AN EAST-WEST BATTLE OVER UKRAINE CAN BE AVOIDED
|Amid the tragedy, euphoria and confusion in Ukraine, the risks of renewed confrontation between Russia and the west are rising. An east-west struggle over the fate of Ukraine would be a tragedy for the country – increasing the risks of civil war and partition. But while a brutal arm-wrestling match between the Kremlin and the west – with Ukraine as the prize – is a distinct possibility, it is absolutely not in the interests of Russia or the west. On the contrary, the Russians, Europeans and Americans have a common interest in preserving Ukraine as a unified country that avoids civil war and bankruptcy, reports ft.com.|
Talk of "common interests” between Russia and the west in Ukraine risks being dismissed as pious and unrealistic. It should not be. Just before the downfall of Viktor Yanukovich as Ukraine’s president, there were promising signs that Russia and the EU could work together. When three EU foreign ministers negotiated a shortlived deal with Mr Yanukovich, they were joined by a Russian representative. Vladimir Lukin, the man sent by President Vladimir Putin’s government, is Russia’s human-rights ombudsman and somebody with a background in liberal politics – not a Kremlin stooge.
Of course, the combustible ingredients for an east-west confrontation over Ukraine are also very visible. Over the weekend, Susan Rice, the US national security adviser, warned that it would be a "grave mistake” for the Russian government to send troops into Ukraine. Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has expressed anger that the deal witnessed by Moscow’s representative unravelled so quickly, and has accused the crowds in Kiev of being led by "armed extremists and pogromists”, as well as "rampaging hooligans” – the kind of talk that could be used to justify Russian intervention.
Behind this heated rhetoric there is a genuine clash of interests and viewpoints. Many Russians find it hard to accept that Ukraine should even be an independent country in the first place. And while the Putin government has accepted the legal reality of Ukrainian independence, it also sees the country as vital to Russian security and part of its natural sphere of influence and cultural hinterland. The EU has been deeply ambivalent about promising Ukraine eventual membership of the EU – fearing the impact of admitting another large, poor country. But the Europeans and Americans do feel that it is crucial to stand up for the principles of democracy and self-determination in Ukraine.
Both Russia and the western powers have a conspiratorial view of the other side’s role in Ukraine. The Russians see the hand of western intelligence agencies behind the demonstrations in Kiev. The west tends to assume that Mr Yanukovich and his henchmen were simply the puppets of Moscow.
In western capitals, the Kremlin’s operatives are seen as ruthless, corrupt, violent and deeply cynical. In Moscow, western policy makers are portrayed as hypocritical, double-dealing and intent on destroying Russia as a global power, while mouthing liberal pieties. This is not a promising backdrop on which to build international co-operation over Ukraine. And yet that is precisely what needs to be done – in everybody’s interests.
A civil war in Ukraine would be a disaster for Russia: violence and refugees would spill across the border. The fate of Russia’s naval bases in the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, would immediately come into question. And Russia’s relations with the west would inevitably be poisoned. The country would risk being thrust back into a cold war with the west – but this time without a protective cloak of Soviet satellite states.
A Ukraine at war would be no less of a disaster for the EU. With conflict already raging in Syria, it would mean that the EU now had bloody, civil conflicts on both its southern and eastern borders. The economic collapse of Ukraine and a default on its debts – both distinct possibilities – would also damage both Russia and the EU.
If Russia and the western powers are to work together, they both need to make some concessions to each other’s point of view. The US and the EU could acknowledge Russia’s security concerns by making it clear that Ukraine will not be offered membership of Nato in the foreseeable future. They could even make this a written commitment – since the Russians insist they were double-crossed over informal assurances they claim were given about previous rounds of Nato enlargement.
In return, the Russians should drop their objections to Ukraine’s aspiration to join the EU – and accept that the country’s eventual economic integration with the EU need not be a zero-sum game that damages Russian interests. The Russians might also be reassured by the ample evidence that Brussels is in no hurry to rush Ukraine into the EU club.
Above all, the best way to avoid Ukraine being pulled apart in an east-west tug of war is to accept that the political fate of the country can only be decided by Ukrainians themselves. That means that it is crucial that the presidential elections held in May should be clean and free of outside interference. Since neither Russia nor the EU would trust the other party to guarantee the integrity of the process, the UN – which has experience of running elections all over the world – should be entrusted with the task of overseeing the rebirth of Ukrainian democracy.
|688 reads | 25.02.2014|