Crossing Red Lines
by Dmitry Yefremenko
The Ukrainian crisis is just ushering in a series of conflicts amid which a polycentric system of international relations will form. An effective multilateral mechanism must be created for preventing and settling crises in Europe and North Eurasia.
Minor causes may have major consequences. A hundred years ago a terrorist act masterminded by a small group of Serbian nationalists set in motion a chain reaction that eventually led to a world war and the collapse of several empires. In our days, a short Facebook message calling on likeminded people to gather in Kiev’s central square led to a crisis that shook Europe and dramatically expedited changes in the existing world order. The Ukrainian crisis is at its apex and is likely to cause much more trouble. The national democratic revolution and the breakout of an armed conflict in the east of Ukraine can hardly be classified as anything else but a tragedy of the country that was brought into independent existence by the emergence and subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russia’s active role in this crisis also stems from our common past, but not only the past. A future where Russia and Ukraine stand apart and participate in different integration projects and military-political alliances appeared to be unacceptable to too many people in Moscow. The crisis prodded the Kremlin into taking steps that can be regarded as a desperate attempt to defend its crucial geopolitical position and as a determination to break out of the world order’s “red lines” within which Russia is doomed to constantly be a Cold War loser.
THE PUTIN FACTOR
The Ukrainian crisis certainly has objective causes which include, among others, the lingering inertia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, ticking time bombs in relations among post-Soviet countries, planted back in Soviet times, and post-bipolar world realities. But the personality factor has also become extremely important. Russian President Vladimir Putin played a crucial role at some points during the crisis. Back in 2004, he regarded the “orange revolution” in Ukraine as a geopolitical challenge and a model for destabilizing the political regime, which, under certain conditions, if they were allowed to form, could be transferred to Russia as well. The subsequent events – the Russian-Ukrainian “gas wars,” the rifts among the Maidan leaders, their political fiasco, Victor Yanukovich’s fatal policy of trying to balance between the European and Eurasian integration projects, and finally the second Maidan – clearly showed that Ukraine was to be one of the most crucial political battles Putin had to fight. Ukraine had never been as important for any other external actors concerned. This was why the Russian president’s decision to move from the drawn-out trench war to active steps came as a surprise. And yet, Putin’s policy with respect to Ukraine should be regarded as nothing else but an active counterplay and his readiness to reverse the negative trend by employing all available resources and taking unexpected moves.
At the same time, one should exercise great caution when hearing that the Russian president’s actions are predetermined and stem from the underlying logic of his efforts to get a firmer authoritarian grip or live up to the demands of a large number of great-power-minded people stupefied by the aggressive anti-Western propaganda. On closer scrutiny, Putin’s political moves taken during his third presidential term reveal a much more sophisticated picture showing not only his determination to defend more firmly Russia’s geopolitical interests, as they are understood by the Kremlin, but also to resume a constructive dialogue with the West. At any rate, this is borne out by the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and, even more so, by the efforts to create a positive image of Russia as the host of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games which were so important for Putin. This is why the change of power in Kiev brought about a very painful reaction. For one thing, the triumph of the major sport event was overshadowed by the Euromaidan’s triumph; for another thing, the Russian leadership’s hands were tightly tied. It seemed that after the brilliant Olympic Games closing ceremony the Kremlin had no choice but to recognize the new authorities in Ukraine. At least, this is what the Russian leadership was prompted to do by the United States and the European Union which, however, made no promises that Ukraine would take into account Russia’s interests. During those days the reformatted majority in the Verkhovna Rada and the interim government in Kiev were working in frenzy, making one decision after another which called into question Ukrainian statehood as such. These decisions included an attempt to cancel the Kolesnikov-Kivalov language law and the disbandment of the Berkut special police force. They could have been followed by a revision of Ukraine’s non-bloc status and the Kharkov Agreement.
Putin’s decision in favor of reunification with Crimea was undoubtedly provoked by the coup in Kiev and expectations of its dreadful geopolitical consequences. But it would be superficial to assess this decision as spontaneous. On the contrary, all the previous years of Putin’s presidency can be regarded as preparations for crossing the Crimean Rubicon. At least, the time between his two most prominent foreign policy statements – the speech at the Munch Security Conference on February 10, 2007 and his almost confessional Crimean speech on March 18, 2014 – was a period of final disappointment at the impossibility to build equal partnerships with the United States and the European Union. As this disappointment deepened, he grew more and more convinced of an impending crisis in relations with the West, with Ukraine being its most probable center. However, open confrontation was expected not earlier than 2015 when the next presidential elections were to be held in Ukraine. Obviously, not only the Kremlin but also the West, the previous Ukrainian authorities and their opponents were preparing for this event as a crucial battle. But Kiev-based journalist Mustafa Nayyem’s post on social networks, in which he urged the supporters of Ukraine’s pro-European choice to come to the Maidan, messed everything up.
The subsequent uncontrolled developments in Ukraine looked like a torrent that no one could divert. Putin dared do it by countering the Euromaidan’s will with the will of those who advocated Russian irredentism. By so doing he took an irreversible step not only in relations with Ukraine and the United States but also in relations between the authorities and society inside Russia.
Until recently, the voice of the Russian public in discussions on relations with Ukraine was not very strong. Calls for maximum integration between the two countries were broadly supported but their cooperation was not among issues considered vital by society. The discussion before the crisis went livelier in the expert community, but ties between experts and agencies that shaped policies were waning. By that time, an ultimate degree of centralization had been achieved in making political decisions on Ukraine and the success of Crimea’s reunification with Russia was largely owed to such hyper-centralization and direct control by the head of state.
The reestablishment of Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula predictably received broad popular support and raised the president’s popularity rating to an unprecedented height. What until March used to be Putin’s sole business became a common cause and responsibility shared by the authorities and society. The rise of irredentism gave the full legitimacy to Putin’s third term, closing the chapter of Russia’s modern history associated with political protests in Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue. The authorities received a free hand in using the mobilization model of development although there is no confidence that Russian society, when faced with the hardships of the “Russian world” mission, will stay as monolithic as it was during the Crimean euphoria. At the same time, there formed a strong public demand for all-round support to millions of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people outside the country, about which Putin spoke in his Crimean speech. The need to live up to this demand is becoming a factor that may not yet be determining the Russian foreign policy but that is certainly outlining the limits for compromises with Ukraine. This demand for solidarity with the “Russian world” may give rise to new forces and figures that can change the Russian political landscape in the future.
At the same time, for some political and economic elites in Russia the return of Crimea became some sort of “white elephant” and they had nothing else to do but join the “Crimea is ours” jubilation, while carefully hiding their confusion and concerns about their own future. As the March celebrations marking the reunification with Crimea and Sevastopol subsided and as the West started imposing sanctions, hidden pressure from these elites increased and evidently affected the Kremlin’s readiness to provide direct support to the militia in Donbas.
Putin’s crucial role in the Ukrainian events and the related disintegration of the world order clearly added an edge to personal competition among world leaders. This appears to be especially intriguing in the case of U.S. President Barack Obama who is not particularly inclined toward excessive personification in state affairs and world politics. But this should rather be “credited” to the president’s conservative opponents in America who kept talking about “a strong Putin” and “a weak Obama”. The understanding by Western partners of the specifics of the political decision-making process in Russia is even more significant. Putin’s vertical of power, which he was preparing for confrontation with the West over the past several years (the so-called nationalization of elites) proved quite efficient during the Crimean phase of the Ukrainian crisis. But the Russian personalized regime has its structural weaknesses which however are made up for by tight control exercised by the leader. The weakening of his positions would jeopardize the system of power as a whole. In this context, the Western sanctions directed against Putin’s closest aides are not as symbolic as they may seem to be.
There is no doubt that in the foreseeable future Putin will have the final say in shaping up Russia’s Ukraine policy. But now he will have to take into account not only the Western pressure and controversial signals from the Russian elites but also the growing irredentist attitudes.
VENUS AND MARS TEAM UP IN UKRAINE
Robert Kagan’s well-known metaphor which likened the belligerent United States to Mars and effeminate Europe to Venus is well applicable to the Ukrainian crisis. The European Union and its Eastern Partnership policy made a major contribution to the escalation of the crisis by having embarked for the first time on the hitherto unexplored path of geopolitical competition. But no European strategy for the post-Soviet region, which would combine the interests of EU countries, had essentially been stated. Instead, the European bureaucracy chose to tread the well-beaten path, preferring to entrust the task of charting the political course to a group of countries that claimed to have special experience and knowledge of the region. This move was justified when the leading role in determining the European policy for the southern and eastern Mediterranean was played by France with its colonial experience and broad ties with countries in the region, with no other powerful geopolitical player standing behind them. On the contrary, the Eastern Partnership policy, conceived by its major advocates as a way to force Russia’s influence out of the western part of the post-Soviet area, inevitably drew the European Union into geopolitical competition. As a result, no alternative version proposing long-term economic integration of the EU, Russia and other post-Soviet countries from the Baltics to the Black Sea, rejecting the zero-sum game logic and shifting the focus to a mutually beneficial strategy was seriously considered even by experts.
Raised stakes in the geopolitical standoff often caused confusion in the EU structures responsible for a common foreign policy. With Victor Yanukovich refusing to sign the Association and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement with the EU, with the compromise reached on February 21 with the mediation of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland not holding even a day amid the revolution and with the United States insisting on sectoral sanctions against Russia, the effectiveness of a common European foreign policy dropped to a level that was close to paralysis. In those circumstances, self-assured Mars hurried to disconcerted Venus’ rescue.
With the start of the second Maidan, the United States became the main opponent of Russia, as it saw the Ukrainian crisis not only as a threat to European stability but also as an opportunity to breathe a new life into its own withering global leadership. Up until Russia’s incorporation of Crimea, the United States was solving mainly regional tasks, making up for European diplomacy’s weaknesses over and above (its figurative assessment by Robert Kagan’s wife and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland made quite an uproar). The reestablishment of Russia’s control over Crimea immediately added a global dimension to the crisis as Moscow’s move indicated a transition from the erosion of the post-bipolar world to its purposeful revision.
Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea is of exceptional value as a precedent signifying its refusal to adhere to the world order where rules are set by the United States. Although the Crimean challenge is not big in scale and poses no threat to America’s positions in the world, the very possibility of unauthorized territorial changes is a factor that gauges Washington’s ability to maintain the order where it has the final say.
From this point of view, active U.S. moves to mobilize allies for deterring Putin’s Russia appear to be quite predictable. What is important in this case is not deterrence as such but mobilization which lends a new meaning to the U.S.-led military-political alliances. The European Union has to agree to further American military presence in Europe and, above all, to the creation of significant military infrastructure in countries that once were members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The division of Europe into “old” and “new” proposed by then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a decade ago came to its logical conclusion during the Ukrainian crisis: with the active U.S. support “a new” Europe’s positions on energy and military security issues have become so strong that “the old” Europe’s major powers have to follow it, at least declaratorily. As regards Russia, “the new” Europe is turning into a cordon sanitaire that can be reinforced with Ukraine (at least its central and western regions) and Moldova (except for Transdniestria and presumably Gagauzia). However, the configuration of “the new” Europe can differ substantially from the one that existed ten years ago. Poland, the Baltic countries and Romania are ready to join the cordon sanitaire, but Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are showing much less enthusiasm for different reasons. Nevertheless, in tandem with “the new” Europe, Washington can effectively control both security policy in the whole of the European Union and its efforts to resume dialogue with Russia.
It seems that the Obama administration will try to use tensions around Ukraine in order to solve a more ambitious task of coming as soon as possible to agreement with the EU on the creation of a trans-Atlantic trade and investment partnership. The emergence of such a large economic bloc will signify the creation of a new pillar to shore up the shaken U.S.-centered world order. The United States is also stepping up the creation of a similar grouping in the Asia-Pacific region as a competitor of the “Chinese dragon”.
The purpose of regional and global stratagems used in the context of the Ukrainian crisis is far from building a decent future for people in different regions of Ukraine. This country just has had bad luck to be an arena of the first in a series of battles for the future world order. And the Ukrainians will be on the losing end of it regardless of the outcome.
INEVITABLE TURN TO THE EAST
Having decided to lead the way in revising the world order, Russia has taken the main blows from the United States and its allies. Such revision can potentially benefit a large number of global and regional actors that have been watching with sincere interest the standoff between Russia and the West, with China being the major beneficiary among them on the way to open confrontation with the United States in the fight for global leadership. The Ukrainian crisis will give China a break (possibly for several years) and allow it to retain its potential for pushing America off the podium as the number one economy, while avoiding direct confrontation with it. But there is more to this for Beijing than that.
A new round of Russian-Chinese integration was expected by many experts since the day when Vladimir Putin made the decision to return to the Kremlin as president for a third term. Many analysts warned that overly zealous attempts “to catch the Chinese wind” in the Russian sails would seriously complicate relations with the United States and the European Union. A strong lean toward China limits Russia’s ability to maneuver among key global actors. However, Putin’s Crimean choice made the use of the previous model of partnership with the United States and the European Union impossible and necessitated new steps toward China.
With the Ukrainian crisis at its peak, Moscow undoubtedly hoped to get China’s strong support. And its expectations came true. While refraining from expressing solidarity with Russia’s actions, Beijing nonetheless helped to avert its international isolation and largely alleviated the effects of Western sanctions. The signing of a $400 billion gas contract showed that the Chinese leaders were considering relations with Russia from a long-term strategic perspective. Beijing had secured preferential terms of gas supplies but did not “put the squeeze” on embattled Moscow and gave it a trump card to conduct a firm energy dialogue with the European Union. As a result, Russian-Chinese cooperation is entering a phase where, while remaining neighbors and strategic partners de jure, they are beginning to gravitate toward the logic of allied relations de facto. And yet this cooperation is not quite equal as it is and it’s likely to stay that way in the future.
The sanctions imposed by the West upon Russia create good conditions for cumulative growth of Chinese investments in the Russian economy. It seems that Moscow will have to lift most of the restrictions on Chinese investors’ access to Russian assets, which were put in place for security reasons or for equalizing bilateral economic relations. If this happens, prospects for the Eurasian Economic Union to be created from January 1, 2015 will also look differently. This Russia-led integration project may as well be combined with the New Silk Route initiative put forth by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Such synergy will facilitate ambitious infrastructure projects that can substantially simplify Chinese producers’ access to markets not only in the Eurasian Union but also in Europe. In a more distant future, sectoral alliances based on China’s enormous economic potential can be created in North Eurasia. This would become an impressive antithesis to the idealistic notion of common economic space “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, the discussion of which never developed into anything substantive before the Ukrainian crisis and the subsequent acute geopolitical confrontation.
In its new paradigm of cooperation Russia will have to prove that it can provide a reliable rear for China and thus prevent U.S.-oriented countries from closing in on it. It seems that Russia will even have to change some of the emphases when assessing the mounting tensions in the South China Sea: while last year Moscow showed cautious cordiality for Hanoi, now it will most likely have to demonstrate its complete impartiality or understanding for China’s arguments. Likewise, it will be extremely difficult to keep the balance within the Moscow-Tokyo-Beijing triangle even despite the demonstrative reluctance with which the Shinzo Abe government joined in the anti-Russian sanctions initiated by Barack Obama.
On a global scale, the new quality of Russian-Chinese cooperation is likely to lead to systematic, albeit cautious, bilateral steps to dampen the global domination of Washington Consensus institutions and practices. The gradual replacement of the U.S. dollar in trade among SCO and BRICS countries, the development and mutual recognition of their national payment systems, the establishment by the BRICS countries of their own Development Bank, and the creation by Russia and China of an international rating agency as a counterbalance to the big three – Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s – can become the first signs of global economic restructuring, and Russia may have to bear the brunt of initial costs incurred by this transition. But one should not entertain any illusions: there can be an alternative to the Washington Consensus, but it will be a Beijing Consensus. And yet, in the long term Russia and other countries that decide to go ahead with these changes will benefit from the very idea of competition between the centers of economic power, international financial institutions and macroeconomic models.
Russia’s post-Crimean turn to China may have a rather unexpected result with equally significant consequences, namely, “nationalization” of the Internet. Apart from the similarity of the two countries’ positions on the role of ICANN and the management of the Internet, Russia’s determination to create its own analogue of the Great Firewall can be a kind of revenge of the Westphalian order in the World Wide Web. The well-known principle cuius regio eius religio (“Whose realm, his religion”) may be restated in the second decade of the 21st century as “Whose server, his Internet.”
The Ukrainian crisis made Russia’s turn toward China unavoidable. But did it make it irreversible? Charles Krauthammer, who said that Putin had repeated the famous Nixon-Kissinger maneuver in Shanghai and that a similar geopolitical combination was now directed against the United States, might as well have been right. According to Krauthammer, enhanced partnership between Russia and China “marks the first emergence of a global coalition against American hegemony since the fall of the Berlin wall”. Obviously, this coalition will exist until it fulfills at least some of its missions. Apparently, only the understanding that the loss of dominant positions is inevitable can make a future American administration take effort toward restoring relations with Moscow by recognizing, in whatever form, Russia’s interests in both Ukraine and the whole of the post-Soviet area. The problem is that this may happen too late when Russia becomes heavily dependent on the economic power of China. Besides, as the policy of reset showed, it’s hard for the U.S. leaders to make truly attractive offers to Moscow even if this is necessitated by American interests. Nevertheless, the determination to stay in the vanguard of efforts for revisiting the world order, while leaning on nearly allied relations with China, should not mean that Russia will inevitably give up the search for a new model to keep the balance of power both globally and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular.
UKRAINIAN PROSPECTS: FINLAND? BOSNIA? TRANSDNIESTRIA?
Although the general outlines of a settlement that could have resolved the geopolitical confrontation or at least reduced its degree to a level acceptable to the majority of the parties involved became obvious nearly on the following day after Yanukovich’s flight, none of the key actors in the Ukrainian drama has so far dared state his readiness to make such a compromise. This compromise can well be described by the term “Finlandization”, which Zbigniew Brzezinski proposed as the best solution shortly after the start of the crisis and Henry Kissinger prior to Crimea’s accession to Russia. “Finlandization”, as they interpreted it, would have meant respectful good-neighborly relations, Ukraine’s non-participation in military alliances and active development of economic cooperation with both the European Union and Russia. Russia was supposed to recognize the changes and give up all claims on any part of Ukraine’s territory and attempts to destabilize the new government in Kiev. As an additional bonus to Moscow they proposed large-scale cooperation with the EU.
In principle, “Finlandization” of Ukraine is what could have happened if the European leaders had not insisted on unconditional signing by Ukraine of the Association and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement in Vilnius but would have heeded Moscow’s call to find a mutually acceptable solution in trilateral talks. In this case Russia would not have felt isolated due to the neighboring country’s joining an alternative integration project, and Ukraine, making full use of the benefits offered by exclusive relations with Russia, would have kept drifting toward the European Union but slower. One way or another, “Finlandization” means that Ukraine will gradually break away from the “Russian World”.
Immediately after the triumph of the Euromaidan, “Finlandization” appeared to be a less attractive option for both Yanukovich’s opponents who had come to power and for the Kremlin. For the former, the very possibility of recognizing Moscow’s certain special interest in Ukraine, even partially, was unacceptable and contrary to the revolutionary mandate. For the Kremlin, “Finlandization” would have meant that it had to admit another fait accompli and accept not only the need to work with a new unfriendly government but also the forcible change of the extremely corrupt, although legitimate, regime.
Russia’s solution to the crisis in Ukraine provided for the latter’s non-bloc status, federalization and constitutional guarantees for the use of the Russian language. Objectively, federalization does not run counter to the liberal and democratic development of Ukraine (i.e. the ideals declared by the Euromaidan). Moreover, it facilitates it through interaction between the central authorities and regions. However, federalization raises a barrier against ethnic nationalism by encouraging constitutional guarantees for the rights and balanced interests of different territorial communities, ethnic and language groups. And this is clearly at odds with the radical nationalistic principles that dominated the Euromaidan program before the dismantlement of the Yanukovich regime.
The transformation of Ukraine into a federative state where regions can influence decisions on accession to economic associations or military-political alliances could provide an additional constitutional guarantee of its non-bloc status. Such radical redistribution of powers between Kiev and Ukrainian regions is essentially compatible with “Finlandization” but means that external actors would be able to realize their interests not only by working with the central authorities but also by influencing regional political and economic elites.
Crimea’s accession to Russia and the adamant refusal by Kiev and the West to recognize the legitimacy of this move led Ukraine to a situation similar to that Georgia has been in since 2008 as a country with an unresolved territorial dispute with its neighbor. Membership in NATO becomes a hypothetical possibility for such a country. And in this respect, constitutional guarantees of its non-bloc status would turn into an architectural extravagance, into some sort of superstructure above the harsh reality of the state where a revolutionary coup has created a vacuum of legitimate power and the risk of losing territorial integrity. But at the same time, such a formally non-bloc country, if it stays as a unitary state, will be able to consolidate itself through radical rejection of all things associated with Moscow. While in the first 23 years of its independent existence the country was falteringly developing under the “Ukraine is not Russia” motto, now its slogan will change to “Ukraine is anti-Russia”. If anti-Russianness becomes a nation-building idea, even federalization will most likely be unable to make much change there. It may at best enfeeble or slow it down.
The inevitability of long-term Russian-Ukrainian resentment and the real risk of secession of several south-eastern regions from Ukraine necessitate the search for a new formula of compromises modeled not on Cold War-era Finland but on the Bosnia and Herzegovina experience after the Dayton Agreement of 1995. Like Bosnia, Ukraine could use the mechanism of confederation in order to extinguish the conflict by minimizing the powers of the central authorities and giving broad autonomy to regions, including in relations with the neighboring states. However, under the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entities may not secede from it even though they are connected much more loosely with each other than one of them is with Serbia and the other with Croatia. The advantage of the Dayton model for Moscow could be that by giving a special status to Donbas and legalizing its pro-Russian positioning (this may apply to other regions in the south-east of Ukraine as well), it will dramatically limit a “Bosnianized” Ukraine’s legal capacity as an international actor. Practically all efforts of the Ukrainian state, stabilized by the Dayton model, will be directed toward maintaining internal balance between its regions. At the same time, the use of the Dayton formula in Ukraine may not only give it relevant internal stability but in the medium term can also create better conditions for economic growth than a unidirectional commitment to the European Union.
However, one should not forget that the Dayton peace deal was made by the parties to the Bosnian conflict under unprecedented pressure from the United States which, together with its NATO allies, used such an argument, among others, as bombings (Operation Deliberate Force). At the time when this article was being written, Russia had not used such arguments. It is also obvious that Moscow alone will not be able to convince Kiev to accept the Dayton model without cooperation from the United States and the European Union. It would be much easier for the weak Kiev authorities (which still remain weak after the election of Petro Poroshenko as president) to continue the ineffective army operation against the rebels in Donbas than to recognize their representatives as a full-fledged party to the talks. If the talks proceed in the absence of one of the sides and if compromises are based on behind-the-scene agreements between the great powers, the consensus reached there may be revisited at the first opportunity. However the sustainability of the Dayton Agreement was based on thorough preparation of all of its terms and conditions, which left almost no room for free interpretation (the undecided status of the strategic District of Brcko was for a long time the only serious exception).
Today the Dayton deal seems to be the best solution. However, Moscow can hardly succeed in persuading Kiev and the West to accept it under the present circumstances. As a minimum, the positions of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk Republics should be just as strong as were the positions of the Bosnian Serbs before the Dayton talks. Unfortunately, the Dayton option can hardly be implemented without resolving the Transdniestrian issue first. But that is a matter of the price Moscow can and is prepared to pay for the “Transdniestrianization” of Donbas, including the price of new sanctions. However, what makes President Putin’s upcoming choice so dramatic is that a rejection of the Transdniestrian scenario will also have a significant political, economic and symbolic price.
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This article was contributed to Russia in Global Affairs during a brief relaxation of tensions following the inauguration of the new president of Ukraine and the talks between the key parties to the conflict which were held during the celebrations in Normandy. The intensification of international contacts and specifically the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko suggest that the crisis is becoming too heavy a burden for everyone. The election of oligarch Poroshenko as the new president of Ukraine three months after the revolution, which was not only nationalistic but also anti-oligarchic in nature, indicates that most people are tired of both the revolution and the confrontation that is tearing their country apart. However, this does not mean that Poroshenko has been given a mandate for a settlement that would be acceptable to both Russia and the Donbas rebels. Poroshenko’s power is not cemented; he has no strong support in the present Verkhovna Rada and no constitutional powers to appoint key members of the government. So the former “chocolate king” will focus on strengthening his positions in the political arena by holding early parliamentary elections. And yet, there is a long way to go before the DPR and LPR forces can be declared defeated. However, any serious compromise between the new president of Ukraine and the separatist movements in Donbas would pave the way to a third Maidan and a new round of destabilization. The crisis has not yet run out of steam and its temporary lessening may once again be followed by new flare-ups.
The Ukrainian crisis has already had a strong impact on Russia’s internal policy. The refreshed (Crimean) legitimacy of Vladimir Putin’s third term can be used for implementing a mobilization scenario, which will be prompted by the Western sanctions that have already been imposed and those that are still under discussion. The revival of the American attempts to push Russia away will not only force the Kremlin to change its methods of economic management but will also accelerate the renovation of Russian elites and lead to further curtailment of civil society freedoms. Modernization in partnership with the West has lost its relevance for many years to come, leaving mobilization in partnership with China as the only viable option.
Restoration of Russia’s cooperation with the West and primarily with EU countries would depend on stabilization, at least partial, in Ukraine. But the nature of relations will change dramatically anyway. The EU policy with regard to Moscow, which was based on the expectations that sooner or later Russia would follow Central and Eastern European countries along the road of democratic transition, has come to a dead-end. A new policy should be based on a new perception similar to Europe’s perception of China. Such a turn would help to pragmatize and instrumentalize relations between Russia and the European Union. Discussions on values and civilizational closeness should be suspended for a while. Instead, priority could be given to the creation of an effective multilateral mechanism for preventing and settling crises in Europe and North Eurasia. Such a mechanism will prove very useful as the post-bipolar world order continues to be revisited. The Ukrainian crisis is just ushering in a series of conflicts amid which a polycentric system of international relations will form.
Dmitry Yefremenko is head of the sociology and social psychology section at the Institute of Science Information for Social Sciences (INION) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He has a Doctorate in Political Science.