Russia’s policy in the Ukraine crisis. The role of internal factors

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

20 Pages, Grade: 17/20 ("sehr gut")


Table of Contents


The situation of the Russian Federation - economic boom and restauration of international power or

illusionary giant trying to cover his weaknesses?

The Russian governmental system and its role in Russian foreign policy

Individual actors - Vladimir Putin as the rehabilitator of Russian magnitude or as the originator of Russian isolation driven by the will to secure his claim of power?

The impact of the civil society upon Russian foreign policy - focus on the media and important economic actors


List of references


When the then President of the Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych announced on November 21,2013 not to sign the treaty of association with the European Union, only few observers might have expected to cause this decision probably the deepest international crisis on the European continent in the 21st century. Following the refusal of Yanukovych to sign the treaty with the EU - due to his will to preserve the good relations with Russia whose administration had afore and several times made clear that otherwise it would take economic measures against Ukraine[1] - pro- European mass protests broke out in Ukraine’s capital Kiev and did not stop, despite a severe winter in Ukraine, until Yanukovych eventually fled the country to Russia on February 21,2014[2] He was removed from office by the Ukrainian parliament one day later[3]. Unfortunately, this did not end the internal crisis of Ukraine. On the contrary, it aggravated its dimension because now it became obvious that Ukraine as the cultural and geographical link between Russia and the European Union - thus being an "important space on the Eurasian chessboard”[4] - was exposed to strong external influences from the oriental and occidental part of Europe. Whereas the European Union was willing to integrate Ukraine into its economic and political structures on the long run, Russia wanted to keep it in its sphere of influence fearing further approximation of Western force towards its borders and thus the challenge of its model of power on an internal and external scale[5].

Only five days after the dismissal of Yanukovych, first reports about Russian troops occupying important administration buildings on the then Ukrainian peninsula Crimea came up, which was firstly denied but later confirmed by the Russian government[6]. A new Crimean government was installed, the local parliament voted in favour of a annexation to the Russian Federation on March 6, just like a - internationally not acknowledged - referendum where officially almost 97% of the votes were in favour of becoming Crimea a part of Russia at a participation rate of 83%[7]. Exactly this was executed on March 21,2014, however the annexation was only acknowledged by elven countries at the UN General Assembly whereas as many as 100 countries considered it as invalid[8]. Thus the status of Crimea stays disputed and it cannot be foreseen yet when this argument could be settled.

Despite the now uncontested presence of Russian troops on Crimea in the forefront of its annexation to Russia, the entire process went on mainly without violence. This was at first also the case in upcoming pro-Russian protests in Eastern parts of Ukraine (where more than 50% of the inhabitants speak Russian and not Ukrainian). Beginning in April, armed protestors attacked administration buildings. It is not entirely clear until today where the weapons came from, which nationality the violent protestors had and who took the decision to let the protests become violent[9]. Russian decision makers claim that all this happened due to the fear of Russian-speaking Ukrainians of violence against them by pro-European Ukrainians, on the other hand mainly in Europe and the United States of America, Russia was blamed for delivering arms to Eastern Ukraine[10]. A spiral of violence began and pro-Russian militia occupying large parts of Eastern Ukraine (including the then founded "Free People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk) kept on fighting against the regular Ukrainian army but presently have trouble to keep up stability within their territory[11]. It is assumed that the pro-Russian militia could not keep up its resistance without massive support from Russia in terms of material, financial and logistical support as well as disposal of troops[12].

So the question arises, why Russia has acted this way by first annexing Crimea and then supporting separatist militia in Eastern Ukraine. Many observers point out that Russia feels endangered by Western expansion towards its territory as NATO and the EU have accepted quite a few countries in Central and Eastern Europe as new members which had afore belonged to a Russian sphere of influence, such as Poland or the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania[13]. In this research paper however the central issue to be treated will not be the external factors but if and how far internal factors within the Russian Federation can explain Russian bearing in the Ukraine crisis. The focus will lie upon four fields to be examined. Firstly the situation of the country will be described in terms of its current economic state but also its present self-image and self-confidence within the international system. Secondly the category of individual actors having an impact on the implementation of Russian foreign policy shall be investigated which will manly focus on Vladimir Putin and his conception of power as well as his personal experiences which could have marked his attitude in international affairs. Thirdly, closely linked to Vladimir Putin, the Russian governmental system and its role in Russian foreign policy will be characterised. Lastly the role of the civil society, especially of the media and economic actors shall be examined. In the conclusion the final results will then be summed up and connected in order to answer the initial question.

The situation of the Russian Federation - economic boom and restauration of international power or illusionary giant trying to cover his weaknesses?

Vladimir Putin took office as the President of the Russian Federation in 2000 and his first term ended in 2004. During this time the Russian economy grew by rates between 4.7% and 10% annually[14]. During his second term as President (2004-2008) these figures oscillated between 5.2% and 8.5%[15] Ever since growth rates between 2010 and 2013 have fallen under 5%[16] According to the former Russian minister of Finance, Alexei Kudrin, 2 to 3 percentage points of annual economic growth came from the oil and gas sector[17]. So on the one hand Russia made crucial steps in terms of economic growth ever since the beginning of Putin’s reign but this progress depended very much on the very high level of oil and gas prices during these years. Apparently too much, as has been shown since the decline of the oil price, plummeting from 140$ per barrel in 2008 to only 48$ in 2015 (see chart 2). At the end of 2013 and the first months of 2014 they oscillated around 100$, way below levels reached afore thus already announcing that the Russian economy could face serious trouble along with the budget of the Russian Federation. Taking also into account that the Russian industry had not undergone a process of modernisation and diversification as it could have thanks to huge foreign exchanges deriving from the selling of natural resources, this sector could not compensate for the reduction in oil and gas sales revenues[18].

Some observers have therefore made clear that Putin’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea might have been a gamesmanship in order to detract from his failure in economic politics and to focus national attention in Russia towards external affairs thus strengthening his claim to power against an enemy abroad[19].

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Chart 1: Russian growth rates (1996-2014).

Source: (last access on January 8, 2015).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Chart 2: Development of the price for Crude Oil in US-$ per barrel (2007-2015)

Source: (last access on January 8, 2015).

This brings up the point that national confidence and the Russian self-image should not be underestimated when trying to understand its foreign policy. Once one of the two world powers besides the United States of America, the Russian-dominated Soviet Union had fallen apart from 1990 on just like Russian influence gradually vanished not only in matters of worldwide relevance but also in its former sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and even in its closest neighbourhood in Central Asia and Caucasia under the reign of President Boris Jeltsin (1991 - 1999)[20] This nosedive from world power to a country drowning in internal anarchy, corruption and even bankruptcy in 1998[21] losing its indispensable status within the geopolitical system while former Soviet Union republics joined the Western alliances NATO and the European Union must certainly have hurt Russian pride among huge parts of the population[22]. Rebuilding Russian strength first inside the country and then in external affairs were therefore one of the main objectives of Vladimir Putin when he took office in 2000. He reached the first one not only by an economic boom (mainly caused by the high price level for natural gas and oil) but also by ruling with an iron fist, centralizing all major decision at the Kremlin, weakening the influence of the regions, cruelly fighting against rebels such as in Chechnya and by installing a governmental system basically without opposition parties and controlled media[23]. A politically and economically stabilized Russia could thus act more self-confidently on the global stage. From the Iraq war in 2003[24], the Georgia war in 2008[25] until today, having its climax on the annexation of Crimea - which is "as sacred to Russians as Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Muslims and Jews”[26] according to Putin - it cannot be denied that Russia’s influence has grown a lot since Putin has come into office. This also serves as a legitimation of his power and its methods. Knowing this, Vladimir Putin probably also counted on the Russian national feeling when annexing Crimea which was overwhelmingly welcomed by the Russian population, namely by 73% of the population according to a poll published by the Levada Center[27].

The Russian governmental system and its role in Russian foreign policy

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Citizens, entitled to vote (over 18 years old)

Chart 3: Russia's political system. Source: (last access on January 8, 2015).

Even though the first article of its constitution says that "Russia is a democratic federal law-bound State”, Russian governmental is mainly regarded as "managed”[28], "illiberal”[29] or "defective”[30] democracy. In the following the main characteristics of the Russian governmental system will be briefly presented finishing with an analysis in how far these circumstances can and do in fact influence the Russian foreign policy. First of all it should be pointed out that Russia, the by far largest country in the world, is a Federation with numerous and very different Republics, Territories, Regions and Autonomous Areas (Article 65 of the Russian Constitution) as administrative units. Despite its size however, Vladimir Putin has gradually centralized its national power system in order "to create a single chain of command"[31]. Regional parliaments and governor offices are clearly dominated by Putin’s party United Russia, ensuring his


[1] cf. Emmot 2014.

[2] cf. Frizell 2014.

[3] cf. BBC 2014 I.

[4] Quotation from Zbigniew Brzezinski's book The Grand Chessboard (1997) in which he states: "Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire."

[5] cf. Deyermond 2014.

[6] cf. Mazikina /Smith 2014.

[7] cf. Ostrovsky 2014.

[8] cf. Aljazeera 2014.

[9] cf. BBC 2014 II.

[10] cf. Malpas 2014.

[11] cf. BBC 2014 II.

[12] cf. Kramer / MacFarquhar 2014.

[13] cf. Mearsheimer 2014.

[14] Numbers from the Worldbank. URL: (last access on January 8, 2014).

[15] Numbers from the Worldbank. URL: (last access on January 8, 2014).

[16] Numbers from the Worldbank. URL: (last access on January 8, 2014).

[17] cf. Biermann 2012.

[18] cf. Gregory 2014 and Matlack 2014.

[19] cf. Neshitov 2014.

[20] cf. Frontline Magazine 2014.

[21] cf. Popina, Elena / Xie, Ye 2014.

[22] cf. Laqueur 2014.

[23] cf. Aron 2013.

[24] cf. CNN 2003.

[25] cf. King 2008.

[26] Quotation from Bershidsky 2014.

[27] cf. Kyiv Post 2014.

[28] cf. McFaul / Petrov 2005.

[29] cf. Mitchell 2004.

[30] cf. Croissant/Merkel 2004, p. 8.

[31] cf. Baker 2004.

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Russia’s policy in the Ukraine crisis. The role of internal factors
University of Lisbon  (Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas)
17/20 ("sehr gut")
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1113 KB
Russland, Ukraine, Ukrainekrise, Krieg, Krim, Putin, USA, Geopolitik, NATO, Innenpolitik, Umfragen, Machtpolitik, Osterweiterung, Einflusssphären, Hegemonialpolitik, Gas, Gaslieferungen, Sicherheitspolitik, Minderheiten
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Benedikt Weingärtner (Author), 2015, Russia’s policy in the Ukraine crisis. The role of internal factors, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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