At present, Ukraine looks like a bankrupt company that cannot save itself with the efforts of its own top management or internal resources. It is obvious that the country needs help from outside that would steer it away from further degradation, an escalation of violence and worsened confrontation with possible catastrophic consequences for Ukraine itself and for its neighbors.
There are two possible ways out of this crisis. One of them is optimistic, and fully possible. The other is pessimistic and catastrophic for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the international community.
Let’s start with the good one.
Leaving aside Crimea, where the situation is already fully resolved, it is obvious that neither Europe, nor the United States, nor Russia, nor even Europe and the U.S. together can save the Ukrainian economy and state on their own from the deep crisis that has overtaken the country. In all likelihood, the only good way out is a trilateral solution because it is Russia, rather than Europe or the U.S. that holds the majority stake in the Ukrainian economy. First, the Russian market is the main venue for the sale of Ukrainian goods; thus closing it would completely kill the Ukrainian economy. Second, Ukraine is entirely dependent on Russian natural gas. Third, Ukraine owes Russia a staggering $16 billion debt.
The West, of course, wants to offer Ukraine some help. But first, we must keep in mind that help via the IMF is conditional upon certain steps that are likely to worsen the economy in the short term, and second, even if the IMF manages to scrape up $15-20 billion without Russian help, this money will still be insufficient to propel the country out of the deep economic and political crisis.
So what are the necessary conditions for a trilateral U.S.-Russia-Europe agreement and what sort of program can unite their interests? I proceed from the assumption that the U.S. and the EU have a lot of influence over the present-day authorities in Kiev and that if the EU, U.S. and Russia negotiated a plan to save Ukraine, Washington and Brussels will succeed in convincing Kiev to accept it. The conditions for a trilateral deal are sufficiently well articulated by the Russian Foreign Ministry in its address to the contact group for Ukraine. By my interpretation, they boil down to the following.
First, most likely, the scheduled May elections need to be postponed, possibly until the end of the year as was previously agreed in the February 21 st agreement guaranteed by European foreign ministers, and even without Viktor Yanukovich’s return to Ukraine, there are still a number of problems that need to be worked out before the elections. Second, there needs to be a series of changes to the Ukrainian constitution to make it more compatible with the country’s realities and reduce the tension between the West and South-East parts of Ukraine. Two changes are particularly important—the acceptance of Russian as a second official language and the federalization of the country that would give more autonomy to its regions. It must by now be clear to all with an open mind that Ukraine is a deeply divided state with cleavages along ethnic, language, religious, and regional lines. Thus, for the preservation of the state’s territorial integrity, it is imperative that the regions composing it enjoyed broad autonomy and decided themselves what language to use, what books to read, and how to raise their children.
A third, and very important, is the alliance-neutral status of Ukraine which must be guaranteed, as it was already once done in the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine of June 16, 1990.
And lastly, illegal paramilitary groups need to be disarmed and neutralized, and far-right nationalists from the Svoboda Party need to be removed from power structures. The Svoboda Party, by a 2012 resolution of the European Parliament was condemned as xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist. I would also add here “neo-fascist” in its leaders, symbols, and ideology.
Are these demands revolutionary, stunning, or unacceptable to the Europeans and the U.S.? I can answer this unequivocally in the negative. We have to note here that two similarly wise men, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, published similar opinions on the Ukrainian crisis in the Financial Times and The Washington Post, which were almost identical to those of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Brzezinski went ahead and offered outright “Finlandization” of Ukraine, while Kissinger noted the special Russian interests in Ukraine and the advisability of neutral status for the country. Their articles clearly show that Russian proposals are fully realistic, at least according to serious people like Kissinger and Brzezinski.
Can the United States, Russia, and the European Union negotiate common policy and impose it on the present-day authorities in Kiev, explaining to them that only by accepting those conditions will they receive the much needed financial aid and secure their territorial integrity, naturally excluding Crimea? From a common sense point of view, the Kievan ruling class should be grasping for such an opportunity if, of course, they can soberly and objectively judge the situation in which their country is trapped. Of course, it is rather hard to talk about common sense and a sober mind of the current political elite in Ukraine, as it is currently acrimoniously split. In the current situation, it is difficult to expect well-thought out and responsible actions. If such an offer as outlined above were to be made to the current leaders in Kiev, it would be a litmus test for exactly how much influence the armed bands and nationalists supported by the West wield over the political process. We are after all constantly bombarded by messages in the Western media of how Russia exaggerates the role of those groups and of how they control nothing. I suspect that even if fairly sober and pragmatic individuals such as Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Yulia Tymoshenko would agree to such conditions of trilateral help, they would still be unable to enforce them because today, the armed groups behind the nationalists in Kiev appear much stronger than the liberal and pro-Western politicians.