Ukraine’s faults and successes in international politics in 2017
The key news of 2017 was Donald Trump's taking over the White House in the United States. Given his pro-Putin rhetoric during the campaign, everyone was worried that with his arrival, the U.S. policy would change radically while all efforts important for Ukraine (political and sanction-related support, and security assistance) would be curtailed. Trump has actually somewhat cut the U.S. financing aimed at "soft power" influence.
However, Ukraine has become a factor in the United States' domestic policy. After all, almost all members of Trump’s "security team" (the National Security Council, State Department and Pentagon), the entire Congress (with the exception of two senators who voted against the sanction act) and society in general are on Ukraine’s side. This is very important, because, on the one hand, Ukraine is now a new irritant in the internal political life of the United States, and on the other, there is a certain competition in the U.S. on "who will help Ukraine more and who will protect it more in an unequal confrontation with Russia." Well, that’s good. And it's good that the checks and balances mechanisms are working in favor of Ukraine.
Some extremely positive news for Kyiv was the recent decision by the Trump administration, which came almost on Christmas eve, a great "gift" to Russian mercenaries and regular troops in Donbas: the intention to supply to Ukraine the U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank guided missile launchers. By providing Javelins to Ukraine, the United States has signed up to the fact that in case of an escalation in Donbas, there will be a tougher political reaction on their part, including sanctions and military support to Kyiv. Thus, the United States will seek "peace through force." Washington intends to show its own strength to its adversaries, support its allies and partners sharing common values. But the U.S. move to provide lethal aid to Ukraine should not be taken as the sole victory of Ukrainian diplomacy. It played its role, of course, but it was the internal political factors in the U.S. that played a major part here.
Besides, Ukraine can still spoil all of this, that’s primarily if President Poroshenko drags with the fight against corruption, blocks or puts a brake on anti-corruption investigations, and hinders operations of anti-corruption bodies (America's favorite “offspring”). If he "puts sticks in wheels" in this regard, this will be reflected at other levels of the U.S. support to Ukraine.
Germany has been bogged down in coalition talks. It is safe to say that the future coalition will not be worse than the previous one, but it will not be better either, despite our hopes
With regard to this year’s developments in Europe, the good news is that a wave of "rightist" governments and "rightist" parliaments was stopped. Although we are yet to see the outcome of the elections in Italy scheduled for 2018...
Germany has been bogged down in coalition talks. It is safe to say that the future coalition will not be worse than the previous one, but it will not be better either, despite our hopes. And since Germany and France are the core and heart of the European Union, the way they cooperate and the image of the future of Europe they will create is what our parameters of cooperation today and the possibility of future integration will depend on. Secondly, it is important whether they will support the sanctions regime against Russia. Sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea will of course be maintained, but it’s an open question whether those introduced over Russia’s aggression in Donbas will. The thing is that, unfortunately, this set of sanctions was linked to the implementation of Minsk agreements.
Just as important are the developments in Syria, although they are not directly related to Ukraine. However, without the occupation of Crimea there would be no Syria campaign by Russia... By military means, the Russians managed to achieve certain advantages, but it remains unclear whether they can convert them into political gains. Meanwhile, Russia is strengthening its military presence in that region, which is bad for Ukraine as Crimea is becoming an even more important asset, necessary for Russia to maintain its power in the Mediterranean and influence the Middle East.
Among negative news concerning Ukraine, certain disorientation should be noted caused by the election of Donald Trump. There were even allegations voiced against the Ukrainian side (our Ambassador in particular) that it sided more with Hillary Clinton. The Manafort scandal also played an important role, although Trump is not showing it publicly. But a kind of a person he is, he might later remind Ukrainians of it.
Moreover, it is sad that the Ukrainian side failed to propose a certain alternative to Minsk accords. It’s obvious that they are ineffective and push the Donbas puzzle further to a standstill. It’s good though that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis are well aware of what Russia really is. They not only look at Ukraine as a country striving to live based on Western values and be part of Western civilization, they also understand that Ukraine is at the front line with Russia. They understand that Ukraine must be supported. In this context, we could try to escape from the Minsk format. Although it would be difficult to do this formally (that is, to terminate these agreements) because last year Ukrainian diplomats made a number of mistakes. First, it allowed the endorsement of these arrangements by the UN Security Council. Secondly, Europeans and Americans began to link to Minsk accords the lifting of Russia sanctions imposed over Moscow’s aggression in Donbas. This is some truly negative news.
Another negative thing is slow reform, corruption scandals, and the emergence of reports on shady offshore deals – Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, where the names of Ukraine’s high-ranking officials were voiced. It all creates a negative background around Ukraine.
Our president and ministers are constantly talking about "European allies" or "western allies" ... There’s nothing like that – Ukraine has no allies today. That’s because being an ally is not just some kind of a euphemism, it’s a certain level of mutual understanding, trust, which is backed up by treaties. Moreover, under certain circumstances, the Allies come to aid with their funds or weapons, being ready to fight for us. We have no such allies at the moment.
Now we hear claims coming from Washington, Brussels, and other capitals, mostly about corruption, slow reforms in all areas, and dragging electoral reform
This should be the strategic goal of Ukrainian diplomacy - to build relations enabling the country to reach such a level. However, everything starts with confidence. In turn, trust starts with the fact that we not only share European or Western values, but also implement this in our practice, and most importantly - in our internal political life.
Now we hear claims coming from Washington, Brussels, and other capitals, mostly about corruption, slow reforms in all areas, and dragging electoral reform. This preserves the negative situation we are seeing. Today’s seeming stability is very fragile. It may crumble as early as this spring when certain perturbations begin.
We are also seeing a significant deterioration of Ukraine's relations with its neighbors (this trend will continue next year). The reason for this is that the ruling forces in Poland, Hungary, and other countries keep speculating on the Ukrainian issue. Certain electoral niches that those in power target do reflect on these messages. Therefore, Poland and Hungary will remain difficult partners for Ukraine. On the other hand, this is Ukraine’s fault, too, because there was no coordination between the internal and external political moves.
So, 2017 was a year not too easy for Ukraine. But the next one will also be the same, as there have been no positive changes accumulated in the country. The next year will show if we are ready to overcome this crisis and if we change our approaches or continue telling minor success for a real victory. First of all, it concerns fighting corruption and President Poroshenko, who is now at the center of this system. Therefore, our internal problems, if not addressed, will restrain our opportunities in our foreign and security policy. Victory over our enemy, the Russian Federation, and establishing better relations with our partners - is something that has to be shaped in Kyiv.
Oleksandr Khara is a diplomat, Director of the Department of International Multilateral Relations at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation