The Ukrainian crisis of 2014 which started with the Euromaidan revolution in 2013 had been centuries in the making. A cursory look at the often intertwined history of both Russia and Ukraine is replete with struggles of regional hegemony and self-determinism. Beginning at the second partition of Poland in 1793, a larger half of Ukraine was incorporated into Imperial Russia and remained separated from its Galicia region until 1917 when Czar Nicholas II lost power to the Bolsheviks. Ukraine declared itself independent in 1918, however this independence was short lived as the two Ukraines who had briefly united, were once again forcefully brought back into Russia’s embrace in 1922, under the Bolsheviks (Dafflon & Hayoz 2014).
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This history demonstrates Russia adhering to the principles of an offensive realist state whereas Ukraine functions as an example of a liberal state as explained by Toft (2005) who maintain that all great powers act as aggressive power maximizers despite embracing liberal democratic maxims. The Euromaidan revolution started with the refusal of the regime of the pro-Russian Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych to sign a trade agreement with the European Union in 2013. This agreement sought among other things to lower trade barriers with the EU, introduce reforms that will align Ukrainian political institutions with EU standards and reduce the crippling corruption that had bedevilled Ukrainian politics for a long time. The fact that Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the agreement was preceded by immense pressure from Russia who expressly expressed their displeasure with a Ukraine that was more aligned to the west, gave Ukraine’s youth a valid argument to start what was to be called the revolution of dignity (Kappeler 2014).
In Mearsheimer’s view, cited by Toft (2005) the ultimate aim of every state is to maximise relative power to the point of hegemony. To apply this principle in the Ukrainian conflict will lead to the inference that Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea peninsula and the armed conflict in Donbas (region in Eastern Ukraine) as a fallout of the Euromaidan revolution, aptly defines it as a regional hegemon or a state that is is so powerful that it dominates all the other states in the system’ (Mearsheimer 1995, cited by Toft 2005). Although states do not remain in a permanent state of aggression and may change their stance once their purpose has been achieved, the conflict in Ukraine can be most effectively considered through the prism of realism paradigm and the Billiard Ball Theory in particular, which implies that international relations can be understood in terms of the movements of certain states in respect to the other ones and pressure they apply as the result of power manipulations (Baysha 2014).
The pathway from the annexation of Crimea to what we know of the Ukrainian Crisis today may be explained by of offensive realism- by suggesting that Russia’s longstanding history of defensive geo-political strategy, alongside a leader eager for more boosts in native popularity and the chaos of the international system as a whole birthed and fed the crisis. If we are to pursue Mearsheimer’s theory in ‘Great Power and Politics’, we might see that the continuous pursuit of regional hegemony by large, yet uniquely vulnerable states like Russia is the only logical path to survival. The foil to this being that realistically, regional hegemony for Russia has perhaps come at the cost of exposing her unique flaws to the international community, driving her further into sanctions and isolation. Looking at the conflict through the lens of offensive realism also allows or the bypassing of classical realist position of focusing on the intention of states alone, which can be restrictive in understanding the full negative capacity of national military might. Mearsheimer stresses the nature of the anxious unknown in the production and sustenance of international conflict. Unfortunately, as aforementioned, many actions of the states throughout and predating this conflict do not align with the offensive realist model. For example, the US’s attempts to expand NATO as an effort to weaken Russia are barely justifiable in this theory. Russia is barely prosperous enough to be a hegemon and presents barely any regional threat to the United States, and the West’s outpouring of resources to little gain is not a demonstration of self-service or mistrust of the ‘anarchic’ international community.
The perspective of constructivism may remedy the areas in which offensive realism may appear to be too Machiavellian or pessimistic. Edward Hallett Carr suggests realism cannot properly explain the machinations behind international actions as all it proposes is a form of chaos that negates the existence of an international community. In contrast this theory is predicated on the idea that rather than resembling a court of anxious opportunists, ready to fall into chaos for self-defence, there is structure in international relations. Norm-based constructivism suggests that the response of the international community was and is based on commonly-held ideas on what is generally considered ‘good practice’ and shared values. This means that as well as the generally negative international response to the crisis being based on the unanimous understanding that Russia violated international law, said violation was based on the common shared interests of the Crimean, Ukrainian and Russian people. Because international relations are basically socially constructed, the values that bind states together for or against a common course can be reshaped or changed by their context. The idea being that all states are not motivated by a desire for power and security- their motivations are based on shared values, rules, traditions, language, norms that all take on different context.
- Baysha, O (2014) Miscommunicating Social Change Lessons from Russia and Ukraine. Lexington Books London 2014
- Dafflon, D., & Hayoz, N. (2014) Euromaidan: Different Perspectives on an Epochal Revolution. Religion & Society in East and West, No 5-6 Vol. 42
- Hallet – Carr E (1934), “The Realist Critique and the Limits of Realism,” ed. Phil Williams, Donald M. Goldstein, and Jay M. Shafritz, in Classic Readings of International Relations,First Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1939), 31-34.
- Kappeler A (2014) It Isn’t Internal Problems, But External Intervention That Poses The Greatest Threat To Ukraine. Religion & Society in East and West, No 5-6 Vol.
- Lee, A (2014) Ukraine and Russia: A Troubled History. History Today, Vol.54 Issue 4
- Toft, P (2005) John J. Mearsheimer: An Offensive Realist between Geopolitics and Power. Journal of International Relations and Development (2005) 8, 381–408.
 Edward Hallet Carr, “The Realist Critique and the Limits of Realism,” ed. Phil Williams, Donald M. Goldstein, and Jay M. Shafritz, in Classic Readings of International Relations,First Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing
Company, 1939), 31-34.
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