Ukrainian interest – 2017. Frozen Donbas, disappointment in Europe, and surprise overseas
The Donbas conflict remains an unresolved problem, and tactical successes are not enough to ensure the positive dynamics. The strategy of Crimea and Donbas return has not been revealed to the public and expert community. European vector of Ukraine’s foreign policy received a positive evaluation only for the work in the PACE. The victory of Donald Trump stunned Ukrainian political elite, and it seems it has not yet recovered fully.
The occupied territories of Donbass remain a problem to the whole Ukraine. Despite the fact that hostilities in eastern Ukraine have been scaled down, they continue to claim lives. The Donbas infrastructure is in a continuous collapse. The death of Arsen Pavlov (aka Motorola) has not led to any fundamental change in attitudes among the separatist units. The Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group are unable to achieve an actual solution to the conflict in Donbas, while Western diplomats, given the Russian factor, say that this would only be possible at the expense of Ukrainian interests. Therefore, we should not overestimate the findings of the joint investigation team on the causes of MH17 crash, where they expressly blamed the Russian Buk anti-aircraft system. The conflict in Donbass is gradually freezing, and this fact will bring serious consequences for Ukraine.
Obviously, Ukraine needs a plan of Donbas and Crimea return, which would be clear and transparent to its citizens. So far, these intentions are all about rhetoric rather than technological algorithms. Further delay in this issue could be disastrous for Ukraine as Moscow is dead serious about increasing pressure on Crimea and retaining Donbas within its sphere of influence, applying a variety of techniques to this end. The hunt for subversives, propaganda indoctrination and the injection of the "Russian world" ideas in huge doses are the most notable of them, as well as holding in the occupied peninsula of elections to the State Duma. The return to Ukraine of the so-called "Scythian gold" from the Netherlands has rather been a pleasant surprise than the evidence that the Europeans realize the risk of changing the post-war borders across the continent.
Ukraine’s relations with the European Union in 2016 have lost their drive and confidence. European integration remains a popular theme for Ukraine’s politicians, but a visa liberalization delay and Dutch whims have revealed to many that our country is too big for a smooth rapprochement with the EU without taking into account European interests and protecting those of Ukraine. Are Ukrainian officials ready to speak with Europe boldly and assertively? The positive answer, perhaps, regards only the PACE meetings, but even there, Ukraine’s triumph may soon be replaced by disappointment because of the willingness of many European politicians to return to business as usual with Russia. Brexit has seriously worsened the climate within the European Union, and this fact can not be discounted.
In this situation, Ukraine should learn from the European experience and ensure further transformation within the country, being aware that the European integration will be a long process with plenty of problems on the way. The rapprochement with the EU is possible, rather, in a more targeted manner, with our closest neighbors being a priority. However, the trends in relations between the Visegrad Four and Brussels seem alarming, while some aspects of Poland’s internal politics (it’s not only about the issue of Volyn tragedy, skillfully put on top agenda) limit the space for diplomatic maneuver.
The post-Soviet space has not become a springboard for Ukraine’s breakthrough. A positive thing is Kyiv’s warm relations with the Baltic states, but the trend in Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova are worrying. By the way, new Ukrainian ambassadors have not been appointed to Minsk and Tbilisi for over a year. It would be naive to believe that all the former Soviet republics are ready to take up arms against Russia, so it is necessary to use other arguments and facts in Ukraine’s communication with them.
The victory of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. presidential campaign has become an unpleasant surprise for many people from Ukraine’s political beau monde. Apparently, they are yet to learn the skill to lay eggs in different geopolitical baskets. The foreign policy of the next U.S. president remains a mystery, not only for the Ukrainian politicians, but they still have to choose the right tone in a dialogue with Mr Trump. Obviously, this mustn’t be positioning Ukraine as Europe's largest problem, but searching for arguments for mutually beneficial cooperation.