UkraineAlert

On July 7, 2014, Russian-backed separatists entered Donetsk and occupied four dormitories at Donetsk National University; armed gunmen expelled students from their rooms in the middle of the night. Nine days later, the separatists seized the entire university. During that summer, separatists stole at least seventeen university vehicles and converted student dorms into barracks for their fighters.

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When driving a car, it is essential to look forward to assess changing road conditions, new obstacles, and new opportunities. Prudent drivers—and investors—regularly check the rear view mirrors, but their main focus is on the future.

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The recent scandal surrounding alleged payments made to Paul Manafort by the former Ukrainian government has again cast a spotlight on corruption in Ukraine. Whatever one thinks of the Manafort story, no one can dispute that Ukrainians are entitled to an honest government that does not steal from them. But how can Ukraine achieve this goal? And what can the US do to help? 

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In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been doing what he is best at: war mongering. It began with the Kremlin’s accusation that Ukrainian leaders had “chosen terror over peace,” despite the fact Russia has not been able to produce any credible evidence of the alleged “sabotage plot” in Crimea. Additionally, neither the OSCE’s monitors, witnesses on the ground, nor any independent media have confirmed Russia’s claims of an armed confrontation or bombardment by Ukrainian forces.

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Since the Middle Ages, Kyivan Rus—the loose network of warring principalities whose borders vaguely coincide with today’s Ukraine—has been exposed to waves of invaders from neighboring states. This list of aggressors includes the Normans, Mongols, Poles, Ottomans, Habsburg Austrians, Germans, and Nazis—and not least, Muscovite Russians, the Romanov Russian Empire, and Bolsheviks. Each invasion destroyed political and social institutions, produced staggering human casualties, and delayed the country’s development.

Today Russia’s policy toward Ukraine demonstrates that Russian foreign policy has always been expansionist. Russia is eager to control neighboring states through diplomacy and economic ties if possible (to wit, the Eurasian Economic Union), and through destabilization and force if necessary. The Russian drive for empire is so primeval, it has been in evidence even without an “official” ideological doctrine since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin may be preparing a new offensive in Ukraine. Russia has prepared an excuse for a military incursion to connect Crimea with rebel-held areas of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Fighting along the corridor has already heated up; the Ukrainian military reports that on the night of August 8 more than 200 artillery and mortar rounds fell on Shyrokyne, on the Azov Sea coast east of Mariupol. Now, following Russian claims of thwarted terrorist attacks in Crimea that the United States cannot confirm, Putin is vowing revenge. “We obviously will not let such things slide by,” he warned.

Putin met with his security council on August 11. According to a Kremlin spokesman, the group discussed “additional measures” for ensuring security. “Scenarios were carefully considered for anti-terrorist security measures at the land border, in the waters and in the airspace of Crimea.”

Separatists and the government believe a fresh outbreak in hostilities is imminent.

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Peace in Europe is impossible as long as Vladimir Putin remains Russia’s leader. As both the biggest obstacle to peace and the key source of potential war, Putin has become the main threat to Russia’s neighbors and the West. But what, exactly, motivates him?

Analysts are divided over the reasons for Putin’s foreign policy moves. Some see them as being grounded in his realist fears of Western strategic encirclement. Others root them in his authoritarian regime and imperialist ideology. Putin’s most striking feature, however, is his unpredictability.

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Russia’s efforts to spread disinformation in other countries as part of a hybrid war against the West sometimes make us forget that the media networks inside Russia also greatly matter. Even though Russia’s domestic media targets the Russian-speaking population, its narratives and portrayals of the international scene can tell us a lot about Russia’s foreign policy.

Uncovering the roles that European politicians play in the Russian media can help us understand who has the biggest influence in Russia, what it takes to get space in news articles, and who is perceived by Russians as real representatives of European politics worthy of dealing with the Russian president.

The following research, analyzing over fifty-nine million Russian-language articles from over two thousand sources published between January 2014 to May 2016, attempted exactly that. The results suggest that European politicians need to follow three simple steps in order to gain the Russian media's attention.

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Observers have greatly feared that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would start a small regional war this August. Russia has moved up its State Duma elections to September 18. Although only Putin’s parties are allowed to win, he has a predilection for “small and victorious wars” to mobilize his people.

In 1999, the second war in Chechnya preceded his rise to president. In August 2008, Russia attacked Georgia. In February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a move that was greatly popular in Russia. Its war in Syria has been an unmitigated success. For the last two years, Russia’s economy has been in recession, giving Putin all the more reason to mobilize his compatriots around a small war.

August is the best time for Moscow’s military action because Western decision-makers are on holidays. The Berlin Wall was initiated in August 1961, the invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred in August 1968, and the Moscow coup took place in August 1991.

The parallels with the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war are striking.

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Kramatorsk is one of the most American cities that I have encountered in Ukraine. It is not laid out in the walkable format that most Ukrainian towns and villages have. Rather, it has a wide, broad layout, with extensive blocks. It is a city in which a car is almost a necessity. And that is not a mistake. Kramatorsk’s major industry is cars and transport manufacturing; there is a transport school, and far too many car repair shops to count.

In what feels like an attempt to camouflage its industrial nature, Kramatorsk is almost oppressively green. The trees are so leafy and planted so close together that one cannot often see from one side of the street to the other.

The Donetsk People’s Republic briefly held this city of 164,000 for less than three months in 2014, from April 12 to July 5, but little remains from that period. In the two years since the Ukrainian military recaptured the city from Russian-backed fighters that still occupy nine percent of eastern Ukraine, bomb craters and homes have been repaired. Today, Kramatorsk feels calm despite the fighting that continues around thirty-five miles away.

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