For our November Readers' Review: “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler. As we prepare for holiday gatherings, join Diane and her guests to discuss this master work from the author who has made an art of exploring family love and dysfunction.
Russians are reportedly demanding that Ukrainian forces in Crimea surrender soon or face armed assault. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Ukraine’s capital to meet with the country’s embattled government. Guest host Tom Gjelten and his guests discuss the latest on the situation and how the United States and European Union will respond.
- Steve Pifer senior fellow, Brookings Institution. He served as U. S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000 in the Clinton administration.
- David Herszenhorn correspondent, The New York Times reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.
- Anders Aslund senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics. He examines the economies of Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe.
- Stephen F. Cohen professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, and author of "Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War."
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Russian President Vladimir Putin said today he saw no need to use military force in the Crimea region of Ukraine for now. He made those remarks just before Secretary of State Kerry arrived in Kiev today with an offer of $1 billion in American loan guarantees and pledges of technical assistance.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio to talk about the latest developments in Ukraine: Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute and Steve Pifer of Brookings. Joining me by phone from New York, Stephen Cohen of New York University and Princeton University. So we found that many of you are following the news from Ukraine with great interest. And you can certainly join us in this conversation. Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, you can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, gentlemen.
MR. STEVE PIFERGood morning.
MR. ANDERS ASLUNDMorning.
GJELTENSo I'm going to get to you in a minute. But, first, we're going to go to Crimea to Simferopol where David Herszenhorn, a New York Times correspondent, is standing by. David, are you there? Thanks for joining us.
MR. DAVID HERSZENHORNI'm here. Good to be with you.
GJELTENGood. So, David, this morning, you reported that the prime minister of Crimea is now claiming that the troops loyal to Russia have secured the entire peninsula. What else did he have to say this morning?
HERSZENHORNWell, he said that a number of the Ukrainian military units have been surrendering. Of course, we're not sure that anybody was against each other here. If President Putin says he doesn't see a need to use force, he certainly has used a show of force. Crimea was an autonomous republic, has been since shortly after Ukrainian independence.
HERSZENHORNBut what the prime minister was saying today is that everything is under control, that things are falling into place. They're looking to now speed up a referendum that originally had been scheduled for May 25. Now he said March 30, and that may yet even be sooner for people here on the peninsula to vote, presumably for independence.
GJELTENNow, David, it's, what, 5:00 in the afternoon there right now roughly?
GJELTENAnd you had a -- there was a deadline this morning, 12 hours ago, 5:00 a.m., if I'm not mistaken, where some Russian commanders were demanding that a Ukrainian military unit surrender. That deadline, of course, passed. What happened in that particular standoff there? I think it was near an air base there in Crimea. Is that correct?
HERSZENHORNThat's right, near the Belback Air Base. There was at least the understanding on the side of the Ukrainian forces that they were under this deadline. The deadline came and went. There was no use of force. They weren't attacked. They ended up marching from their location unarmed toward the air (word?) itself and then confronting Russian-backed forces there.
HERSZENHORNIn the end, there were some warning shots fired, but it all ended peacefully, some negotiations, and quite a strange situation. But this has been a strange situation virtually from the beginning, from the moment that the prime minister requested the help of Russia and President Putin, the Kremlin, and quickly said, you know, help securing the Crimean Peninsula would not be ignored. We've seen an incredible show of force.
HERSZENHORNAgain, whatever President Putin said today, back in Moscow, where I'm based, here in Crimea, there are heavily-armed soldiers on the streets in various places. There are surrounding military installations, various security officers, such as the headquarters of the federal border police making quite a show of force assisted by some tough guys wearing arm bands who have declared themselves to be self-defense militias. So there clearly has been a show of force in an effort to demonstrate that in fact these pro-Russia forces are in charge here.
GJELTENWell, David, what's the significance of this Ukrainian unit refusing to surrender? And the -- they have -- they're commanded by a colonel, I understand, who's actually showing quite a bit of courage. I mean, to what extent is that a kind of a kink in the Russian plan? Or is -- or are we making too much of that?
HERSZENHORNYou know, it's hard to know what to make of it because, again, the, you know, Crimea has had autonomy for quite a long time. I was standing outside the local -- the regional parliament today, you know, in the parliament of the autonomous, you know, Republic of Crimea. So independence is a funny notion.
HERSZENHORNYou know, one could argue that this peninsula was more autonomous a week ago before all this started and you had Russian-backed military personnel wandering off the base where they're allowed to be, that Russia has long-leased from Ukraine, spreading out across the peninsula, surrounding, you know, other installations. So it's not quite clear what this means. Folks are not against each other. You know, generally speaking, this is a pro-Russian area. The majority of the population identify themselves as ethnic Russians.
HERSZENHORNThey speak Russian. You know, they're happy to have a very close relationship with Russian. Some are very uneasy about the political events that have transpired in Kiev, in the capital. But, again, it's not clear that the forces that were arriving, that we know have been riding around in Russian vehicles with Russian military license plates on them, were ever really against the Ukrainian forces that they were, you know, portending or seeming to engage.
GJELTENWell, if that's the situation then, if there actually were some violence, if there were -- you said warning shots were fired. But, I mean, if there was actually some bloodshed, that could really destabilize what you describe as being a pretty stable situation up till now.
HERSZENHORNThere's no question. I mean, this is why a lot of us are, you know, standing around wondering, you know, exactly what is transpiring here. It seems to be very much a political show of force by the Russian federation, by President Putin, who, again, remember, going back to November, right, Russia was very effective in preventing Ukraine from signing these political and trade agreements with the European Union that the now-ousted President Yanukovych had promised to sign.
HERSZENHORNAnd from Putin's perspective, he entered a -- won a battle there with soft power, convincing Yanukovych that it was better to tighten ties with Russia, to seek economic aid from Russia, and not do these deals with the West. There's another concern on Russia's part, which, of course, this military base here, which is very important, and the idea that any closer ties would tear up in the West would mean the possibility of NATO expansion into Ukraine.
HERSZENHORNThat's not something that President Putin is willing to even consider or allow the possibility of. So after seeming to best the West in sort of a show of soft power, what we saw transpire in the capital of Kiev was three months of civic unrest, the ousting of President Yanukovych. Certainly in the Kremlin, there's a view that some of that is Western-backed, if not Western-financed. And so here he comes again to say, look, he's just not going to tolerate losing in this battle with the West for influence over Ukraine.
GJELTENFinally, David, you mentioned that this -- a referendum to be held in Crimea, what originally was supposed to be on March 30 may actually get moved up. What do you see as being the significance of that referendum? I mean, we've seen -- you know, we've seen in the Balkans, we've seen in other places referenda being held, and, you know, the impact of it isn't necessarily what you might think. How important would this referendum be? And what would that establish as far as the future of Crimea?
HERSZENHORNWell, it really depends on how this is worded and what the ensuing result is. You know, we've seen that Russia's quite comfortable having these breakaway areas, like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, near Georgia or Transnistria, in Moldova, where it averts its influences, where it's created sort of a breakaway zone that is now in conflict with the country that it was originally a part of. It really depends. Again, Crimea is autonomous to start with. That's the starting point.
HERSZENHORNSo what are they looking for now? Is it independence as a country? Does it become a part of Russia? It really depends on how they word this referendum and what they look for in the way of, you know, Crimean independence. We just don't know exactly yet either when the vote will be or what the net result will be once it's done.
GJELTENOK. David Herszenhorn, I'm sure you have a lot of work to do. You've been doing great things. So you can get back to work now. Thanks very much for joining us.
HERSZENHORNGreat to be with you.
GJELTENAll right. Steve Pifer, you were ambassador to Ukraine in -- from 1998 to 2000. Where did Crimea figure in your sort of view of Ukraine at the time? Was this a kind of considered always a hot spot, a flash point?
PIFERWell, Crimea was the one area of Ukraine where ethnic Russians are in the majority. But, still, even going back to 1991 when Ukraine held its independence referendum, 54 percent of the population of Crimea voted for an independent Ukraine. And I always found, when I visited Ukraine, that, in fact, the relations, you know, were pretty calm. I remember in 1998, we had the commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet came in on his flagship. And we had a chance to talk to both the commander of the Ukrainian Navy and the commander of the Russian Navy.
PIFERAnd I asked the mayor of Sevastopol -- I said, well, you've got these two navies parked in your harbor here. Are there issues? And he said, you know, sometimes there's issues that they raise in Moscow or Kiev, but here on the ground, we work it out, you know. I call my friend, the commander of the Ukraine Navy. I call my friend, the commander of the Russian Navy. And it's a practical way of working out.
PIFERAnd this is, I think, one of the striking things is the pretext for Russia moving (unintelligible) in Crimea last week was there was some threat to ethnic Russians in Crimea. And I think most of us saw no threat whatsoever either to the ethnic Russians or to the Russian military installations in Crimea.
GJELTENAnd what you're saying is certainly consistent with what we just heard from David who said that there was very little sign of outward tension between the Ukrainian and Russian forces there.
PIFERYeah. I mean, I think that's right, although it is a nervous situation where you have Russian military forces encircling Ukrainian installations.
PIFERMy judgment is that the Ukrainian military has behaved with remarkable restraint. You know, they have stayed on their bases. They have not challenged the Russians and such. And I think that's important. But it still is not a situation that leaves you wholly comfortable because one mistake could lead to, you know, something that could spin very quickly out of control.
GJELTENStephen Cohen, the speed and efficiency with which the Russian forces took control of Crimea is certainly impressive. And to some, it might suggest that this was planned well in advance, even perhaps of the events in Maidan -- how -- in Kiev. How do you explain the fact that the Russians have moved so deliberately, so efficiently, so quickly to establish what they've established in Crimea?
DR. STEPHEN F. COHENI imagine they started this planning the moment the Maidan demonstrations in Kiev began to become out of control. That would take us back to November, December. And the reason they did that is, for any Russian leader -- let me repeat that, any Russian leader who had reasonable support in Russia, both in society and the political elite, Crimea is a red line. Putin said that years ago. His successor Medvedev, when he was president, said it years ago, so they laid the plans. And they wanted to see what would happen in Kiev.
DR. STEPHEN F. COHENAnd as you know, it's their view, the Russian view, that there was a coup in Kiev, that the constitutionally-elected president was overthrown. The Russians watched the growing influence of any Russian forces in the streets. They saw increasingly that the street was dictating to the rump parliament. I say rump parliament because they've expelled the two majority parties, the party of Yanukovych and the Ukrainian Communist Party. They saw these anti-Russian forces take control in legislation. And they began...
GJELTENOK. Hold that thought right there, Stephen.
COHENThey began the mobilization.
GJELTENHold that, please. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And, once again, we are looking at the situation in Ukraine with my guests: Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Steve Pifer, director of the Brookings Arms Control and Nonproliferation Initiative. And Steve served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000.
GJELTENAnd on the phone, from his home in New York, Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, and the author of "Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War." And, Stephen, we ran out of time in the -- just before the break. You were making the argument that -- you were making -- you were emphasizing what the Russian view of the situation in Ukraine is. Do you want to just quickly finish your thought?
COHENWell, let me generalize. I don't think we, the United States, have taken into account the Russian view of our policy for the last 20 years, and certainly not in the last three months in Ukraine. Russia, the Kremlin, is viewing the whole of Ukraine through what's happening in Kiev. That's the key. And until we understand or agree that the Russians may have a case about what's happening in Kiev, we won't understand what Putin is doing militarily today.
GJELTENMay have a case in the sense that you think that there's an argument to be made that that coup was unconstitutional and that Yanukovych is still the legitimate president of Ukraine?
COHENYou know, there are different kinds of legitimacy. Yanukovych was a rotter, cowardly and corrupt, but he was democratically elected, like it or not. Remember that, when the protests began, the next presidential election scheduled in Ukraine was one year away. Most of us who believe in democracy would've told the protestors in the streets, hate him all you want, but wait until the next election. That's what we tell the Tea Party in this country about Obama.
COHENBut, instead, encouraged by Washington and Brussels, what happened happened, and it was a coup. I mean, whatever that word means, we have the tape. We have Victoria Nuland, the highest ranking state department official in charge of Ukraine, discussing with the American ambassador in Ukraine the formation of a new government. That's in the constitution illegal.
COHENNow, you could ask international constitutional lawyers what they think. But I'm a political science and a historian, and everything I read in history tells me that was illegal. Now the Russians, of course, do illegal things, too, but they're hanging their hat on this.
GJELTENOK. Anders Aslund, Stephen Cohen says we need to consider that maybe the Russians have a case in their analysis of what happened in Ukraine. Your comments.
ASLUNDWell, first, of course, we should check the facts, and it seems that Stephen Cohen has not checked one single fact. He believes that the region's communist parties were expelled from (unintelligible). There are (unintelligible) regions has voted quite steadily for the new government, for its appointment. And they have got up to 388 out of 450 votes in the parliament. This was a perfectly legal impeachment over President Yanukovych.
GJELTENBut it wasn't an informal impeachment, correct?
ASLUNDIt was a formal impeachment. He was impeached with 328 votes in the parliament. So the strange thing that is not noticed here is that the Ukrainian government is far more democratic and far more legitimate than President Putin. What we are seeing here is a blatant aggression. And how is he justifying this? Well, it claims that we are Nazis and fascist. On the Maidan, nobody has seen any evidence of it. And I hear that Stephen Cohen couldn't be bothered of checking any fact.
GJELTENWell, we'll let Stephen Cohen respond to that in a minute. But you, Steven Pifer, what is your analysis of the opposition in Kiev? And we have heard this over and over again that these are some right wing extremists that were leading this protest.
PIFERNo. I think it's fair to say that there were some right wing groups that the American government probably was uncomfortable with as part of the demonstration. But the people that I've talked to, spent time on the (word?), say, yes, you saw those groups, but they were very much a small minority. And the people that are now in the government, people like Olexander Turchynov, now the acting president as speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, people like Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the acting prime minister, are very much from mainstream parties in Ukraine.
PIFERI think it's unfortunate that the government is not a bit more inclusive. But, in fact, there was an effort made last week to include some members from the party of regions -- this is Mr. Yanukovych's political party -- in the government because I think they recognized that having people who'd be seen as from the east speaking for the east would be helpful for them politically. But my understanding is that the part of regions declined in part, I think, because they looked at the decisions that this government, this cabinet, are going to have to take. And they're going to be very, very painful.
PIFERIn fact, the acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said, I had a kamikaze cabinet because the sorts of economic decisions that we're going to have to take in the next several months mean we're not going to be around very long. So there was an opportunity for regions to be there. They chose not to.
GJELTENWell, Stephen Cohen, what's your response to this? I mean, it is certainly clear from the votes that were taken in parliament that a vast majority of the members of the Ukrainian parliament supported this transition. That's a pretty good indication of legitimacy. Is it not?
COHENWhat was the vote in parliament to oust Yanukovych?
COHENWhat was the vote?
ASLUNDThree-hundred-twenty-eight votes, Steve.
COHENWhat was the vote, Anders?
ASLUNDIt was an impeachment, and 328 vote...
COHENWhat was the vote, Anders?
ASLUNDIt was Saturday, 10 days ago.
COHENI know when it happened, but the vote -- how many people voted against it?
GJELTENYou're saying 328...
COHENNobody, all right. There you go. Have you ever heard of a parliament in those circumstances where nobody voted against something?
ASLUNDYeah, it's very common that you only have extensions on the other side.
COHENAll right. Well, I don't favor serious discussions where one person in the discussion simply denies the facts on the ground. Amb. Pifer is completely right. These people play a role. And our job as analysts is to decide what role they play and how important they are. But the reality is is that when very tough guys with black masks on their face, holding weapons, stand on the floor of a parliament when a vote is taken and nobody voted against the ouster of Yanukovych, you know that's not democracy.
COHENThere is a constitution -- there was a constitution in Ukraine spelling out how impeachment works. And it didn't happen. There are arrest warrants out not only for Yanukovych but for some members of his party. It's simply not the case that this can be called democracy. Now, we can accept it. We can say it's a good thing, and let's discuss that. But let's don't deny what happened.
COHENHere's my position. There is a group in western Ukraine in particular, now represented in the streets and parliament of Ukraine, that can reasonably be called quasi-fascist. They were denounced by the European parliament in December of 2012 as anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and racist. That's the language of the European parliament. That's not my language.
GJELTENNo. But how significant is that...
COHENThe question here -- wait, let me just finish here. The question here -- let me say, I think it's probably 10 percent of the political forces in action. Let's say it's only 5 percent. We know from history that when chaos descends, when the moderates cannot hold the center, which happened in Kiev, that a small group of armed, funded, zealous, ideologically-extreme forces are determined and they think they're backed by the West or somebody else, they can change history.
COHENAnd the question is, is that what we've been observing in Kiev? Now that's a legitimate discussion. But until you enter that fact, you're simply in denial.
GJELTENWell, Stephen Cohen just made the point that moderates could not hold the center in Kiev. Is that the way that you saw it, Steven Pifer?
PIFERNo. I mean, I think that you look at the people who are now occupying the main positions in the cabinet, the acting president. That is very much from the political center of Ukraine. And I guess I would point out, back on Friday, Feb. 21, there was an agreement signed between Mr. Yanukovych and the three heads of the opposition parties, Mr. Klitschko, Mr. Yatsenyuk, and Mr. Tiahnybok. They signed that agreement.
PIFERIt called for creation of a national (word?) government. It called for early elections. It called for adjustment of the constitution to give greater powers to the prime minister and the parliament. And immediately after signing that, Mr. Yanukovych fled.
PIFERSo, in some cases, I look at this as almost an abdication of Yanukovych's power. He literally just...
COHENBut why did he flee?
GJELTENExcuse me, Stephen.
PIFERWe'll have to ask him. I mean, I think at the time when that was signed, the opposition party was prepared to work to that and carry out the agreement as it was designed. And there was no chance to because Mr. Yanukovych left. He disappeared for five days, turned up in Russia. The Russian government has said that they still recognize him as the president. Interestingly enough, it seems like Mr. Putin is determined to keep him at arm's length. I think Yanukovych has abdicated his authority in this case.
GJELTENStephen Cohen, quickly, what do you prescribe going forward? I mean, I think that Steven Pifer has a very important point here, that Yanukovych is basically not even a player anymore. If I'm not mistaken, Putin this morning in his press conference said that his authority is insignificant. So what do you do going forward?
COHENWell, you asked two questions. You asked, how do we go forward, and we can't do that briefly. That's probably an important discussion, but Yanukovych is a political corpse. But he's all Putin's got at the moment, and he's hanging it on international and constitutional law. He's saying that he's still the legitimate president of Ukraine. And you forgot to mention one thing. Suddenly we're told, I think, yesterday, that two days before, on March 1, Yanukovych sent a letter to Putin.
COHENIt was probably written by Putin, for all I know, calling on Putin as the legitimate -- Yanukovych as the legitimate president still of Ukraine, to intervene. Now, they're playing a certain legal game here, and they do have some legal cards to play. But if you want to talk about how to go forward from here, that's a more lengthy discussion.
GJELTENAnd that's where we're going to go right now, Anders Aslund. So Secretary of State John Kerry is in Kiev today. He is apparently bringing an offer to sort of help the Ukrainians pay for energy, to compensate for the loss of discounts that they were receiving from Russia. Yet it doesn't appear that the United States and European countries are all on the same page yet precisely in figuring out where to go from here. How do you assess the situation?
ASLUNDWell, you have two different things. One is what should be done about the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian economy. And the other is how Russia should be constrained. So let me concentrate on what should be done about the Ukrainian economy. Essentially, what President Yanukovych has done is basically committed massive larceny. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has suggested that the previous regime stole $70 billion in the course of four years. The (unintelligible) here is that President Yanukovych himself enriched himself and his family to the tune of $12 billion.
ASLUNDAnd this was essentially taken out of the state budget by various means. And therefore Ukraine has a big budget deficit. And now Ukraine has to count it. And essentially its corrupt subsidies to enterprise is, in particular, gas and coal sector that needs to be capped down. The exchange rate has already been devalued by about 30 percent. And that helps the foreign account. And then Ukraine needs substantial financing in order to keep going.
GJELTENAnders Aslund. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, Anders, you are a real expert in the state-owned enterprises of eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Can Ukraine make this -- could Ukraine make this transition from sort of the vestiges of the old planned economy that are still present to a much more western-oriented economy given the numbers that you were just laying out there?
ASLUNDYeah, it can be done. And Ukraine needs something between 15 and $25 billion in international credits for the next two years. This is manageable. The IMF can provide most of the money and lots of western countries, as the U.S. has now showed already, to put up the rest. And if you look up on the economy, Ukraine has a booming agriculture.
ASLUNDThe bread basket has come back with private ownership of the big farms and family farms. The old steel sector, which used to be the backbone of economy, that is declining. So for exports, about one-third of the export now comes from agriculture. It's likely less from steel while steel used to be all dominant.
ASLUNDAnd with the European market opening up, it's 10 times bigger than the Russian market. Then the Ukrainian economy could really boom. And the E.U/ can assist with reforming the state institutions in Ukraine as the U.S. stands so effectively in the central and eastern Europe that has now become part of European Union.
GJELTENSteve Pifer, given what Anders Aslund just laid out, is it really up to Europe now to sort of guide western policy on Ukraine going forward given the much closer economic links between Ukraine and Europe and between the United States and Ukraine for example?
PIFERYeah, and I would also say, if you go back and look what started this crisis back in November, it was Ukrainian's demonstrating originally because they were unhappy that Mr. Yanukovych had said he was going to suspend signature of an association agreement with the European Union. And I think it's right to have the European Union out front. It's not good to make this a U.S.-Russia fight.
PIFERAnd the Europeans can lead in several things. I think, immediately, you could do things like run -- yesterday, they talked at organization for security and cooperation of Europe -- put OSC monitors on the ground in Ukraine to establish the facts. I think what I've seen coming out of Moscow suggests almost an organized propaganda effort there. It simply does not reflect the reality. Let's have neutral observers in there who can say what's happening.
PIFERSecond point is, can you de-escalate the military actions, keep the Russian troops on their basis, pull back so that they're not confronting Ukrainians across the gate? And then, third, find some kind of way to start a dialogue between Moscow and Kiev to begin to take more of a political process for -- that resolves this question.
PIFERAnd Europe could be very helpful on that.
GJELTENStephen Cohen, could you explain one thing quickly to us? And that is the Russian -- Putin has suggested information of something called the Eurasian Union, you know, which would presumably be guided by some kind of Eurasianism ideology. What is behind that?
COHENWell, Eurasianism is an old Russian idea. It goes back to the 19th century. It's become popular. Russia sits between the east and the west. So geographically it has logic. It's idea in Putin's mind is to create an economic union of those former Soviet Republics to which Russia has been intimately involved, economically, politically, culturally, and don't forget through intermarriage, for centuries.
COHENNow, some people say it's Putin's attempt to recreate the Soviet Union. I think that's nonsense. He's trying to create a counterpart to the European Union and he's proposed that eventually they would become economic partners. But can I just add one point? And it's very brief, and it's very general. If you read Putin's press conference yesterday, you realize that we have two completely different and conflicting narratives about what led to this crisis.
COHENAnd it is a crisis that means that we're probably going to have the equivalent of the Berlin divide of the old Cold War now right on Russia's borders. And this will affect our lives for decades and decades to come.
COHENThat's the dimension. Now unless we can reconcile those two narratives of how we got here, if we listen carefully to the Russian side and they listen to our side, this crisis can be ended.
COHENBut nobody's listening to the other side at the moment.
GJELTENStephen Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University. We have to take a short break here. We'll be right back, and then we'll go to the phones. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And we're taking another look at the situation in the Ukraine. Just before the break, you heard from Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University. My other two guests are Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Steve Pifer, director of the Brookings Arms Control and Nonproliferation Initiative, and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
GJELTENHe served there from 1998 to 2000. A couple of emails here that make a similar point. First of all, Luke writes, "Let's outline the terms. There was a choice between the Ukraine following Russia or E.U. economically. Who in their right mind would take the Russian route? Yes, this uprising wasn't probably legal or upholding the Ukrainian constitution. But, come on, the whole future of the nation either being modern wealthy state like the E.U. or a backwater second-world Russian junk yard was at stake."
GJELTENAlso Jim from McClain, Va. writes, "Didn't the E.U. and Obama cause the Ukraine crisis by not upping the ante against Russia last fall to get Ukraine to sign up with the E.U.?" Stephen Cohen, I want you to take this question again, briefly. There was this moment where it seemed that Yanukovych had to decide between going toward Europe or going toward Russia.
GJELTENAfter first indicating that he was inclined to sign this agreement with the European Union, he then went to Russia. Going back to that moment, which precipitated this whole chain of events, what was the proper course of action of Yanukovych? Did he bring this on himself by not signing that agreement? Did the United States and Europe bring this on themselves by not offering him better terms?
COHENGood. The Bible tells us that when we cease to be children, we put aside childish things. The reality in November -- this is the moment you're referring to, when Yanukovych declined to sign the E.U. agreement. That agreement was attended by two circumstances that are never reported in this country, but the Russians knew them. One, if you read the agreement -- it's about 1,000 pages -- that outwardly was reported as merely a civilizational economic accord, it included military -- they're called security issues.
COHENAnd if you read those security issues that the E.U. was offering to Ukraine, it appears to have obliged Ukraine to abide by NATO policy. The Russians read these, and they saw that agreement as more NATO expansion. Second, at that moment in November -- and I'm looking at the Russian Foreign Office dispatches from the moment. Putin and Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said to Washington and Brussels, why must you confront Ukraine with an either/or proposition at this moment?
COHENWe, Russia, are prepared to join with the West in a bailout -- a kind of mini-Marshall Plan -- of Ukraine. And that was rejected in the West. We said to Ukraine at that moment, choose between Europe and Russia. Now, I know what Anders is going to say. He's going to say that it would be impossible to combine economic aid from Russia and the West because it implied adhering to the Eurasian zone of Putin and the European zone.
COHENBut that decision could have been postponed. The Western rejection of Putin's offer for a two-way solution to the Ukraine led us to where we are today. Plus, those military provisions. Now, that's a reality.
GJELTENAnders, without necessarily taking the premise of Stephen Cohen's point here, was there a moment, or was there a time when the United States and Europe could have improved the offer to Ukraine or modified it in some way, perhaps to make it more attractive to Ukraine, to Yanukovych and perhaps less odious to Putin?
ASLUNDNo. I don't think so. I think that the West acted exactly rightly. The West -- and that particularly the European Union in this case -- stood by European or you would say universal values. What were at issue in (word?) in November, it was first that Europe insisted on the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko being left out. That is, you can't put the opposition leader into prison. That's a matter of democracy.
ASLUNDThe second point was that Yanukovych wanted to maintain the control over the judicial system. And the European Union was not prepared to give in on that point. And the money, I think, is totally tertiary. It was not the big thing. So the real issue here is, do we want to have (word?) and corruption and together with authoritarianism?
ASLUNDThese are the issues, and I note the Steve Cohen avoid this all the time. That's the real issue. The leader in this area is, of course, President Putin and President Yanukovych was more brazen but less successful.
GJELTENSteve Pifer, do you want to weigh in on this?
PIFERYeah, I would disagree with Steve Cohen on two points. First of all, the either/or choice was really put to the Ukrainians by Moscow. Going back to 2010, Yanukovych was actually pretty clear. He wanted to have it both ways. He wanted to draw closer to Europe, do the association agreement, while at the same time having a stable constructive relationship with the Russians. But it was the Russians who basically said, you can't do both. You have to make a choice.
PIFERThe second point is I'm just not sure what Steve Cohen is talking about with regards to these military protocols in the association agreement. It's very odd on its face that the European Union would be asking if countries, such as Ukraine, to adopt NATO-like policies when the European Union includes a number of countries that are neutral states that are not members of NATO and that would also probably not be undertaking those actions themselves. So I'm just not sure what he's talking about here.
GJELTENWell, we could very easily get into the weeds here with analysis of this document that was never signed. And we're having a very lively discussion here, but I do want to bring our listeners in on the conversation. John is on the line from Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, John. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNGood morning and thank you very much for taking my call. I'd like to focus on a couple of things and then perhaps raise a question. In my judgment, we made some very serious mistakes in the 1990s, and we're repeating the process of making mistakes. Let me focus a little bit on the issue of the interim government where I find myself more sympathetic to Stephen Cohen's position. The language legislation that was passed -- and now I understand, repealed -- outlawing the use of Russian in the Ukraine, I think, illustrates two important things.
GJELTENI don't think it outlawed it. I think it sort of demoted it.
JOHNAll right. Demoted. It outlawed…
PIFERAnd it was vetoed by the president.
JOHN…use as official language. That's what I meant.
JOHNAnd it did do that. I think it illustrates two important things. One, the interim government is not representative. Two, there is a real danger for the Ukrainian Russian population. And for my perspective, our strident Russian-phobic response is not helpful. The real question is, what should we do that would be a win-win situation for all parties? And I don't think we're reacting very stridently. I don't think we're giving attention to that. Let me focus a little bit on the economics thing because I disagree with Anders Aslund on one point. I think the Ukrainians should default.
JOHNAnd I think that economic assistance should be direct assistance, otherwise they're going to get into the Greek syndrome and it's going to be a mess.
GJELTENOK. John, I'm going to put that first question to Steve Pifer. Do you think that there's anything to be made for the case that Russian interests in Ukraine, in the fervor of this Ukrainian nationalist wave, were -- even for a moment -- in jeopardy?
PIFERI don't think so. I think if you look at Eastern Ukraine, there are many people in Eastern Ukraine who I am sure are not fully comfortable with what's happened in Kiev in the last 10 days, but you haven't seen an outburst of enthusiasm in Eastern Ukraine for separatism or for drawing back towards Russia. And part of it that's important to remember is that in Eastern Ukraine the majority population is still ethnic Ukrainian. So I think there is the opportunity here for Ukraine to find its way forward.
PIFERI agree with the caller. I wish that the government was more inclusive, but again, I'm not sure that that was the government's fault. It was the decision by members of the party regents not to join the government, which prevented regents from having spokesmen from the East. I think that was a very calculated political decision, as regents did not want to be in a government that was going to have to make some very tough economic decisions.
GJELTENOK. Let's go now to Wallace, who's on the line from -- where are you calling from, Wallace? Are you there?
WALLACEYes. I'm calling from Raleigh, N.C.
GJELTENOK. Thanks for calling.
WALLACESure. It seems to be interesting to compare Putin's actions in the Crimea with Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938. I think that dialog would be a very slippery slope for Putin, since he would be having to defend why his actions are not equivalent to what Hitler did.
GJELTENWell, actually, that comparison has been made a number of times. Anders Aslund, you're nodding your head vigorously here.
ASLUNDYeah, I think it's a very good point. If you look up on what happened, Sudetenland looks comparatively much more legal because that was done with an international agreement.
GJELTENThe annexation of Austria's (unintelligible)…
ASLUNDThe Sudetenland was more legal than the attack now on Crimea. Here, first Russian troops take over the parliament without any signs on them, but obviously Russian troops. They appoint a prime minister for Crimea from a party that got 4 percent in the last regional election on Crimea. So this is a real Russian (unintelligible). And then massive numbers of Russian forces come in. Russia violated at least half a dozen of ratified international treaties, bilateral, multilateral, and European treaties.
ASLUNDAnd I don't think that was the case with Sudetenland. In Sudetenland, there was a real separatist force. Unfortunately, here, that was not apparent. So this looks very bad indeed in that comparison.
GJELTENStephen Cohen, I'm sorry to keep putting you in the situation of having to justify Russian actions here. But I do want to give you a chance to respond to this analogy because it has been made a number of times, that what the Russians did in Crimea is analogous to what Hitler did in the Sudetenland in 1938.
COHENI'm not going there, and I'll tell you why. The cover issue of The Nation Magazine is my article called, "Distorting Russia." The premise is that we so demonize Putin that it's jeopardizing our national security. I'm a patriot of American national security. But the moment people begin implying that Putin is Hitler -- and in Anders' rendering about the legality of the Sudetenland, he's implying that Hitler was better than Putin because he had some legal ground.
COHENI'm just not going there. There's no discussion to be had. That jeopardizes our national security in ways you can hardly imagine. And if we're not going to have a discussion about who Putin really is, whether or not Russia as a nation state has any legitimate interests in this dispute, then you're just talking about war. That's what you're talking about. Because, you know, what's the lesson of Hitler? Got to go to war right away, or it's appeasement.
ASLUNDSorry. Putin has started the war, Steve. It's not of the U.S. It's Putin. And then you have to face up to it.
PIFERYeah. Could I ask a question? I mean, I just…
GJELTENGo ahead, Steve Pifer.
PIFERBecause I'm looking at say, you know, going back to 1991, Russian interests I thought were actually fairly well protected in Ukraine. The Ukrainians have allowed Russia to maintain military facilities in Sevastopol, elsewhere in Crimea. That was agreed in the 1997 Basin Agreement. They've extended that now until 2042. I think, after flirtation with NATO in 2008, it's pretty clear -- and I say this as one who argued that Ukraine (word?) a membership action plan from NATO in 2008.
PIFERI've come to the conclusion that Ukrainians don't want to join NATO. And that's fine. But the European Union is not NATO. So I think that Ukraine has tried to take account of Russian concerns, but it appears that Mr. Putin wants more.
GJELTENSteve Pifer is director of the Brookings Arms Control Initiative at Brookings. And I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." OK. We have an email here from Allen in Florida who says, "There is another shoe to drop, if Putin decides to take the rest of Eastern Ukraine." Does anybody have any thoughts on that?
COHENYeah, I have a thought on it.
GJELTENOK, Stephen Cohen.
COHENBecause of the strident -- as your first caller described it -- language of the West -- and, by the way, you might want to ask what Kerry's really doing in Kiev. I don't think the professed statement of that mission is the whole story.
COHENBut if this strident commentary in the West continues and it includes proposals in the United States Congress and the European Union to move NATO forces to the Polish Ukrainian border, the west Ukrainian border of Poland, then Putin will remobilize his 150,000 troops, which are still in Russia, and he will move into eastern and southern Ukraine. That would be the tripping point.
GJELTENAnd you would blame the United States for that move?
COHENI would blame history or God, depending on how you see these things. There's not one Ukraine. There's probably three or four. But there are certainly two, one with an affinity to Russia, one with an affinity to the West. And this has become militarized. And I believe it's become militarized because of what happened in Kiev. And I think the United States and Brussels played a leading role in that.
COHENAnd Putin is being, as he's always being, reactive. And, by the way, as the leader of Russia, he really didn't have much of a choice. There's pressure on him in Moscow. There's pressure on him in Ukraine. And there's the tag line that is all across the Russian press today, if Putin loses Crimea, he will go down in infamy as a Russian leader. I mean, there is a politician Russia...
GJELTENWell, it doesn't really appear that he's on the verge of losing Crimea, does it?
COHENI beg your pardon?
GJELTENI said it certainly doesn't appear he's on the verge of losing Crimea.
COHENBut how clear…
PIFERAnd he wasn't going to lose it a week ago.
COHENHow clear was that a week ago?
GJELTENYeah. We don't know what John Kerry said or did in Ukraine just yet, although we did just get a tweet from him. He said he made a visit to the Shrine of the Fallen Courageous. And he said, "We stand with Ukrainians for self-determination." Anders, I'm going to let you make a point.
ASLUNDYeah, I wanted to make the point that the big good news today is that the Russian troops have withdrawn. I had really expected that there would be an invasion. All of the signs of Russian stooges trying to take regional headquarters was there and the hard Russian propaganda that Steve apparently believes in. But why did it happen? I would suggest that it was the massive collapse on the Russian stock market yesterday that did it.
ASLUNDThe stock market fell by 12 percent, and today, after Putin announced that he withdraws the troops, the stock market went up to 6 percent. So this is good news. Russia's part of a global economy, and it can't misbehave as much as President Putin would really like to.
GJELTENBut that troop withdrawal had really nothing to do or very little to do with Crimea, at least except in perhaps in some message-sending sense. I mean, that was not in Crimea. It was in Russian territory.
ASLUNDIndeed. Crimea is one-tenth of the Ukrainian territory. This was the question, if Russia would go in for a broader attack on Ukraine. We had all the signs there. There were big Russian organized attacks on the regional headquarters in seven southern and eastern cities. And all the noises were made for an invasion. And it didn't happen as yet.
GJELTENOK. We're going to have to leave it there. Anders Aslund is senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics. My other guests were Steve Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, from 1998 to 2000, and Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University. I'd like to thank you all for listening. Thanks to our callers. I'm Tom Gjelten.
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