Strategic Decision-Making in Times of War: An Analysis of EU-Ukraine-Russia Relations during the First Year of the Conflict in Ukraine

Student thesis: Phd


This PhD explores the factors that shaped the responses of Ukrainian decision-makers in their relations with the EU and Russia during the first year of the conflict in Ukraine (February 2014 - February 2015). To explain Ukraine's decision-making, the thesis employs a game theory-inspired analytical framework, which is based on four core game theory elements: information, trust, payoffs and resources. This research aims to enrich the literature in three main areas: the employment of the game theory-inspired analytical framework to foreign policy analysis (and widening game theory usage beyond formal modelling), the application of this analytical framework to the war in Ukraine, and a focus on Ukraine's decision-making (instead of EU-Russia relations). In terms of methodology, the thesis's contribution consists of the design of the interview guide and interview items that apply the game theory elements of my analytical framework. I have also conducted 38 elite semi-structured interviews with policy-makers (politicians, diplomats, and journalists) from Ukraine, the EU and Russia. In addition, I analysed official documents and media outlets, which helped me to triangulate data from the interviews. Thematic analysis following the four themes and three periods of the first year allowed me to structure the findings in accordance with how the events were perceived by Ukrainian decision-makers. The game theory literature informs us about the elements crucial in foreign policy decision-making: information about other countries' (and their leaders') preferences; trust in signals (both positive and negative) coming from foreign interlocutors; the payoffs structure for all actors (the possible outcomes for each of them); each party's resources and their readiness to invest these resources in a particular interaction. My employment of this game theory-based analytical framework has allowed me to explain Ukrainian leaders' decision-making in their relations with their EU and Russian interlocutors in February 2014 - February 2015. My core empirical findings show how Ukrainian decision-makers' limited foreign policy analysis and lack of crisis management experience contributed to their misperceptions about the EU's and Russia's actions. I also point to the factors which diminished Ukraine's foreign policy abilities: post-revolutionary changes in power structures, the leaders' original unwillingness to take responsibility for their war decisions, corruption among senior officials, the unpredictable situational steps of the Russian leadership, and both the EU's and Russia's intentionally or unintentionally misleading signals. However, my data have also shown evidence of learning and improvement in Ukrainian leaders' foreign policy analysis and decision-making throughout the first year of the war.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDimitris Papadimitriou (Supervisor) & Olga Onuch (Supervisor)


  • EU-Ukraine-Russia relations
  • Foreign policy analysis
  • Ukraine's foreign policy
  • Conflict in Ukraine

Cite this