Vladimir vs. Volodymyr. Crimea’s Annexation and its Role in the Light of Classical Realism
Preface ... 3
Chapter I - The Concept of Classical Realism ... 4
Realism According to Morgenthau ... 4
The Struggle for Power ... 6
Chapter II - Russia's Intervention in the Light of Classical Realism ... 7
Applicable International Law and Ukraine's Relevance ... 7
Endangered Status Quo or Unrestrained Power Expansion? ... 9
Chapter III - Conclusion ... 12
Bibliography ... 13
The 2014 opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics was supposed to be the defining moment of the presidency of Vladimir Putin, showing the world a resurrected Russia and fueling his prominence at home. Little was put to chance - Russia doped its athletes and flaunted with their gold medals as if they were the spoils of war (Economist, 2019). During this time, Ukraine found itself in a deep political crisis. Viktor Yanukovych, the former President, declined to sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU), leading to widespread demonstrations in Kiev. In February 2014, the situation on the Maidan worsened. The dispute led to the deposition and ultimately to Yanukovych's flight (Geissbühler, 2014, pp. 8-11). Riots in Crimea, where pro-Russian rebels demanded the independence of the peninsula from Ukraine, broke out in reaction to the political upheaval in Kiev (Kononszuk, 2014, p. 122). The celebrations in Russia quickly turned into anti-Western outrage, stirred up by the state propaganda media; and the Sochi Olympics gave way, within days, to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbas (Economist, 2019).
Today, the annexation's medial relevance has faded. Russia's invasion of Crimea, however, cut off its ties with the Maidan and the West; and Ukraine still wants its territories back. In his inaugural address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, current Ukrainian president, trumpeted that "[b]oth Crimea and Donbas are Ukrainian lands" (Zelenskyy, 2019). Yet Russia has the regions tightly under its control. Western politicians - although giving lip service for territorial integrity - seem to resign themselves to the new status quo.
The question of why Russia has engaged in the Ukraine crisis inevitably emerges from the events described. Moscow's interference in Ukraine creates an opportunity to explain it theoretically by the concept of classical realism.
Chapter I The Concept of Classical Realism
The discipline of international relations (IR) provides a variety of theories that seek to explain the behavior of states in the international environment (Schieder and Spindler, 2010, p. 9). The concept of realism is one of the most influential schools of thought in IR (Schörning, 2010, p. 65; Jacobs, 2010, p. 39). Realist theories at their hearts have a pragmatic approach, intending to explain the world "as it is, not as it ought to be" (Jörgensen, 2010, p. 78). However, proponents of other impactful IR concepts, such as liberalism or constructivism, have consistently questioned their explanatory capacity in the light of global political events (Jacobs, 2010, p. 57).
Russia's intervention in the Ukrainian crisis and its disputed annexation of Crimea seem to be best described in the theory of realism. Realism, however, is a broad concept, ranging from the structural realism of Kenneth Waltz to the classic realism of Hans J. Morgenthau. Due to limited space, this paper will focus on Morgenthau's conceptions and framework to describe this globally exceptional event.
Realism According to Morgenthau
Hans Joachim Morgenthau (1904-1980) developed realism into a comprehensive theory of IR. As he argues in his main work, Politics among Nations - The Struggle for Power and Peace, first published in 1948, "[i]nternational politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power." (Morgenthau, 1948, p. 13)
Morgenthau draws an egotistical and power-hungry image of man that remains unchangeable regardless of time and place. According to this, people are striving not only for their own survival, but to be able to exercise power over others (Krell, 2004, p. 153). For him, nations and states are abstract terms that become quasi-individuals because they are represented by people. That is why Morgenthau transfers his pessimistic view of man to the state level (Jacobs, 2010, p. 47). Thus, understanding the behavior of states lies in understanding the nature of man.
By power, Morgenthau (1948, p. 13) claims, "we mean manâ's control over the minds and actions of other men." Thus, power, in this context, means the ability to influence the actions of others for one's own sake (ibid., p. 73).
Eventually, the natural state of international politics is that of anarchy in the sense that there is no legal authority to bind a state when it perceives that a breach of any agreement with other states is in its interest (Jacobs, 2010, pp. 47-48).
As proposed by Morgenthau, realism may be said to be based on the following key assumptions:
(1) Politics is based on objective laws rooted in the unchanging nature of man. States, in their pursuit of security or power, shall conduct and adopt policies under a rational framework (Morgenthau, 2005, pp. 4-5).
(2) All states will seek to have the greatest amount of power that they possibly can (Morgenthau, 1948, p. 13; Jacobs, 2010, p. 50). Political leaders "think and act in terms of interest defined as power" (Morgenthau, 2005, p. 5).
(3) It is this innate nature of human actors that causes states to behave as they do. It defines the autonomy of politics and makes it possible to analyze foreign policy regardless of the different motivations, preferences, and intellectual and moral qualities of individual politicians (ibid., p. 10).
(4) The state is the central actor on the world stage and "universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but [..] they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place." (ibid., p. 12)
(5) Prudence, and not the belief in one's own moral or ideological dominance, should guide political action. All state actors must be seen solely as political bodies pursuing their respective interests defined in terms of power (ibid., pp. 12-13).
(6) Insofar as interest, defined as power, is a concept that defines policy, politics is an autonomous sphere. It cannot be subordinate to ethics (ibid., pp. 13-15). However, ethics does still play a role in Morgenthau's politics (Jacobs, 2010, pp. 51-54).