After Minsk II, it is high time to consider the shape of Ukraine’s future. For that it is essential to understand the origins of the crisis. As all the parties share the same overriding interest, there are grounds for hope.
The true national interests of all parties coincide
It’s a great relief that at last the European Union (Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande) have begun to talk directly about the Ukraine with Russia (President Putin) without the US being directly involved, yet getting both sides in the Ukraine conflict involved. If the Minsk ceasefire holds, these discussions could result in, albeit prolonged, negotiations to end the civil war and later determine the future status of the Ukraine. Because the true national interests of both the EU and Russia coincide, these could yet succeed if this background is kept in mind:
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Mr. Gorbachev’s grave warning of 29 January and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s annual news conference of 21 January seem now to being taken seriously, accepting that Russia has a vital national interest in the Ukraine and the European Union has an important interest. The United States has no political interest so long as the Ukraine is a hyphen joining the EU east and the Russian west of Europe. Flouting Russia’s vital interest has led to the present crisis.
Both Putin and the EU at fault
President Putin has played a winning hand disastrously. He had only to negotiate with the EU to achieve that hyphen status. But the EU, just as disastrously, was, as all too often, unable to form a unanimous proposal to put to Putin. In this vacuum, the resurgent US neo-conservatives got involved ,seeking their American unipolar world – tactically backing the pro EU western Ukraine against the pro Russian east (remember Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s revealing ‘f… the Europeans’ in her notorious phone chat with the US Ambassador in Kiev?)
Mr. Putin, with his near obsessive fear of the US, when defied, reaches for his sword; further defied, he uses it. But even now, if he were offered a proposal over the Ukraine that “he could not refuse” because respectful of Russia’s vital interest, there is every chance that he would take it. He is popular in Russia for standing up, as any Russian President must, for Russia’s interests – not for this Ukrainian civil war that is in the real national interest of no party – including, above all, the interests of the Ukrainians themselves.
The Ukraine as a hyphen joining East & West Europe
If, after Minsk II, a ceasefire holds (the terms are of little importance), the next step is to consider how the Ukraine could become that hyphen joining the EU and Russia instead of the present bone of contention. (EU/Russia relations have an importance far beyond the Ukraine; they will do much to determine whether an era of international cooperation can replace today’s confrontations).
It is essential to remember that the EU is negotiating with Russia – not just with President Putin. Even the Czars, “Supreme Autocrats of All The Russias” had to bend to powerful internal interests – today these are the “oligarchs” and the new middle class whose interest is peace in the Ukraine and prosperity in Russia provided Russia’s essential national interests are respected, not flouted.
Keeping up the pressure on Russia
The threat of further sanctions and NATO redeployments in Europe are useful especially in the three Balkan countries, because diplomacy so often requires threats to be successful. But obviously no way should the US provide arms to the Ukraine as the war-mongering Republicans demand. Negotiations can succeed in the case of EU-Ukraine-Russia because all parties (including both east and west Ukraine) share the same real interests in achieving that ‘hyphen’ status.
The shape of an agreement
In an article of mine (ICH 14 March 2014), I urged that negotiations be opened which, would include the lease of Russia’s bases in the Crimea (Russia’s No 1 vital interest) being renewed in perpetuity as part of a package. It is probably too late for that now, but important Russian concessions over the governance of the Crimea could still be sought in return for Russian agreement on the whole package which would include Ukraine not joining any military alliance.
Given Ukraine’s economic plight due to misgovernance and corruption, any package could include the EU matching Putin’s offer (since withdrawn) of $15bn in aid – the $30bn assessed as the Ukraine’s minimum requirement; any preferential economic treatment for the Ukraine to be granted to both the EU and Russia; a joint EU/Russia commission, based in Kiev, for the Ukraine to signal any breach of the agreement and to coordinate such “Marshall Plan” type aid. Obviously, all this would need to be fleshed out, but it provides a basis for a resolution of the Ukraine crisis.