Early View Article - When Hedging Goes Wrong: Lessons from Ukraine’s Failed Hedge of the EU and Russia

When Hedging Goes Wrong: Lessons from Ukraine’s Failed Hedge of the EU and Russia

When confronted by the competing zero‐sum regional strategies of the EU and Russia between 2010 and 2013, Ukraine chose to aggressively pursue a dual‐aligned hedge. This policy choice, in part, helped precipitate a disastrous outcome: the Ukraine crisis. Using the insights of the literature on smaller power hedging and regional security complex theory, it is argued that Viktor Yanukovych misperceived the geopolitical feedback emanating from the Eastern Europe security complex, leading it to pursuing a suboptimal foreign policy. Hedging was still the optimal foreign policy for Ukraine, but arguably a more modest form of hedging was required. It is argued that Ukraine’s experience raises important questions about the actorness of smaller powers to pursue hedging strategies in geopolitically‐charged regional security complexes.

Policy implications

  • Smaller powers need to have a clear understanding of the regional geopolitical environment they reside when designing a hedging foreign policy strategy.
  • While pursuing a dual‐aligned hedge is usually the most attractive option for a smaller power, given the potential rewards, only some regional geopolitical environments (generally ones that have an agreed security architecture and low levels of enmity) are permissive to this.
  • When a smaller power is confronted with a regional geopolitical environment that is anarchic and has two or more great powers with growing levels of enmity, a modest non‐aligned hedge is the most appropriate foreign policy choice.
  • Hedging, broadly speaking is the optimal foreign policy a smaller power can utilise when confronted with regional great power competition. But the costs of choosing the wrong type of hedge can be disastrous, so a smaller power has to be able to suffer the worst‐case scenario.



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