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The United States' and the West's Implication in Modern Post-Soviet Conflicts, from Ukraine to Georgia

How and to what extent were the United States and the West implicated in modern conflicts involving ​former ​soviet ​​republics?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2017 19 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Region: Russland, Länder der ehemal. Sowjetunion



I Introduction

II Ukraine’s Orange Revolution: an Early U.S. Impact in Ukraine’s politics

III The United States, a counterbalance to Russian dominance in the Caucasus

IV Conclusion NATO Membership as outcome of the West’s lasting implications ?

Literature and Bibliography

This paper aims at measuring the relative impact the West and essentially the United States of America had on two escalations within the post-soviet space, disrupting Russia’s sphere of influence. It is focused on a comparative approach, trying to distinguish differences in how the U.S. weighed in on different developments. We will argue that while the West mingled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, contributing to the country’s political instability, its implication was very different from the one it had in the 2008 wars in the Caucasus, being Georgia and its territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The influence of global forces such as the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United States in events stirring Ukrainian and Georgian politics will be studied. In order to do this, the implication, interests and possibly influences of stakeholders will be analysed in comparison to the crisis in question, as put forward in the following outline:

I Introduction

In early march of 2014, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post that The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country [1]. Inevitably, this implies that Russia dedicates great importance in its foreign policy formulation when it comes to its sphere of influence, especially regarding the post-soviet space, as Russian impregnated history, politics and even religion still shape these regions. This is principally the case when the two areas which are to be compared in this paper are considered, being on one hand Ukraine and Crimea, and on the other hand Georgia, and more specifically the areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In fact, the two conflicts present many similarities and particularities, that are to be studied in this paper. As the 2008 wars in the northern Caucasus implied at least 70,000 men on Russian side[2] and over 10,000 on Georgian side[3] provoking a total of over 350 (military) deaths excluding the 386 civilian deaths caused by the conflict[4], it created an unprecedented turmoil in the region that could not be disregarded by the United States.

While the Ukraine conflict (i.e. Crimea’s annexation) seemed to be of greater urgency to the United States, the war between Russia and Georgia seemed to be handled in a very different way by the U.S. Department of State, albeit both conflicts entailed consequences not only for the political and economic stability of the concerned region, but foremost for Russia’s indirect control of what once were its regions. The goal of our analysis is to find out how and to what extent were the United States and the West implicated in conflicts involving former soviet republics? In order to do this, we will in a first instance focus on Ukraine, its evolving relationship with the West and developments in U.S. foreign policy towards Kiev, by taking into consideration the early U.S. implication in Ukraine during the country’s Orange Revolution in 2004, especially its indirect involvement in the presidential election of the same year. Then, in a second part, we will determine how Russia’s de-facto annexation of Crimea triggered a radical change in the U.S.’s foreign policy formulation, changing Russia’s status to the West for years to come. Finally, in a third part, we will try to understand how the United States presented a real counterbalance to Russian dominance in the Caucasus during the 2008 conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, by evaluating Russia’s interests and motivations in the region, as well as how America was implicated in the South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts.

II Ukraine’s Orange Revolution: an Early U.S. Impact in Ukraine’s politics

The Orange revolution represented the first of three disturbances in Ukrainian politics, and, in a broader sense, in the relationship between Ukraine, Russia, and the West (the two others being the revolution resulting after the Euromaidan protests in 2014, and, most importantly, Russia’s Crimea intervention). However, this first disturbance must be put into perspective with the three others; in fact, it was mostly represented by protests which were far more peaceful compared to the revolution which stemmed from the Euromaidan protests, only provoking a single death (from heart attack)[5]. The situation triggering these nonviolent protests lasted for two months, from November 21st to January 24th. The first runoff was organised on this first date, as polling stations closed to reveal the winner between Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Ukrainian Party of the Regions, qualifying itself as russophile[6], eurosceptic and regionalist[7], former governor of Donetsk and prime minister under president Leonid Kuchma[8], finally achieving the goal of winning presidential elections 6 years later in 2010; and his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, who ran as candidate for the opposition bloc Our Ukraine, proning values of national and economic liberalism[9] as well as an association to the West by supporting pro-european views[10], sporting an orange party color (hence the name Orange Revolution).

There were a number of reasons supporting the protests which followed the announcements of the runoff results on November 21st, declaring Yanukovych winner (as he was ahead by with 50% to the 46% for Viktor Yushchenko by 2 A.M the day after, a statistic greatly deviating from what was expected by experts at the time[11] ). Two of these reasons are scrupulously described by Taras Kuzio, a British Canadian-born specialist on Ukrainian politics; the first one would be the Kuchmagate Scandal (or Cassette Scandal), being one of the biggest political scandals in Ukraine’s post-soviet political era, where cassette recordings including sensible, classified and compromising informations of former president Leonid Kuchma (politically aligned with Yanukovych) has been leaked and retrieved by one of his bodyguards, revealing a high level of corruption in the country, and thus obviously having repercussions on his legitimacy. This had an effect on his candidate and at the time prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, undermining both their legitimacies and confirming the fact that corruption existed at the highest levels of decision making in the executive[12]. Second, the work Yanukovych did as prime minister for the national economy did not convince many, as he was not credited for economic growth[13]. Soon, it became clear that these elections were somehow rigged, and this by different authorities themselves; it then became the main protest goal of the orange revolution (i.e. the reversal of the authorities’ attempt to rig the presidential elections). In a way, these protests succeeded, as Ukraine’s supreme court ordered a rerun between these two candidates, annulling the results of the original runoff and resulting this time in a clear victory for the pro-west Yushchenko, receiving this time 52% of the vote (and 44% for Yanukovych).

Inevitably, Yushchenko's victory was absolutely necessary to the west. Within hours of the first runoff announcement results, the European Union and the United States supported contesting voices in Ukraine, with statements such as former Secretary for State Colin Powell: “If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship”, as well as “We cannot accept this result as legitimate, because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse [14] ”. On the other side, Russia’s president Putin warned that repeating the second round would change absolutely nothing. In fact, it changed pretty much everything. Meanwhile, on the streets in Kiev, the pro-russian aligned electorate (majoritarily present in the eastern part of the country) repeatedly tried to confirm allegations that the West (i.e. the United States) indirectly influenced their elections by financing Yushchenko's campaign, whose supporters would start to cry if only President Bush would wear an orange tie[15]. This placed the West in a difficult position; in fact, on the one hand, it was necessary to the United States to preserve a positive relationship with Putin to maintain a stable world order and to have a strong ally in the fight against terrorism, adding to the important fact that the West’s mingling in what was once Russia’s sphere of power, reviving some dangerous sentiments from the cold war.

Seeing the West’s position and knowing the influence they could have in Ukraine, we have to ask ourselves how it was so very sure for quite some while, that Yanukovych would win the election and that Ukraine would turn away from Russia, as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said “Yushchenko is going to be president of Ukraine [...] One way or another, it's going to happen”. In fact, it is inevitable to see that the Ukrainian court decision set the path for a successful Ukraine-U.S. relationship for the future.

As in the United States investigations on a possible Russian interference in last year’s presidential election are still going on (with, in some cases, substantial results and proof of effective Russian mingling), its efforts to impact the results of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections are not to be forgotten. Natalie Prescott, editor in chief of the Duke University’s Journal of Comparative Law offers an intuitive comparative analysis of Ukraine’s situation in 2004 and the 4-year prior Bush versus Gore election debacle in the United States. In fact, in both cases, the case was handled by respective supreme courts, and again, on both sides, the courts ruled in a very similar way, leading to the fact that Ukraine obtained its first real democratically elected leader in more than 60 years[16]. This similarity in post-electoral events does not stem from the randomness of things, but rather because of a very early impact of the United States in Ukraine’s constitutional matters. Natalie Prescott argues that the Ukrainian judiciary power played a crucial role in the establishment of Yushchenko's presidency, and that the United States had a significant influence at the time it was designed, as for the first time, the Ukrainian Supreme Court claimed its full authority to say "what the law is" for the first time[17]. In fact, when both documents are compared (i.e. both constitutions), important similarities are revealed, like the fact that they both heavily rely on the separation of powers in different branches of government and that they both list essentially the same fundamental rights[18]. This very early american mingling in post-soviet space is further underlined by the fact that the U.S. sent several delegations to Ukraine (and other post-soviet countries, suggesting that drafters in these states frequently looked up to its liberal traditions)[19] in order to participate in the shaping of these new constitutions, hoping to impact the political sphere of regions Russia had influence on from the very beginning, with arguments such as the U.S. constitution being a model that was convenient, well known, and tested by centuries [20]. Clearly, the United States had a very early influence in Ukrainian political happenings, proved by its constitutional similarities. Additionally, Prescott argues that this impact is not only seen on the constitutional level, but at the judiciary as well, as in the end, it were Ukraine’s and the U.S.’s supreme courts which took crucial decisions.

Prescott argues that the United States were acting purposely in Ukrainian Elections in very different ways, the most notable ones being on the one hand providing financial support to the organization of different seminars to school Ukrainian judges on the role of the judiciary and its powers (that were also designed by the United States in a way described in previous paragraphs), sending political observers to the election[21], with the support of numerous international organisations and various NGOs, and, on the other hand and most importantly, by offering help to the protestors and thus ensuring that they were able to continue protesting peacefully. This is clearly an effort to exerce political pressure, which did, together with substantial financial contributions, weigh in on Ukraine’s presidential election outcome in 2004, justifying pro-russian arguments within the Orange revolution, and signaling a threatening U.S. implication for the Kremlin, closely following the events.


[1] Kissinger, Henry, To settle the Ukraine crisis, start at the end, The Washington Post, Mar. 14

[2] Liklikadze, Koba, Lessons and Losses of Georgia’s Five Day War with Russia, Jameston, Sep. 08

[3] Various Contributors, Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, Sep. 09

[4] The information concerning death tools greatly varies by the official sources, Russian or South Ossetia.

[5] Shuster, Savik, I’m the only thing to remain after the “orange revolution”, Novaya Gazeta, Feb. 08

[6] J.T., Viktor Yanukovych’s party claims victory, The Economist, Oct. 12

[7] Barrington, Lowell, After Independence: Making and Protecting the Nation in Postcolonial and Postcommunist States, Michigan University Press, 2006, p. 204

[8] Id., p. 205

[9] Kuzio, Taras, ”Ukraine”, Nations and Nationalism: a Global Historical Overview, ABC-CLIO, 2015, p. 1629

[10] Shapovalova, Natalia, Ukraine, A New Partnership, John Hopkins University Press, 2010, p. 60

[11] Statistics from Ukraine’s Central Election Commission,

[12] Copsey, Nathaniel, The color revolutions in the former Soviet Republics, Routledge, 2010, p. 30

[13] Kuzio, Taras, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution: Causes and Consequences, University of Ottawa Press, Apr. 05

[14] Schneider, William, Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' :A victory for Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine would confirm the West's increasing influence there, The Atlantic, Dec. 04

[15] Id.

[16] Whisler, Joe, The Rule of Law, American Bar Association Press, Jan. 05

[17] Prescott, Natalie, Orange Revolution in Red, White and Blue, Duke Journal of Comparative Law, 2006, p. 219

[18] Id., p. 235

[19] Ludwikowski, Rett, Constitutionalization of Human Rights in Post-Soviet States and Latin America, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Jan. 04, p. 10-12.

[20] See Prescott (note 17), p. 234

[21] Partners such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, see U.S. 150 Cong. Rec. (108th Congress), Presidential Ru noff Election in Ukraine, Dec. 04, on


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Titel: The United States' and the West's Implication in Modern Post-Soviet Conflicts, from Ukraine to Georgia