Ukrainian Revolution: Western Perspective, Western Influence and Western Contribution
It was bitter on the one hand. The West didn’t support us… Kept waiting… Negotiating… On the other hand, what did we expect? Did we hope that Europe would immediately side with the Maidan, believe in Ukrainian civil society and press the tyrant out of power? Firstly, that is not how things are done in international politics. Secondly, European officials had every reason to be skeptical.
Ever since the official Kyiv prepared documents for association with the EU while using this as a bargaining chip to get more money in the opposite direction, European politicians, let alone public opinion, have been puzzled and feeling that “there is nobody to trust there.” What about the ideals of democracy, aspirations of the nation and common values, then? In realpolitik, the actual balance of powers continentally and globally, as well as the need to coordinate positions within such complex and somewhat poorly-managed entities as the EU, NATO, UN Security Council and the like, have pushed these ideals and values to the sidelines.
However, it was still fair enough for those who fought for Ukrainian democracy to expect more support from the West, even if moral rather than material - especially in the light of the stark contrast in the morals and even aesthetics of the confronting forces on EuroMaidan. Moreover, the Yanukovych regime kept doing anything possible, from shameless daily lies to blatant muscle-flexing in yet another crackdown on the Maidan on December 10 when the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and US Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland were in town, to test the West’s patience. It didn’t work.
To assess the indecisive and ineffective policy of Europe and the US regarding Ukraine, we will look at the past three weeks when this policy became visible.
On February 6 the European Parliament adopts a tough resolution on the situation in Ukraine demanding to “cease the shameful deployment of Berkut riot police and other security forces of provocations, kidnaping, harassment, torturing, beating and humiliating supporters of EuroMaidans”. On the same day, a video with Russian subtitles where Victoria Nuland said “Fuck the EU” in a telephone conversation on the EU’s passivity in dealing with the Ukrainian crisis with the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt went viral. German Chancellor thought that such assessment was unacceptable.
On February 7, Viktor Yanukovych went to Sochi to see the opening ceremony for the Olympics. While there, he asked European officials to help him draft the Constitution he would “later put up for national discussion”, while accusing Europeans of interference with Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
On February 10, the EU human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks told Acting Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko that beating protesters with police batons was unacceptable. Zakharchenko agreed with that. The EU Council of Ministers shared its opinion on the situation in Ukraine from Brussels. Only a new government, a constitutional reform and fair presidential election can improve the situation in Ukraine, they said while refusing to impose sanctions. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry thanked them and once again agreed with what they said.
On February 11, the US Congress passed a resolution to support the Maidan; EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle met with opposition leaders in Kyiv and held three-hour negotiations with Yanukovych the next day. The talks focused on the revision of the Constitution, the establishment of a new government and a stabilization programme from international financial institutions. Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton talked about financial assistance to Ukraine with the IMF Executive Director in Washington. She said officially that the EU was looking at two approaches to Ukraine: pressure and support. We are deeply concerned with the developments and contemplating our actions, she said. I think Ukrainian authorities have gotten our signals very well, she noted.
On February 13, the EU hoped that an independent committee to investigate cases of violence during protests in Kyiv would start to work as soon as possible, Štefan Füle said during a visit to the Maidan.
On February 15, the US State Department welcomed the release of detained protesters and the opposition’s decision to vacate administration buildings.
On February 16, Didier Burkhalter, Foreign Minister of Switzerland, said the OSCE believed that de-occupation of the Kyiv city hall by protesters would lead Ukraine out of the stalemate.
On February 17, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not think it was necessary to impose targeted sanctions against Ukrainian officials to solve the crisis after her meeting with Vitaliy Klitschko and Arseniy Yatseniuk who came to Berlin upon her invitation. This was the first official contact with the opposition. She also approved the official Kyiv’s decision to amnesty EuroMaidan activists. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said the EU would be ready to sign the Association Agreement and FTA with Ukraine right after the crisis is solved and Ukraine fulfills the necessary conditions agreed before the Vilnius Summit without any additional terms.
On February 18, news came of new victims. Frank Walter-Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister, said Europe would have to revise its moderate approach to the case of targeted sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the bloodshed in Ukraine.
On February 19, Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister, claimed that the EU could impose sanctions similar to the limited sanctions against Belarus or even those imposed against Cuba, Zimbabwe or Iran that proved effective.
On February 20, EU leaders officially announced visa and financial sanctions against officials of the Yanukovych Administration and pro-government MPs, as well as business owners who backed the regime, thus making the use of unbelievable violence possible at a meeting in Brussels. US President Barack Obama spoke on Ukraine for the first time at an international summit in Mexico, criticizing Vladimir Putin for disrespect of basic freedoms and support of repressions in Ukraine and Syria. He called on Kyiv to set up a transition government.
On February 21, Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed the Agreement to Solve the Crisis in Ukraine with foreign ministers from Germany and Poland and a diplomat from France. The agreement entailed the return to the 2004 Constitution and presidential reelection in December 2014. After that, Radoslaw Sikorski tried to talk the Maidan into accepting the compromise while US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said in an interview for 1+1 TV channel that Ukraine needs Viktor Yanukovych to implement political changes and that Viktor Yanukovych should lead the country into the future.
On February 22, Yanukovych who fled Kyiv earlier accused foreign guarantors to the Agreement of treason in a video address. Then, his trace disappeared.
On February 24, Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that the EU was ready to provide EUR 20bn as financial assistance to Ukraine after it has a new government.
On February 25, Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview for Polskie Radio that three states including the US, the UK and Russia, had signed the Budapest Declaration in 1994 after Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. The Declaration specified their obligation to guarantee independence, territorial integrity and no pressure on Ukraine, meaning Russia’s efforts to destabilize and disintegrate Ukraine. Meanwhile, “aides said he (Barack Obama – Ed.) wanted to wait until the critical moment, and it came when Americans saw indications that Mr. Yanukovych might turn loose the military on the protesters...” The New York Times wrote. Washington is trying to distance itself and stay out of loud conflicts on the planet to prevent a situation where the victory of democracy in other countries would be seen as the spread of the US’ influence, the publication wrote. Still, Moscow kept blaming the West and Washington in particular, officially and through presumably independent (yet totally loyal to the Kremlin) media, of orchestrating Ukrainian protests and direct financial and organizational backing thereof, up to the training of the “fighters” on the territory of the US Embassy. In this sense, Russia’s policy was completely predictable based on a number of factors: a) general paranoia that makes the key players believe in the nonsense they invented themselves; b) geopolitical claims whereby Ukraine is considered an originally Russian territory and part of the Russian World orbit; c) personal grudge of the Kremlin masters about losing the nice piece of land they spent so much time, energy and money to take over. On its part, Moscow does and will not spare money to undermine the disobedient vassal, if not to return what it had lost. This is done and will be done through support of undermining forces, separatists and possibly criminal elements since all these groups are closely intertwined historically. Russian propaganda will play its role too: it feels comfortable in Ukraine and has endless opportunities to reach out with its ruinous messages to the population as it dominates the media space.
Why did the West prove so shortsighted? Ukrainians have to realize that Ukraine is of little importance to Europe, let alone the US, despite its geostrategic location, resources and human potential. Geopolitically, Ukraine is rather part of relations with a complex, dangerous and unpredictable superpower that the modern Russia is. Therefore, Ukraine is viewed through the Russian prism. Since Ukraine has given up its own nuclear weapons and its gas transit system is losing its crucial role because of the alternative Nord Stream, plus diversification of supply sources in the West, Ukraine is seen abroad as a potential problem area that should not get in the way of other countries. Changing this and transforming Ukraine into the territory of positive opportunities and pleasant surprises is something Ukrainians, not foreigners should do. Ukraine’s desire to sometimes participate in international security operations is too little and unambitious of a contribution into the cause. However, some politicians and Russian groups of influence make an additional factor that is interested in Ukraine. European public opinion hardly reacted to the unprecedented scandal with a one-time leader of the most powerful European state who became a top manager of the Russian gas company after he retired.
After all, money does not solve everything. Russia’s influence on Europe goes very deep; many intellectuals and public figures like Moscow without any mercantile interests. Ukraine has no such influence or soft power.
Yet, some neighbours proved friends and allies indeed at times of need, not seeking any profits. Many diplomats, government officials and public figures of Poland, Lithuania and other countries of Eastern and Northern Europe consistently promoted Ukrainian interests, reminding their public as well as the entire European community what exactly the EuroMaidan was struggling for. They may not all have believed in the victory of the Ukrainian revolution, but that made their help and compassion ever more valuable.
After all – it is actually crucial – we should not have super-high expectations of politicians and diplomats. To actually understand Ukraine’s specific system of the past two or four years, they would have to collect and process a lot of data; monitor the key players, their interests and schemes of interaction; business links and more. Apparently, Western experts thought that these efforts would not be worth the outcome. This resulted in a situation where diplomats and intelligence services of most European states and the US ended up unarmed in the face of sudden and unpredictable developments in Ukraine.
The West did not imagine that Yanukovych’s regime was a house of cards because it did not understand how it operated. Nor did it have any idea of what ground an alternative Ukrainian society should be based on.
The modern world offers to ways to make oneself known and respected: one is to be a threat. Another one is to be an object of fascination and jealousy. Today, we have another chance to make the right choice.