The Kremlin's hybrid aggression against Ukraine: essence, development
Since Ukraine gained independence, Russia has constantly tried to restore its influence over the country. This is due to several reasons.
The first is phantom pains for its powerful empire, the myth of which has been cultivated for centuries. Russia’s establishment sees the empire as incomplete without Ukraine. Ukraine, where Kyivan Rus was born, is seen as an integral part of Russia in the Russian conscience.
The second reason is geopolitics. In Russia's "great game", Crimea and the entire territory of Ukraine has great military importance as an outpost to counter the West.
The third cause of permanent Russian aggression, overt or covert, is the fear that Ukraine, linked to the Russian Federation through many family economic and political ties, could make a breakthrough towards the West and demonstrate progress, which would affect the situation in Russia itself, as its own citizens would see that it is possible to live in a civilised, democratic and affluent society.
That is why, after the ousted president Victor Yanukovych came to power, all of Russia's intentions were focused on occupying core economic assets and the media scene, destroying or refocusing security structures and eradicating the middle class as a bearer of progressive ideas. Yanukovych was a tool for the policy of turning Ukraine into a colony.
The triumph of the Maidan made Russia’s President Vladimir Putin feel the threat of losing Ukraine forever, when society turned against dictatorship, toppled the criminal regime and declared the inevitability of Euro-Atlantic integration. Accordingly, both the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas are part of the Russian president's defensive war for his power and the values of the Eurasian civilisation that he represents: despotism, tyranny, totalitarianism and a slave mentality.
Putin believed that the "Russian Spring" operation would destroy and fragment Ukraine. A significant part of the country was supposed to join the RF or be a part of "Novorossiya", and the rest was to become a buffer zone. However, this did not happen. Thanks to the international community, sanctions imposed by the West and, above all, the resistance of civil society and the actions of Ukrainian intelligence services, Putin has realised that he cannot overcome Ukraine with direct military aggression.
That is why the Russian president and his entourage chose a new way to colonise Ukraine. It involves the comprehensive destabilisation within our country by discrediting the government through a variety of conflicts and scandals, the disruption of parliament's operations and, perhaps, mass protests.
The tools for this destabilisation are media outlets controlled by pro-Russian oligarchs, as well as corrupt politicians in the ranks of both the revanchist and "democratic" opposition.
Preparations for the collapse of the state are continuing throughout Ukraine: attempts are being made to create so-called special status regions and pseudo-territorial communities. In addition, the Russian oligarchs who control natural monopolies could use their power and resources, especially tariff policy and social benefits, to create social revolt.
Social instability, "anti-corruption" scandals, protest activity, the operation of quasi-separatist associations and governmental indecision could coincide to reach a peak, and at that point it would be difficult not to lose the state itself.
Russia's main goal is to destroy the Ukrainian power vertical, producing complete distrust in it. Then Ukraine, according to the plans of the RF, would start to disintegrate into various artificial formations and, most importantly, a politician would come to power in Kyiv with whom the Kremlin will be able to reach a compromise. Representatives of revanchist forces and the populist opposition are suitable for Russia as part of this scheme. If you look at the statements of both on the situation in the country, they are virtually identical, synchronised and broadcast on the same TV channels at the same time. Yes, they have slightly different connotations, because they are directed towards different social strata, but they have the same goal.
I would also like to mention the situation with the Minsk agreements. The Minsk process is full of contradictions, but allows Ukraine to reform and create a foothold for liberating Ukrainian lands and realising the goals of the Revolution of Dignity. It gives us some respite between battles. The problem is that the negotiations are conducted behind closed doors. This gives rise to different interpretations of the results, which, in turn, breeds distrust of Ukrainian authorities. There is an active smear campaign about President Petro Poroshenko betraying or giving up Ukrainian territory.
The demands of some EU representatives to engage in direct dialogue with the "Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republic" terrorist groups and hold elections before Ukraine regains control over the border create tension among patriotic citizens, military personnel and participants in the Maidan. The Kremlin uses this. It acts according to its main ideological and conceptual paradigm of hybrid war – fomenting any sort of discontent.
If we observe the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine itself, it is possible to notice the cyclic character and synchronicity of social protests, political crises, smear campaigns, anti-corruption scandals and incidents at the frontline. These cycles have already happened five times in the last two years. Obviously, it should be expected in 2017 too.
To stop the implementation of this destabilisation plan, Ukrainian authorities should:
1. Resume dialogue with people. Above all, the active part of society, which took part in the Euromaidan and the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) – those whose deeds proved their commitment to independence and democracy. The floodgates of government offices should be opened to them. If the government manages to get this dynamic minority on its side, positive changes will be irreversible and the following two points are also sure to be realised.
2. Rigorously remove Russian agents of influence from the economy, politics and the media. It is naive to talk about progress and reform without the destruction of the oligarchic pro-Russian mafia that manipulates political processes in Ukraine.
3. In spite of public pressure, continue the policy of unpopular but necessary reforms for Ukraine: this means medical insurance, judiciary reform, reform of the oil and gas industry, further decentralisation and pension reform. The government should not be guided by popularity rates and the cries of populists on oligarch-owned channels.
In the fight against the Kremlin, Ukraine needs full support of the West. We expect that our partners will set the correct priorities on Ukraine. Our country is the shield and spear of the civilised world. We must do everything to make the shield strong and the spear sharp. So rather than listening to the populists who delight the ears of certain European officials with talk about anti-corruption activities first and foremost, it probably makes more sense to focus on the fundamentals that the defence of the West is based on. Human rights, transparency, equal opportunities and freedom of expression are all sacred and important values for us. But these are often manipulated by pro-Russian oligarchs, who do not allow Ukrainian authorities to clean up the media scene, nationalise property stolen by representatives of Yanukovych's regime, confiscate their property and assets, and put the people who are chopping up our country in prison.
The timetable for reforms should be put together with consideration for all of the above factors.
Our Western partners should understand we are doing work that aims to protect Western democracy. I am sure that Ukraine will find a way out of the traps set by Russia and its oligarchs. Every day, we become stronger than we were. If we are able to hold onto the state, clear out the home front and carry out strict reforms, this will trigger irreversible democratisation processes throughout the entire post-Soviet territory.
Andriy Levus is MP with the People's Front, Chair of the State Security Subcommittee of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence