No wonders expected
We are learning to live without illusions. The revolution did not change our lives overnight, even if it did open the window for such change. The West is not a fairy tale superhero which, out of sense of solidarity and fairness, will declare a war on Vladimir Putin and destroy him with little pain. Yet, the West is our ally. And whatever disagreements it takes, the sanctions against Russia will be extended weakening our enemy. Politics is not a place where people with untainted reputation rush to. So, every time we vote for a nice guy or girl from a talk show on the silver screen, we inevitably get disenchanted a bit later. We are not the only ones learning these political ABCs: populists succeed in taking hostage more and more countries in what is generally known as the developed world.
Some of the most-wanted Christmas gifts Ukrainians have been looking forward to is the visa free regime with the EU countries. President Poroshenko is often criticised
for giving new deadlines every now and then. Yet, much of this criticism seems ungrounded: it’s up to our European partners to make the move now. A little political will and solidarity in Brussels, and the visa wall should fall. Then what? There won’t be miracles, euro coins will not clink in the pockets and potholes in Ukrainian roads will remain just where they are today. We will simply be invited to pay a brief visit to the club of civilised countries: we will be expected to behave and not look for any membership prospects, at least in the short run. Yet, to dismiss that invitation would be to cherish own barbarianism and create more grounds to be considered as “Russia’s orbit of influence”. This is a symbolic, yet a very necessary step, if we truly aspire for European values, not a primitive fairy tale about hefty pensions, perfect bureaucracies, and high living standards.
Anyone who wants to survive in 2017 should shed all illusions. The war will not be over just because “everyone is fed up with it,” because Putin will change his mind or because politicians will agree on something. Even without pockets and breakthroughs on the frontline, the death of every soldier is a heavy loss; every day of trench warfare depletes resources; every meter of the “grey zone” is a potential threat where fighting can resume any
ANYONE WHO WANTS TO SURVIVE IN 2017 SHOULD SHED ALL ILLUSIONS. THE WAR WILL NOT BE OVER, ELECTIONS WON'T SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS, THE KREMLIN WON'T GIVE UP ON ITS PLANS
minute. Therefore, we will still need professional servicemen, as well as new equipment (we can’t upgrade our old arsenal without limit), and volunteer help, – now in a more technological dimension than in 2014.
Also, it makes no sense to count on elections. The procedure as is will not solve any problems. Quite on the contrary, it will deepen and aggravate them. And nobody seems willing to improve election mechanisms in Ukrainian politics. So, an illusion of elections is the worst-case scenario – as much as the illusion or imitation of elections on the temporarily occupied territories. Everyone seems to get this in Ukraine. Even the cynical politicians with no moral principles, purely instinctively it seems, feel that elections in the Donbas make no sense and talking about them means playing against own ratings. In 2017, Ukrainian diplomats will have to invest enormous efforts into persuading our Western partners that an illusion of peace means war, one that is not postponed till tomorrow, but just a continuation of the current war under a slightly different legal definition.
The enemy’s teeth were dented a bit in the Donbas, but it will definitely not drop further plans to bring Ukraine into submission. For that, the Kremlin has many options. First of all, a political revanche of its loyalists no longer seems like an impossible option. Sociological surveys point to the fact that economic troubles drive the popularity of pro-Russian forces up. This growth is irrational and emotional: it’s how people “show their grudge” against those in power. Moreover, pro-Russian forces will disguise themselves as forces rallying for pacifism and “stability” in the years to come.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin seems to be diversifying its scenarios for political destabilisation in Ukraine. Apart from organisations well-known for their pro-Russian stance, another destructive forces seems to be rising. The recent visit of Nadia Savchenko to Minsk has shown that the official Ukrainian delegation in talks with the occupied territories seems to be having a competitor. And the arrival of this competitor does not seem very random. Currently MP and formerly a prisoner of the Kremlin, Savchenko tries to present the state unilaterally in causes of prisoner exchange; she pledges to show the result of her efforts any time soon. It costs the Kremlin nothing to play along, but potential benefits are huge: a figure is rising in Ukrainian politics that discredits the official Kyiv strongly. If a popular political party emerges around this figure, those seeking to sow divisions in Ukraine will have even more reasons to rejoice.
Second of all comes a revanche through culture: virtually three years of war have proven not enough to wipe out illusions of “common content” and “strong ties”, and subsequently, vast space for the Russian soft power. Countering such scenarios is easy and difficult at the same time. It’s homework for the government in 2017: those in power have to make sure that the space for manoeuvre for the Kremlin’s proxies shrinks; the political forces qualifying as democratic in Ukraine should not struggle with each other in attempts to demonstrate which one of them is more open and European while sacrificing their yesterday’s allies to that. Civil society must formulate its slogans in such a manner and put such pressure on the government that it is noticed and not lost in the laments of populists and those who will be destabilizing the country professionally. As to the visits of “the fathers of Russian democracy”, celebrities and any export of Russia’s cultural product to Ukraine, the recipe is simple: if the demand for this sort of entertainment (whether natural or manually stimulated in previous times) fell to zero, all hostile strategies to fight for our minds and hearts would be in vain.
Is bringing back Crimea, the occupied parts of the Donbas and all our hostages held in Russia in 2017 an illusion? There are few rational arguments against “No” as an answer. Yet, getting at least some of those people released, exchanging them for arrested separatists, and making sure that our “voices” (meaning Ukrainian media) are better heard in the occupied territory, is perfectly realistic. And that is a step towards victory. As Mustafa Dzhemilev puts it in his piece for this issue, Russia is unpredictable, and irreversible change can start there as quickly and unexpectedly as it did in the Soviet Union back in the 1980s. So, Western sanctions and our own struggle can undermine the Kremlin’s walls. How long it takes will depend on their resistance and our perseverance.