Peace Process in Ukraine

Key in find­ing peace is for NATO and Rus­sia to give one-another re­li­able se­cu­rity guar­an­tees re­lat­ing to Ukraine, and to agree these things with­out ref­er­ence to Ukraine


Re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the West were civ­i­lized un­til 2014. Then came the Maidan revo­lu­tion, to re­place a pro-Moscow gov­ern­ment in Kiev with a pro-Euro­pean gov­ern­ment; Moscow’s pre­ar­ranged an­nex­a­tion of Crimea; war in Don­bas; sanc­tions; a fall in the value of the Ru­ble; in­creased hos­tile pro­pa­ganda be­tween Rus­sia and the West; and the ush­er­ing in of a new era of Cold War. The fate of Ukraine, through­out his­tory hav­ing the mis­for­tune to serve as a buf­fer state be­tween Rus­sia and cen­tral Europe, is cen­tral to this mon­u­men­tal break­down in geopo­lit­i­cal re­la­tions.

While Ukraine is now at peace, its po­si­tion is un­sta­ble. Crimea has been per­ma­nently lost to Rus­sia. Don­bas re­mains oc­cu­pied by a para­mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment struc­ture, faintly loyal to Moscow but that Moscow does not much care about. The Don­bas re­gion is rot­ting po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally. Ukrainian pol­i­tics has shifted to­wards Europe; Moscow views have been ban­ished from Kiev-con­trolled ter­ri­tory. The Euro­pean Union now en­gages with Kiev to pur­sue a regime of ca­pac­ity-build­ing and align­ment with Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions, but the scale of the prob­lem is mas­sive. Ukraine is very cor­rupt and its gov­ern­ment highly dys­func­tional. Most of its wealth is con­trolled by a small group of peo­ple. Cen­tral gov­ern­ment is propped up only by in­ter­na­tional cred­its. The coun­try re­mains highly unattrac­tive to for­eign in­vest­ment, while price in­fla­tion is driv­ing a wave of em­i­grants west­ward.

In­so­far as it is pos­si­ble to be ob­jec­tive about the pol­i­tics of a sen­si­tive buf­fer state in the early stages of a new Cold War, it is clear what would be in the best in­ter­ests of Ukraine and her peo­ple. Ukraine needs the ex­ter­nal per­cep­tion of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in or­der to at­tract for­eign trade and in­vest­ment, par­tic­u­larly from the Euro­pean Union which is its only nat­u­ral non-Rus­sian trad­ing part­ner. The first in­gre­di­ent for such a per­cep­tion is cer­tainly over the coun­try’s borders. Any coun­try with sub­stan­tial bor­der dis­putes ap­pears at risk of re­newed civil con­flict and this is a colossal de­ter­rent to in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity.

Crimea has been lost. It was oc­cu­pied by Rus­sia with­out a bul­let be­ing fired (at least so the le­gend goes), ap­par­ently with the ac­qui­es­cence of the pop­u­la­tion who sub­se­quently rat­i­fied the an­nex­a­tion in an ad­mit­tedly con­tested ref­er­en­dum. Rus­sia’s Black Sea fleet is in Crimea. Rus­sia has been con­struct­ing an enor­mous bridge across the Kerch straits to con­nect Crimea with Rus­sia. The idea of ei­ther Ukrainian or in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to wrest Crimea back from Rus­sia, one of the world’s top two nu­clear pow­ers, is in­con­ceiv­able.

Don­bas should be re­turned to Ukrainian gov­ern­ment con­trol. The sloppy au­ton­o­mous gov­ern­ment struc­tures cur­rently in con­trol of the re­gion have min­i­mal ca­pac­ity to run any­thing. Hav­ing suf­fered from con­flict, Don­bas needs re­con­struct­ing and the only source of funds to do that will come

from the EU once Don­bas is re­stored to Kiev’s con­trol. Moscow has no in­ter­est in an oc­cu­pa­tion of Don­bas, or it would have oc­cu­pied the re­gion di­rectly and not via proxy mili­tias. Moscow has sent feel­ers propos­ing quasi-in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of Don­bas as a pre­cur­sor to its re­turn to Kiev.

The next in­gre­di­ent for im­prove­ment of Kiev’s po­lit­i­cal-eco­nomic po­si­tion is im­prove­ment of Ukraine’s poor-qual­ity, Soviet-era in­sti­tu­tions. This is a colossal ex­er­cise in state-build­ing that the EU must fi­nance, us­ing the EU ac­ces­sion process as con­di­tion­al­ity to in­cen­tivize co­op­er­a­tion. The EU has not yet started to con­tem­plate the scale of the un­der­tak­ing for a coun­try of this size with so dys­func­tional a his­tory of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion. But if the EU wants Kiev within its or­bit rather than within that of Moscow, then it must pay. With pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion re­form, Ukraine’s no­to­ri­ously dirty pol­i­tics would be­gin to trans­form them­selves. This process has not yet even be­gun.

The third in­gre­di­ent for Ukraine’s suc­cess is peace with Rus­sia, its eastern neigh­bor. There is no ob­jec­tive rea­son why this can­not take place, con­sis­tent with Ukrainian as­pi­ra­tions for ever-closer con­nec­tions with the EU. Ukraine, shar­ing some com­mon lin­guis­tic and cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics with Rus­sia, can serve as an en­try state for hy­dro­car­bons. This re­quires sev­eral mod­er­ate steps. The Ukraine/Rus­sia travel and trade em­bargo, in­tro­duced since the 2014 Maidan revo­lu­tion, must be abol­ished. Rus­sian sanc­tions must be re­moved by the EU. Ukraine must be­come per­ma­nently ac­cus­tomed to pur­chas­ing Rus­sian hy­dro­car­bons, in par­tic­u­lar gas, at full mar­ket price (per­haps with a phased regime of re­duc­ing price sub­si­dies over time), linked to com­pli­ance by Moscow with troop with­drawal and re­cip­ro­cal trade mea­sures in phases. Ukraine must ad­just its econ­omy ac­cord­ingly. Rus­sian sub­si­dies on hy­dro­car­bon sup­plies to Ukraine en­tail the sta­tus of Ukraine as a peren­nial Rus­sian client state, and they must be abol­ished.

De­mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the bor­der on both sides, built upon since the Don­bas con­flict, would be a use­ful con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sure. Ca­sual im­mi­gra­tion ha­rass­ment of one-another’s cit­i­zens on both sides would be un­help­ful. It would also be use­ful for each state to per­mit dual na­tion­al­ity with the other.

If the fore­go­ing rep­re­sents the op­ti­mal so­lu­tion on the part of the peace­maker and state-builder for Ukraine, now we must con­sider why it is so dif­fi­cult to make it hap­pen. There are four per­spec­tives we must con­sider: that of the EU/Ber­lin; that of Wash­ing­ton, DC; that of Kiev; and that of Moscow. To ap­pre­ci­ate the EU’s per­spec­tive, we must ask why they de­cided to in­ter­vene in the events sur­round­ing the Maidan revo­lu­tion in the first place. The an­swer is that Ukraine has been eyed by Europe as a strate­gic as­set in pre­vent­ing Rus­sian over­stretches in Europe for some time. The UN De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, op­er­at­ing un­der Euro­pean fund­ing, was one of the first ca­pac­ity-build­ing pro­grams in Ukraine af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. The idea of re­mov­ing Ukraine from the Rus­sian or­bit has been a cen­tral goal of Euro­pean for­eign pol­icy in Ukraine ever


In this con­text, Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovich was per­ceived as Moscow’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, even though by rea­son of his mon­u­men­tal lev­els of cor­rup­tion he was unloved by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. In early 2014 it was an­tic­i­pated that his gov­ern­ment would soon be com­ing to a nat­u­ral end at the bal­lot box, but un­der lob­by­ing by pro-EU politi­cians in Kiev Europe feared the dy­ing Yanukovich regime would en­gi­neer a mas­sive ex­er­cise in theft of state as­sets, much of which con­sisted of cred­its or grants from Europe/in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, or the pro­ceeds of these cred­its/grants. Europe was per­suaded that there was pop­u­lar sup­port for a swift revo­lu­tion to re­move Yanukovich early, so they sup­ported the no­tion.

Europe would like to draw Ukraine fur­ther into the EU, but it is frus­trated by the peren­nial high lev­els of ex­ter­nal sub­sidy the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment re­quires to con­tinue func­tion­ing. The mo­tive for drawing Ukraine into Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions is to pre­vent a resur­gent Rus­sia from en­gag­ing in the ex­pan­sion­ism for which it is noted his­tor­i­cally. Just as the Baltic States had been ab­sorbed into the EU and NATO, Ukraine would be so as well. Al­though Ukraine is much larger than the Baltic States, in prin­ci­ple it should be sub­ject to Euro­pean re­form and in­te­gra­tion in the same way be­cause it had suf­fered from the scourge of com­mu­nism for the same pe­riod. For Europe the prob­lem with Rus­sian an­nex­a­tion of Crime is one of in­ter­na­tional law, and the dis­tinc­tive Euro­pean view of it.

In 1994 Europe had fa­cil­i­tated ne­go­ti­a­tion of the Bu­dapest Me­moran­dum on Se­cu­rity As­sur­ances, whereby Rus­sia would guar­an­tee Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity in ex­change for Ukraine sub­mit­ting to peace­ful de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight that treaty now seemed ab­surd, be­cause Ukraine had been de­prived of part of its ter­ri­tory ar­guably pre­cisely be­cause it no longer pos­sessed a nu­clear de­ter­rent to pre­vent Rus­sia from do­ing such a thing. The Rus­sian-spon­sored in­va­sion of Don­bas threat­ened a di­rect mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­tween Rus­sia and Euro­pean troops, drawing in the United States that sent spe­cial forces/in­tel­li­gence agents to South­ern Ukraine. The risk of los­ing Ukraine en­tirely to a Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­va­sion con­firmed Europe’s worst fears about the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion: it was li­able to ex­pan­sion­ism at any op­por­tu­nity, which is why it is so im­por­tant to sup­port Ukraine not just po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally but also mil­i­tar­ily. NATO troops were there­fore de­ployed to the Baltic States to de­ter fur­ther Rus­sian ex­pan­sion­ism. Rigid sanc­tions were im­posed upon Rus­sia to de­ter the ac­tions it had taken in Ukraine. In­def­i­nite fur­ther po­lit­i­cal, fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port to Kiev would be re­quired.

A few com­ments are ap­pro­pri­ate about the US ap­proach to­wards Ukraine. Put aside for one mo­ment con­tem­po­rary is­sues of do­mes­tic US pol­i­tics, sur­round­ing a le­gal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether there was im­proper Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 US elec­tions. For the United States, Ukraine is an ally but not one in which there is strong strate­gic in­ter­est. Rus­sian ex­pan­sion­ism is not a di­rect threat to the United States, save in­so­far as it cre­ates Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal disquiet in which Amer­ica sub­se­quently has to in­ter­vene. The Amer­i­can view of in­ter­na­tional law, un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, ob­jected to re­pu­di­a­tion of the treaty guar­an­tee­ing Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity.

Nev­er­the­less the United States was not pre­pared to in­vade Crimea and en­gage in open mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with its Cold War ad­ver­sary. It was only, and with a hard heart, that the US re­luc­tantly com­mit­ted mil­i­tary re­sources to south­ern Ukraine af­ter the Don­bas in­va­sion in or­der to de­ter fur­ther

con­fla­gra­tion. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants peace be­tween Europe and Rus­sia, to pre­vent the United States be­ing pulled any fur­ther into Euro­pean prob­lems.

The Kiev per­spec­tives com­plex and much mis­un­der­stood. Post-com­mu­nist Ukraine has in­volved gov­ern­ment through a bal­ance of com­pet­ing oli­garchs who dom­i­nated own­er­ship of Ukraine’s eco­nomic as­sets af­ter state con­trol of the econ­omy was dis­man­tled. The sys­tem is and al­ways has been so cor­rupt that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Kiev is barely func­tional. Ukraine’s in­sti­tu­tional struc­ture is par­tic­u­larly de­crepit by rea­son of the coun­try’s tragic twen­ti­eth cen­tury his­tory. Ukraine wants Euro­pean money, be­cause as a buf­fer state Ukraine rightly con­sid­ers Euro­pean dom­i­nance rel­a­tively be­nign as com­pared with Rus­sian dom­i­nance. But the ac­tual in­sti­tu­tional re­forms the EU re­quires of Kiev are painful.

Ukraine has a his­tory of be­ing run by for­eign pow­ers, and this in­vites a lazy ap­proach to gov­ern­ment: let the for­eign power do it. The con­fed­er­a­tion of states in the Euro­pean Union does not re­ally want a colony; they want each mem­ber state it­self to op­er­ate to high in­sti­tu­tional stan­dards and it is par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive about the is­sue given the wide­spread crit­i­cism that Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia joined the EU be­fore hav­ing reached the req­ui­site in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of self-gov­ern­ment. A large coun­try with plenty of di­verse and con­cen­trated po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests, in­sti­tu­tional re­form is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for Ukraine be­cause Kiev is not re­ally in a po­si­tion to im­pose any­thing upon Ukraine’s oli­garchs.

Nev­er­the­less Kiev is des­per­ate for Euro­pean money, mis­al­lo­ca­tion of which through the gov­ern­ment’s bud­get is an es­sen­tial premise of any Ukrainian gov­ern­ing coali­tion. Kiev does not care about Crimea, ex­cept in a ro­man­tic sense as a va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion. Crimea was al­ways ef­fec­tively con­trolled by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary and with a ma­jor­ity Rus­sian-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion. Nev­er­the­less Crimea as a com­po­nent of Ukrainian ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity un­der threat from Rus­sia is a pow­er­ful way of main­tain­ing division be­tween Moscow and Kiev.

For as long as Kiev can main­tain that hos­til­ity, a sense of cri­sis can pre­vail re­lat­ing to Ukraine which makes it eas­ier for Kiev to ex­tract the Euro­pean money nec­es­sary to keep its coali­tion afloat with­out mak­ing the in­sti­tu­tion con­ces­sions to Brus­sels that it is not in Kiev’s power to de­liver upon. Al­though Kiev might like to en­cour­age the EU di­rectly to li­aise with the oli­garchs, as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter they are not go­ing to do this and Kiev must grind the oli­garchs down grad­u­ally with­out the cen­tral gov­ern­ment go­ing bank­rupt be­fore Europe, frus­trated at see­ing its sub­si­dies achieve few vis­i­ble re­sults, ceases its fund­ing.

A peren­nial sense of cri­sis over Crimea fa­cil­i­tates this. For Don­bas, the prin­ci­pal ben­e­fit of con­tin­u­ing the con­flict is to en­cour­age mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion in Ukraine by the EU and the USA, as well as weak­en­ing one of the oli­garchs whose as­sets are lo­cated there.

The Rus­sian per­spec­tive upon Ukraine is its de­sire to achieve the lift­ing of Euro­pean sanc­tions, that have dam­aged the Rus­sian econ­omy badly, at any cost ex­cept dis­en­gage­ment from Crimea that would in­volve an un­ac­cept­able loss of face. Crimea was al­ways part of Rus­sia un­til Soviet Pre­mier Nikita Khrushchev, who was Ukrainian, trans­ferred Crimea to Ukraine ap­par­ently on a per­sonal whim in 1954. More fun­da­men­tally the Rus­sia mil­i­tary base in Crimea must be pre­served to Rus­sia at all costs. Rus­sia would be will­ing to walk away from Don­bas, which is now just a drain upon Rus­sia’s re­sources.

From the fore­go­ing ob­ser­va­tions, the chal­lenges fac­ing a peace agree­ment for Ukraine are the fol­low­ing. Firstly, such an agree­ment would cause short-term pain for Kiev be­cause the cur­rent stand-off over Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity re­leases to a de­gree the need for the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment to take on the coun­try’s oli­garchs. Se­condly, Rus­sia is ready for peace but can­not give up Crimea. Thirdly, Europe and the United States are re­luc­tant to let Rus­sia keep Crimea with­out con­tin­u­a­tion of sanc­tions and diplo­matic iso­la­tion, be­cause they fear a domino ef­fect for Rus­sian for­eign pol­icy in Europe. Rus­sia is also ner­vous about NATO troops in Ukraine, on its bor­der, by rea­son of a his­tor­i­cal fear of a Ger­man ad­vance east­wards.

A joint sovereignty agree­ment, that changes lit­tle about the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Crimea as a mat­ter of prac­tice, might be a face-sav­ing so­lu­tion for the Crimean penin­sula. Per­mit­ting free move­ment of both Ukrainian and Rus­sian cit­i­zens in and out of Crimea, to­gether with re-com­menc­ing flights be­tween Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, and di­rect flights be­tween Rus­sian and Ukraine (another trans­port artery that was cut in con­se­quence of the Rus­sia/ Ukraine cri­sis), might sweeten that bit­ter pill.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko

Lead­ers from NATO mem­ber and part­ner states view a mil­i­tary fly­over

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