Princeton University Library Catalog

A Region Divided: The Role of Threat Perception in Central and Eastern European Responses to Russian Aggression in Ukraine

Mieczkowska, Joanna [Browse]
Senior thesis
Beissinger, Mark [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
128 pages
Summary note:
Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea were violations of international law and Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The European Union sought to take a firm stance against Russian aggression in Ukraine, but struggled to respond in a unified voice because national governments disagreed about the nature of the conflict, the use of economic sanctions and military aid, and foreign relations with Russia. Surprisingly, these divisions were most visible among countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a region with the strongest historical ties to Russia and most closely affected by this conflict. This thesis systematically examines and explains the differences in Central and Eastern European responses to the conflict in Ukraine. It develops a method for quantifying the strength of each country’s official position on Russian aggression in Ukraine, classifying each state’s stance as either “weak,” “neutral,” or “strong.” This thesis also derives a cross-state theoretical framework to explain this variation. This framework relies on Stephen M. Walt’s balance of threat theory and incorporates aspects of liberal and constructivist theories to articulate how competing hypotheses of state behavior could be thought of in the context of one unified framework that explains the disunity in Central and Eastern Europe on this conflict. The findings of this thesis show that the main variable behind the variation in Central and Eastern European positions on the conflict in Ukraine was perception of Russia as a threat. This thesis defines threat perception as it pertains to this conflict and region using four variables: aggregate power, geographical proximity, size of domestic Russian minority, and perception of intent. This threat perception framework shows that as the perceived level of threat posed by Russia increased – as defined by the four variables referenced above – so did the strength of that country’s response to the conflict in Ukraine. Additionally, this thesis finds that economic considerations were a complementary variable to threat perception. Countries that felt relatively unthreatened by Russian actions in Ukraine prioritized economic ties to Russia, whereas relatively threatened states prioritized security over economic considerations, despite short-term costs. These findings suggest that both increasing regional support for countries that consider Russia a threat and decreasing regional natural gas dependency on Russia are necessary in order to foster a more unified Central and Eastern European stance on this conflict and in future relations with Russia.