Ukraine's Geopolitical Role in the New American and Russian Confrontation

Document Type : Original Article


1 Master of Political Science, University of Isfahan

2 Associate Professor of International Relation, Allameh Tabataba'i University


Extended Abstract
Ukraine became independent in August 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has experienced many ups and downs throughout its years of independence. In 2004, with the advent of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Pro-Western groups in this country became powerful. However, the revolution did not finally succeed. In 2014, Ukraine was again a scene of many conflicts. Many observers point to the root causes of these tensions as domestic issues and ethnicity in this country. Some others see Ukraine as the point of encounter for trans-national powers such as the United States and the European Union with Russia, and even in some cases such tensions are referred to as the "new cold war". However, the role of the United States and Russia in these tensions has been important. The culmination point of the crisis, which in practice gave it an international dimension, was Russia's attempt to integrate the Crimean peninsula into its territory, which was faced with the sharp reaction of Western countries, especially the United States, and resulted in significant sanctions on Russia. Ukraine is important for the United States because it has access to the sea and it is in the close vicinity of the largest Russian navy. From the American perspective, although Russia is not as powerful as the Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia, it has the potential to prevent the realization of American interests in this geopolitical heartland, so trying to isolate Russia at its borders is the best way to hit Moscow. As a result, the West and especially the United States constantly accuse Russia of interfering in eastern Ukraine and, thus, they imposed several rounds of sanctions against Moscow on the pretext of joining the Crimea to Russia after a referendum. The Trump administration along with the US Congress has now also approved a new sanction package against Russia, and this action by Trump caused Russia-US relations to grow cold. The present is conducted based on the geopolitical theory
The present study employs a descriptive-analytic method and is considered a basic research. The required data were collected through library techniques from various books, journals, and databases.
Ukraine is economically and geopolitically important for the United States because it is the second largest country in Europe and is geographically adjacent to Russia. Therefore, the US influence in Ukraine, not only economically, can provide a massive market for American goods, but also can act as a move toward the Russian borders. Accordingly, in line with its traditional policy of geopolitical competition with Russia and the expansion of its influence in the independent states of the Soviet Union, the United States considers Ukraine to be an appropriate venue for expanding its presence nest to Russia (Shoaib, 2015: 55-56). The use of Ukraine by the United States and its allies to "put" Russia “into a box. in other words, the siege of Russia, according to the Russians' belief in the geopolitical logic of power, has made inevitable the intensification of political tensions in eastern Ukraine, and the annexation of the strategic Crimean peninsula as the Black Sea Fleet Headquarter to Russia. The sense of insecurity that the Russians suffered as a consequence of the other side of the problem led Vladimir Putin to move in a way that, despite the negative consequences in relations with the West, and in particular the United States, and contrary to the provisions of the Budapest Memoir, to breach Ukraine's sovereignty. According to the provisions of the memo signed by Russia, the United States, and the United States in 1994, these three countries agreed to guarantee Ukraine's "independence and sovereignty" in return for the submission of all nuclear weapons by Ukraine (Dehshiar, 2014: 178-179).
On September 1, 2016, the US Treasury Department's Foreign Assets Control Agency updated the list of individuals and sanctions against various sectors involved in the conflict in Ukraine. The new sanctions list the names of 37 natural entities, 11 Crimean officials, several companies affiliated with the giant Russian gas industry, Gazprom, and 18 active companies in Crimea, including a number of defense equipment manufacturing and shipbuilding companies. In December 2016, the US government added 15 Russian nationals and companies to the blacklist of sanctions for their commercial activities in the Crimea and Ukraine (Morelli, 2017: 34). The sanctions, which have been accompanied by a sharp drop in oil prices, have imposed significant costs on Russia. The Trump Administration has stated that Moscow sanctions remain as long as Russia is present in eastern Ukraine (Blinken, 2017: 3). On December 22, 2017, Tramp allowed the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, which had been suspended a long time ago. The US-Ukrainian arms deal, first published by the Washington Post on December 20, 2017, is worth about $ 41.5 million and seems to include M107A1 sniper systems, ammunition, and related parts and equipment. This marks the largest commercial deal for US defense weapons with Ukraine since 2014. In the same year, the US Congress approved the sale through the adoption of the Law of “Protection of Ukrainian Freedom” (Haltiwanger, 2017: 4). With the rise of a pro-Western government in Kyiv in 2014, new Ukrainian authorities have called for integration into Western institutions, especially NATO and the European Union (Yusufi-Saraph, 1396: 2). In the meantime, it should be noted that if Ukraine joins the European Union and NATO, the borders of its Western Front will coincide with Russia's geographic borders, a threat considered by Russia's defense strategy which is based on its strategic depth.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly stated that Russia will do its best to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, making it a red line. During the Ukrainian crisis over Ukraine's Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, Russia warned its grave and catastrophic consequences and, from the outset, declined imports from Ukraine and threatened to cut off gas exports, and showed this red line by the annexation of Crimea to its territory (Oguz, 2015: 3). The widespread conflict between Russia and the US over Russia's actions in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula did not take place in a vacuum, as there was an environment conducive for such developments. The belief that "Russia-US relations remain on the automatic key of the Cold War era" is indicative of the fact that the two countries still have an offensive approach towards each other, the most striking feature of which has emerged in the Ukrainian crisis (Dehshiar, 2014: 110-112) so that their presence and involvements in the developments in Ukraine have added to the complexity of the situation in the country.
Finally, despite Washington's insistence on supporting the pro-Western government in Keef, Moscow insists that the United States cannot use Ukraine to ransom Russia. Russia's reiteration of the possibility of negotiating with the United States over Ukraine has been expressed following the recent comments by Donald Trump. In late 2017, Donald Trump announced that the prerequisite for the lifting of sanctions against Russia is to change its stance against the Ukrainian crisis. From the point of view of the US authorities, sanctions against Russia should be maintained until Moscow observes the provisions of the Minsk-2 agreement to resolve the eastern Ukrainian crisis.
Due to its unique cultural, identity, and economic characteristics, Ukraine has been prone to tension and the internal crisis between the east and west of the country. The Ukrainian crisis has been already exacerbated at regional and international levels, which can be explained by the internal factors as well as by the rivalry and the intervention of foreign powers such as Russia and the US-led West. The crisis in 2014 provided the ground for Russia and Ukraine divergence, and on the other hand, Ukraine's convergence with the West. With the rise of a pro-Western government in Kyiv in 2014, new Ukrainian authorities have called for integration into Western institutions, especially NATO and the European Union, but this process has faced a clear opposition from Moscow, especially in the military sphere. Russia, as the most important neighbor of Ukraine, is the largest opposition to Ukraine's membership in NATO. The Russians regard NATO's deployment in neighboring countries, in particular, the near-border countries, especially Ukraine, as crossing the Moscow red line and endangering Russia's national security. On the other hand, the main demand of the pro-western government of Ukraine is to expand its relations with the US as the leader of the Western bloc. Although the US-Ukraine relationship was developing during the presidency of Barack Obama, with the arrival of Donald Trump and his apparent willingness to improve US-Russian relations (given Moscow's alleged support for him during the American election campaigns), the Western-oriented Kyiv government was more cautious with the new US administration. Nonetheless, the recent developments, in particular, the adoption of a new sanctions package against Russia in the US Congress, and then transforming it into a law by having it signed by Tramp, boosted Kyle's optimism and affected the Washington-Moscow relationship. Finally, Tramp's administration in a dispute between Russia and Ukraine has provided widespread support for pro-Western authorities in Kiev and has increased its military aid to Kyiv. The main purpose of Washington is to weaken the Russian wing in the outside region near Russia by removing Ukraine from Moscow’s influence realm.


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  • Receive Date: 30 September 2018
  • Revise Date: 21 January 2019
  • Accept Date: 25 May 2019
  • First Publish Date: 23 August 2019