Nikolas Gvosdev

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the former editor of the National Interest, and a frequent foreign policy commentator in both the print and broadcast media. He is currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government. His weekly WPR column, The Realist Prism, appears every Friday.

Articles written by Nikolas Gvosdev

The Realist Prism: West’s Tactical Blunders on Ukraine Go Unquestioned

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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A Communist Party deputy who was attacked earlier this week as he addressed Ukraine’s parliament raised some uncomfortable points that Western policymakers need to consider about their response to the crisis in Ukraine. By driving Ukraine’s elected president out of office, protesters created the conditions for other aggrieved parties in Ukraine—and Russia—to use similar tactics to advance their own interests. more

The Realist Prism: U.S. Unwilling to Give or Take on Ukraine

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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It was no surprise when last Sunday’s emergency meeting in Paris between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended inconclusively. The U.S. is not prepared to cut a 19th-century-style deal with Moscow, but neither has it articulated a 21st-century response that would change Russia’s calculus. The U.S. seems unwilling to make a grand bargain or to reverse Russian gains. more

The Realist Prism: Crimea Crisis Puts the Lie to America’s Long-Term Planning

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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The Ukraine crisis has once again highlighted a fundamental weakness of the U.S. national security process: its inability to hold to long-term planning in the midst of short-term crises. At the beginning of 2014, it seemed that, Washington might finally begin to match action to rhetoric and concentrate on the Asia-Pacific region. Now, the talk in U.S. foreign policy circles is all about a “pivot” back to Europe. more

The Realist Prism: Is America Prepared to Sacrifice for Crimea?

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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For U.S. policymakers, the focus now needs to be on formulating a new policy toward Russia situated within an overarching framework of U.S. interests. The U.S. must determine how great a threat Moscow’s unilateral action in Crimea poses, and in turn whether reversing it or pushing for a long-term settlement is the right course. If reversal is the goal, the question is, what costs is the U.S. prepared to pay? more

The Realist Prism: On Ukraine, Obama Tethered to Domestic Politics

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk traveled to Washington on Wednesday to plead for urgent U.S. help for his country. But two newly released public opinion polls will be little comfort to U.S. pundits pushing for vigorous assistance for Ukraine. As midterm congressional elections approach, the Obama administration is highly sensitive to a growing unwillingness to engage in adventures abroad. more

The Realist Prism: Obama Must Choose What Comes Next for U.S.-Russia

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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It’s safe to say that the U.S.-Russia reset is now dead. It is not clear, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, what will replace it—but there can be no return to the status quo ante. The Obama administration has wavered between insisting Russia’s interests in Ukraine are fundamentally illegitimate and suggesting Ukraine could be a neutral zone. It must now choose between these irreconcilable positions. more

The Realist Prism: Venezuela, Ukraine Challenge Assumptions Behind Defense Cuts

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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The protests in Ukraine and Venezuela and the unveiling this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Obama administration’s budget request to Congress would appear to be separate and unrelated events. Yet they are linked by the challenge those developments pose to the strategic assumptions behind the defense budget, namely, that the U.S. can focus on Asia while Europe and Latin America remain quiet. more

The Realist Prism: Why the U.S. Always Calls for Dialogue, and Why it Always Fails

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Whenever political violence breaks out anywhere in the world, one can predict the U.S. response without any hesitation. The State Department will declare that the U.S. abhors the use of violence and call for dialogue. The repetition of this well-worn narrative every time violence breaks out in yet another capital city seems to have little effect on conditions on the ground. Still, it is not an empty ritual. more

The Realist Prism: Putin’s Sochi Games Global Even Without Obama, West

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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The general consensus in the Western media is that the Sochi Olympics have been a diplomatic failure for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several European and American leaders, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, skipped attendance in tacit protest of Russian policies. But Sochi raises a provocative question as to whether the absence of key Westerners takes away from the “global” nature of an event. more

The Realist Prism: In New Russia Envoy, Obama Can Choose Symbol or Substance

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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After Michael McFaul, the current U.S. ambassador to Russia, announced that he would be stepping down from his post after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, lobbying began quickly for the president to send an openly gay replacement to represent the United States in Moscow. In weighing that choice, much depends on the assessment as to whether there is any more progress to be made in U.S.-Russia relations. more

The Realist Prism: Latin America Gets No Love in State of the Union

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address declared that “on every issue, the world turns to us.” But apparently the heads of state of the rest of the Western Hemisphere didn’t get the memo. The CELAC summit in Cuba this week hosted by President Raul Castro solidified the trend toward doing business without the U.S. Obama’s speech gave little sign that this will change anytime soon. more

The Realist Prism: As U.S. Midterms Approach, Expect Mixed Messages on Foreign Policy

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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With a little less than three years left in President Barack Obama’s term in office, the latest political parlor game is to try and discern the shape of the final tranche of his administration. Will the last third of his tenure be defined by proposing major new initiatives, or will it be characterized by cautious efforts to secure a more modest legacy? And how much will the president focus on foreign affairs? more

The Realist Prism: For Iran, Nukes No Longer Key to Deterring U.S.

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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After years of deadlocked negotiations and inflexibility, Iran has recently become much more accommodating about making concessions regarding its nuclear program. This newfound willingness is not entirely the result of personnel changes in the form of new President Hassan Rouhani. Shifts in the international environment are also partly responsible for the apparent decision by Iran’s leaders to change tack. more

The Realist Prism: As Mideast Unravels, Time to Reconsider ‘Soft Partitions’

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Depressing headlines from the Middle East suggest that the bitterly learned lessons of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s have been set aside. The U.S. continues to maintain there are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan identities that transcend and trump religious, sectarian, tribal and linguistic affiliations in those countries. But if the U.S. is to help manage these conflicts, it might be time to reconsider soft partition. more

The Realist Prism: After a ‘Lost Year,’ Can Obama Regain Momentum?

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Many commentators have described 2013 as a “lost year” for the Obama administration. No major pieces of legislation were passed, nor did the United States spearhead new international initiatives. Spring 2014, then, could be a time of repair and renewal for U.S. foreign policy. But the optimistic scenario for U.S. foreign policy rests on the very shaky assumption that congressional compromise can be reached. more

The Realist Prism: China Balks at Bankrolling Anti-U.S. Bloc

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Recent events in the Western Pacific have heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, leading to concerns over accidental escalation. But so far, other potential arenas of conflict have not materialized outside China’s immediate neighborhood. The good news for Washington is that China does not appear willing to throw open its checkbook to provide aid and succor to any nation with grievances against the U.S. more

The Realist Prism: For U.S., Keeping Ukraine on Side No Longer a Vital Interest

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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A concerted effort to portray the protests in Ukraine as a pivotal moment pitting the Euro-Atlantic community against a resurgent Russia has not gained much traction among the American public or in the Obama administration. Washington apparently has little interest in matching the Russian “bid” for Ukraine, despite dire warnings that a failure to do so will imperil the security of the Western world. more

The Realist Prism: West Not Ready for Post-Yanukovych Ukraine

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Much analysis of the events in Ukraine has focused on the advisability of removing President Viktor Yanukovych and getting Ukraine to sign the EU association agreement, but little attention has been paid to what might happen the day after. This thinking echoes the prevailing line in 2004, when the absence of a coherent, sustained Western approach in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution led to its unraveling. more

The Realist Prism: Will Congress Handcuff Obama on Iran, TPP Talks?

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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For many in Washington, last month’s two-week shutdown of the federal government is already ancient history. But the aftershocks of the shutdown continue to reverberate around the world. In particular, there is concern that President Barack Obama will have difficulty getting Congress to give his administration the flexibility it will need to conduct delicate negotiations, both with foes as well as with friends. more

The Realist Prism: As U.S. Influence Recedes, Russia Finds Openings in Egypt, Saudi Arabia

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent “reassurance tour” of America’s Middle East partners was not a resounding success. U.S. policy in the region is being met with frustration and dismay by long-standing allies. In their search for a hedge against perceived U.S. unreliability, U.S. partners have taken the first steps to diversify their relationships, starting with a reassessment of expanded ties with Russia. more