Dmitry Medvedev on the “Unprecedented Low Point” in Russian-Ukrainian Relations

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In this video blog, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev laments the deteriorating relations between Moscow and Kiev, and explains his decision to recall Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine for an indefinite period.
In a letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Medvedev listed a range of grievances including Ukraine’s support for Georgia in last year’s Russia-Georgia war, it’s efforts to join NATO, and its energy policy.
Clearly President Medvedev is making a concerted effort to raise the stakes and perhaps to influence the internal dynamics within Ukraine.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration responds to all of this. As Vice President Biden’s trips to Georgia and Ukraine last month demonstrated, it is difficult to improve the climate of U.S.-Russian relations without abandoning westward-oriented governments in Eastern Europe.
While the conflict between Moscow and Kiev may seem like a simple case of Russia bullying a weaker neighbor, American policy makers should note this Gallup poll. Here is what the poll found

Eighty-five percent of Ukrainians in May told Gallup they disapprove of the job performance of their country’s leadership, up from 75% in 2008 and 73% in 2007. The 4% of Ukrainians who approve is not only the lowest rating Gallup has ever measured in former Soviet countries, but also the lowest in the world.

That’s right. The Ukrainian leadership enjoys the lowest popular support in the world.
That discontent stems in part from a deep divide in Ukrainian society as to whether Ukraine should ally itself with the West or with Russia. As this article explains, the regime supports NATO membership, but a majority of Ukrainians are opposed.
Before the Obama administration embarks on a path of steadfast support for Ukraine’s integration into NATO, as Vice President Biden did last month, the United States would be wise to consider encouraging Ukraine to develop an internal consensus on the issue first.
A patient posture is not acquiescence to Russian demands. It is sensible policy.
— Ben Katcher

Comments

23 comments on “Dmitry Medvedev on the “Unprecedented Low Point” in Russian-Ukrainian Relations

  1. C. Curtis Dillon says:

    Am an American living in Crimea (southern region of Ukraine) for the last 4 years. The dynamic between Moscow and Kiev is a very complex issue involving the long-term relationship between the two countries, the internal ethnic makeup of the Ukrainian population and a host of other issues. There is no credibility for the present Ukrainian government because it has failed miserably to improve the lives of the citizenry plus is mired in a host of corruption activities which have not been addressed.
    There is no question the idea of integration with NATO (or the EU for that matter) is highly contentious. The Russian ethnic population (roughly 1/2 of the total) is heavily invested in their Russian neighbor and would not accept NATO troops on their soil under any circumstances. A while back, NATO sent a small contingent to Crimea for some consultations and war gaming which was met with mass demonstrations here and elsewhere. The Communist party (based in Crimea where its leader lives) is closely allied with Moscow as is the Party of the Regions (Viktor Yanokovich’s party). These groups want a closer relationship with Moscow and to deny any EU/NATO association. On top of this, the very real problem of the Russian navy in Sevastopol (40 miles from my home in Simferopol) needs to be negotiated before any move toward NATO can be undertaken. It is my feeling Russia will not allow that to happen under any circumstances.
    Given Yoshenko’s low popularity rating (and the similar low approval rate for Yulia Temoshenko), it is highly likely the next president of Ukraine will be Yanokovich. There will be a decidedly Russian tilt in Ukrainian attitudes when he takes office. So, in the short run, there will be no move toward NATO or the EU.

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  2. ... says:

    wigwag – thanks for sharing your attachment to music that is also dear to my heart.. it is a nice way to connect with one another! i will see if i can find out more on erin mckeown who i have never heard of before, but i iike what you have said on her… i agree with you on madeline peyroux.. my wife has most of her recordings including the one you mention and she was the main reason we went.. however having gone i can say i think she is really good and i always enjoy her cds when they are played around here… hopefully she performs at a place near where you live sometime!

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  3. WigWag says:

    “Seeing madeline payroux a dreamy singer that must have been influenced by billy holiday some.. i enjoyed the show.”
    I love Madeline Peyroux (note spelling); especially her “Careless Love” album. Thanks for reminding me! As I type these words I have my IPOD cranked to her version of “Don’t Cry Baby.”
    She has a lovely lyrical quality and her style certainly is reminiscent of Billie Holiday. Actually I think that while Peyroux’s voice is prettier than Billie Holliday’s it is much less smoky and soulful. That’s no knock on Peyroux though. There will never be another Billie Holliday
    “Lady Day” and the “Prez” (Holiday and Lester Young) made extraordinary music together that I never tire of listening to. When I hear the two of them together it somehow reminds me of opera.
    If you like Peyroux, another young artist you might like is Erin McKeown. She’s quite eclectic, and hard to categorize. She plays a mixture of swing, rock, jazz and folk (her rock songs remind me of a female version of Elvis Costello.)
    It’s great that you got to see Madeline Peyroux live. I really envy you.
    Thanks for putting me in mind of all of this!

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  4. ... says:

    wigwag – yes john barleycorn must die is an old traditional folk tune.. the whole album is an awesome musical trip and one of my favourite albums from my teens.. your kids and you had/have good taste in music as i see it… i was out tonight seeing madeline payroux a dreamy singer that must have been influenced by billy holiday some.. i enjoyed the show.. my life revolves around music more then it does foreign policy, but i take an interest in this stuff as i have always had a fascination with world political dynamics… thanks for your additional comments –

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  5. anirprof says:

    Russia will need Ukraine less and less for energy export. With all of the pipeline projects moving ahead the bypass Ukraine, it’s pretty clear that both the Russians and the big EU players (esp Germany, Italy, but France too) have decided they’d like to see Ukraine out of the loop. The EU is becoming more wary of Russia, true, but they’ve become even more tired of Kiev.
    The articles lately speculating about who’d win in the pipeline races, especially Nabucco vs South Stream, have missed the point that there is a clear loser: Ukraine.

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  6. arthurdecco says:

    “The Russians may also be feeling some frustration that they are not able to intimidate the Ukrainians as easily as they can intimidate the Georgians.”
    They don’t have to intimidate them. Did you not read this excerpt from the article?
    “Eighty-five percent of Ukrainians in May told Gallup they disapprove of the job performance of their country’s leadership, up from 75% in 2008 and 73% in 2007. The 4% of Ukrainians who approve is not only the lowest rating Gallup has ever measured in former Soviet countries, but also the lowest in the world.
    That’s right. The Ukrainian leadership enjoys the lowest popular support in the world.”
    You see? You’re lying again, ZigZag.

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  7. WigWag says:

    “Wigwag – that is off my favorite traffic album with the same name…”
    When the album first came out I was in my forties. Do you think that was too old to be a Steve Winwood fan? Winwood himself is now in his sixties and I believe he is still touring.
    Actually I was introduced to the album by my music loving children who played John Barleycorn so often that the grooves on the record must have worn out.
    Two other great songs from the album were “Freedom Rider” and “Stranger to Himself.” I still have the CD which I play from time to time.
    I could be wrong about this, but my understanding is that John Barleycorn is actually a traditional song or poem that Winwood arranged in a new way.
    I like the song because it rings so true to me. Desire usually defeats temperance. And life always renews itself. The song is about both of those things.

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  8. ... says:

    wigwag – that is off my favorite traffic album with the same name… i find it hard to believe you are in your 80’s as you had stated earlier somewhere… either way that is an excellent album for any fan of early experimental rock music with stevie winwood being the best known member of this early 70’s, or late 60’s band…

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  9. WigWag says:

    This post by Ben Katcher put me in mind of the song penned by “Traffic” in 1970, “John Barleycorn Must Die.” Especially the stanza that goes,
    “And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
    And he’s brandy in the glass;
    And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
    Proved the strongest man at last.”
    A sense of ennui inevitably follows almost all difficult human endeavors both personal and political. The effort to lose weight or give up alcohol or tobacco is usually followed by a period of back sliding. In the political arena, as revolutionary euphoria wears off, counter revolutionary trends frequently emerge.
    We should not be surprised by the Ukrainian dissatisfaction documented by the poll that Katcher cites; in fact this type of dissatisfaction is almost inevitable.
    The Reformation led to the Counter-Reformation. The American Revolution of 1776 was followed by popular discontent that led both to the Whiskey Rebellion and the Constitutional Congress. Popular disgust with the excesses of the French Revolution of 1789 led to a period of revanchism and to the rise to power of the quintessential strongman, Napoleon.
    In many regards, the Bolshevik Revolution was not a revolution at all. Popular dissatisfaction after the death of Lenin led to the installation of another figure with Czar-like powers, Stalin. In fact, the continuity of behavior of the Czars, the Communist leadership and the Russian leaders of today is amazing to behold. More recently, the dissatisfaction of Iranians with their revolution of 1979 has become apparent.
    In light of all of this, there is nothing surprising about the fact that the Ukrainians have become disenchanted with the Orange Revolution. Once it became apparent that their Revolution wasn’t a panacea, disappointment was inevitable. The rabid political disputes between Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych are enough to make any Ukrainian nostalgic for the good old days of one party rule.
    But we should also remember that the Gallup Poll that Katcher cites isn’t the final word on all of this. In fact, as of late, polls have a poor track record of predicting results. The polls showed the Hezbollah led coalition winning in Lebanon and Ahmadinejad winning fair and square in Iran; neither happened.
    Katcher is right; what the Ukrainians need more than anything else to work out their political differences is time.

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  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And now you are going to spam us with your crap.
    Oh goodie, you certainly are a polite asshole.

    Reply

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  12. PissedOffAmerican says:

    JohnH, I had the exact same kind of thought reading Kervick’s intellectually sequined musings. What foreign policy arena of late shows the kind of competent management that “experience” would be an asset for office??? Our handling of Muslim nations such as Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan? Pakistan? Our dealings with Israel? Cuba? Haiti? Mexico? Columbia? Honduras?? Need I go on?
    Seems to me, politicians that are “experienced” in modern foreign policy ought to be run out of Washington on a rail, rather than being handed high positions.
    Biden might have a big mouth, but to my knowledge he hasn’t launched a deception that has resulted in the deaths of a few hundred thousand Muslim non-combatants, like the last batch of foreign policy “experts” did. “Foreign policy experience”, these days, oughta be a ticket to federal prison.

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  13. JohnH says:

    “We have have slim pickings when it comes to viable Democrats with foreign policy experience,” but Cheney is not employed. He’s got lots of experience.
    Instead of looking for “lots of experience,” maybe we should be looking for people who 1) don’t have the cold war mindset and 2) have potential.
    In Washington, experience seems to equate with doing things the same old way, irrespective of whether or not the world has changed.

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  14. WigWag says:

    The Russians may also be feeling some frustration that they are not able to intimidate the Ukrainians as easily as they can intimidate the Georgians. Georgia is a nation of 5 million people; Ukraine is a nation of 46 million people. Ukraine’s per capita GDP is 40 percent greater than Georgia’s per capita GDP. The Ukraine has the second largest military in Europe, surpassed only by Russia.
    Russia depends on Ukraine not only for the importation of food stuffs, but also as an outlet for its energy exports.
    Most importantly, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is headquartered in Sevastopol which must make the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO particularly galling to the Russians.
    The Russian agreement with Ukraine on the Fleet runs out in eight years (2017) and Russia must be concerned with what comes next. They must also be resentful of the fact that they can no longer make unilateral decisions about what happens in Sevastopol as they could during the days of the Cold War.
    Russia can hardly be blamed for trying to take advantage of internal political turmoil in Ukraine.
    The question is whether the Obama Administration is deft enough to handle all of this.
    One other thing; Dan Kervick says,
    “But if NATO is to be kept alive, please don’t turn it into the instrument of bungling and wooly-headed democracy missionaries.”
    Dan is certainly right that the need for NATO and what if any role it should play is a debate worth having. But if we assume ad arguendo that there is a role for NATO, admitting Ukraine would accomplish alot more than titillating “wooly headed democracy missionaries.”
    The Ukrainian military has more men under arms than 27 of the 28 member nations of NATO. In fact, the Ukrainian military is larger than the military forces of all of these NATO states:
    Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
    The only NATO member with a greater number of soldiers is the United States. Of course size doesn’t always correlate with capability but it is fair to suggest that the Ukrainian military is more capable than the military forces of many NATO members. Does anyone think that the Ukrainian military wouldn’t compare well with the Albanian military; the Bulgarian military; the Luxembourg military or the Greek military?
    I’m not suggesting that NATO should be expanded to include Ukraine. I’m just suggesting that from a purely military perspective a better argument can be made for admitting Ukraine than many of the nations that have been incorporated into NATO. I am also suggesting that from purely a military perspective, there is a lot more reason to welcome Ukraine into NATO than Georgia.

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  15. Dan Kervick says:

    I know Steve thinks highly of Biden and his staff, so maybe he wouldn’t be so bad.
    The basic problem is that we have have slim pickings when it comes to viable Democrats with foreign policy experience. Richardson had experience, but also has a Biden-like problem with his public speaking.

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  16. WigWag says:

    “Anyway, it’s time to return the Vice Presidency to the warm bucket of constitutional spit it was intended to be.”
    You could be right about that Dan, but as they say, the Vice President is only a heart beat away. In light of his performance so far, how comfortable would you be if Biden had to assume the Presidency?
    I don’t doubt that Biden is smart, genuine or likable. In fact there’s something endearing about his frankness and loquacity. But given his penchant for inserting his foot in his mouth, it’s hard to believe that if he ever became President that he could run a competent foreign policy or for that matter a competent domestic policy.
    In the Senate being garrulous is a virtue; it’s less of a virtue in the White House. Let’s hope Biden never ends up there. I think Obama chose poorly (but of course far less poorly than McCain did).
    I do hope that the Obama/Biden/Clinton team gets its act together on relations with the Russians. To make progress in this important relationship the Administration needs to be shrewd and pragmatic. While the jury is most definitely still out, so far the preliminary indicators aren’t all that great.

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  17. Dan Kervick says:

    “Let’s remember that the person who choose Joe Biden as his Vice President and continues to rely on him as an emissary to nations around the world is Barack Obama. When selecting a Vice President, Obama could have chosen Hillary Clinton or Bill Richardson or Wesley Clark or Jim Webb or any number of other qualified people.”
    That’s an odd comment, WigWag. Obama selected Clinton as his Secretary of State, which is a vastly more important position than the Vice Presidency when it comes to articulating US policy positions. The SoS has a lot more to say on the world stage than the VP, and now that Clinton has gotten over her broken elbow, she is doing a very creditable job. Her voice is much more prominent than Biden’s.
    It appears that Obama liked the idea of Biden as VP because with Biden’s well-deserved reputation for a poorly-regulated temper and dysfunctional self-censoring mechanisms, Obama could count on Biden to give the boss his own quirky version of hell in private counsels. I just wish they would keep the no doubt useful hell-giving behind closed doors, and that Obama wouldn’t send Biden out on important diplomatic missions. Of course, this is bound to piss Biden off. Anyway, it’s time to return the Vice Presidency to the warm bucket of constitutional spit it was intended to be.
    Heck, I like Biden. He’s genuine and warm. And I’m Irish, so I have a soft spot for ornery old Micks with bad tempers, a too-loose tongue and the gift of blab. I’m very fond of Biden when he isn’t out screwing up US foreign policy, and … you know … putting my family in danger.

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  18. ... says:

    feel sorry for the street people that have been thrown out in the streets or for the unusually large numbers of people that have been incarcerated, rotting in prisons in the usa, or for the soldiers coming back from their horrendous commitment in iraq, afganastan, or vietnam before that and still get treated like shit basically… start at home and work out from their if you can accomplish that much even at home..

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  19. WigWag says:

    It is hard not to feel some sympathy for the Ukrainians. They’ve been fighting imperialist domination from the Russians and before that from the Hapsburgs, for the better part of two centuries. Stalin forcibly removed 20 percent of the Ukrainian population and replaced them with Russians. He collectivized peasant landholdings which led to massive famine and the deaths of 7 million Ukrainians; Stalin murdered virtually the entire Ukrainian intelligencia. After the Soviet era ended, Russia tried to assassinate Ukrainian leaders (they tried to poison Viktor Yushchenko twice) and they’ve cut off the nation’s gas supply.
    Despite all of this, Obama’s policy on NATO expansion, anti-ballistic missiles, Serbia/Kosovo and Russia’s “near abroad” makes no sense. If he wants Russian cooperation on a whole variety of fronts he’s going to need to do some serious horse trading. He can’t expect Russian cooperation if the United States is unwilling to relent on some of the key issues Russia views as critical. Vladimir Putin is no George Bush; he’s not going to look into Obama’s eyes and be mesmerized. Given how shallow the western Europeans are its no surprise that they’re hypnotized by Obama’s charisma; the Russians won’t be. Count on the fact that they will want something in return for any assistance they render to the United States on Iran or other issues. Until Obama confronts this reality, he will make no head way at all with the Russians.
    Dan Kervick says,
    “It’s especially difficult to improve those relations if you send Babblin’ Joe Biden as your messenger.”
    Let’s remember that the person who choose Joe Biden as his Vice President and continues to rely on him as an emissary to nations around the world is Barack Obama. When selecting a Vice President, Obama could have chosen Hillary Clinton or Bill Richardson or Wesley Clark or Jim Webb or any number of other qualified people.
    The competence of his Vice Presidential selection process (like the selection process for many members of his Cabinet) is, unfortunately becoming a metaphor for the rest of his presidency.

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  20. Dan Kervick says:

    “… the United States would be wise to consider encouraging Ukraine to develop an internal consensus on the issue first.”
    Ukraine’s internal desires are secondary. NATO is a military alliance, and it’s membership decisions are chiefly the business of the current NATO members. Those members have to decide whether admitting Ukraine enhances their security or weakens it. It’s hard for me to see the case for enhanced security.
    We’re now supposed to make vital security decisions based on the wishes of the people of the Ukraine? Sorry. Ukrainians don’t get to join every organization they might want to join. If they decide they want to join the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Berkeley Vegan Cooperative, they don’t automatically get to join those either.
    NATO isn’t some blasted “democracy club”! It’s a collective security organization. Is there anyone left in Washington who has their minds focused on fundamental US security interests instead of sentimental attachments and ideological wet dreams?
    Personally, I think NATO should go the way of the Entente Cordiale, the Holy Roman Empire and the Fellowship of the Ring, and that we should be considering ways of putting together a new global security system not based on such legacy institutions and relics. But if NATO is to be kept alive, please don’t turn it into the instrument of bungling and wooly-headed democracy missionaries. Our lives and well-being are at stake.

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  21. ... says:

    usa ”meddling” strikes again…

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  22. Dave Huntsman says:

    Ben, an excellent post. I’ll only offer one tweak:
    Before the Obama administration embarks on a path of
    steadfast support for Ukraine’s integration into NATO, as Vice
    President Biden did last month, the United States would be wise
    to consider encouraging Ukraine to develop an internal
    consensus on the issue first.
    While completely correct, I would personally tweak it slightly.
    Biden’s main mistakes were in his tone, and by saying that the
    decision on Ukraine’s side had been made. While the latter is
    literally true – the current President has made his decision – the
    level of opposition, and Ukraine’s ethnic divide, urge a more
    cautious approach, for everyone. The Administration should
    instead say: “NATO has already decided that Ukraine can indeed
    join NATO – when they request it, and when they are fully ready.
    It is an important step that should be thoroughly discussed by
    the people of Ukraine while Ukraine improves its own defense,
    economic, and political systems that it already recognizes it
    needs to do.”
    One question, Ben: why now? Medvedev could have produced
    that piece a year ago (except for the reference on the pipeline, I
    think).

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  23. Dan Kervick says:

    “It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration responds to all of this. As Vice President Biden’s trips to Georgia and Ukraine last month demonstrated, it is difficult to improve the climate of U.S.-Russian relations without abandoning westward-oriented governments in Eastern Europe.”
    It’s especially difficult to improve those relations if you send Babblin’ Joe Biden as your messenger.
    Maybe we should send Daniel Pipes to Iran next?
    I don’t know whether our descendants will laugh or cry over the chronicles of those early 21st century Cold War dead-enders who decided that it was an urgent matter of US national security to keep an anti-Soviet military alliance on permanent life support, and even expand it and park it’s war equipment right up next to the front door of the erstwhile evil commies.

    Reply

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