Vienna, September 22 – Russia has only a limited window of time in which it can hope to achieve its maximum hopes in Ukraine, and Ukraine has only a limited number of options to develop its relations with the Russian Federation in order to ensure its survival as an independent state, according to two leading Kyiv specialists on international relations.
In the current issue of “Zerkalo nedeli,” Academician Vladimir Gorbulin, director of the Kyiv Institute of Problems of National Security, and Aleksandr Litvinenko, his advisor, provide a detailed 4,100-word discussion of the security trap in which both the Russian Federation and Ukraine find themselves (www.zn.ua/1000/1600/67194/).
Russia’s domestic problems, including demographic decline, ethnic and religious challenges, and regional separatism ethnic and non-ethnic, have been compounded by its return to authoritarianism and the impact of the global economic crisis, the two say, forcing Moscow to “concentrate on the resolution of questions it can’t put off of a primarily regional nature.”
“Key among [Russia’s] foreign policy tasks must be considered the repression of Ukraine,” Gorbulin and Litvinenko write, noting that by means of “the subordination of Ukraine or at least its southeaster part, the Kremlin [could] essentially improve the situation in the Russian Federation.”
Such an achievement would “reduce [Russia’s] demographic problems, guarantee reliable transit of energy carriers to Europe, significantly increase its economic potential in machine tools (including military) and in agriculture, make impossible for the US to use [this area as a base] and neutralize the potential of an ideological threat to its authoritarian regime.”
Those considerations, they continue, demonstrate that “the aggressive policy of the Kremlin relative to Ukraine is the result not of the actions of Kyiv but of the requirements of Russia as the current leadership of [that] state understands them.” And that means a change of course in Ukraine’s policies “will not lead to a significant correction in Russian policy.”
At the same time, Gorbulin and Litvinenko argue, “in the Kremlin, they recognize that the historical ‘window of opportunity’ relative to Ukraine for Moscow is quite short and may close already sometime after 2015 at which time there will be created a new generation of Ukrainian elites” and when the West may have changed its approach to Moscow and Kyiv.
All these considerations mean, the two Ukrainian security analysts argue, that a Russian “’attack on Kyiv’ will develop in the nearest future and will be decisive and pitiless.”
Gorbulin and Litvinenko then examine more specifically Russian policy toward Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible response. With respect to the former, they make six points. First, they say, Moscow has repeatedly made clear that it recognizes the borders of Ukraine but demands that Ukraine defer to Moscow on issues like possible membership in NATO.
Second, they argue, “the contemporary Russian state both legally and ideologically and in institutional terms is a direct heir of the USSR,” a reality that involves in the first instance “institutional memory” regarding “the mechanisms for the development and adoption of decisions,” in the first instance those involving “strategic” questions.
Because of that continuity, they continue, it is very likely that the Kremlin has not developed “a precise, clearly formulated program of actions relative to Ukraine” but rather is being guided by decisions on “the main tasks, directions and [available] arsenal of instruments to be used.”
Third, the two analysts argue, this lack of a specific plan does not mean that Moscow has not decided on its long-term “strategic vision” for relations with Ukraine. In fact, it has done so at the December 25, 2008, meeting of the Russian Security Council and State Council of the Russian Federation.
That vision, subsequently made public by Konstantin Zatulin in May 2009 takes the form of “an ultimatum: the preservation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine is ensured by its transition to ‘special relations’ with the Russian Federation and in fact to a Russian protectorate over a weak Ukraine.”
Fourth, on the basis of “almost 20 years of relations with independent Ukraine,” the Kremlin has become “convinced” of the effectiveness of using “so-called pro-Russian elites” to advance its cause in Ukraine and of the way in which a Russian protectorate will ultimately lead to “the territorial division of Ukraine into three parts,” part of which will be absorbed by Russia.
And fifth, the Russian political elite is divided into “hawks” and “doves” as to how best and how quickly to achieve these goals, with some arguing that more pressure sooner is best and others arguing for less pressure and a longer term approach as the best means of gaining an upper hand for Moscow. In recent months, because of economic problems, the hawks are on top.
Moscow is using Crimea as its “basic polygon” for developing relations with Ukraine and Russian security services for promoting its goals, the two say. But if these services are unable to achieve Moscow’s goals and if the January 2010 presidential elections in Ukraine do not give the result Russia wants, “one cannot completely exclude the application of direct force.”
Given this Russian policy, one that places “the very survival of the Ukrainian state in its current borders” at risk, Kyiv must immediately adopt a number of “complex measures,” Gorbulin and Litvinenko argue, some of which involve its domestic arrangements and others a new approach to its foreign partners.
“Above all,” they argue, “the protection of the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine must become the essence of state policy not only at the level of loud declarations but in reality.” Kyiv must “immediately establish political stability on the basis of elite and social consensus regarding a European path of development.”
Among the things that will require is a new constitution that will define Ukraine either as a presidential or a parliamentary republic rather than combining the two, the reduction of corruption in the state bureaucracy, the reform of the armed services, the development of an effective intelligence and counterintelligence service, and better propaganda of Ukraine’s goals.
In foreign affairs, the two analysts suggest, Ukraine must continue its “strategic course” toward membership in NATO and the European Community, but this drive “must take on significantly more tactical flexibility,” allowing Ukraine to “accentuate” positive aspects of its ties with Russia as well.
Such ties cannot be developed in isolation. Instead, Ukraine must use “the possibilities offered by international organizations” like the CIS, OSCE, UN, and Council of Europe and must be willing to think out of the box by considering such things as declaring the Black Sea a demilitarized zone.
In its relations with the United States, Kyiv should shift “the accent from the public and the official to the working level, above all in the sphere of security,” and in ties with the EU, it should move from declarations to practical work, however limited that may appear to be at any particular moment.
And Ukraine should, Gorbulin and Litvinenko argue, “increase its dialogue with China, [again] in the sphere of security by making use of the fact that China became the first state guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity which it confirmed these guarantees in 2006.”
Such policies, the two say, “can gradually if not lower tensions between Ukraine and Russia then at least limit their risk of conflict and also minimize the potential harm for the national interests of Ukraine.” Perhaps more to the point, such actions will help those in Russia who want to organize their country “on the principles of freedom.”