ukrainian government that wants to move closer toward western institutions.