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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 40, September 27, 2014

How Ukrainian President Poroshenko Won Over the West against Russia

Sunday 28 September 2014

by R.G. Gidadhubli

During the last one year, Ukraine has been passing through the worst period of its current history, torn as it is between the pro-Western civil society activists and pro-Russian East Ukrainian separatists. For not conceding to sign the association agreement with the European Union, the former Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovich, had to flee the country in February 2014. The present President, Petro Poroshenko, has been facing a tough time during the last few months to contain violence in the eastern regions of the country between separatists, who demand independence, and Ukrainian soldiers, resulting in 3000 deaths and injuries to several thousands on both sides. This domestic issue has assumed an international dimension involving major Western powers on the one hand and Russia on the other in the summit meetings held during the last few months to resolve the problem. Even as there are signs of violence receding at present, Poroshenko has decided and managed to move the country closer to the West which is evident from the following.

Firstly, Poroshenko has invited 15 nations, including the USA, to hold military exercises in Ukraine involving 1300 personnel from September 15 to 26, 2014. Moreover, as stated by Ukraine’s Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey, unspecified NATO countries are to deliver arms to Ukraine. As per some reports, he had discussed weapons deliveries in bilateral meetings with NATO Defence Ministers during a NATO summit in Wales on September 4 and 5. These decisions are extremely significant and intended to showcase to Russia that Ukraine has been strengthening its military capabilities to deal with separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with the strong support of the West.

Secondly, Poroshenko made an emotional address to the Joint US Congress on September 18 accusing Russia of war on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova under the pretext of safeguarding and supporting ethnic Russians and that this might be repeated in other countries of Europe wherever there are ethnic Russians. This was a most ridiculous, astounding and unrealistic statement but mainly intended to invite and involve the USA in the region. The anti-Russia lobby might be highly pleased with Poroshenko and to fulfil his objective the Ukraine Freedom Support Act has been passed by the US Congress which authorises further sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis and the Menendez-Corker Bill has authorised $ 350 million in military aid, including some forms of lethal aid. To virtually reduce ties with Russia to the minimum and to maximise gains from his US visit, Poroshenko has also pleaded with Washington to give Ukraine “special”, non-NATO security status to help beef up its defences against aggression from Russia. If implemented, this might not solve but worsen the situation in the region.

Thirdly, the approval of the Association Agree-ment signed by Poroshenko in June 2014 that will be ratified shortly by the parliaments of the EU and Ukraine will be a historic moment for taking Ukraine closer to the West that has been resisted by Putin for long and was the main source of massive protests in Kiev about seven-eight months back. There are great expectations for the develop-ment of Ukraine in the medium and long run since the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement establishes a deep political association and free-trade area between Ukraine and the EU. For EU membership, a country has to comply with very rigid regula-tions and conditions which might not be easy. At the same time, there is a window of opportunity for Russia since on September 12 the EU and Ukraine agreed to delay implementation of the free-trade pact until the end of 2015 in a concession to Russia, which had pushed Kiev to join a Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union.

Fourthly, as contended by the Ukrainian Gove-rnment and as per some Western reports, even after the ceasefire agreement was signed on September 5, 2014, incidents of violations and clashes have been going on in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by separatists in which 17 soldiers were killed and several injured. Even as it is not proper to accuse only pro-Russian rebels, Poroshenko has managed to convince the Western countries to believe his contention of accusing only Russia and separatists for the persisting violations. Poroshenko has even impressed the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to support him and urge Vladimir Putin to end Russia’s involvement in east Ukraine.

Fifthly, Poroshenko has announced a wise decision, though late, of granting ‘self-rule’ to the Donetsk and Luhansk regional governments for three years and allowing them to strengthen and deepen relations with the neighbouring Russian regions. The Poroshenko plan would also reportedly allow the regional governments to set up their own police forces and hold their own local elections in November 2014. By doing so he intends not to give any opportunity to Putin for accusing him of denying them political and economic freedom. Moreover, he wants to inform the Western leaders that he is following a truly liberal policy towards the separatists and hence they have no right to claim separation from Ukraine.

Sixthly, the Ukrainian Government has refused to comply with the agreement of a Buffer Zone between the Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militantssigned in Minsk on September 20 on the contention that all Russian forces be withdrawn from Ukraine and that separatists should fully comply with the ceasefire agreement. This is intended to insist that Russian soldiers have no presence in East Ukraine and to completely eliminate any resistance to Kiev from the pro-Russian rebels.

Seventhly, Poroshenko has succeeded in convincing the Western powers about his contentions and policies and hence the West is bent on threatening Russia of increasing economic sanctions to hit the Russian economy by completely denying Western capital and modern technology to the country, which is suffering from worsening economic situation as reflected in the budgetary deficit, falling value of rouble and so on. Moreover, some Western countries are interested in the political isolation of Russia and that was blatantly done by removing Russia from the G-8 summit (and even threatening to boycott it in G-20 which has been protested by many countries including India and China).

 Thus in lieu of conclusion it may be stated that Poroshenko has cleverly managed to win the support of major Western powers in dealing with the persisting crisis conditions prevailing in the country. With strong support of the West Poroshenko might succeed to a great extent in containing violence, bringing political stability and improving Ukraine’s devastated economy. But his ambition of bringing Crimea back into Ukraine from Russia might remain a dream.

Dr R.g. gidadhubli is a Professor and Former Director, Center for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai.