Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, sits down with Alexander Motyl, an expert on Ukraine who teaches political science at Rutgers University–Newark. «Putin has effectively lost Ukraine,» says Motyl. «For the first time in the 25 or so years of Ukraine’s independence, I’d say that virtually…the entire Ukrainian population, minus a bit of the Donbas, but even there wavering…is united against Putin, is united against Russia, and is united for Ukraine. That’s never been the case. And Ukraine has Putin to thank for that.»
Read Motyl’s latest article in Foreign Affairs here. A transcript is available below:
ROSE: Hi there. I’m Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, and I have the distinct privilege and pleasure to talk to day with Alexander Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers and one of the country’s foremost experts on Ukraine and Eastern Europe more generally.
Alex, we had you write for us last fall about Ukraine’s forthcoming accession agreement with the European Union that it was due to sign. And you wrote a piece and said, whether it signs or not, this is a turning point in Ukrainian history, because they can’t just keep muddling on, and either Yanukovych will bring Ukraine toward Europe in the future or he’ll back away from it, in which case there will be an absolute outcry and things will never be the same.
You called that correctly. And, of course, he backed away and things did go into a series of crises. Yanukovych ultimately fell. And we’re still seeing the ramifications of that.
Just recently, western Ukraine, or the actual government of Ukraine minus Crimea, did sign the accession agreement with the EU that Ukraine was about to sign last fall. So does this mean the crisis is over and that Ukraine, minus Crimea, is actually now firmly anchored in the West?
MOTYL: This means that the crisis may be over and that Ukraine is on the way to being firmly anchored in the West. I wouldn’t be quite as categorical. I’d like to be that categorical, but that’s not quite the case at the moment. There is still a war going on in parts of the Donbas, and the government still has to consolidate, but the trend over the last two, two-and-a-half months is in the direction of the West, is in the direction of democracy, is in the direction of state-building, which leads me to the guardedly optimistic conclusion that if this continues — and I think it will — Ukraine will be firmly anchored in the West, as you put it.
ROSE: But many have argued that this is actually Putin who has been the victor and has surged and has been bold and has seized Crimea, destabilized the eastern parts of Ukraine, so you don’t see this — the whole thing as a win for Putin?
MOTYL: I see this as a loss for Putin. As a matter of fact, I happen to belong to that probably small number of individuals who believe that Putin isn’t that good a statesman. Just consider what he had in Ukraine back in September, October, November, fall of last year. Ukraine was in his pocket. Yanukovych was in his pocket. Even if Ukraine had signed the association agreement, Yanukovych would probably have survived. He would have had to expand his base. He wouldn’t have been the same Yanukovych, but Ukraine would have been very firmly ensconced within Russia’s sphere of influence.
Over the last six, seven or so months, Putin has effectively lost Ukraine. It’s not just that Ukraine has signed the association agreement. It’s much worse than that, because for the first time in the 25 or so years of Ukraine’s independence, I’d say that virtually the entire Ukrainian elite — east, west, north, south, center — virtually the entire Ukrainian population, minus a bit of the Donbas, but even there wavering — is united against Putin, is united against Russia, and is united for Ukraine. That’s never been the case. And Ukraine has Putin to thank for that.
ROSE: So if you look at Georgia and if you look at Crimea and if you look at the Eurasian Union, there are some people who interpret this as Putin trying to recreate the former Soviet empire or some kind of Russian grandiose empire and being somewhat successful. You don’t see it that way?
MOTYL: Well, he’s certainly trying to do that. I’m not sure he’s being very successful, is my point. I think what Putin is trying to do is similar to what other countries — other leaders in other post-imperial circumstances have tried to do. They first accumulate power, establish authoritarian states, highly authoritarian states, crush democracy, crush opposition movements and the rest, and then they try to re-establish some of the former imperial glory.