Rostislav Ishchenko: Ukraine – Rotten Territory

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


One of the most popular topics of discussions on social networks and in the central media: what to do with the territory and the remaining citizens of Ukraine after everything ends and how will this “everything ends” look?

Some consider that it is already necessary now to create specialized television and radio channels and, in response to the Russophobic zombifying of the population by the Ukrainian media, to launch the Russophilic zombifying of the same population by the Russian media.

However, such kinds of propaganda projects are senseless. Firstly, the Russophilic part of the population of Ukraine is interested not in propaganda, but in military-political support. Secondly, the Russophobic part of the population of Ukraine will only further sink its roots into hatred towards Russia, having seen in the work of propaganda transmitters the fact of informational aggression. It could be possible to shrug the shoulders and to allow good people to earn a little bit on propaganda, but as it was said above, practically every Russian expert or politician has their own, different from others, opinion on the Ukrainian question.

They don’t relay the position of the Supreme power. They try to guess it. While the Supreme power in every way impeaches them from doing it. If its position on the Ukrainian question and its intentions concerning Ukraine are known by their own propagandists, then enemies will know it for sure. Meanwhile, one of essential advantages of the Kremlin shown during this crisis is that nobody can precisely say what Russia aspires to in the Ukrainian question, and it is this same compromise that, if it’s achieved, will put a stop to the crisis.

Some western politicians consider that the aim of Russia is to absorb Ukraine. Some of them claim that Russia desires to have the regime in Kiev under its control. According to others, the Kremlin desires to obtain full political neutrality of the Ukrainian State. And another part of the others dream to defend the rights of Russians and Russian-cultured citizens, and it is for the sake of this that it tries to obtain the federalization of Ukraine. There is also the opinion that Russia is not against sharing these territories with Poland, Hungary, and Romania. At this time some think that Moscow intends to keep between itself and the West a strongly, territorially cut (three-four times) Ukrainian buffer. Others are sure that no Ukrainian State will exist in general.

The West can believe or not believe when representatives of the Russian authorities absolutely honestly say that they would prefer to save independent Ukraine, but don’t plan to pay for its existence. The West understands that perhaps this answer is indeed honest, but that it’s not complete. It doesn’t explain the main thing: Ukraine will live at whose expense?

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During the twenty three years of its independence Ukraine earned a living in Russia, but was politically orientated to the West. Until a certain moment while Russia was relatively weak, the condition of Ukrainian uncertainty expressed by Kuchma’s thesis about a multi-vector policy suited Russia. Kiev, although trying to distance itself as much as possible from Post-Soviet integration projects, nevertheless didn’t definitively leave for the West. Ukraine turned into some kind of gray zone in which the foreign policy concepts of Russia and the West freely competed, like during World War II they competed on the territory of Switzerland, without paying attention to local intelligence agencies or the intelligence of the belligerent parties.

The objective process of the strengthening of Russia and the weakening of the West should by itself bring Ukraine into the Customs union and the EAEU. But this natural way of development of the situation wasn’t realized because of the absolutely inadequate perception of reality by the Ukrainian elite. Kiev politicians of all colors, shades, and tones for some reason decided that the West can’t lose, and placed its only stake on it. Their conviction was so deep that they preferred to ignore the objective reality when the latter entered into a conflict with their perception of the world. And it happened more and more often.

In the end, in the summer-autumn of 2013, Russia presented the Ukrainian elite with a tough choice: either a free trade zone within the CIS, or an agreement on association with the EU. It happened because neither Brussels, nor Kiev, preparing themselves to conclude an agreement, in principle weren’t going to consider Russia’s interests. On the contrary, the agreement on association was registered in such a way that Russia not only covered all losses of Ukraine from its obligations to the EU, but also allowed (through the Ukrainian hole in the free trade zone of the CIS) European goods in its market on favorable terms. Kiev was unpleasantly surprised, and, having calculated potential losses, the government of Yanukovych-Azarov decided to buy time, postpone the signing of the agreement, and to receive for this financial aid from Russia, and then, having frightened the European Union by its rapprochement with the Kremlin, to scrape in money also from the EU, then to return to a course on European integration and nevertheless to sign the agreement.

Kiev’s cunningness was obvious. But both Moscow and Brussels understood what Ukraine didn’t want to see in front of its eyes. Having postponed the signing of the agreement and having taken money from Moscow, Yanukovych changed not so much foreign policy, but the internal political situation. It lost the conditional loyalty of euro-integrators which agreed to tolerate Yanukovych and Azarov being in power while the latters carried out their program. For balance, for stability the regime should rely on Russophilic political forces. As a result, for the first time during Ukrainian independence, there was a real danger of change of the fundamental principles of Ukrainian domestic policy, which inevitability involved also a change of foreign policy priorities. Having tactically turned around to face Moscow, Yanukovych was losing the opportunity to turn back without destroying the basis of his power.

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It was understood everywhere, except in Kiev. That’s why the EU placed a stake on the coup d’etat. Yanukovych couldn’t be the euro-integrator any more. That’s why Moscow was ready to support Yanukovych provided that he will take a hard line. And it is only in Kiev that it was considered that by holding the door to the East slightly open, it is possible to keep at the same time the gate to the West wide open. So these “smart asses” were blown away by the draft.

But in the same way as Yanukovych, after his refusal to sign the agreement on association for the sake of the preservation of his power, had to become more and more radically pro-Russian, the political forces that succeeded him were simply obliged (also for the sake of the preservation of their power) to become more and more radically Russophobic. Russophobia was necessary to justify repressions against internal enemies of the regime. The forces that staged the coup d’etat couldn’t govern via democratic methods. They were simply losing any fair elections.

Thus, the growing confrontation with Russia and a rupture of economic connections feeding Ukraine became inevitable, irrespective of the fates of Crimea and Donbass. This is like a mosquito that stings not to bring unpleasant feelings, but because it feeds itself in this way and without this it won’t survive.

I.e., the violent change of power in Ukraine inevitably deprived the country of a source of existence in the form of economic connections with Russia. Kiev understood it, but counted on the fact that the West will cover the losses. Europe amused themselves with the hope that a sharp severance is impossible and Russia will maintain euro-integrated Ukraine during the next five-ten years. It is possible to define easily the moment when Europe started thinking in a different way. It occurred exactly when under the imperceptible, but powerful pressure of Germany, in the second half of 2016, the Bruxelles bureaucrats ceased to acknowledge the opinion of the East European limitrophes, removed “Nord Stream-2” from under the action of the third energy package, and the project that was earlier artificially halted started being implemented at an advanced rate.

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Today there is the following disposition. The US isn’t going to maintain not only Ukraine, but even to pay for the preservation of NATO. Trump made it clear to Europeans: either they pay for themselves, or they can dismiss the Alliance. Russia dumped the maintenance of Ukraine from itself and now successfully finishes dumping the Baltics. Europe has nothing to pay for itself, let alone to pay for Ukraine.

And it is precisely like this that “everything ended” look like. It’s not that Ukraine isn’t need by anyone at all. Probably it is needed. But not in such a form and not at such a price. The question with the population remains open and within the framework of the current political opportunities it isn’t solved. Some people can manage to leave the territory, while such an opportunity still exists. Kiev already finishes the severance of not only economic, but also transport links with Russia, and Europe itself is shut off from Kiev — to get into the EU without visas from Ukraine will become more difficult than it was with visas. And the border regime will become even stricter. The remaining people can count only on humanitarian aid and on fertile soils. It is unclear how long will it will be necessary to hold on until the issue of Ukraine is resolved in a multilateral international format. But it can be more than a year.

Ukraine was the richest and safest of the Post-Soviet Republics. It longer than all, except Belarus, kept stability. It was the last to stage a civil war. It could avoid it if its political elite was at least 10% adequate for the challenges of time.

Now the initial wellbeing expresses its flip side. The resources that were seeming inexhaustible have been eaten and plundered for quarter of a century of political stagnation. At the time when neighbors already for a long time endured crisis and went on the trajectory of steady growth, Kiev imperceptibly, constantly staying in good mood, rotted. Now everything is rotten — from the foundations to the roof. And the building that still yesterday seemed to be indestructible, collapsed in an instant. It is impossible to construct everything from nothing from scratch. It is necessary only to hope for good luck, but Ukraine has for too long indulged in this.

Hopelessness turns into despair.

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