Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
In politics, as well as in life, each step made inevitably leads to another one. But this next one isn’t determined – it can be chosen from a certain set. At worst the set is reduced to one step (and can be a bad one). In an ideal scenario you can choose from several next steps, each of which improves your position, approaching the achievement of the objective.
When Crimea became a part of Russia, I immediately wrote that now the elimination of the existing Ukrainian statehood became inevitable. It could be the soft option – re-establishment of the state on a new constitutional bases. It could be the hard option – full collapse of political and administrative structures and territorial disintegration. It is easy to notice that in the first option Ukraine decides its destiny (changed constitution) independently. In the second, responsibility for overcoming a humanitarian disaster on territories of the former Ukrainian state would fall on the world community, first of all on the neighbors of Ukraine, as the most interested in the elimination of a political black hole on their borders.
Why did I draw such a conclusion? Because Russia couldn’t return back Crimea under any circumstance. It would be fraught with a landslide falling of authority of the government, sharp activization of quasi-patriotic marginals (who, as well as their Ukrainian colleagues, have 100 Führers for 10 people), destruction of social stability and, finally, the return of the country to a situation of a semi-collapse of the 90’s, but with much worst prospects.
On the other hand, Ukraine couldn’t recognize Crimea as Russian. Simply because the standard of the existing Constitution allows any territorial changes only according to the decision of a national referendum. In this case inhabitants of Crimea also had to participate in this referendum, at this time already being on Russian territory, populated by Russian citizens. This constitutional collision made impossible the agreement on the transfer of Crimea without the formal elimination of one of the State parties of the dispute. Russia offered Ukraine the soft option. Kiev carries out federalization or even a confederalization (besides solving the Crimean question, and this helps to avoid civil war). As the new federalized Ukrainian state would appear as a creation of freely united regions, so Crimea, as a non-participant in the process of its creation, couldn’t be brought into the new Constitution of Ukraine as a Ukrainian region. The question would be resolved. Ukraine chose the hard option, fondly hoping that Russia will collapse under the weight of sanctions and pressure of the West, and that Kiev not only will return Crimea, but will also succeed to annex some other territories.
This belief was naive not because Russia is much stronger, richer, internally stabler, and steadier than Ukraine. The collapse of the USSR and the current problems in the EU and the US testify that in the modern world often even the strongest States suddenly collapse. The fact that the belief wasn’t proved by exact calculations was already naive. In politics it is impossible to rely on the trust that dreams come true. Instead of belief, there is a need for confidence that is based on the facts. Then you can not only trust and wait, but also make intelligent steps that approach you to achieving the objective.
I will note that even after Ukraine went on the way of conflict initiation, the Russian government didn’t begin to answer specularly, but kept in the agenda the federalization/confederalization option. Such an approach instantly bore fruits. The war planned by the West as a Ukrainian-Russian one took the form of an intra-Ukrainian civil conflict. Moreover, this idea is popular already not so much in Donbass – which supported federalization, but after the armed answer of Kiev was at war for independence – but in the regions that remained under the Kiev power, including in Western Ukraine.
The signing in February, 2015, of the package of measures on the implementation of the Minsk agreements (known as Minsk-2), with the subsequent approval by the resolution of the UN Security Council became the next outstanding success of Russia. Minsk-2 includes the requirement of “decentralization” of Ukraine. Decentralization is a euphemism that in Ukrainian political slang is used as a replacement for the term “federalization”, because the official patriotic doctrine of Kiev considers the requirement of federalization as a betrayal of the motherland and an infringement of the constitutional system. Thus, the requirement of federalization of Ukraine was fixed by the resolution of the supreme joint directive body of modern policy – the UN Security Council. Moreover, as not one of the permanent members vetoed the resolution, it also the requirement of the EU and the US, which Kiev considered as its allies.
So, the world community demands from Ukraine to solve internal political and foreign policy problems peacefully within the framework of the process of the re-establishment of the Ukrainian statehood on a federal basis. The Kiev authorities ignore this requirement, playing with Russia the game “who will be the first who will collapse”.
It would be possible to say, and some do say, that having chosen a path of resistance, Ukraine got a chance. In practice this is not so. Ukraine would get chance if it based its fight on an internal resource. But that isn’t present. And Ukraine relied on the external support of the EU and the US. But allies always solve first of all their own problems. They aren’t philanthropists, but just allies. They are connected with you until their interests in something coincide with yours. But, as soon as the union with you stops being the condition critically necessary for the achievement of the objective, your former ally instantly forgets about you.
The US and EU considered initially the situation with Ukraine not as an opportunity together with Kiev to solve common problems, but as an opportunity to use Kiev for the solution of their problems. As soon as it became clear that the current Ukrainian power is integrally incapable of carrying out this task, real material support immediately stopped. There were small tips that remained, which don’t solve anything in the scale of Ukraine, and which are tied by the conditions directed on coercion of the Ukrainian authorities to concrete economic or political concessions (“you will receive one billion dollars if you change the General Prosecutor”, or “you receive 600 million euros if you withdraw a ban on the export of the wood round timber“). The systematic financing from the IMF, EU, and US stopped already in the summer of 2015.
Only political and diplomatic support remained. The US and EU insolently demanded from Russia the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which Moscow wasn’t a party to and which were constantly sabotaged by Kiev. The West gave Poroshenko a chance – if you hold on without money but only on chernozems and kitchen gardens, which as you declared, will feed the country and provide social stability and support of the regime, you can wait further when Russia will collapse. But the West, which lost a mass of money on the anti-Russian sanctions, didn’t plan to rely on this expectation.
As a result, the process of the destabilization of Ukraine during the fight of various oligarchical clans for domination, and politicians for presidency as the only post giving access to steal the remaining resources, was semi-frozen. Everyone in Kiev knew that it is Poroshenko who acts as the “human face” of the regime recognized by the West, and were afraid to bring the intrigue against him to a logical conclusion.
But, as was already said, nothing is eternal. If, while building the political line, you lean not on your own resources, but on incidentally developed foreign policy configuration, sooner or later you will face a changed situation, and a place for you isn’t provided in the new configuration.
At the end of January, the Ukrainian authorities arranged a bloody provocation in Donbass. Cruel attacks of cities were followed by slow, small skirmishes on the contact line. Having obtained, at last, an adequate response, Ukraine, without having stopped the concentration of troops at the differentiation line, raised a cry about the violating of the Minsk agreements, of course, by Russia, about Russian troops in Donbass, and about a humanitarian disaster in territories adjacent to the differentiation line on the territories under the control of Ukrainian troops.
With these actions Poroshenko tried to reinforce the Ukrainian position concerning the introduction of UN peacekeepers, OSCE or NATO in the conflict zone. Not only an armed one, but a military mission possessing heavy arms (and it is precisely this that Kiev wanted) could strengthen its military positions in Donbass. Whatever peacekeepers decided to take under their control – you won’t shoot at them (at least immediately), and then it can already be too late. But I think that the most important for Poroshenko was the fact that a foreign military contingent would strengthen his situation. His own Armed Forces are unreliable – nazis that constantly threaten him with a coup. The political consensus of all forces (except Poroshenko) about the need for early parliamentary elections is formed. He has nobody to lean on.
It could be possible to try to locate the foreign military contingent/units (headquarters, divisions of providing and protection) in Kiev in order to use them as a layer between Poroshenko and internal political opponents. Try to frighten Poroshenko if he is protected by “blue helmets”. What Kiev politician will risk approving an attack on the international contingent (even the UN one, moreover it could even be NATO’s one)? And no opposition in Kiev already will be intimidating for Poroshenko in this case – he can even try to dismiss Avakov.
And here, in the course of the so-perfectly developing affair, the statement of the ambassador of Germany in Ukraine Ernst Reichel rattled like a thunderclap out of the clear sky. The ambassador expressed the opinion that Kiev must fulfill the Minsk Agreements. Thus, he noted that elections in Donbass can be quietly held without transferring to Ukraine control of the border.
Kiev high offices went into a state of shock, which instantly transformed into hysterics. All media and political structures orientated to Poroshenko rushed to vilify Mr Reichel and demanded that he be recalled. This, of course, was impudence from the Ukrainian side, but previously such hysterics led to success – the “at fault” diplomats apologized. The respective capitals disavowed the “amateur performance” of their official representatives.
But the situation changed, and Ukraine still lives somewhere in the past in which in all problems, from the downing of the Malaysian plane, to global warming – “Putin is guilty”. Ukrainian diplomats and public figures became an habitual street organ about “Russian troops” that “must leave Donbass”, expecting that the West once again will express sluggish support, which the Ukrainian mass media will be able to present as the thousandth on the account of epoch-making victories over Russia.
At this moment, the real catastrophe fell on the head of the Ukrainian politicum as a whole, and on Poroshenko in particular. Contrary to the expectations of Kiev, the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany Martin Schäfer declared that the position of the ambassador “doesn’t contradict our position at all”. While in Kiev they have already declared this position as anti-Ukrainian. I.e. the official position of Germany is now anti-Ukrainian.
But there is another thing that is even worse – as Ukraine focused its attention on “Russian troops in Donbass”, Schäfer also touched on this issue. He reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany can’t claim that on the territory of Donbass there is the Russian Armed Forces. But, if the Russian Armed Forces aren’t present in Donbass, yet the war exists, it means it’s a civil war that Ukraine refuses to recognize for already three years.
Recognition of the war in Ukraine as civil is the next logical step that stands before German diplomacy. After this, international legal legitimation of the DPR/LPR authorities as one of the parties of the internal conflict becomes a matter of time, and not of principle. However, this process is not quick, and the Kiev party of the conflict can disappear beforehand.
Germany refuses to be led by Kiev, but it not the biggest problem. What’s worse is that the statement of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs was duplicated by the Pentagon. In a softer form than the German one (incidentally, Ukraine still hasn’t rushed at the American ambassador) Americans also said that they hadn’t “noticed any large-scale movement of Armed Forces of the Russian Federation that could contribute to something bigger”.
Two main allies of Ukraine denied her of traditional support; earlier they practically never dared to publicly doubt the presence of Russian troops in Donbass. With such a position of Germany (thus, and all the EU) and the US, Poroshenko can’t hope for any peacekeepers. Now the problem is not that such a decision can’t be forced due to the position of Russia, but that there just isn’t anybody to force this decision.
Poroshenko is eye-to-eye with his opponents. The Maidan opposition to Poroshenko, however, also didn’t receive the unambiguous support of the US. Having exchanged a few words with Tymoshenko during the photographing of guests during a religious breakfast, Trump evaded the “honor” of appointing a new leader for Ukraine. But it is simpler for the opposition. It was Poroshenko who kept – thanks to the US and the EU – support. The most important thing for the President’s enemies is that they do not interfere. And the West provides them a free hand, demonstratively distancing from further participation in the solution of the problems of Ukraine.
For the present moment, attempts are made to make Poroshenko leave peacefully, having voluntary and legitimately delegated power to “worthy people”. But this is not for long. Because if the West doesn’t plan to provide the Kiev authorities with comprehensive support, it means that the potential successors of Poroshenko don’t need international recognition. If they will control Ukraine – there will be conversation in any case, and if they don’t control Ukraine – there won’t be conversation.
The longer Poroshenko persists in his unwillingness to hand over power, the chances of a forced resolution of the conflict inside the Kiev power is greater. Especially as the same German Ministry of Foreign Affairs already threw more “firewood”. It seems that the Germans were very disappointed because of the attacks aimed at the ambassador, as the same Schäfer slightly opened the veil of secrecy over the contents of negotiations between Merkel and Poroshenko during the recent visit of the latter to Berlin.
Schäfer assures that everything told by the ambassador was discussed in the format Merkel-Poroshenko, and was unconditionally supported by the latter. Having launched a campaign of persecution of the ambassador, Poroshenko, unexpectedly for himself, found himself with him in the same boat. His Deputies, diplomats, and media themselves chose and systematized the arguments necessary for Poroshenko’s accusation of betraying the national interests. Opponents have only to use it.
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