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Monday, 19 December 2016 12:42

Five events that highlight the new reality in Ukraine-Russia relations

 

Russia once again finds itself under pressure for its aggressive behavior towards Ukraine, this time by international organizations such as the UN. 

By Petr Kopka, COSA Head of research programs

Heading into 2017, the events in Ukraine may be no closer to a final resolution, but recent events suggest that the international community is once again paying close attention. Most notably, both the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the United Nations have recently taken actions that show their increased willingness to challenge the Russian version of events in Ukraine and to openly call the situation in Eastern Ukraine an “international armed conflict.”

It is important to view the following five events as part of an unprecedented international diplomatic surge to clearly mark Russia as the guilty party in the Ukraine events, while simultaneously highlighting how a dangerous pattern of Russian behavior has far-reaching consequences.

Event #1: Two reports from PACE

On Oct. 12, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) prepared two different reports: “Political Consequences of the Conflict in Ukraine” and “Legal Remedies for Human Rights Violations on the Ukrainian Territories Outside the Control of the Ukrainian Authorities.” In particular, PACE expressed its deep concerns about the consequences of the events for Ukraine in particular and for security and stability in Europe in general.

Event #2: Draft resolution from the UN on human rights

Those two PACE reports were followed by a decision of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). On Nov. 15, the Third Committee of the UNGA, which is focused on the subject of human rights, adopted a draft resolution, “The Human Rights Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine).”

Event #3: Report from the ICC

This draft resolution, initiated by Ukraine, was adopted based on the International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor’s report on the preliminary examination of activities in Ukraine.

The findings of the report suggested that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol “amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”

Moreover, the report went on to note that, “The law of international armed conflict would continue to apply after March 18, 2014 to the extent that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol factually amounts to an ongoing state of occupation.

It is also worth highlighting that the ICC chief prosecutor mentions the following: “A determination of whether or not the initial intervention [of Russia], which led to the occupation [of Crimea], is considered lawful or not is not required.

Event #4: The U.S. Congress adopts a bill on Ukraine

However, the context would not be complete without noting that the U.S. Congress unanimously adopted the “Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act,” which is currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate. This bill attempts to legitimize American foreign policy towards Ukraine over the course of the last two years while maintaining continuity in America’s Ukraine policy. The odds that this bill ultimately becomes law are quite high, but it still remains to be seen.

Event #5: EU-Ukraine summit

The EU-Ukraine summit held on Nov. 24 became the final event in this international diplomatic surge. As many experts underline, this meeting was very important and simultaneously difficult for all parties involved. One of the most important decisions made during the meeting was finalization of Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU, which was blocked after the referendum in the Netherlands and the so-called “gas question.”

The first issue will be solved by adopting an additional agreement that will appease the Dutch and make it possible for their parliament to ratify the Agreement. As for the “gas question,” the parties signed a strategic memorandum on energy cooperation for a 10-year period. The EU reaffirmed Ukraine's role as a key supplier of Russian gas to Europe, which is reflected in the implementation of the EU’s energy policy.

Shifting international sentiment

These five different events, all occurring within a few weeks of each other, demonstrate how the position of the involved parties has changed dramatically in just the past two months. In fact, it represents the first time that the EU or the UN has so openly spoken about Russia’s actions in Ukraine and avoided any political euphemisms when talking about the current state of Ukraine-Russia relations and the reasons that led to the current events.

All of the above mentioned events, as well as the recently published findings of the Boeing MH-17 investigation report, are united in one single way: they help to highlight the global response to Russia’s aggressive and often unpredictable foreign policy of the last few years. More global actors have started to understand that any other state could find itself in Ukraine’s shoes.

So how will all this play out? To answer that question, it’s important to note that yet another important event happened at approximately the same time – Donald Trump was elected the next U.S. president to the surprise of many. Such a development probably fits comfortably into Moscow’s foreign policy paradigm. After all, the Kremlin openly linked its hopes for a better future for U.S.-Russia relations with the election of Donald Trump.

How Ukraine fits into Russia’s broader strategy

Russia's increasingly uncoordinated activity on the international stage, together with other global processes occurring at the same time, does not contribute to more stability in the world. As a response, the international community had to search for convincing answers to these questions, all of which emerged rather spontaneously. The world has been examining the situation, its reasons and consequences for quite a while. It has been scrupulously gathering proof and evidence and ultimately drawing conclusions about Russia’s behavior.

In short, what is currently happening with Russia’s behavior on the global arena should be viewed beyond just the events in Ukraine, although these events must serve as the decisive foundation for any decisions.

The Kremlin’s Ukraine gamble was just the beginning of a game of a much larger scale. Russia’s involvement in Syria was not aimed at distracting the world’s attention from Ukraine. Rather, it was a continuation of what started in Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine.

In short, these foreign involvements are part of Russia’s attempt to become a global power center. However, as it turned out, the end does not always justify the means. At least in the case of Ukraine, the international community has refused to accept this logic.

As a result, an alternative view of ongoing events is forming. Kiev plays an important role here. In part, its role is to help other nations understand how processes in Ukraine that involve foreign actors such as Russia are dangerous for regional and global stability.

The recent vote of the UNGA committee for human rights on the Crimea draft resolution proves that. It was supported by 73 states and opposed by 23, while 76 members abstained. These were the final results, despite Russia’s desperate opposition and attempt to influence its neighboring states to vote against the resolution by means of propaganda.

Therefore, it can be stated that reconsideration of Ukraine-Russia relations is underway and will continue. The world has learned to separate the signal from the noise. The Ukrainian events have crossed over national boundaries and have become a warning to global leaders that any delay in resolving this complex foreign policy issue could lead to unpredictable consequences.    

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