Friday, 15 September 2017 12:48

New Geopolitics: The Ukrainian Factor. Part 1

Petro Kopka. COSA head of research programs

The holidays have come and gone. The first Ukrainian military parade featuring representatives of several NATO member-states is now part of our history. High-ranking guests have returned to their home countries. We are back to everyday life full of hard work and worry we have grown accustomed to living in a country that is de facto fighting for its independence against its northern neighbour but de jure is ostensibly carrying out an antiterrorist operation on its territory.

Over the last three years, the world has gone through a dramatic change catalysed to some extent by Ukraine with its ongoing quest for independence and ability to shape its own future.

At the same time, the world at large cannot seem to realise the simple truth that it is high time to review its attitude towards current global issues and start developing new solutions based on global realities that have already taken shape.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Today, our world is saturated with misconceptions and falsehoods. Political simulacrums and surrogates have replaced the rational wording and interpretations of international law perfected over centuries by diplomats on various forums within the confines of the system of international relations pertaining to the time. One of the goals these diplomats set for themselves was to regulate the actual global interaction between subjects of international law using highly detailed and specific legal rules.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, all these diplomatic achievements turned out to be ineffective. The new world demanded new approaches and solutions to problems that seemed long forgotten.

Perhaps, they were not completely forgotten after all. It is just that today, when virtual reality successfully replaces actual reality, the old means of resolving conflicts based on traditional methods can no longer function properly.

When an appropriate alternative is nowhere to be found, various substitutes are used, but they cannot solve a specific problem, they only multiply its parts, confusing the situation to such an extent that it is no longer possible even to define the problem.

Consequently, the system, which only yesterday seemed so well-balanced and controlled, suddenly turned into a jumble of disconnected elements the interaction between which becomes ever more chaotic as times goes by.
After 1991, following the breakdown of the so-called Socialist System and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world was moving on inertially in the wake of these events.

Having integrated countries of the former Soviet Bloc and the ex-Soviet Baltic States quickly and more or less successfully, the West emerged from the chaos of the dissolution of the USSR at the end of the 20th century with certain noteworthy accomplishments. From then on, it was interested in the former USSR only in terms of achieving its practical and mercantile goals, namely protecting itself against the Soviet nuclear weapons, ensuring the uninterrupted supply of energy products from Russia, and searching for technological innovations that could be used to satisfy its production needs.

The same cannot be said of the post-Soviet political space, where newly independent states started searching for their own identity and allies. This is the reason why the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States was viewed differently by Russia and other members. While Moscow considered the CIS a means of keeping former Soviet Republics within the Russian sphere of influence (a pilot version of the future union if you will), Ukraine, for instance, viewed the commonwealth as an instrument of a civilised post-Soviet “divorce”.

Thus, the CIS was becoming a multilevel political formation. Ukraine’s position was chaining, it was gradually moving away from “The Białowieża Three”, actively building international relations, and trying to draw attention to and protect its national interests.

The first major conflict with Russia over this point happened when foreign assets of the former USSR were distributed. The issue remains unsolved to this day. Ukraine did not join the Collective Security Treaty Organisation despite enormous pressure from Moscow. Thus, the Kremlin’s attempt to create a surrogate miniature of the Warsaw Pact failed. Without Ukraine, it turned out to be dysfunctional.

In other words, being a member of the UN since its inception, Ukraine took great pains to highlight its independent status in any multilateral integration processes across the former USSR. Meanwhile, it was building bridges to other nations and organisations including NATO.

After its current president came into power, Belarus used Ukraine’s position to become a privileged partner of Russia. The ties between Russia and Belarus grew stronger until in the year 2000 they created a simulacrum or a phantom of sorts called the Union State, which neither grows nor becomes institutionalised, serving only as an ad-hoc argument in disputes between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the situation in the CIS was not developing in the Kremlin’s favour. For a number of reasons, Russia turned out to be a far weaker attractor than the USA, European Union or even China. There was nothing it could offer its new-old partners apart from energy products and military equipment.

The events in Russia itself were far more tragic. Russia had to find a place for itself in its new guise, but it also tried to regain the weight and influence it had globally by declaring itself the sole legal successor to the USSR.

At the end of the 20th century, after the pseudo-democratic chaos of Yeltsin’s reign, Russia was ready for a “steady hand” that would restore order. Secretly, the West was hoping for this as well, since the internal political situation in Russia was alarming. Thus, the West was willing to turn a blind eye to the less-than-democratic transformations that took place after the current president and his associates came into power.

For a time, the West interpreted Russia’s questionable actions as a quest for its own path of development. It turned out to be a terrible mistake. Not so long ago, no one could imagine that in the early 21st century, a political power would emerge claiming to be a global power centre and at the same time ignoring all the written and unwritten international laws for reasons that look completely anachronistic in the modern globalised world. Nevertheless, Russia managed to make the rest of the world play by its own rules, using constant escalation of regional tensions.

Moscow’s attempts to make Russia more attractive through means other than economics suddenly turned into an effort to create a single-option “Russian World” on the territories of post-Soviet independent states, using the old tenets of “Slavic brotherhood” and “triune nation”. In a globalised world, such tenets could not possibly serve as a systemic attractor, even less so when Moscow tried to force them on potential consumers.

The Kremlin was the first to realise that old international regulations do not work in the new environment and can be easily circumvented with no negative consequences for Moscow.

Thus, when Russia set the “Ukrainian events” in motion by annexing the Crimea and “setting fire” to Donbas, it turned out that there is no power influential enough or international mechanism effective enough to restrain the aggressor and make it play by established and accepted rules.

Perhaps, Russia could have turned the tide in its favour this time as well, but unlike Moldova or Georgia, Ukraine was not willing to accept the status quo imposed by its northern neighbour, especially after 18 March 2014, and started resisting despite everything it had to go through.

Such a turn of events made life much harder for all the Western democracies, especially the European states that had already came to terms with Ukraine de facto falling under the influence and responsibility of Russia, as Moscow’s active and unscrupulous policy towards Ukraine seemed to international observers a clear indication that the Kremlin calls the shots in Kyiv.

Nevertheless, the reaction of the Ukrainian society (not authorities) which resulted in the bloody Euromaidan made the international community intervene, because it had no other choice, although Moscow used the opportunity to invent excuses like the Crimean “referendum” or Donbas’s dissatisfaction with the central authorities. The international community decided Russia’s behaviour was too barefaced.

To be continued...

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