100 dark and thankless days for Ukraine’s President Poroshenko
Sunday, September 14, 2014, marked the first 100 days since Petro Poroshenko took office as president of Ukraine. It has been a time of serious trouble – with worse to come, writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.
It is unclear when the Russian war machine will be called to a halt. The flow of Russian gas may not resume before the onset of winter. Additional billions in credits will be needed to ward off sovereign default. And a serious backlash will follow when nationalist forces in the west of Ukraine are faced with the inevitable deal when Russia wins direct or indirect control over the eastern region.
When Mr Poroshenko assumed power, he was determined to bring his country closer to the West and to reclaim Crimea from Russian annexation. Western leaders have supported this mission – verbally - counting on Kiev to make the decisive choice between the West and Russia.
The Europeans, in particular, have been prolific in offering promises they will be unable to keep. The European Commission has said it is ‘determined to make sure that Ukraine has all the support it needs, in the short and long term, to undertake the political and economic reforms that are necessary to consolidate a democratic, independent, united and prosperous Ukraine’.
There have also been irresponsible suggestions that Ukraine will be offered a track towards membership in both Nato and the EU. Nobody can seriously believe that either is going to happen soon, if ever. It is nothing short of immoral to create expectations that cannot be fulfilled but are certain to further entrench the Kremlin’s determination to establish facts on the ground by force.
It is in precisely this nexus that we may find the real tragedy of Ukraine and the real betrayal by the West of Mr Poroshenko. It was clear that the Kremlin expected serious negotiations on the constitutional status of the Donbass region within Ukraine, when Mr Poroshenko assumed power. But Mr Putin had miscalculated.
Kiev instead launched a military offensive to root out the rebellion, and it was surprisingly successful in mobilising its armed forces.
Taken aback at first, the Kremlin soon enough responded in kind. What followed was a substantial loss of life and massive material destruction changing absolutely nothing in the political standoff. And all the while, the West has continued talking.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is falling apart not only in a territorial sense.
The elections on October 26 will return a parliament with little to no representation from the Russian-speaking areas in the east. This will cement national divisions.
The economy is in deep recession and the public debt is set to rocket from 40 per cent to 73 per cent of GDP with severe implications for material welfare.
The EU trade deal that caused the confrontation with Russia, and was finally signed on June 27, 2014, has now been put on hold, causing Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Danylo Lubkivsky to resign.
Ukrainians have good reasons to question how much the promise of support from the west has been worth.
Mr Poroshenko has been invited to address a joint meeting of the House and US Senate on September 18 to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
He may announce that the war over who controls whatever remains of Ukraine has been won by the West. But he will not have much else to be thankful for.