Skip navigation

Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Ukarine

Newsroom

Putin’s Game in Ukraine

By Brent Forgues, MA Candidate, Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration

DENVER—Sept. 12, 2014—Although Vladimir Putin will experience some early gains regarding Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, he will ultimately lose in the end, said a renowned university professor.

Valerie Bunce, the Aaron Binenkorb professor of International Studies and Government at Cornell University, said that the recent actions of Russia’s president may have helped garner support for him at home, but have come at the cost of risking “the wrath of the West,” alienating Russia’s closest allies, and ultimately losing influence over Ukraine altogether.

“He has taken a big risk,” she said. “And he will pay for it.”

Bunce provided her analysis on Thursday of the currently developing situation in Eastern Europe during her discussion titled, “Putin’s Game in Ukraine.” More than 80 people attended the event hosted by the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy.

Bunce said the crisis, which has embroiled the Ukrainian government against separatists in the country’s eastern region in a conflict lasting for several months now, is best understood in an international context rather than a domestic one because of Russia’s prevalent aggression against Ukraine in the matter.

“The fact is, this is an invasion,” she said. “It’s a violation of an understanding of what provides stability in the international order.”

By using tactics similar to those Russia has employed in the past to create instability in other nations, such as Georgia several years earlier, Putin has managed to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula thanks to the unrest galvanized there by Russia, Bunce said. At the same time, Putin has capitalized on this opportunity to appeal to Russian nationalism, thereby, she said, increasing his popularity in Russia in spite of the country’s low economic growth.

“The saber-rattling makes Russians feel that Russia is important again.”

However, Bunce said that at the expense of attempting to shape his legacy, Putin has made Russia an international “pariah,” which has not only incurred damaging economic sanctions from the West, but has likely lost the trust of its neighboring countries and allies.

Most ironic of all, she said, is that the very country Russia is attempting to regain its sway over, Ukraine, will likely not embrace it again. In spite of the two nations sharing a cultural and historical connection, Bunce said, “Ukraine is really lost to Russia.”

Nicole Brajevich, a 1st year graduate student in International Administration at the Josef Korbel School, said the lecture helped her learn more about Russia and Ukraine’s entanglement in the conflict. “It put it into the bigger picture,” she said.

Andrei Wood, a 1st year graduate student in International Security at the Korbel School, said it was interesting to see the different international perspectives regarding the issue in Ukraine, as well as Putin’s thinking behind his actions.

“He wants Russia to be able to stand up like it did in the 40s,” Wood said. “He wants it to stand tall.

“Well, what they’re standing on is the big question.”