Ukraine pays price for West’s failure to negotiate with Russia

Ukraine pays price for West’s failure to negotiate with Russia

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko may be pleased with the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary election. The pro-Western parties did well. The extreme nationalists performed poorly, and the communists failed to reach the five per cent hurdle. This is all very positive, in the sense of creating support for Mr Poroshenko’s agenda of pro-Western reform, writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.

Now comes the hard part. The government will have to implement measures which are painful as winter approaches. It will have to face the fact that Ukraine remains heavily dependent on Russia. Common sense dictates that some form of accommodation must be reached to ensure that the Kremlin refrains from compounding the economic trouble. But can this be achieved?

Warning voices were raised when Ukraine’s crisis became acute with the collapse of the President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime in mid-February 2014. Representatives of the old school of realist thinking, such as American statesmen Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, tried to argue in favour of a negotiated solution which would recognise the interests of both sides.

The response they received was heaps of abuse. Western foreign and security policy has been hijacked by a new generation of pundits who seem more interested in their own image-making than in the outcomes of their actions. Their mantra is that every country has a right to choose freely what trade and security organisations it wishes to join.

Their view is that if Russia does not like to see Ukraine as a Nato member and in the European Union, then so be it. The Kremlin must accept that it has no say in the matter.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin opted to literally drive a tank over that policy, the response was to whip up a storm of very personal abuse. This again looked good in the media, and it may well have generated a warm glow of self-righteousness. But it left the Ukrainians alone to face the music.

The moral condemnations have convinced President Putin that Ukraine is a mere sideshow to achieving regime-change in Russia too. He is known to be vindictive and may still do much damage.

If push comes to shove, as it well may, Ukrainians will find little comfort in knowing that it has the moral support of the West. Help in coming to a negotiated settlement would have been preferable. But such traditional realist policy has been made impossible by the overriding objective of reserving and holding the moral high ground.

Those who like to display a defiant attitude against Russia, while refusing to back it up with force, have in effect been writing cheques which Ukraine’s people will have to pay - with blood and suffering. This is not right.

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