Lynchpin to Ukraine: Considering foreign and domestic complexities of action

I write this post after an inspiring weekend spent at the 2015 Camden Conference entitled Russia Resurgent. The speakers from American, Russian, Chinese, German, and Bulgarian backgrounds examined Russia’s reassertion of itself in the world. Cutting through the distanced, strategic lens through which people so often see foreign relations were one speaker’s words that stood out amongst the rest: Constanze Stelzenmuller’s.

Russian foreign policy may seem unrelated to failed states, yet through a speech about Russian, German, and Ukrainian interactions, Constanze Stelzenmuller made tangible the importance and impact of failed states in world stability and policy making. As it stands, Ukraine is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The government is in turmoil, its people are divided as rebels and nationalists, the latest ceasefire attempt has seemingly failed, and more land is falling to the Russians each day. A failed Ukraine poses tremendous implications for Europe: decreased regional stability, the potential for anti-Russian sentiment brewing in Ukrainian society, and even the potential for the dissolution of the European Union as its strength is undermined.

Germany has become the lynchpin in this crisis; it is the most powerful European country, having close ties to Russia. It has fallen to Germany to create a framework of negotiations with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Key to this is the transition period that Stelzenmuller describes Germany as being in. Since 1989 Germany has had a policy of pacifism, stemming from the personal shame and ownership Germans feel for past actions. So now, as the leader in Europe, Germany is faced with the choice of how to deal with Ukraine and Russia. Should they continue with sanctions, provide arms to the Ukrainians, or should they take a massive step and put Germans on the ground, a large divergence from policy over the last 20 years?

A particular point Stelzenmuller raised was the Russian claim that the issues in the Ukrainian government have arisen due to Jewish presence, reviving feelings of anti-Semitism in Russia. Though not Jewish herself, she rightly proclaimed that this is a sentiment the world cannot return to. Ukraine cannot be allowed to fail, and Russia cannot be left as it is; Germany might have to take the next step to militarization that it has avoided for so long.

Constanza Stelzenmuller received the only standing ovation of the event; what she revealed to the audience was the power of emotion. She made the crisis in Ukraine an issue embedded in her German identity; she shared the emotional struggle of Germans on whether and how to act and the connection and responsibility Germany feels for Ukraine. She made a failing state personal and relevant, which can be applied not just to Ukraine, but any other failed state as well. She removed the distance that exists between stable and unstable states. Subordinately, she demonstrated the difficulties of interacting with a failed state; beyond considering the repercussions of an action in the failed state, the implications for the executor must be considered as well. The decision to use force in Ukraine would be a massive change in German policy and change its role in Europe; it is a decision that cannot be made lightly.

I strongly urge you to learn more about the Camden Conference, all of the speakers that attended, and to think about Ukraine from more than just an American perspective.

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