Comment: Ukraine crisis: The U-turn

ap_john_kerry_sergei_lavrov_ll_130809_16x9_992A sudden U-turn by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Paris, deciding to make a Sunday visit with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, is hinting at a breakthrough in the Ukrainian deadlock. Reportedly, the Russian minister put forward two major conditions for a rescue plan – federalization and confirmed neutrality of the Ukrainian state. The status of Russian as an official language remains a priority issue.

In spite of the lack of information in the foreign affairs official announcement and the diplomatic secrecy of the negotiations, Kerry’s return to talks is eloquent in itself, contrasting with the harsh language of exclusion that the West has been communicating to Russia lately, including the US and the EU’s restrictive measures and visa bans.

The latter proved to be the most effective instrument of foreign policy – although the Russian blacklist  personalities, who lost an opportunity to travel to the West, are definitely not the type to enjoy purchasing fashion brands at western shopping malls, the gesture clearly pointed in the direction of further action, targeting Russian middle-class, so called ‘new Russians’ who are attached to their ‘European’ lifestyle.

The shadow of isolation from the West, with their grandparents and parents having lived through 70 years of the Soviet reign, makes them truly horrified, as they are used to keeping their wealth, acquiring properties and sending their children to study in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the US. Already disenchanted with Putin remaining in power as prime minister, they openly displayed their discontent with his third presidential mandate. Nowadays, the wealthiest and most educated section of the population is not prepared to sacrifice its interests in the name of solidarity with fellow Russians in the eastern Ukraine – good news for those fearing the renaissance of the Russian empire. The anguish of its reconstruction haunted many after Putin’s Munich speech, lamenting the collapse of the USSR.

Out of breath and looking for a compromise, the Kremlin is powerless to continue assembling the provinces of Imperial Russia taken by Lenin for the creation of the Ukrainian state in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution. The enthusiasm shown by the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine to follow the path of Crimea, the idea leaving the Kremlin lukewarm, preferring the ‘new Russians’ or young middle class, who are not prepared to sacrifice their holidays in Cannes and Saint-Tropez for some ten million Russians in Ukraine nostalgic for their culture and language. It is the mounting pressure from the pro-western part of Russian society that is reducing the Kremlin’s margins for manouvre.

However, the language question in Ukraine remains paramount for both East and West, as the policy blueprint of the Baltic states for marginalizing Russian culture did not bring positive results, as the Russian population in Ukraine is too numerous to be ignored. The language representing the identity of those who discovered themselves as citizens of a foreign state overnight, and were stripped of their culture in the process of creating Ukrainian identity, proved to be a systemic error that led to a chronic political crisis – a constant headache for Ukrainian leaders attempting to reconcile interests of different regions.

However, the question of the federalization of Ukraine will bring objections from the EU, as it will create a basis for the further disengagement of the country. Federalism has been considered by nationalists as the biggest danger for the integrity of the Ukrainian state. Next to this fear there is the issue of the €30 billion debt – in case Ukraine splits into two federal states, the richest, industrial part of the country will remain with the Russians in eastern Ukraine. In this geopolitical wrestling, the EU risks facing its responsibility for the poorer and heavily indebted pro-European part of the country, enlarging the burden for EU taxpayers.

Nevertheless, even the poorest part of Ukraine, in the case of ‘divorce’, can become an interesting partner to the Alliance, as there is a high concentration of NATO enthusiasts. Although losing the richest part of Ukrainian territory, the West might gain in shifting its military infrastructures closer to Russian borders, a move that is particularly favoured by the US, but an impossible project to realize with the numerous Russian speakers in the east of the country.

But while the West and Russia are wrestling and considering their options, time is passing by and Ukrainian sovereign debt is growing, pulling the fragile economy towards a total collapse. The situation will not have an ultimate winner – whoever gains the bankrupt state faces a Pyrrhic victory.




Anna van Densky


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Category: A Frontpage, Blogspot, Expert comment, Russia, Ukraine

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