Ukraine is Russia’s identity test

Written on July 20, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Culture & Society, Europe, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

Ukraine, which has long existed in the shadow of Russia, is sometimes compared to Ireland, which had a similar relationship with England, except scaled down to reflect their relative size.

Both Ireland and Ukraine were for many centuries colonized by their larger, more powerful neighbors. The Irish and the Ukrainians provided the manpower for various wars as well as for settling new colonial territories. The Irish diaspora numbers around 70 million people across the English-speaking world, while Ukrainians live in every part of Russia, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, having been either given land to move on their own initiative or transported there under guard during Stalin’s terror.

At different times, England and Russia engineered massive famines in Ireland and Ukraine, respectively, from which those countries are yet to recover demographically, physically and psychologically. In the 20th century, as European empires crumbled, Ireland and Ukraine finally won their freedom. Even the dates of their independence are symmetrical: the Irish declared it in 1919, while Ukraine, along with most other ex-Soviet republics, became a sovereign country with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And now, since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, both former colonial powers are holding on to a piece of territory which belongs to their former subjects.

And yet, one thing is very different. Unlike the Russians, who still claim that Ukrainians are not a nation, the Brits never actually tried to deny a separate ethnic and cultural identity to the Irish – or, for that matter, to the Scots or the Welsh, even though they all speak English and to a casual visitor not attuned to various accents in English, telling them all apart is next to impossible.

The English are highly individualistic. They all but invented individualism, becoming, in effect, a nation of strangers. Modern English is the only European languages not to use a familiar form: lovers, schoolmates and even parents addressing their young kids use the formal you, whereas the personal pronoun I is always capitalized. Britain has a deeply ingrained tradition of eccentricity, in which individuals are allowed to act as they see fit, without conforming to the prevailing notions of “normal” behavior. Even on the crowded London tube, passengers manage to carve out a private space.

Russia, by way of contrast, has always been collectivist. The individual has never meant a thing; he or she is completely insignificant in relation to the state. Those who assert their difference from the crowd, or proclaimed their individuality typically risked expulsion from the community. Why this is the case has been extensively studied and there are plenty of explanations based on history, culture, geography, etc. Be that as it may, collectivism is evident in everyday life – you always see Russians stand on top of each other when they cue up, even if there is plenty of room on the sidewalk – as well as in major historical events, such as Russia’s embrace of communism. On the other hand, eighty years of communist rule, when being a cog in the great machinery of state was proclaimed a huge virtue, reinforced the nation’s natural collectivist tendencies.

To an individualist, the question of identity is pretty straightforward: it is always I. A collective “we” is trickier. You first have to define who else is included into this universe – and, equally important, who is not.

Historically, it has always been difficult for the Russians to define themselves, and the experience of “communist internationalism” made it next to impossible. Early Bolsheviks wanted the collective “we” to be all the workers of the world, then, when world revolution failed to materialize, it became the “Soviet people”, officially consisting of a “fraternal family of Soviet nationalities”. In reality, this collective identity was rife with ethnic enmities and prejudice.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, the Russian Federation attempted to create a new national identity. A new term appeared – rossiyanin – meaning a citizen of the Russian Federation, as opposed to russky, which denotes more narrowly an ethnic Russian. Creating a collective WE of the rossiyanins has not so far been especially successful, and the search for Russian self-identification is ongoing. Read more…

Posted on July 19th in http://www.kyivpost.com/

Alexei Bayer is a New York-based economist and writer. HIs new detective novel, “Latchkey Murders”, set in Moscow in the early 1960s, is coming out in English in early July.


Earlier this month, students from our current MIR intake organized a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. Here is current MIR student Calvin Nguyen’s account of the visit.

Embassy visit

Through the initiative of MIR student Jose Miguel, students from the Master in International Relations and other interested IE students attended a special talk on July 1st at the United States Embassy in Madrid, Spain. The talk focused on the topic of Public Diplomacy featuring civil servant Vickery Sanchez and her experience while working with the Department of State in Washington D.C.

3pm that day, we began the process of entering the fortress-like U.S. embassy undergoing a very lengthy security screening process. Soon after, we were led into a room that reminded me of a miniature theater with comfortable sofas, classical chairs, and lazy boy armchairs. With the air conditioning blowing cooling us from the oppressive 40 C degree Madrid summer heat and being comfortably seated in the sofas and armchairs, the presentation began.

It was a great opportunity to learn about Public Diplomacy which is different than classical diplomacy between governments and larger organizations. Rather, Public Diplomacy is the government directly engaging with the people themselves.

Throughout the presentation, we saw an example of an action plan of the U.S. government about how it engages in Public Diplomacy with the world. Additionally, we learned about the way social media has changed the way the government engages with people and how it serves as a valuable tool in Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

I had always heard of and knew about the U.S. Fulbright program which students utilize as an opportunity to teach, to work, and to conduct research abroad. Originally, I had thought of it as a way to expose Americans to other cultures, but after the presentation, I now see it as a means of the U.S. government to spread soft power through the world.

Vickery also mentioned the importance of Foreign Service Officers working in Public Diplomacy abroad as a means to combat both disinformation and misinformation by helping to deliver accurate information and news, and to properly represent the views of the United States.

Overall, it was a very informative event and a nice break during the extremely hectic period of thesis writing. Specially organized talks and events like these provide a very nice change from the classical classroom learning environment.


The historic deal between Iran and world powers reportedly reached on July 14 in Vienna has paved the way for international sanctions against Tehran to be lifted in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities. While the six powers have said the deal will slow Tehran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon, the accord could also have other far-reaching ramifications linked to Iran’s possible reintegration into the global community.

From potentially stoking a Middle East arms race, to enabling political reforms in Iran, to undercutting Russia’s energy might by freeing up massive oil and gas supplies, here are some possible implications of the agreement.

‘Destabilizing’ Factor?

The prospect of a prospering Iran has sparked concern among skeptics of the nuclear deal — and even some U.S. officials who back it — that Tehran could use this financial windfall to destabilize the already volatile Middle East.Sanctions relief could allow Iran to repatriate more than $100 billion in oil revenues currently frozen overseas , and some experts estimate that sanctions relief could help Iran’s $420 billion economy grow by 5 percent to 8 percent annually.

“We are, of course, aware and concerned that, despite the massive domestic spending needs facing Iran, some of the resulting sanctions relief could be used by Iran to fund destabilizing actions,” The Daily Beast quoted a U.S. State Department official as saying in a July 8 report. 

However, Mohsen Milani, the executive director of the Center for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, told RFE/RL that the deal could be a “transformative event” in the Middle East because it opens the door to better ties between Iran and the West, which could reduce tension in the region.

Richard Nephew, who served as the State Department’s principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy and as director for Iran at the National Security Council, argues that fears that Iran will use money from sanctions relief to bankroll its regional ambitions are overblown.

“Iran’s domestic economic needs are real, as is [President Hassan Rohani’s] imperative to deliver on the promises that got him elected,” Nephew wrote earlier this month. “To ensure the stability of their government, Iran’s leaders must tend to the problems at home and make the investments necessary to sustain their future. Supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other regional actors is an important, but secondary, objective.” 

Shifting Alliances

The U.S. push for the nuclear deal with Iran has also raised fears among Sunni-dominated Arab states that Washington, their traditional guarantor, is essentially stepping back to allow Shi’ite Iran free rein in the region. Amid these concerns, Gulf Arab states are increasingly talking about diversifying their international alliances.

“[U.S. President Barack] Obama is going to be remembered as the U.S. president who restored relations with Iran. But he may also be remembered as the U.S. president who lost his traditional allies in the region,” Sami al-Faraj, a Kuwaiti security adviser to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), told Reuters in June. Read more…

Written by By Carl Schreck and Golnaz Esfandiari

Published on July 14th in http://www.rferl.org/


You’d be forgiven for thinking that Iran, unshackled from economic sanctions, would have free rein to domineer its vulnerable Persian Gulf Arab neighbors and cause trouble for Israel. As the fearful refrain goes, if an Iran restrained by crippling sanctions has managed to assert its influence over four Arab capitals — those of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen — what will an Iran freed from sanctions and a global arms embargo do? As noted Iran hawk Ray Takeyh recently wrote, “the most important legacy of the prospective agreement [may be that it] enable[d] the Islamic Republic’s imperial surge.” This same line has been pushed so hard that it has become accepted fact in Washington.

The problem is, the line isn’t true. But, nonetheless, it is threatening to upend a lasting nuclear deal with Iran.

As the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries head down to the wire in Vienna, the issue has arisen in the question of whether the arms embargo imposed on Iran as part of the U.N. Security Council resolutions would be maintained following a nuclear deal. The United States and its European partners say yes; Russia, China, and Iran say no.

The timing is troubling to say the least. Just as solutions have been found to constrain and roll back elements of Iran’s nuclear program, this issue — one that’s outside the scope of the nuclear talks — is now taking on such exaggerated importance that it threatens to undo the serious progress of the past 18 months. Having performed so well at insulating the nuclear talks from outside complications, U.S. and Iranian negotiators have nearly reached agreement only to come to a standstill over this regional dimension. Of course, no one imagined back in 2010 that a conventional arms embargo — part of what was otherwise a U.N. Security Council resolution focused squarely on Iran’s nuclear-proliferation activities — would rear its ugly head in quite this manner.

The Russian and Iranian position is that the Security Council resolutions rested on the understanding that the arms embargo would be lifted once concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program were resolved. Provided that a deal is reached on Iran’s nuclear program, Russia and Iran thus argue, the arms embargo loses its legal justification. The current U.S. position, however, may be less interested in maintaining coherence with past policy than it is with ensuring that it mitigates regional allies’ concern as much as possible as part of a nuclear deal with Iran. Understandably, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration fears that undoing the arms embargo on Iran would be a step too far for some of the United States’ key regional allies, all of which — but particularly Saudi Arabia — threaten to undermine the administration’s case for a nuclear deal should they perceive their interests to dictate in favor of doing so. Read more…

Published on July 10th in http://foreignpolicy.com/

Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran.

Tyler Cullis is a legal fellow and policy associate at the National Iranian American Council.


 What Are the Geostrategic Implications of a Grexit?

At the the moment, it is unclear how Greece will ultimately fare in the current duel of wills with the Troika over its technical default, the upcoming referendum, and the possibility of a continuation of the long-running bailout drama. The two sides are locked in acrimonious finger-pointing, Greek banks are shuttered for the week, and the logical but ever elusive diplomatic and economic solution — a reasonable negotiation between the parties — seems further away than ever. As a proud Greek-American, I am saddened by the situation.

Meanwhile, the July 5 referendum is judged too close to call at the moment, and most Greeks will likely be confused about the implications and uncertain how to vote. Macroeconomic theory appears to have been the first casualty of the process, and the doomsday economic scenarios — a crashed Greek economy, a battered if not broken euro, and a deeply shaken European project — are looming large on the horizon.

But in the midst of all of the appropriate Sturm und Drang of the Greek financial and economic crisis, it is worth considering the geostrategic implications of the “Grexit” — which have been largely ignored.

Let’s face it: A Greece that goes crashing out of the eurozone will be an angry, disaffected, and battered nation — but one that will continue to hold membership in the European Union and NATO, both consensus-driven organizations. (“Consensus-driven” means that without unanimous consent among all members, the organization cannot take decisions or execute effective operational actions.) Many times in NATO councils as the supreme allied commander I watched the agonizing process of building consensus, one compromise at a time. In both the EU and NATO, an uncooperative Greece in the future could time and time again put the organizations “in irons,” which is to say becalmed and not moving effectively forward.

This could manifest itself very quickly in, for example, decisions about sanctions against Russia (from which Greece is avidly courting support and funding, logically enough). It could easily affect day-to-day governance in the European Union over issues from negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to agricultural subsidies to what should be done about refugee flows across the Mediterranean. Greece could become a troublesome and obstructionist actor in complex negotiations involving the EU, such as the Iranian nuclear treaty efforts.

 Read more…

James Stavridis is a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral and NATO supreme allied commander who serves today as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He recently gave a well attended seminar at the IE School of International Relations.


Published on 1 July, 2015 in http://foreignpolicy.com/

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