Peter Dickinson

  • Putin Still in Denial over the Loss of Ukraine

    When Kremlin proxies in eastern Ukraine declared the foundation of “Malorossia” in mid-July, most people laughed. This bizarre attempt to replace Ukraine with a “Little Russian” vassal state was seen as one more indication of how hopelessly out of touch Russian policymakers are with Ukrainian public opinion. However, at least one man in Moscow failed to see the funny side. Key Putin aide and Ukraine curator Vladislav Surkov called it a way of sparking debate within Ukraine while emphasizing that the Donbas is not fighting to separate from Ukraine but for the country’s future. “Kyiv wants a pro-European utopia,” he commented. “The Donbas responds with Malorossia.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced similarly optimistic sentiments during the July G20 summit in Hamburg, where he accused the Ukrainian leadership of “trading in Russophobia” and blamed a handful of Kyiv politicians for driving an artificial wedge between Russia and Ukraine. “I am absolutely convinced the...

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  • Memo to President Trump: It’s Not “The Ukraine” Anymore

    The first meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US President Donald Trump on June 20 was widely hailed as a small but significant victory for Ukraine, signaling continued American support at a time when many fear Ukraine’s struggle with Russia is in danger of becoming a forgotten war. The only fly in the ointment was Trump’s reference to “The Ukraine,” which elicited a predictable chorus of moans.

    Numerous commentators chose to see this gaffe as yet another example of Trump’s allegedly amateurish and uninformed approach to foreign affairs. However, in fairness to the current resident of the White House, he is far from alone in failing to name Ukraine correctly. His predecessor Barack Obama repeatedly referred to “The Ukraine,” while numerous other international leaders have also been guilty of the same offense in recent years.

    Many...

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  • Miracle of 2014 Was Ukraine’s Dunkirk

    One of the biggest blockbuster movies of summer 2017 looks likely to be “Dunkirk,” a WWII drama set on the beaches of northern France in summer 1940 as Adolf Hitler’s panzer armies closed in on pockets of trapped and surrounded allied forces. The film will introduce global audiences to one of the most celebrated events in modern British history—the successful evacuation of over 300,000 soldiers by a makeshift armada of merchant shipping and pleasure boats manned by civilian volunteers who braved the Luftwaffe to cross the English Channel and bring the stranded troops home.

    British audiences are well aware of the legend surrounding Dunkirk—it has been part of the national fabric for the past seventy-seven years and remains a huge source of patriotic pride. Even today, “The Spirit of Dunkirk” remains a byword for British bravery and resourcefulness that serves as a rallying cry for any...

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  • How Putin Accidentally United Ukraine

    Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, but it took the outbreak of war in 2014 to forge it into a fully-fledged nation. As is often the case with major historic shifts, this change was not immediately apparent at the time. Even now, three years on, it may come as news to the millions of Ukrainians struggling to make ends meet while dealing with a largely unreformed state bureaucracy. Nevertheless, it is increasingly apparent that the traumatic and triumphant events of 2014 represented a national coming of age. We are now witnessing the Ukrainianization of Ukraine.

    Evidence of this national evolution is all around. It is visible in the multitude of Ukrainian flags on display, and in the popularity of anything carrying the “Made in Ukraine” label. You can see it in the enthusiasm for holidays like Vyshyvanka Day and the embrace of national motifs. It has even permeated people’s sense of self. An
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  • Why Ukraine’s Worst Enemy Is Not Vladimir Putin

    Identifying Ukraine’s enemies has become a popular pastime. Unsurprisingly, Russia was the first one to be listed after the Kremlin dropped any pretense of Slavic fraternity and invaded the country. Corruption was next. Whereas Russia was the enemy at the gates, corruption was the enemy within. An eclectic collection of lesser enemies has since joined the list, including everything from burdensome bureaucracy, emigration, and low birth rates to bad roads, nepotism, and international indifference.

    However, one ubiquitous and insidious enemy has so far escaped detection. This is the relentless negativity that shrouds Ukrainian perceptions of their own country. Most Ukraine-based expats will recognize this condition all too well from endless depressing conversations with Ukrainian friends and colleagues, who treat displays of outsider optimism as a charming but childish flaw. It is the debilitating practice of always expecting the worst, of finding the thorn on every rose,...

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  • Why Did Putin Get Stuck in Eastern Ukraine?

    Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is now entering its fourth year, but there was a time when few expected it to last even four weeks. The virtually bloodless seizure of Crimea, which fell to Russian troops in early 2014 without a fight, led most observers to conclude that Ukraine was effectively defenseless and at Moscow’s mercy.

    This was the consensus view in Moscow, where many of the bolder voices began speaking of celebrating the traditional May holidays in Kyiv itself. Such swagger seemed perfectly reasonable; Ukraine was still reeling from months of anti-government protests that had spread chaos across the country before culminating in the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych and the collapse of his entire administration. The interim Ukrainian government that hastily replaced Yanukovych’s administration lacked constitutional legitimacy and was in no position to risk a military confrontation with the mighty Russian Federation. A clear window of opportunity had...

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  • Putin Learns the Hard Way that Crimean Crime Does Not Pay

    Ever since the stunning Russian takeover of Crimea in early 2014, it has become popular to regard Russian President Vladimir Putin as some kind of geopolitical genius. The international media regularly depicts him as a James Bond-style supervillain, always a few steps ahead of his hapless Western opponents as he determines the fate of the world from the depths of his Kremlin lair. It is easy to imagine Putin taking personal pleasure in such hyperbole, seeing it as a reflection of Russia’s resurgence and his own prominent place in history. If he is honest with himself, however, there must also be moments when he reflects on the mounting costs of his Crimean conquest and regrets ever having given the fateful order to invade.

    At first glance, Putin’s recent achievements would appear to justify the current hype. Over the past three years, he has been credited with invading mainland Ukraine, turning the tide of the Syrian conflict, undermining the EU, and putting Donald Trump...

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