Ukraine — the barometer of Russian-American relations

In 2014, the Ukrainian crisis has led to unprecedented post-Soviet era the relations of Western countries and Russia. Although a world order in 2017, of course, will largely depend on the development of the geopolitical situation in Syria and the middle East, Ukraine can also serve as an indication of the future, which causes a sense of foreboding in Kiev.

Possible improvement of Russian-American relations will be at the expense of Ukraine? And is it possible to actually move from a logic of conflict to the logic of compromise on this issue?

The threat of alternative models

“Hybrid war” of Russia in Ukraine, undoubtedly, has led to an unprecedented deterioration of relations between Moscow and the West. The United States and Europe with great sympathy treated began in the autumn of 2013 protests at Maidan in Kyiv, but the Russian leadership took this popular movement with an enormous grain of salt.

Some analysts saw it as a existential threat to the Russian regime, which has responded to all what could be harder than the previous “orange revolution” in 2004. The problem concerned not only the dissolution signed in 2010 agreement on the black sea fleet, or the price of gas, but the formation of alternative models, which could be the Ukrainian regime for Russians.

Moreover, the signing of the Association agreement with the European Union (the EU should take the initiative only after making sure that it will not cause strong dissatisfaction of Moscow) conflicted with Russia’s plans to form the Eurasian economic Union (the main project of Vladimir Putin before the 2012 presidential election) where, in the opinion of Russia was to take Ukraine.

The coming to power in Kiev looking to the West of the new elite became an existential problem for Moscow. After all, how Russia and the regime of Vladimir Putin are interested in that largest of the neighbouring countries achieved prosperity thanks to the West and became a model of democracy?

A sharp rejection of “the aggressor state”

The response to this threat was not long to wait, despite the risk of deterioration of relations not only with Ukraine but also with the United States and Europe. The uprising in the Donbas, the Russian-speaking regions in Eastern Ukraine, would not have been possible without the actions of the Russian authorities. The Kremlin presented its own picture of events: the flight of Viktor Yanukovych was the consequence of the nationalist coup that destroyed the Ukrainian state and undermined Russia’s obligations towards him.
In addition, Moscow rushed to the defense of Russians and compatriots, what is the justification for its intervention. The annexation of Crimea is seen as the Department with the subsequent accession to Russia. Anyway, this is extremely symbolic for Russia’s territorial annexation creates an acute problem for the security of Europe: this is the first since the Second world war the case of the seizure of the territory of a European country in clear violation of international law. As a result, the annexation of the Crimea led to the introduction in 2014 of the policy of sanctions, which cost the Europeans much more than Americans. For example, the same French farmers have a lot to say about it.

Besides, the annexation of Crimea was fraught with Russia unprecedented deterioration of relations not only with the West but also with Ukraine, both in economic and in political and human terms. The anger of Ukrainians Vladimir Putin has taken deep roots, however, concerns about the future, this feeling is now spreading to all the Russian population, which in the weight supports its President.

The majority of Ukrainians (especially young people) believe that Russia is primarily an aggressor state. Understanding of peoples was a major blow that will be felt for another many years or even decades. It is especially significant that before the conflict the Russians were in the country considerable prestige, and human relations were extremely close (a large number of mixed families serve as proof of that).

The Trump Factor

This situation of double crisis in Kiev (the Russian-Western and Russian-Ukrainian) allows to consider changes of the world order in 2017 in four key prism: the presidency of trump, adaptation of Ukraine to the new reality, the election campaign in Russia and a reorientation of Europe.

The coming to power of Donald trump on 20 January, will assess the prospects for a real rapprochement between the United States and Russia. In this regard, the Ukraine (other than Syria) is one of those points where the rapprochement of the two countries can achieve the greatest effect. You can also say that relations between the United States and Ukraine point to the new plans of the American authorities about the region, that is, the post-Soviet space excluding the Baltic States.

Changes in this area, of course, would be a big twist to the politics of Democrats and Republicans over the past quarter century. One of the main questions this year is how the US President can influence the formation of foreign policy of his country, for which he could face opposition in Congress: Democrats unhappy attributed to them Russia hacker attack, whereas Republicans traditionally hostile to Moscow.

So, John McCain (John McCain) ostentatious manner greeted the new year with Ukrainian soldiers on the front line with Russia. A couple with Lindsey Graham (Lindsey Graham), he, no doubt, will try to change the position of the trump in Russia, in particular with the consequences of cyber attacks.

The risk of bargaining

2017 will be the year for Ukraine’s painful adaptation. In political circles, the outrage over Russian aggression mixed with fatalism and humility. Some people with anxiety think about the current situation of the country, which is largely held by active American support. What would happen if Washington softens stance on the Ukrainian issue, in particular the sanctions against Russia?

In this regard, the oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, the founder of the Yalta European strategy, and son-in-law of former President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, released in The Wall Street Journal article (December 29, 2016) call for a political dialogue with Russia, even at the cost of painful compromises. He talks about a possible waiver of the requirement of return of the Crimea and accession to the European Union and NATO as national priorities in the hope to receive in return peace in the Donbass.

This initiative (it was a direct consequence of the coming to power of Donald trump), of course, sparked protests in Ukraine, as in political and strategic circles. Nevertheless, the Ukrainians would actually be interested in how to put on the table such proposals and to initiate new negotiations until Russia and the USA have not decided their fate in the greater “bargaining”.

Putin’s fourth term

In addition, this year means the beginning of a new stage in Russian political life, because Vladimir Putin will take a course for a fourth mandate. Criticism of the U.S. was one of his main tools for the past ten years: harsh statements during a speech in Munich (February 2007) are etched in memory.

His campaign may be turning, if it will achieve a gradual lifting of sanctions, the key to what can only be Russian-American cooperation in Ukraine. Henry Kissinger’s already talked about the need for such initiatives, adhering to similar to the Victor Pinchuk judgment. Vladimir Putin, in turn, will be able to demonstrate to the public that he can normalize relations with the West, and to secure the economic recovery, which still can not come.

In this perspective it depends on their American counterparts. That is why he did not respond to the decision of Barack Obama on the 35 expulsion of Russian diplomats on 29 December. This step (Donald trump immediately welcomed him) said about the political priority in favour of expanding cooperation with the United States.

Europe in doubt

Finally, this year will impel us to reflect on the competing mechanisms of the European integration and disintegration in Europe and its periphery. Internally, it should be noted the upcoming elections in France and Germany, which may change the policy of one of the two States in a more Pro-Russian way (hence the interest of Moscow to françois Fillon).

Further, there is no certainty (given Breccia, which will divert its attention and energy of governments and European authorities) that the EU would deliver a diplomatic breakthrough in relations with the Eastern periphery, which includes Ukraine.

This does not mean that the EU has no more responsibility towards Ukraine regarding the transformation of state and society that should be “sustainable” (based on a number of European values: democracy, sustainable development, justice…) as prescribed in the adopted 28 June 2016 global strategy.

For all these reasons, Ukraine (apart from Syria) should be the focus of the EU in 2017: it will indicate the status of the relations between the US and Russia and the ability of the international and Ukrainian leaders to find a way out of the conflict, which is probably less noticeable and bloody than Syria, but maintains the same value and strategic role of that and in 2014.