Can a Peaceful Outcome Be Salvaged in Ukraine?

On 4th August, the world marked 100 years since World War I, a conflict that resulted in 16 million deaths.

A century later, a new conflict is brewing, this time between Russia and Western countries, with Ukraine being the hotspot of military activity. Ever since a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest broke out in Kiev on 21 November 2013, Western leaders have blamed Russia for the escalation of conflict, resulting in economic sanctions being imposed on the country. However no attempt to understand Russia’s position is one of the primary reasons for the intensification and continuation of this crisis. Instead of looking to communicate and engage with Russia to find a mutually beneficial solution, Western policy seems to be based on threatening Russia to do as the West tells them, or else bear the brunt of further sanctions. There is a complete disregard towards Russia’s side of the story.

Russia feels aggravated about the events that took place in Ukraine. From their point of view, it is the West (primarily America) that is responsible for the situation Ukraine finds itself in. Russia is convinced that it was a Western organised coup that toppled former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich and led to the pro-Western Petro Poroshenko being chosen as the new leader. The Kremlin is certain that the US is pulling the strings in Kiev right now. It has good reasons to believe so.

Firstly, there are the billions of dollars and euros that the West has been providing to Ukraine for the past decade to promote Western ideology. This has been done through funding “pro-European” organisations and individuals. European Commission’s “Financial Transparency” website indicates that €496 million has been given to these groups between 2004 and 2013. During the Euromaidan protests in Kiev, scores of American and EU politicians visited Ukraine for “talks” with the opposition and openly encouraged protesters to keep going until they achieve their aims. Since the coup, the U.S. administration has been openly providing financial and military aid to the new government in Kiev. To comprehend how Russia must have felt about these developments, one simply has to imagine how the West would react if Russia were to provide €496 million to the Euro-sceptic parties in Europe and have Russian politicians openly visit the EU during the recent European elections and call on the public to vote against the mainstream establishment. How would the EU and American leaders react if after the European elections Russia provided financial support to parties like UKIP in the UK and Front National in France? The West would have felt enraged, yet they expect Russia to not react when the West acted this way in Ukraine. Add in the fact that the U.S. has been carrying out regime changes all over the world ever since it became a hegemon in 1945, coupled with suggestions that the primary objective of the US is to overthrow Putin’s government, it becomes clear why the Kremlin feels indignant and unfairly treated, and is unlikely to alter its stance despite any Western sanctions. For the Kremlin, this is a matter of Russia’s survival as an independent state, free from Western influence.

If a diplomatic solution is to be found, then three parties – Russia, Ukraine and the EU – need to have a discussion on proposals that are favourable to all sides. The United States should not partake in the dialogue, as this is a matter for the European continent.

For now, rather than talking to the Kremlin, the West’s policy is based primarily on the hope that Putin will eventually change course. This policy is not in Europe’s interests. Already the EU has been feeling the negative effects of fractured relations with Russia. Germany reported a hefty drop in industrial orders. Meanwhile, Italy reported that it had fallen back into recession after two quarters of falling output. In London, the FTSE 100 index was down by more than 90 points – a drop of 1.4%. Shares were down by more than 1% in Paris and Frankfurt, and by more than 2% in Milan. Now that Russia has also imposed sanctions on Western agricultural produce, Europe’s fragile economy will be shaken even more.

Rather than continuing on this path that spirals towards complete breakdown of cooperation, the EU should be working towards re-establishing real channels of communication with Putin. Russia wants to see a cease-fire in Ukraine and Kiev honouring its commitments to transfer power to regional governments in the east. Long-term, the Kremlin is keen to have a conversation about the future of Ukraine. A neutral Kiev government that cooperates with both the EU and Russia would be favourable. These proposals would not undermine the EU’s position and aims. Kiev’s government would still be run by a pro-Western President and Ukraine would remain intact, with more autonomy for the eastern regions. Western part of Ukraine that craves closer integration with Europe would be allowed to do so, while the East, which feels closer to Russia, can build closer links with Moscow.

Refusal to even consider discussing these proposals with Russia would confirm Kremlin’s fears that the West is not interested in a diplomatic solution, and simply wants to undermine and weaken Russia. Such a confirmation would result in a point of no return – a humanitarian disaster in Ukraine and unfixable relations between Moscow and the West.

As the world remembers the consequences of WW1, understanding how to avoid similar conflicts in the future is imperative. A diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis is still alive but is rapidly fizzling out. Discussions need to take place urgently. A failure to do so will result in no other option but to use military means to solve the conflict. This would not be beneficial to anyone.

 

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Categories: Europe

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