The logic of competitive influence-seeking: Russia, Ukraine, and the conflict in Donbas
In this article, forthcoming in Post-Soviet Affairs, Tatyana Malyarenko and IStefan Wolff argue that the crisis in Ukraine since late 2013 has seen four successive internationally mediated agreements that have been at best partially implemented. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and 42 key informant interviews on all sides, we explain this outcome with reference to the logic of competitive influence-seeking. Given that Russia is currently unable to secure a regime in Kyiv that is friendly and stable, the Kremlin has been hedging against the consolidation of an unfriendly and stable, Western-supported regime in Kyiv by maintaining its control over parts of eastern Ukraine and solidifying the dependence of local regimes there on Russian support. This gives Russia the opportunity to either maintain the current status quo or settle for favorable re-integration terms through which Russia can sustain long-term influence over Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy orientation. We conclude by offering three broader perspectives on the consequences of competitive influence-seeking in the post-Soviet space: the likely persistence of low-intensity conflict in Ukraine; the further consolidation of territorial divisions in other post-Soviet conflicts; and the need for policy-makers in Russia and the West to prioritize the management of the consequent instability in their contested neighborhood.
Some of the research for this article was supported with a grant from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. In addition to comments from the journal’s editor and anonymous reviewer, we have benefited from invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this article, including from members of NATO Defence College Senior Course 126, as well as Derek Averre, R. William Ayres, Nino Kemoklidze, George Kyris, Harris Mylonas, Kevork Oskanian, Thomas Funch Pedersen , Jasper de Quincey Adams, Olivier Schmit, Mark Webber, and Kataryna Wolczuk.
The article, once published, will be available for free from the Post-Soviet Affairs website.