The war in Ukraine is entering a new stage. Although the shelling has stopped as of earlier this month, Russian troops in our country are attempting to implement Vladimir Putin's strategy of undermining Ukraine's independence and freedom. In response to this aggression, Ukraine mobilized its people, built up its military and is now holding the line between Putin and Europe. In doing so Ukraine has demonstrated that it can be an actor on the world stage.
However, we cannot effectively withstand the full force of Russian aggression if we fail to clearly comprehend the scope of the events and understand the place and role of our struggle in the global context. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has a complex and long-term character. Together with military conflicts in the Middle East, instability in Northern Africa, growing tension in relations between China on the one hand and Japan and Vietnam on the other, as well as aggressive provocation of DPRK against South Korea, the war in eastern Ukraine is a symptom of the crisis of the global system of international security and increasing destabilization of world order more broadly.
Very likely, in the near future these conflicts will intensify and create new zones of instability that may require increasing direct or indirect military involvement of such countries as the U.S., EU member-states, China, the Russian Federation, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran among others.
These threatening tendencies can bring the world to the brink of a worldwide armed conflict that could translate into a full-scale war involving the use of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction, or a welter of smaller conflicts of varying intensity. In either case, the result would be the creation of a new world disorder.
For Ukraine this means the possibility of being dragged into a continental war, the likelihood of which increases because of the militaristic psychosis enveloping the Russian Federation. This militarist insanity intensifies due to the Kremlin's complete incapacity to solve urgent domestic political, economic and social problems without the employment of imperial-chauvinistic rhetoric and the creation of phantom external enemies. In contemporary Russia, psychological hang-ups and propaganda clichés of Stalin's USSR are whimsically intertwined with stereotypes from Hitler's Germany: a notion of "besieged fortress" is surreally combined with allegations of "back-stabbing" by "treacherous traitors." From the TV screens, billionaires talk about the need to maintain the social standards of workers at Uralvagonzavod at the same time as bureaucrats and clergy proselytize Russian exceptionalism and superiority.
Simultaneously, Putin's regime is quickly relinquishing its vestigial "democratic facade" and employing increasingly more totalitarian practices of governing society and state. Integral to this process is the infringement of economic freedoms, the shrinking of the free market and Russia's tendency toward self-isolation from the global markets, which will further deepen its economic crisis, technological backwardness and social degradation. An apt example of the economic and social insanity engulfing Russia is its current battle on the "sanctioned produce." Russian media proudly report from the front lines of this "war" about the burning of Ukrainian ducklings and the crushing with bulldozers of Spanish peaches.
The processes of deep economic isolation and social degradation in Russia that started decades ago and have only intensified since the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine in February 2014, will yield, in the near future, a sharp weakening and profound destabilization of the Russian Federation. Current processes and tendencies in Russia bear an uncanny resemblance to those that took place in the late USSR. The absence of rational motivation for development, the monopolization and harsh administrative handling of the economy, the despotism of military and security structures, the hyper-centralization of power and the lack of alternatives to personalized decision making at the top: this entire Stalinist skeleton of the Soviet empire could not withstand the consistent and coordinated political and economic pressure of the West at the end of the previous century. Their firm position, combined with the complex of sanctions and restrictions of the Cold War, allowed the leading democracies of the world to prevail over the Evil Empire. The Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen states, Germany was reunited and Eastern Europe liberated from Soviet imperial clutches. However, concerned with preserving the Soviet nuclear inheritance, the West tried to prevent further disintegration of the remnants of the empire.
By lifting all restrictions, extending credits and helping Russia overcome its technological backwardness, the West created conditions for socio-economic stabilization of the Russian Federation, allowed it to cruelly snuff out the national liberation movement in the Caucasus and take under full control all multinational constituents of the Federation. However, the Russian Federation failed to adapt to the democratic rules of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Putin's third presidential term has clearly underscored the dominant political trait of today's Russia: the ideology of imperial revanchism. In his attempt to fit Russia into the "Procrustean bed" of the old empire, Putin is leading the country toward an irreversible collapse by launching processes similar to those that precipitated the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Aggression, degradation, decline and collapse - this is the pattern confirmed by the history of many empires and which in today's world will only transpire at an accelerated pace. Therefore, there is a real possibility that Russia may cease to exist in it present borders.
Indeed, the pull of the regions away from the Moscow center is growing. Take the North Caucasus, for example. Although the Chechen boss Ramzan Kadyrov outwardly acts as a loyal vassal of Putin, his loyalty is only as deep as the hefty financial support he receives from Moscow. In real terms, the Chechen republic is de facto independent: the Russian law-enforcement agencies must ask Kadyrov's permission to operate on the Chechen territory and the Russian legal system is being gradually replaced by Sharia law. Skirmishes and tensions continue in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Federal Security Service, successor of the KGB, keeps close tabs on the national liberation movements of the Chuvash, Mari, Tatar, Bashkir and the Volga peoples. For instance, in July 2015 a Bashkir man, Airat Dilmukhametov, was sentenced to three years of hard labor for publishing an article on the internet calling his people to struggle for their freedom. Such harsh punishments are an indicator of the growing apprehension of the Russian security structures.
The Urals, Siberia and the Far East all have a rich history and ancient traditions of statehood. In August 2014, Novosibirsk and other Siberian cities were engulfed by a wave of popular protests calling for restoration of sovereignty in these lands. It is hardly coincidental that the direct Russian military intrusion into eastern Ukraine happened exactly at the same time.
Economic decline gave rise to renewed calls for sovereignty in the Kaliningrad oblast, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. The citizens of the northern region of Karelia repeatedly compare their impoverished state to the flourishing in the neighboring and ethnically kindred Finland.
Additional tensions arise from the continued labor migration from China to Siberia and the Russian Far East, the Chinese lease of large tracts of Russian soil, as well as thousands of kilometers of border dividing vast sparsely populated Russian lands from heavily populated China.
In August 2015, one of the few remaining independent Russian analysts, Vladislav Inozemtsev, published an article titled "Impossibility of Disintegration" which attests to deep anxieties of the Russian establishment about territorial integrity. The impending catastrophe is occupying the minds of pragmatic members of the Russian elite. It is time the world prepared for it as well. The future of the Russian nuclear arsenal is the key question of the global security, which must be solved in close cooperation of all nuclear weapons states. It is not too late to start discussing safe and controlled dismantlement of the nuclear legacy of the former empire.
The more complicated the situation inside Russia, the more aggressive its foreign policy will become. It is this tendency that explains Kremlin's persistent attempts to get involved in the complex processes in the Middle East. In his desire to prop up his fellow dictator Syrian president Bashar al Assad, Putin increases Russian military presence in the eastern Mediterranean under the hypocritical cover of struggle against the Islamic State.
All of this will only exacerbate destructive processes within Russia. Such destabilization and agony will inevitably translate into profound and unpredictable deterioration of the security situation within the Russian Federation as well as along its borders. These are challenges of global scope and our country stands at their epicenter. In short- and medium-term, the security threats facing Ukraine stem from a complex combination of both internal and external challenges. The reaction to these threats must also have a systemic character: they must be countered with common mission and under united leadership while making flexible use of all available forces and methods of political, diplomatic, military, economic and informational struggle.
Taking into consideration Russia's chosen paradigm of aggression, combined with its political and economic situation, the Ukrainian state must prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Putin has taken to threatening the democratic world with his military, and in particular with his nuclear arsenal. In mid-August, Russian strategic air force held exercises that honed nuclear missile strikes on the Straits of Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and practiced blockading the entrance of the U.S. Navy into the Black Sea. In September, the Russian military is due to hold another set of large-scale exercises of strategic armed forces, this time involving the entire Russian nuclear triad.
The leading democratic countries must understand that this totalitarian-militaristic agony and the ensuing collapse of the Russian Federation are inevitable processes. They must accept this calmly and rationally without aiding Russia in prolonging this agony. Democratic nations must adjust their medium-term plans to provide for isolation of this country. Accordingly, harsh sanctions must be viewed not as a temporary campaign but as a coherent policy that facilitates conditions for the self-destruction of the remnants of the aggressive empire.
Undoubtedly, in order to prevent the spread of Russia's self-defeating bellicosity and provocations, NATO must be considerably strengthened by erecting a formidable barrier along its entire eastern flank. Ukraine, which has been bravely countering the aggressive designs of the Kremlin, has an important role to play in this process. Therefore, reinforcing Ukraine's military and technological capacity contributes to the renewal of peace and security on the entire European continent. It also reasserts a world order that rests not on nuclear might but on reasonable, responsible and predictable behavior of the leading democracies of the world.
Ukraine acknowledges with gratitude the political and economic support extended by our strategic partners in this difficult time. We hope that this support will continue and translate into further dismantlement of barriers to military and technological cooperation and the recognition of our right to pursue European integration, a path chosen by the Ukrainian people.
Ukraine has many problems that it must tackle on its own. Neither Europeans, nor Americans can overcome the corruption that plagues us and the temptation to substitute painful systemic reforms with flashy PR presentations. Only we Ukrainians can build for ourselves a functioning modern, efficient state, strong army, effective police, just courts and a stable competitive economy.
The most vitally important task for Ukraine is the acceleration of the reform of security and defense sectors-in particular, military reform.
Once again these are challenges of a global character, since the stakes are not simply about reforming and modernizing one country, but about our capacity to formulate a new security order by reforming a number of international organizations in which Ukraine participates and which are now in a state of deep crisis.
Ukraine must become one of the key players in the region, the one establishing effective formats of operational interaction with the states that are potential objects of Russian aggression.
Ukraine's development must be based on practical implementation of humanistic values of the new Europe and the open world which counterweights the belligerent and authoritarian Russian chauvinism. The formulation of such doctrine in the humanitarian sphere is a primary task for Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians today.
Freedom, the fundamental value for Ukrainians, is the best environment for realizing intellectual potential of an individual as the key capital in the modern world. Therefore, the reform of the state apparatus must aim at creating effective conditions for the development of each individual's potential in all spheres of life. This must become the key objective of the state: security of its citizens, their development and wellbeing.
Only a state built upon the trust of its citizens, based on justice and rule of law, and working for the interests of its people and their development can create a new and effective security system, reinstate and defend its borders and become an influential and consequential subject of world politics.
Oleksandr Turchynov is Secretary of the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine. This text was written and published on The American Interest website.
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