Ukraine: the Land of Squandered Opportunities

Ukraine these days appears to be some sort of a magnet for every single infernal impulse out there. Each new day reveals yet another tear in the canvas of its statehood and we’ve arrived at a spot where everybody, be they pro-West or pro-East in this epic tale of failure, agrees: chances of survival are slim to none.

As horrible as it is to observe all the misfortunes snowballing, understanding that multiple turns for the worst could have been avoided is more infuriating still.

The main tragedy of Ukraine – one that made all subsequent ones possible – is that it never had pro-Ukrainian government. Today’s crisis, as Christian Caryl points out in FP, is “the result of two decades of rampant corruption, cynicism and self-interest of a morally bankrupt political class, and enduring divides along lines of language, region, and religion.” I remember oh so well what it was like – living with a government that is so brazenly anti-population, anti-state and anti-national interest. Western countries are filled with strange people who think Russia was a democracy in the 90s. If you were to say that to my mother, she would probably slap you on the face. I don’t know what they were reading in newspapers back then, but my family was trying to survive in what can only be called a ‘crimeocracy’. And while we were fortunate to get treatment and seem to be on the mend, ‘crimeocracy’ in Ukraine is very much alive and blooming.

Today Ukrainians are like an orphan, who happens to own valuable property. Enter a stranger from the West, who wants to entice the orphan, secure transfer of right of ownership, subsequently letting the little fellow starve. Now, to the East, there is also an estranged uncle in the picture, who, I believe, genuinely doesn’t want the orphan to fall in harm’s way. The problem is, however, that relationship is too complex: the uncle has done little to prevent the orphan’s suffering in the past and there are trust issues. In light of this, the weakened orphan is tempted to trust the Western stranger – him being well dressed and carrying cookies. I continue to maintain that his will be a devastating mistake, because upon close examination it becomes crystal clear that the stranger continuously fails to act on good opportunities to settle the crisis. The stand off continues unnecessarily. If all parties were genuinely concerned with the well being of Ukrainians, we wouldn’t today be watching the clock in civil war anticipation.

All intelligent observers understand that an either / or decision in Ukraine is tantamount to suicide. Today’s events, being essentially pre-suicidal disintegration, are vivid evidence. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that proponents of Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement did not possess enough intelligence to foresee the consequences of their ultimatum (although if that was actually the case, these people need to be relieved of their professional duties yesterday). On November 26, 2013 Russian MFA drew their attention to the fact that Kiev had already submitted “a proposition to study this issue jointly to the European Union and Russia”. Thus you clearly have an extended offer of dialogue and multilateral cooperation on one hand, and public protests threatening Kiev’s legitimate government on the other. Refusing to take up that offer was the first opportunity squandered – in a criminal way too, because had the offer been accepted, the people Ukrainians today refer to as “Heavenly Hundred” would likely still be alive.

The second squandered opportunity was – correct – the 2/21 agreement, which I looked at in greater detail here. Russia welcomed the fact that the action plan had been mapped out. Implementing its provisions, or, to be more accurate, making meaningful efforts to that effect, would have guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Instead, the opposition re-shuffled Verkhovna Rada, ‘impeached’ the President with nothing more than a vote, scheduled Presidential elections in violation of outlined compromise, and all but forgot the very existence of armed extremists. Russia understood that the opposition itself was too weak to confront the armed and hostile nationalists, now most vocal in Verkhovna Rada – but what of its Western patrons? Several times in the week that followed, Russia urged all sides to return the situation to “the ambit of the law”. On 2/24 a clear warning signal was sent:

We are surprised that several European politicians have already sprung to support the announcement of presidential elections in Ukraine this May, although the agreement of the 21 February envisages that these elections should take place only after the completion of the constitutional reform. It is clear that for this reform to succeed all the Ukrainian political forces and all regions of the country must become its part, but its results should be approved by a nationwide referendum. We are convinced that it is necessary to fully take into account concerns of deputies of eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, the Crimea and Sevastopol, which were expressed at the conference in Kharkov on the 22 February… We are forced to note that some of our western partners are not concerned about the fate of Ukraine, but rather their own unilateral geopolitical considerations… We cannot but get a sustainable impression that the Agreement of the 21 February with silent consent of all its external sponsors is used as a cover only to promote the scenario of change of Ukrainian power by force through the creation of “facts on the ground”, without any wish to search for a Ukraine-wide consensus in the interests of national peace. We are especially worried about the attempts to involve international structures, including the UN Secretariat, into the approval of this position.

The warnings weren’t heeded – neither the US nor the EU seemed eager to sway the now de-facto in power opposition towards reasonable ground. More than that, they permitted NATO to get involved in official public discussion of the crisis:

When NATO starts reviewing the situation in Ukraine, it sends the wrong signal. It even seemed appropriate for the NATO Secretary General to mention that “Ukraine’s membership of NATO is not an urgent priority of the Ukrainian leadership”. Does this mean that membership should be a priority, but not an urgent one?

The price for such arrogant disregard of Russia’s security concerns was Crimea, its occupation kicking off on the early morning of 2/27.

In his Direct Line on 4/17, President Putin explained:

Needless to say, first and foremost we wanted to support the residents of Crimea, but we also followed certain logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future. We’ll be told: “This doesn’t concern you,” and NATO ships will dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia’s naval glory. But it isn’t even the emotional side of the issue. The point is that Crimea protrudes into the Black Sea, being in its center, as it were. However, in military terms, it doesn’t have the importance it used to have in the 18th and 19th centuries – I’m referring to modern strike forces, including coastal ones. But if NATO troops walk in, they will immediately deploy these forces there. Such a move would be geopolitically sensitive for us because, in this case, Russia would be practically ousted from the Black Sea area. We’d be left with just a small coastline of 450 or 600km, and that’s it!

As much as I sympathize with ordinary Ukrainians who were deeply offended by the peninsula being literally yanked away from them in, extraordinarily, just 18 (!) days – they have only the post-revolutionary government and its pompous Western benefactors to blame.

With Crimea gone, politicians in Kiev missed another excellent opportunity to unite the rest of Ukraine. Even in those regions where pro-Russian sentiment is usually high, I am positive enough people were, and still are, angered by the loss of territory. A team of top-level politicians, say a coalition of Presidential candidates, descending on the protesters in the Southeast – presenting a unified front, open to engaging with the ‘unconvinced’, pledging to include them (by means of inviting ‘people’s delegates’) in constitutional reform – would be all the vaccination necessary to dim the separatist impulse. Instead, ‘people’s delegates’ were being jailed as fast as they were propped up by the crowds, and Yatsenyuk waited until April 11th to show up in Donetsk – not even to meet with the protesters, no, merely to give a press conference together with regional Kiev appointed elite! By that time, thousands of locals had been protesting weekly for over a month, and on April 6th the tensions escalated and protesters took to occupying official government buildings. Having previously been hyperactive on the stage of Maidan, this time acting Prime Minister did not find it in him to face a single ‘separatist’. Aside from Yatsenyuk (lacking the will, but somewhat half-baked to be a politician), nobody in Kiev possesses sufficient wisdom to pull off the ‘unity stunt’, but surely their Western patrons could have nudged the puppets somewhat forward, if they all collectively care about the plight of Ukrainians?

And now, to the latest kerfuffle – Geneva Agreement from 4/17:

All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism. All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated. Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes. It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors. The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.

Sounds fantastic, only during press conference right after the agreement was signed, Ukrainian acting FM Andrii Deshchytsia stated that the Army was not bound by the agreement, and the next day also helpfully explained that Maidan protesters in Kiev weren’t bound by it either. In other words, Geneva agreement is to be implemented exclusively by Southeast activists. Predictably, they refused to comply until after the Right Sector does…

They say Ukraine departed the USSR for independence equipped with the very best of the giant’s goodies – fertile soil, manufacturing plants, bright people. No other breakaway republic had as much promise.

What happened? And what do we do now?

Featured image borrowed from BBC News.    

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