Rostislav Ishchenko: Bolton in Kiev Instead of Trump

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


John Bolton’s trip to Kiev didn’t represent essential interest. After five hours of closed negotiations with Nikolay Patrushev, the entire semantic part of his Kiev program was shorter and more similar to a peasant photographing a visiting celebrity than to a political or diplomatic event.

Bolton said generic phrases about the inadmissibility of Russian interference in Ukrainian elections, the need for the rigid continuation of Kiev along the path of reforms, and promised to support the strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. And here it is necessary to note that 25 years of American help to Ukraine concerning these issues indeed led to the full destruction of the quite capable democratic institutions existing in this country, the destruction of the Constitution, and the complete negation of basic human rights and freedoms. Corruption also started to blossom in Ukraine under the sensitive supervision of the US. But let’s not be so strict with the Americans – they help in the only way they know how and teach what they themselves are strong in. At the end of the day, it is pleasant to Kiev.

Bolton also calmed Ukrainian politicians expressing concern about Trump’s words concerning the possibility of recognising the Russian status of Crimea, and also about the fate of the Ukrainian gas transit system in light of the construction of “Nord Stream-2”. He calmed them as he could, but I personally after such a “calming down” would start worrying very seriously.

Concerning Crimea, Bolton pronounced a formulation about “illegal annexation and occupation”, but in relation to the US’ position he referred to the meeting between presidents Putin and Trump in Helsinki, on the eve of which Trump indeed argued aloud about the possibility of recognising Crimea as Russian. I.e., actually Bolton hinted to his Kiev partners that at the moment, of course, it is an “illegal annexation and occupation” but if Russia wants to exchange recognition of the status of Crimea for what is necessary for the US, everything will immediately become lawful. After all, on the eve of the Helsinki meeting Trump said that Russians live in Crimea who have the right to live in Russia. Actually the Russian status of Crimea remains unrecognised by the US only because Moscow doesn’t intend to opt for any compromises on this matter (which Putin repeatedly spoke about) and, unlike Kiev, doesn’t depend on Washington’s recognition of the existing objective reality.

As for gas transit and the gas transit system, in this question the adviser to the US President for national security showed the wonders of a rhetorical balancing act. He emphasised the US’ support for Ukraine’s position, which, I will remind, consists of the need to preserve gas transit through its territory. And he immediately expressed concern about the “dependence of Europe” on Russia’s monopolisation of deliveries of energy. As a result, having noted that there will be enough gas from its own extraction to satisfy Ukraine’s internal needs, he promised that if nevertheless there won’t be enough, the US can help with the drilling of new wells.

Taking into account the fact that not American and even not Qatari, but actual Russian gas is being transited through the Ukrainian gas transit system to the EU (the Americans fight against the expansion of its presence in the European market), the words of Bolton are a frank mockery. He suggested to Ukraine to satisfy itself with its own extraction – averaging 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year (however part of this gas was extracted from the fields that left together with Crimea, so extraction might now be a couple of billion cubes less). At the same time, the annual need of Ukraine at present is about 35 billion cubes, roughly half of which is for industry and the other half for the municipal sphere. I.e., Bolton considers that in the near future there won’t be either any industry or population left in Ukraine, or both will be reduced twofold. All three possibilities are more than real, but Ukrainians hope for the best and the Kiev authorities sold Bolton to them as a symbol and a guarantor of the situation improving in the near future.

In particular, as a symbol of “the united position of Ukraine and the US concerning Nord Stream-2”, which allegedly should lead to the project stopping and Russian gas being preserved for the Ukrainian gas transit system. But Bolton speaks about something else. The rather pragmatic American position follows from his words: Washington destroys “Nord Stream-2” not so that gas continues to go to the EU through Ukraine, but so that gas stops being transited in general. And let Ukrainians survive using their own resources (it is clear that if there will be no Russian gas, then there won’t be “reverse” gas either). And if indeed the squeeze is too tight for Ukrainians, then the US will drill however many wells Kiev can pay for (after all, they won’t work for free). But guarantees that there will even be gas in the wells are absent.

The Ukrainian authorities, like African tribal leaders from the era of Portuguese colonisation, are greedy for glass beads, mirrors, feathers, and other knickknacks. That’s why the phrase of Bolton “America shows both Russia and the whole world that we are here, we will support Ukraine, we see your soldiers, we see the lives you give for our and your security, and we are with you” invokes an inflow of optimism in local politicians. But it is necessary to pay for these beads. Africans paid for it in gold, ivory, and slaves. Modern Ukraine pays for it with the destruction of its own economy, depopulation, the loss of territories and prospects, and also the actual transition of the remaining population to a condition of being US slaves on their own land.

At the same time, the Portuguese at least helped friendly leaders with their wars against their neighbours when selling arquebus and muskets, and sometimes even taking direct part in the military expeditions undertaken by them against their neighbours. The US doesn’t do even this. Having robbed and destroyed Ukraine, they try to sell its remains to the same Russia, since nobody else takes it, and as Washington considers, Moscow ought to be interested in its former territory.

A decrease in the level of political representation testifies to a decrease in the value of Ukraine as an asset in the opinion of Americans. Once upon a time US Presidents came to visit Kiev. At the dawn of Poroshenko’s reign the vice-president regularly came. Then the Secretary of State occasionally appeared. And now its the turn of the important, but nevertheless second echelon figure of the administration – the national security adviser. Moreover, since the appearance of such guests became a rarity, Ukrainian politicians, while longly waiting for any important guest from Washington, are content with Volker, who can become a billionaire if he just commercialises affairs – thanks to paid photo-sessions with him.

Concerning Bolton’s visit, I liked most of all the justification of the ambassador of Ukraine in the US Valery Chaly, who came to accompany him. The very fact of Chaly accompanying Bolton shows the place of Ukraine in the international hierarchy. The usual practice assumes the participation of the ambassador only in the event that the head of the country being hosted visits. It is logical because since ancient times the ambassador is considered as the personal envoy of a sovereign to a sovereign. But Chaly accompanied an official who enters only in the first 50 powerful persons in American executive power.

It is difficultly to think of something more humiliating for both the Ukrainian state and for diplomacy. But Chaly isn’t discouraged. He is only afflicted because his work isn’t estimated by everyone in Ukraine. “I,” he says, “brought you a whole Bolton, and you are indignant because it isn’t Trump. Trump is occupied. He has elections to the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and a half of the governors of states. Otherwise, he would for sure come himself. But what’s so bad about Bolton? You needed an American at your parade, so you have an American at your parade!”.

The fact that the whole ambassador of Ukraine in the US considers that his fellow citizens will believe that Trump didn’t come to the Ukrainian parade only because of elections is amusing in itself. I, of course, understand that after all Maidans, the citizens of Ukraine deserved such disdainful behaviour towards their mental capacities. But nevertheless, I think that de-intellectualisation hasn’t struck society to such a degree, and the media belonging to the oligarchical group fighting to overthrow Poroshenko will quickly explain to the people what is what.

But what happened is really quite horrible. Judging by the fact that Chaly is compelled to justify himself, Poroshenko indeed tasked him with bringing Trump to the Ukrainian parade. Perhaps even lobbyists in Washington were again employed. I don’t think that the ambassador risked to explain to the president that his desire is unrealisable, he thought that it will somehow magically sort itself out. Well it didn’t. There was a need to reluctantly, like in Chekhov’s Wedding, bring the retired captain of the second rank instead of the General. But in the same way that Nastasia Timofeevna Zhigalova needed the real General, and not some Revunov-Karaulov, Poroshenko needed Trump personally.

I don’t know who convinced the confectioner [Poroshenko – ed], who is losing his power, that it is possible to persuade the American president to come to Kiev for the sake of saving Petro, but it seems that Poroshenko counted on a miracle up to the last moment. Indeed, if Donald stood with Petro on the tribune, told him a couple of kind words, patted his shoulder, then the destiny of the Ukrainian elections would be decided. It is unlikely that many persons interested in opposing such obviously expressed goodwill can be found. But Bolton is not Trump, and the attempt to pass him off as someone specially authorised by the US President to represent him at Poroshenko’s festivities was a failure from the outset. At least because before this Bolton met Patrushev, where he tried, among other things, to sell Ukraine to Russia for good compensation. It turns out that he did this whilst being specially authorised too.

In general, America was thinly represented at the festivities on the occasion of the Independence Day of Ukraine. It will suffice for the parade, but for Poroshenko it is a catastrophe.

And the last point: in Ukraine there is no recollection in general of Europe, seemingly for the sake of signing the agreement on association with which a coup was carried out in Kiev.

This is how terrestrial glory fades away.

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