Russia-Ukraine Tensions: Are we moving towards the armed conflict? (Series 2)

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In the second event of a series on Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Circle Foundation organised a webinar titled “Russia-Ukraine Tensions: Are We Moving Towards Armed Conflict?” The event hosted Andry Marchenko, deputy head of mission of the Ukrainian Embassy in the UK; Ambassador (r) John E. Herbst, senior director in Atlantic Council; Professor Angela Stent from Georgetown University; and Asli Aydintasbas, senior fellow in the European Council of Foreign Relations. The webinar was chaired by Asli Atbas, producer in TRT World.

Stating that sanctions are unlikely to deter Russian aggression, Professor Stent emphasised that the recent announcements by the EU and the USA were unlikely to change Putin’s strategic calculus. She added that Putin’s aims had been clear since 2007, and even an Ukrainan distancing from NATO would not change the course of events since the ongoing crisis was “about Putin’s desire to subjugate Ukraine.” Professor Stent also marked that the breakaway regions’ claim on disputed territories could ignite further violence, and there was little support for a full-scale conflict in Russia despite Putin’s hold on power.

Ambassador Herbst situated the Ukraine crisis in the wider Russian strategy. Stating that “Putin wants to re-write the end of the Cold War, and he wants to do it by coercion,” he drew a parallel with the 2008 war in Georgia when Putin first encouraged separatists and then consolidated his gains in the form of a tenuous ceasefire. However, Ambassador Herbst noted that Putin had a fixation with Ukraine, which may cause the Kremlin to undertake far riskier measures. When asked about the slow reaction of Western powers, he highlighted the relative peace and prosperity enjoyed by Europeans and Americans in the last decades, stating that it was human nature to be slow in the face of new challenges under these circumstances.

Asli Aydintasbas started her speech by saying that solidarity between Ukraine and its allies had been much clearer in the past months compared to the recent past. She suggested that the German decision to suspend the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was important, yet it engendered further questions of how Europeans could diversify their gas supply, hinting at potential cooperation with the Persian Gulf states. Responding to an audience question about Turkey, she said that while Turkey was likely to express support for Ukraine, it would not join any sanctions regime against Russia due to numerous issues including refugees, the conflict in Syria, and energy dependence.

Andry Marchenko agreed with the pessimistic view of sanctions, stating that Ukraine has been pushing for them since 2014 to limited effect. While they are unlikely to change Putin’s course, Mr. Marchenko expressed support for further sanctions by the EU and the USA. He expressed concern about the current situation, pointing to the fact that there were seventy-five violations of the ceasefire on a single day in Donbas. He also stated that the West needed to show the unity and solidarity that it has been developing with Ukraine. He finished his remarks by reiterating the Ukrainian resolve to defend its territory in the face of a possible assault, noting that this was an unwanted scenario and his country would prefer a diplomatic solution.

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