Settlement of the Ukraine crisis will require cooperation in particular between Russia, Germany and some other key European countries. But the key to this lies with Kiev. If Sunday’s election stabilises President Petro Poroshenko's role, the prospects for a broader framework reflecting Ukraine's dependence on both Europe and Russia will improve.
UKRAINE’S parliament faces re-election on Sunday, October 26.
The country has the same parliament today which gave former President Viktor Yanukovytch a phoney majority, only to oust him in February 2014, without following a constitutional process of impeachment, under pressure from protesters in central Kiev.
He was replaced by President Petro Poroshenko, elected in May 2014, who targeted corruption and the dismissal of officials from the old regime as the top priorities alongside an ‘anti-terrorist campaign’.
The ceasefire which followed was the best option for Kiev. It froze a military outcome which Ukraine would have been unable to achieve in an ongoing war against the rebels because it lacked the manpower, equipment and financial resources to support its troops
His campaign aimed to reconquer lost territories in the Donbass region of Ukraine but caused a civil war which was only stopped in late August by direct Russian intervention. The ceasefire which followed was the best option for Kiev. It froze a military outcome which Ukraine would have been unable to achieve in an ongoing war against the rebels because it lacked the manpower, equipment and financial resources to support its troops.
Achieving the ceasefire was imperative as Ukraine had lost an estimated 60 per cent of its military equipment. But the ceasefire agreement is bound to reinforce the special status of the two self-proclaimed Donbass republics - Donetsk and Luhansk - which are not included in Sunday’s elections.
Ukraine’s parliament has said that the special status of these two entities should last for the next three years. They will hold their own elections in November 2014 and residual Western claims are calling for democratic electoral standards of transparency to be recognised during the ballots.
Russia is insisting that the Donbass should remain within a federalised Ukraine. Russia has not, so far, recognised the two pro-Russian entities and claims it has no political control over the two Donbass ‘republics’.
While Russia no longer denies direct support, it is very much in its interest not to recognise the two entities in Donetsk and Luhansk. This distances Russia from any atrocities in the Donbass and enhances its leverage over east Ukraine separatism.
It also offers Russia a direct and singular role in forthcoming negotiations about the special status of the ‘people’s republics’ within a federalised Ukraine.
Those negotiations are bound to involve the Ukraine constitution as a whole, so Russia will have a unique part in any eventual settlement of Ukraine’s constitution.
The ceasefire is in the interests of all parties and already meets some of Russia's primary political objectives. It was declared without reducing the shadow of Russia's coercive military power - irrespective of the number of Russian military withdrawals east of the Donbass.
This is going to condition the forthcoming political process. Ukraine has no military option on its own, and Nato, backed by US President Barack Obama, will not engage in direct military support for Ukraine. Nato would not have had sensible military options in any case.
So what follows?
The political use of military power can make the difference - in this case President Poroshenko misjudged and Russia succeeded. Nato had to recognise that it was unable to shape the outcome of events in the Donbass in the absence of useable military options. However, the stabilisation of the ceasefire has much wider implications beyond freezing the status quo in the Donbass.
For this reason, negotiations on the Donbass need to be widened to include other countries. Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Asia-Europe summit in Milan, Italy, in October, could be seen as pointing in that direction.
However, settlement of the Ukraine crisis will require a broader cooperative framework, in particular between Russia, Germany and some of the most concerned European countries. The key to this lies, once again, in Kiev.
If Sunday’s election stabilises President Poroshenko's role, the prospects for a broader framework matching Ukraine's double-dependence on both Europe and Russia will improve. But this is far from certain.
Package of reforms
The personnel in Ukraine’s next parliament is likely to be similar to the outgoing one, since President Poroshenko’s clear out has hardly begun. Anti-corruption efforts will require a much tougher hand than President Poroshenko has been able to apply so far.
If Sunday’s election stabilises President Poroshenko's role, the prospects for a broader framework matching Ukraine's double-dependence on both Europe and Russia will improve
Economic regeneration is unlikely without external confidence in the ability of Ukraine’s reforms. President Poroshenko can succeed only if he is given time for the 60-point package of reforms he outlined in September as necessary and 2020 is not a long time to achieve this.
The potential for grave internal tensions and incapacitating domestic conflicts is obvious. It could easily paralyse President Poroshenko's desperate efforts to structure viable relations with both Europe and Russia. These could alienate Europe and weaken Europe's willingness to sacrifice continental stability for a Ukraine future which requires this very stability.
Sunday’s election will set the direction and pace for what has been called the domestic Europeanisation - still a somewhat distant objective. This will be the test of whether a sustainable Ukraine national identity is possible.
No unconditional Western political support or demonstrations on the streets of Kiev can short-circuit this necessary development. But the more the Ukrainian body politic matures, the more Western political support will become a matter of fact. This is likely, in turn, to enhance the changes for President Poroshenko's attempts to structure Ukraine's double dependence on Europe and Russia.
This would be Ukraine's contribution - and very much in its own interests - to enabling the commonality of European and Russian interests on the continent.
Stabilising the ceasefire would not simply mean yet another frozen conflict, but is a prerequisite for a political process which will require concurrent maturity on all parts, and, if time permits, will help continental stability.
The United States could back up such a development, but it could also exacerbate the current difficulties given the inherent uncertainties of current US domestic politics and if US presidential contenders compete over who is tougher with Russia. One way or another a re-start of US-Russian relations is essential.
Sunday’s election will set the direction and pace for what has been called the domestic Europeanisation - still a somewhat distant objective. This will be the test of whether a sustainable Ukraine national identity is possible
Drawing Europe into somewhat parochial Washington domestic politics could feed current European disenchantment and increase the political distance between the US and Europe, which is in the interest of neither. In the longer run this would not even serve Russia's well understood interest.
Ukraine's parliamentary elections and the US Congressional elections on November 4 will impact the remaining two years of the Obama administration. Domestic politics could easily derail further efforts to open new avenues towards turning the tide in Europe. Global security tends to get increasingly challenged from other angles which could hit Europe, the US and Russia alike.
From this perspective the Ukraine crisis has accelerated a looming crisis in relations with Russia.
Internal Europeanisation, which opens a future for a young generation to enter the body politic, deserves a chance.
But Ukraine’s domestic politics should no longer drive how the US-European-Russia constellation develops in a highly competitive global environment.