Brookings Scholars on the Crisis in Ukraine, 4/16/14

Over the past week, attention has turned to increasing unrest in eastern Ukraine, as pro-Russia demonstrations break out in several Ukrainian cities, and the Kyiv government seeks ways to respond. Brookings experts continue to offer insightful commentary and recommendations on the continuing crisis.

[Russia’s] economy, in terms of the export structure, is kind of Third World. Who do you know who goes out and buys a Russian television or a Russian car or a Russian computer? Other than weapons and nuclear reactors, they don’t build things the world wants to buy. If you take away the nukes and the U.N. Security Council, they’re Brazil. — Steven Pifer to McClatchy

Brookings President Strobe Talbott told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Putin’s near-term goal “is to do everything possible to destabilize Ukraine” and “fails to have elections in another month.”

And his long-term goal is to build upon that instability a re-imposition of Russian domination of Ukraine. He basically wants all of the countries around the periphery of the Russian Federation, with the exception maybe of China, to be in one of two categories. Either they are going to be vassal states, that they basically take orders from Moscow. Or they’re basket cases. And he is now trying to make a basket case out of Ukraine.

Read a transcript of the entire interview.

Clifford Gaddy

, co-author of

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

, said on the Diane Rehm Show today that “Putin is not an impulsive person.”

He’s not a gambler by heart or a risk taker. If compelled to take risk, he will. But he will always have a plan B, and he will always think through as many of the contingencies as he can. And that is a trait that he’s had throughout his life, his career. However, of course, there are many unpredictable scenarios that can unfold … depending on how the Ukrainian forces react. But I do think he wants to avoid the appearance of outright regression. I think he also wants to avoid direct military action in Ukraine, being in a sense lured into an armed conflict against Ukraine and possibly engaging with other western forces. This is not something he wants. Probably feels that this is maybe a trap being laid for him. So we will see how that plays out in his tactics.

Visit the show’s page to listen to the full interview.

Steven Pifer

, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was interviewed on CNN earlier this week, saying that he wouldn’t quite call what was happening in eastern Ukraine a “civil war”:

I wouldn’t quite call it a civil war because that suggests the Ukrainian population fighting among themselves. I think what you are seeing are isolated cases, now in about 8 or 10 towns and cities in eastern Ukraine, where there have been armed takeovers of buildings that very much look to be inspired and instigated by Russian Special Services.

Read more about this interview here.

Pifer was also interviewed by and spoke to a range of issues in the crisis, including the prospects for a four-way meeting this week in Geneva, featuring foreign policy representatives from the U.S., European Union, Ukraine, and Russia:

The big question here is: Does Vladimir Putin want a deal? In recent weeks, the Obama administration has stressed the importance of leaving a diplomatic off-ramp for Putin to get out of the crisis. But it seems that every time that off-ramp is [presented], Putin just hits the accelerator and keeps on going. Right now, the Russians are not only raising the price of gas, they’ve also blocked some Ukrainian exports to Russia. The photographic evidence that we’ve seen of Russian forces on the eastern Ukrainian border indicate they’re trying to keep Ukrainians on edge.

The weekend’s actions do not augur well for the Thursday meeting. For the meeting to progress toward a resolution of the crisis, Foreign Minister Lavrov needs to come to Geneva with some ideas for deescalating the crisis. But that does not appear to be the Russian objective now.

Read the complete interview at

Last Friday, Strobe Talbott, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met at Brookings for an annual dialogue during which they discussed a range of issues related to the crisis and European security.

Learn more here.

Here is some of what Brookings scholars are saying on Twitter:

See our

research and commentary archive on Ukraine