Andrey Baykov, associate professor of International Affairs at MGIMO-University, talks about the issues and challenges to international security created by the crisis in Ukraine and the old Cold War syndromes.

Ukrainian government soldiers ride on a vehicle on the road between the towns of Dabeltseve and Artemivsk, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. Photo: AP

After the last round of peace talks in Minsk was held on Feb.11 and all four parties – France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine – agreed on a cease-fire, Russia Direct talked to Andrey Baykov, associate professor of International Affairs at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) and the author of the RD Brief 'Re-thinking International Security After Ukraine', about Russian foreign policy in Ukraine and the changing environment for international security after the crisis in Ukraine.

Russia Direct: The Minsk meeting of Feb. 11 was considered by many to be a “last chance” negotiation to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. What is your assessment of the results of these talks? Were they successful or not?

Andrey Baykov:  How is it possible to assess a meeting of the key members of global politics as unsuccessful? Because, obviously, the fact that they sat down together and started talking is very important. The question about its success is ultimately about what goals they pursued when they decided to sit down and it was not obviously the elimination of all differences. That is the genuine resolution of a conflict - when you eliminate all differences.

It was a settlement, which means the end of violence and starting to resolve the conflict. In this case, I think, they were pursuing the right course, and if the cease-fire will be kept, that will be the test of the success of the agreement. But on the other hand, I think it is not right to call any attempt to end a conflict the “last chance,” because as long as the crisis persists, there will be as many chances, as many attempts as needed, to stop the violence, to stop the killing and suffering of civilians.

RD: Do you think Russian President Vladimir Putin has a strategy in Ukraine? And if he does, what is it? Or maybe it is just tactics?

A.B.: Well, I think that strategy as a long-term concept is not something that can be applicable to this conflict. Putin has a strategy towards Ukraine as a country, he obviously does not want to see it in NATO, he wants it be friendly towards Russia, he wants to stay out of hostility between Russia and the West, as their relations are often pictured in this way. So, this strategy is just about keeping Ukraine as a good neighbor out of the military alliance.

Otherwise, his tactics have been changing quite a lot since the beginning of the conflict. And I think they will change again if the current agreement will not be fully implemented, and, honestly, I do not see quite a lot of willingness on the part of Ukraine to implement this agreement in full, because apparently the top Ukrainian authorities do not entirely control the troops on the ground.

RD: What do you think has changed in the global security environment since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine?

A.B.: I think the crisis in Ukraine may be the pivot of everyone’s attention at the moment but it does not exhaust the whole landscape of security around the globe. We still have some new threats of a new nature like international terrorism, which is still the most formidable threat that we all face because it is a dispersed threat and we cannot localize it and that is why it makes it so difficult to fight against.

At the same time, Ukraine is still very important because it affects Russia’s interests, it affects the EU’s interests as an aspiring global player, and it affects America’s interests as the leader who does not want anyone to defy this leadership. So, in this case, it does not really bring in any new elements into the security landscape; on the contrary, I think it is returning us back to the old stereotypes of security of the old-style Cold War agenda. I think only in this sense parallels with the Cold War are justified. Not that we are now in a new Cold War, but all those syndromes are now back, but not the real Cold War.

RD: Does this change in the security environment mean that the post-Soviet space and Eurasia are becoming an area of instability, an area of new conflicts?

A.B.: One of the things we have learned from the Ukrainian crisis is that nothing is for certain. We do not really know where future risks and threats will arise. So all the experts were wrong about predicting the outcomes of all crises around the post-Soviet space and the Ukrainian crisis is not an exception here. So, I really do not know what will happen, but I think that Ukraine is an area where the conflicts were mostly forecast and I think it is the most painful patch in this area.

So, I would not say that Eurasia is prone to destabilize, not at all. It is just a very important geostrategic mass of land and Russia claims to be the leader there. And, obviously, if Russia manages to prove it is the leader in this area, this will make it the global leader. That is why other countries are not quite happy about that.

RD: Just to zoom out a bit, from your perspective, what are the key threats to the global security and stability in the short and long term? And how should we address them?

A.B.: Well, the short-term is one year and I do not think that anything particularly new will happen in this sphere. If we talk about Ukraine, the task is basically just to keep the forces apart and to get both parties to finally sit down and talk and that is the biggest risk, but that reflects mostly the Ukrainian kind of theater of international security.

It is obvious that the Ukrainian crisis has changed a lot the transatlantic partnership because the idea of the EU being independent militarily was dying quite gradually in the run-up to the Ukrainian crisis but now this idea is dead completely.

And both France and Germany, they are quite keen now to see an increased trail of the U.S. in this affair in Europe. They do not want particularly to get involved militarily and arm Ukraine but they obviously want to be better coordinated, they want to be more united than ever and that is one of the shortcomings of Russian strategy in this crisis.

Obviously [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel is pursuing the consensus in Western policies and they chose her in a way because she is the representative of Europe and, at the same time, she is the representative of unified Western policies. That is one of our losses in the crises.

RD: What do you think are the main global risks and threats that are currently missing, while focusing on Ukraine and the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS)?

A.B.: There are all those traditional socio-economic risks connected with migration, demographics, poverty, water shortage and things like that. But in order to focus on those issues, we have to deal with the immediate military threats. So, I do not think there is some kind of dispersed attention: We need to focus on the big stuff before we get to all the other issues. So, there is no missed agenda here. 

RD: Just before the Minsk talks started, U.S. President Barack Obama called Putin for the first time in six months to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Do you think it is a good sign for U.S.-Russia relations?

A.B.: I think the assessment of this gesture can vary from a good sign to insignificant. Because it is quite normal for heads of states to communicate over phone – it is just a standard practice. So, nothing is unusual here. But here’s why it can be assessed as good - because, I think, one of the problems with West-Russia relations at the moment is that leaders just lack respect for one another.

And this crisis, especially from the point of view of the Western media, has become very personalized and fixated on the person of Vladimir Putin. So, I think it was already a good sign in the State of Union address Obama started using the word ‘Russia’ more often than the word ‘Putin’ because that means that he finally starts to come to terms with the fact that it is not Putin’s foreign policy, it is Russia’s foreign policy. So, I think it is a good sign in this respect that he has to start talking, because he talks to the representative of a great country.

RD: What could become a solid basis for true future cooperation between Europe and Russia? As an example, could the free trade agreement between the EU and Eurasian Union proposed by Merkel be viewed as a promising step in that direction?

A.B.: I do not think it can be any promising step because I do not quite see how these two exclusive trade blocs can cooperate. We have yet to create a proper functioning Eurasian Economic Union; it has to become competitive before it can open up to other partners.

Therefore, I do not think it is quite there yet. The European Union is also a very exclusive bloc and it is more an outward-looking bloc in the face of Germany, which exports fifty percent of its industrial production that is undermining the whole EU.

So, they can be interested in the Eurasian Union as a possible market for selling their goods, but this is not in the interest of the Eurasian Economic Union. So, no – this is obviously not a solid basis. If to speak generally about the cooperation, I think that the West has to rethink its policies towards Russia, because sadly all these twenty years the West did not seem to have any coherent strategy towards Russia, and the Ukrainian crisis is just the result of the absence of any strategy.

That’s why they were so all of a sudden surprised by what they saw. They just could not understand it because they did not have any strategy. So, once they have any proper strategy, once we are aware of what it is, I think we can start thinking about cooperation.