Ukraine’s EU candidate status marks the beginning of a new era
CIUS weekly report on media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 20–26 June 2022
Four North American magazines (National Interest, National Review, The Atlantic, and Atlantic Council) were selected to prepare this report on how the situation in Ukraine has been portrayed in media outlets during the past week (20–26 June 2022). The sample of magazines was created based on their impact on public opinion, as well as their professional reputation, popularity among the readership, and topical relevance. The four magazines represent the conservative, centrist, and liberal political spectrum.
This report covers only the most-read articles about Ukraine, as ranked by the respective magazines themselves in the past week. It also covers promoted texts on home pages, texts from special sections on Ukraine, texts from the paper editions of the magazines, and texts about Ukraine from opinion columns and editorials.
Topics featured in the selected articles:
- Ukraine at war: the EU’s candidate roadmap will contribute to Ukraine’s good governance; women’s rights in Ukraine granted additional protections; international volunteers for Ukraine face challenges in maintaining public interest in their cause;
- The world and Ukraine: the EU should substantially support Ukraine on its path to European integration; USA should know its limits in helping Ukraine militarily; US leaders declare that the war in Ukraine is “genocidal”; countering the Chinese threat is no less important to the West than aiding Ukraine;
- Russia at war: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a continuation of Soviet expansionism; the Kremlin is re-orienting its policies toward developing countries; with its invasion of Ukraine the Kremlin has likely ignited a chain of military conflicts across the globe; the possibility of defeat in Ukraine will put an end to Putin’s victorious image and destabilize Russia.
The most common arguments:
Ukraine’s EU candidate status will galvanize it as never before to reform the state and society. The Atlantic Council dedicated much attention to the European Council meeting in Brussels on 23–24 June. The meeting ended with Ukraine’s official acquisition of the status of EU candidate nation.
Peter Dickinson (Atlantic Council) argues that offering Ukraine the prospect of EU membership represents “a significant breakthrough for Kyiv at a time when Ukrainians are defending their country against Russian invasion in a conflict driven in large part by Kremlin opposition to Ukraine’s European ambitions.” Dickinson surveyed independent experts, who brought additional perspectives to this issue. Primarily, Ukraine’s EU candidacy will help civil society to shape the domestic political agenda, in particular accelerating anti-corruption reforms. Secondly, the candidacy will provide an emotional, financial, and legislative boost to the Ukrainian nation, allowing it to cut even more of its ties with Soviet legacies. Thirdly, the candidacy is a pivotal symbolic development that epitomizes the EU’s recognition of Ukraine’s place with the West, as well as a positive appraisal of Kyiv’s reforms since 2014. Finally, the candidacy is a powerful development in the EU’s foreign policy that removes the geopolitical obscurity of Europe’s “grey zone” by introducing the rule of law.
Mark Temnycky (Atlantic Council) believes that Ukraine’s EU candidacy is a sign of honouring and appreciating the state’s fight for European values. Temnycky opens his article with the statement that “Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration ambitions have been central to the country’s political evolution for the past two decades and have had a profound impact on the wider geopolitical landscape.” He analyzes the reasons and outcomes of the 2003/04 Orange Revolution and 2013/14 Euromaidan, concluding that the sovereign choices of Ukraine provoked Russia to start “the largest armed conflict since WWII.” Since the early 2000s, Ukraine has not only grown into a threat to the Kremlin’s imperial policies in the region but become a model state that reformed and rejected the Russian tradition of authoritarianism. With the war entering its deadliest phase, “granting Ukraine EU candidate status would send a powerful message of solidarity and support to Ukrainians.”
In his second article in the past week, Peter Dickinson (Atlantic Council) advocates that the EU should not only confirm Ukraine’s candidate status but back this decision with sufficient substance. Since the 1990s, “Europe served as the idealized ‘other’ for newly independent Ukrainians and was frequently invoked to underline the imperfect realities of post-Soviet Ukraine.” In this light, being a symbol of civilizational choice, the EU should not only participate in the ultimate resolution of the Russo-Ukrainian war but also decide on its future trajectory with Ukraine on board. Dickinson believes that Ukraine’s European choice and gradual renunciation of Soviet legacy lie at the core of Russia’s aggression. Therefore, the EU as an “organization founded to prevent war and unite Europe cannot hope to flourish if it fails to support a potential future member state that finds itself under genocidal attack for the crime of embracing core European values.”
Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention and further strengthened women’s rights. Iryna Slavinska (Atlantic Council) notes that it took more than a decade for the Ukrainian parliament to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which the state had signed in 2011. The reason for the delay resided in the unpreparedness of the conservative part of the society to accept gender-based values and terms, as well as the unwillingness of Ukrainian deputies to lose votes by pushing innovative legislation. The half-measures introduced instead through updates to Ukraine’s Criminal Code were not enough, as they mainly concerned domestic violence. Today, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is very timely, as the legal tools provided to Ukrainian authorities will allow them to also protect women in the occupied territories and investigate cases of violence against them. Last but not least, the ratification of the Convention further approximates Ukraine to the standards of the European Union that it will need to fully adopt in future.
Ukraine’s volunteers in Poland are driven by responsiveness, ingenuity, and solidarity. Melinda Haring (Atlantic Council) offers a vibrant report on the Help Ukraine Center in Lublin, Poland, and draws portraits of the people who volunteer there: “the soundtrack is a mix of duct tape, determination, laughter, and light rock.” Unlike in the first days after its opening, the centre is facing a new kind of challenge today: donations from benefactors have plummeted by 80% compared with March 2022, delays with the shipment of goods to Ukraine have increased due to problems hiring drivers, volunteers have to leave as they cannot work for free all the time, and global attention to the war in Ukraine is weakening. Nevertheless, the Help Ukraine Centre continues to work and respond to incoming queries. One recent initiative was providing Ukraine’s female soldiers with specially tailored uniforms, sports bras, lightweight bullet-proof vests, and feminine hygiene products. Help Ukraine represents a grassroots initiative of young Ukrainian businesspeople, and “its website proudly proclaims that the entire endeavor receives no government support.”
The West has yet to experience the worst ramifications of the war in Ukraine. On 16 June 2022, American political scientist John J. Mearsheimer delivered a speech on Ukraine at the European University Institute in Florence, and the National Interest’s editorial board decided to publish it. Mearsheimer claims that Russia was provoked into launching its invasion of Ukraine by Western actors. This claim derives from two arguments: first, that US policies toward Ukraine ignored Russian interests in the region for decades; and second, that the US has not sought a diplomatic resolution to the war today. Mearsheimer believes that “the taproot of the crisis is the American-led effort to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s borders. That strategy has three prongs: integrating Ukraine into the EU, turning Ukraine into a pro-Western liberal democracy, and most importantly, incorporating Ukraine into NATO.” At the same time, he fails to consider that Putin does not respect Ukraine’s sovereignty or that the invasion is fuelled by Russian revanchism. Mearsheimer concludes that the war will further escalate and may even turn nuclear as neither Russia nor the US are willing to lose.
USA should not over-invest in Ukraine’s defence. Michael Brendan Dougherty (National Review) reiterates many of Mearsheimer’s arguments in a critical article about US policy toward Ukraine. In his view, the Russo-Ukrainian war is of no strategic importance to the US and therefore Washington should not overly invest in it, even under the premise of doing the morally right thing. Dougherty assumes that the US possesses neither the necessary resources nor the political will to achieve the declared objective, which has been to defeat Russia. Instead, the war is intensifying, Russia is advancing, Ukrainians are dying, and the US is lagging in its support of Ukraine. Dougherty also opines that the Kremlin wanted to find a diplomatic solution before deploying any troops, yet this solution, defined as the “Minsk II” deal, was ignored. At the moment, the US’s foreign policy actors seem to be facing a brutal reality and are moderating their optimism. To mitigate the risk of the US “losing big” in Ukraine, Dougherty encourages Washington to curtail its support to Kyiv before it is too late.
Leading US politicians convinced that the Russian war in Ukraine is genocidal. Jimmy Quinn (National Review) opens his article with a statement that “Mike Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘planned genocide’ akin to the mass starvation in the country nearly a century ago and dismissed the idea that the war could be ended through negotiations with Vladimir Putin, calling instead for a robust effort to propel Ukraine to decisive victory.” The former secretary of state believes that providing support to Kyiv not only prevents the mass killing of civilians but overlaps with the USA’s national interest. Defeating Russia in Ukraine today will discourage the Kremlin from attacking any neighbouring NATO state (an act to which the US would be obliged to respond), avert the Kremlin’s attempts to solidify its grip over the global energy supply, and weaken a fast-growing “Russian-Chinese axis bent on exerting military and economic hegemony.” In his definition of the Russo-Ukrainian war as genocidal, Pompeo speaks in line with Joe Biden, the POTUS.
China’s challenge to the West should not fall out of focus regardless of the war in Ukraine. Zalmay Khalilzad (National Interest) argues that the US faces two strategic challenges today: “One is the challenge posed by China as a rising power seeking to overtake the United States as the world’s preeminent power. The other is Russia, a declining power committing a shocking act of aggression against Ukraine in a futile bid for imperial restoration.” According to Khalizad, the challenge posed by China is more grave, as it permeates “economic, political, technological, and military dimensions.” The US is partly responsible for China’s growth, as for decades it developed cooperation instead of questioning the authoritarian policies of the ruling party. In this light, the war in Ukraine opens key new opportunities: to make Russia revise its aggressive policies (while preventing its further weakening and backsliding into the Chinese sphere of influence), to involve India more deeply in cooperation with the West, and to strengthen the unity of the West against global authoritarianism.
The war in Ukraine reflects the bitter legacy of Soviet Communism. Elizabeth Edwards Spalding (National Review) surmises that a Russian victory would make Ukraine suffer the same fate and transformations as it did during Soviet times. She examines the personality of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent who has been striving to return to the old ways and means of policy conduct. According to Spalding, the world Putin comes from is “enabled and propped up by not only deception but also vast military might, topped by strategic nuclear weapons. Together, regime, party, KGB, and military made up the Soviet way of politics, which was the equivalent of perpetual warfare.” Spalding provides historical insights to illustrate that the rule of Moscow has always been disastrous for Ukrainians: human losses in both world wars, forceful collectivization, artificial famines, totalitarian oppression, persecution of intellectuals, the Chornobyl catastrophe, and other calamities. Today, in light of Russia’s war atrocities and the Kremlin’s denial of committing them, Ukraine’s victory is the only way to erase Soviet legacies and turn the civilizational tides for both sides of the conflict.
The war in Ukraine has revealed new Russian policies toward the Global South. Charles E. Ziegler (National Interest) writes that while the Western world has unilaterally condemned Russian aggression toward Ukraine, Asia-Pacific states have demonstrated far more muted criticism. Arguably this has encouraged the Kremlin to engage a new foreign policy pivot to the East. Significantly, in early February 2022 China declared a “partnership without limits” with Russia, which allowed the latter to safely move troops from Siberia to its western borders while the former gained an ally against US domination in the Indo-Pacific. That said, Beijing has decided not to help the Kremlin bypass sanctions that have largely been imposed by the West. Meanwhile, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan “need Russian security guarantees to shield them from the Taliban and more radical ISIS-K fighters in Afghanistan,” and therefore they are inclined to support the war almost unconditionally. On the other hand, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan “have reason to fear Russian neo-imperialism” and are cautiously balancing between supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine and worrying about Russia’s future invasion of their own territories. And India, alongside the smaller ASEAN states, is trying to remain neutral and use the conflict to pursue its national interests (cheap oil from the Kremlin as well as diplomatic recognition from Washington). Finally, Ziegler claims that both Russia’s and China’s foreign policy are emboldening authoritarian leaders all across the globe, including in the West.
The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to provoke a wave of upheavals across the globe. Jacob Heilbrunn (National Interest) describes some major points in the discussion by Western politicians and intellectuals about how to resolve the Russo-Ukrainian war. In particular, he highlights the desire of many in the West to strike what he regards as a shameful truce with Russia for the sake of a bigger goal—stability of the world’s order. Heilbrunn cites the US’s former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who declared in May 2022 that “a negotiated settlement was imperative lest the war spiral into a direct confrontation between Washington and Moscow.” At the same time, Heilbrunn argues that any truce with Russia today would be an “appeasement in the face of tyranny” that may not necessarily prevent the upcoming age of upheaval anyway. In this light, Washington’s policy toward Ukraine looks too cautious and “balanced.” On the one hand, the Biden administration has “delivered a serious amount of weaponry” to Ukraine, but on the other hand, it is not “going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia.”
Its failures in the Russo-Ukrainian war may destabilize the Kremlin’s regime, similarly to what happened after the Russo-Japanese war. David Gioe (The Atlantic) argues that as in 1904, Russia’s leadership launched an offensive against a presumably weaker foe on a false premise. Ukrainians, the same as the Japanese, demonstrated much higher battle prowess and fighting skills than imagined; Russia started another big war unprepared. In this light, Gioe speculates that “Vladimir Putin’s military quagmire in Ukraine today is fraught with domestic dangers that, when they bubbled up during Czar Nicholas II’s reign, led to not just an immediate revolution but even bigger and longer-lasting changes years later.” Gioe claims that Russian delusionary overconfidence in victory has encouraged the state’s leadership to prefer ruthless conquest to careful diplomacy. However, after eventual defeat is handed to it in this “unnecessary and unpopular war,” Russia may plunge into a momentous turmoil: the economy crumbling, the state losing its international respect, and the leadership becoming discredited at home. All this constitutes the prerequisites for revolution.
Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine may end Putin’s series of victories. Mark N. Katz (National Interest) hypothesizes that “just as the Crimean War ended Nicholas I’s string of victories and the occupation of Afghanistan ended Brezhnev’s, the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine may have ended Putin’s.” As of now, the Russian army has suffered numbers of human casualties unprecedented since the collapse of the USSR. Acting under Putin’s command, the Russian army has neither gained convincing victories on the battlefield nor achieved any of its strategic objectives. At the same time, the history of Russia demonstrates that if the military endeavour of a leader brings little to no fruit, that leader is likely to be replaced by another. It is yet unclear what will be the eventual outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian war; however, it has every chance of becoming Putin’s last.
Worth your attention:
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not the fault of the West. In his speech published by National Interest, John J. Mearsheimer declares: “The tragic truth is that if the West had not pursued NATO expansion into Ukraine, it is unlikely there would be a war in Ukraine today and Crimea would still be part of Ukraine. In essence, Washington played the central role in leading Ukraine down the path to destruction.”
This statement contains a few misconceptions.
Mearsheimer uses the Russia-promoted term “expansion” with respect to NATO. By doing so, the analyst challenges the agency of NATO members and partners. According to his viewpoint, it was not sovereign Ukraine deciding to develop its cooperation with the Alliance but the Alliance purposefully “expanding” to incorporate Ukraine into its structures against the will of Kyiv. The more accurate and therefore preferable term with respect to NATO is “enlargement,” which also reflects the Alliance’s own wording. For additional insight, we suggest an article by Daniel Ramallo (The National Interest).
Mearsheimer claims that NATO’s courting of Ukraine provided the casus belli for Russia. However, the Alliance has never aimed to threaten Russia; quite the opposite, it actually developed a unique institutional framework of cooperation for the federation, and in the early 1990s Russia considered joining NATO. Therefore, apart from serving as a convenient target for the Kremlin’s propaganda, NATO’s “cooperation” with Ukraine can hardly be defined as a major threat justifying the invasion. For more details, we suggest an article by Hans Petter Midttun (Euromaidan Press).
Mearsheimer believes that Washington pushed Ukraine toward the path of democratization and Euro-Atlantic integration. Following the logic of this belief, it was not Ukraine that decided to leave the Russian sphere of geopolitical influence but the US that pulled the sovereign state out of its supposedly rightful place of belonging. This belief of Mearsheimer’s is much in line with the Kremlin’s current rhetoric, which denies Ukraine the right of agency in international relations.
Mearsheimer argues that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea would have remained under Ukraine’s sovereignty if the West behaved less malignly toward Russia. However, the evidence demonstrates that the Kremlin was preparing to occupy and annex the peninsula already in the early 2000s.
Many of Mearsheimer’s arguments are also challenged in articles by Leif Wenar (The Wall Street Journal) and Nicolas Tenzer (The Conversation).
The US and the West should not abandon Ukraine in the face of growing Russian aggression. When writing about the USA’s foreign policy priorities, Michael Brendan Dougherty (National Review) claims that “We should not get too involved in Ukraine, because in the end Russia will expend more political will, take more risks, and suffer more consequences to determine the final outcome there. In short, Ukraine is peripheral to us, and dear to them.”
This statement by Dougherty seems to be one-sided and based on incomplete deductions. A appeal for the US’s non-involvement in Ukraine would sound reasonable if the US adhered to the principles of isolationism instead of being a global actor.
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo opposes Dougherty’s argument that Ukraine is peripheral to the US. In a recent speech Pompeo suggests that “Americans should view robust U.S. assistance to Ukraine as consistent with the national interest: because aiding Ukraine’s war effort would deter a Russian attack on a NATO state that would bring in the U.S., prevent Russia from consolidating its dominance over the global energy supply, and undermine a fast-solidifying ‘Russian-Chinese axis bent on exerting military and economic hegemony.’”
It is also worth considering that warfare exhausts the Russian army and makes it less efficient in executing offensive operations. Instead, Dougherty seems to regard Russia’s hard and soft power resources as unlimited, which is an exaggeration. Not to mention that the Russian leadership has a history of lost wars which they had deemed would be victorious before deploying their troops.
Russia resorting to violence in its policy toward Ukraine was its own unilateral decision. Michael Brendan Dougherty (National Review) ponders that Russian diplomatic efforts were ignored by the West, making the Kremlin resort to violence: “Having failed to get what it wanted from Minsk II, Russia decided to take a military option. In other words, deterrence failed. Russia accepted the high risks and costs of switching to a strategy of compellence.”
Dougherty overlooks the fact that since occupying the post in 2019, President Volodymyr Zelensky has constantly reiterated his intention to meet his counterpart in the Kremlin and discuss all the issues of concern between the two nations. However, the meeting did not take place, as the Russian side declined to consider it seriously. In the past week, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov noted that the war would stop immediately if Ukraine accepts all of Russia’s demands. This statement does not encourage a diplomatic solution to the crisis by finding common ground between the nations.
Elizabeth Edwards Spalding (National Review) and Christopher Miller (Politico) argue that the Kremlin has never been truly interested in transparent and equal relations with Ukraine, given that it decided to launch a genocidal war and wipe out the entire nation. Therefore, any negotiations with a perpetrator that objects to Ukraine’s state- and nationhood could not lead to any productive outcomes, no matter how hard Kyiv tried at the negotiation table.
For more information about why diplomatic reconciliation with Russia is impossible without addressing Ukraine’s sovereign concerns, we recommend reading an article by Dennis Soltys (Atlantic Council).
Russia does not exactly know what it expects now from the war in Ukraine. Michael Brendan Dougherty (National Review) concludes that “in three months Russia has done in Ukraine what the Pentagon could not do in Afghanistan over two decades: settle on a reasonable set of goals and develop an effective strategy for annihilating its opponents.”
In contrast, many analysts, including Lawrence Freedman (Foreign Affairs) and The Economist team, argue that Russia’s strategy in Ukraine has been disastrous and unrealistic since the very beginning. From the original idea of conquering the capital of Ukraine in three days, the Kremlin eventually steered the invasion into an artillery-centred war of attrition and overall has suffered thousands of casualties. To date, Russia has not managed to achieve any objectives in Ukraine that could be considered strategic; as well, none of its casi belli have been resolved. On top of this, Russia’s strategic objectives are constantly changing, depending on the pace of advancement of its invading troops.