Ukraine after 30 Years: Manoeuvring between Geopolitical Centres
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Ukraine is still on the path of international self-determination and experimenting with the modelling of its state. European and Euro-Atlantic integration process is complicated by internal political situation and country’s foreign policy. What follows are current assessments of the political process in the country and the possible scenarios for the next five years.
Ukraine is still on the path of international self-determination and experimenting with the modelling of its state. European and Euro-Atlantic integration process is complicated by internal political situation and country’s foreign policy. What follows are current assessments of the political process in the country and the possible scenarios for the next five years.
Soviet Union’s disintegration marked the beginning of a new independent country’s formation on the world map. Ukraine was granted unprecedented opportunities to develop its own statehood, create a modern democratic political system model, realize its economic potential, consolidate civil society and enjoy self-determination in the international arena. Today, after 25 years of independence, Ukraine has learned once again just how difficult and time-consuming these processes are, and how dependent on a number of subjective and objective circumstances it is. The establishment of a progressive state is a long journey, and a quarter of a century is only a short phase that not only forms the relevant socio-political and economic trends, but also requires proper review in order to carry out future reforms.
Modern Trends in Ukrainian Policy
Right now, Ukraine needs to take a step forward on its path of political reform and find long-awaited stability. At the same time, our task is to present a forecast concerning the timeframe for the nation to achieve its strategic objectives, as well as the prospects for doing so and the problematic aspects that could arise in the process of working towards meeting these objectives. However, the country continues to seek a way out of difficult situations. Having settled on European and Euro-Atlantic integration as a priority in its foreign policy strategy, Ukraine has become the centre of a geopolitical confrontation, as it remains in the orbit of Russia’s influence. In addition to its foreign policy problems, Ukraine is experiencing a number of difficulties related to the practical implementation of reforms, modelling of a new socio-political system, fight against corruption and the emergence of a new generation of government leaders who are capable of initiating progressive reforms in coordination with public opinion.
Issues of an economic nature that determine current political trends in the country also remain relevant. Ukraine is actively working to expand trade relations with EU countries, and has made it one of the top priorities of European integration. At the same time, negative dynamics in bilateral economic relations with Russia continues to prevail against the backdrop of a confrontation with Moscow. Ukraine is still suffering from the effects of a severe crisis, affecting certain post-Soviet countries’ economies, and the unprecedented inflation that goes with it, a decline in GDP and the subsequent deterioration of living standards. The country continues to actively borrow from abroad and has received another tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) within the framework of its existing borrowing programme. At the same time, despite cooperation with the IMF and the introduction of a free trade area with the European Union, the Ukrainian economy has not embarked on the path towards stable development. The reason for this is existing instruments and investment climate controls being ineffective, as well as the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine. These factors have a negative impact on the inflow of foreign capital and its free circulation in the country’s economy.
Donbass issue inflicts significant damage not only on the development of partnership relations with western countries, but also poses a great political threat and has major social implications.
The fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017 promise to test the ability of the Ukrainian socio-political system to handle stress. Attempts to achieve energy independence from Russia and the gradual fulfilment of the main IMF requirements with regard to reforming the Ukrainian energy market are notable for their contrasting effects. A positive effect has been achieved in terms of budget viability and economic pragmatism. For the first time ever, Naftogaz of Ukraine did not require any budget subsidies, which had previously been used to cover a deficit that was attributable to the low consumer prices. This was achieved by increasing tariffs. The country’s treasury retained 130 billion hryvnia (roughly USD 5 billion) and was limited to allocating 40 billion hryvnia (roughly USD 1.5 billion) in subsidies to low-income citizens. On the other hand, the strict measures being taken to raise tariffs have caused many Ukrainians to fear upcoming winter, and they also increase the threat of public debt for the payment of utility services increasing. This situation will be actively exploited by opposition political forces, which are willing to use any opportunity and miscalculations by the country’s policymakers for their own popularity and to gain electoral support. Based on this situation, we can anticipate social unrest in the country, which will be supported by the opposition parties and could become a factor in the country’s social balance erosion.
These trends are of crucial importance when it comes to forming country’s current political agenda as they determine the vector for the further development of the situation in the short term. Consideration must also be given to the threat posed by the erosion of solidarity among western partners with regard to supporting Ukraine in matters of domestic reforms and the confrontation with Russia.
While expanding the scale of trade with the European Union is a main priority, Ukraine remains within the Russian sphere of influence.
At the same time, there is no reason to talk about the possibility of mass demonstrations comparable in scale to the events of late 2013 and early 2014. The conflict in Donbass and the related Minsk Agreements are the real pitfalls the vector of future changes will depend on over the next five years. The Ukrainian government has worked itself into a difficult situation where they will be on the losing end regardless of the success of implementing the Minsk Agreements. The political aspect of the agreement involves the adoption of a bill on constitutional amendments with regard to decentralization and granting special status to certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In addition, the sequence for implementing the Minsk Agreements involves holding local elections before the Ukrainian government establishes control over its borders. Of course, such an approach runs counter to Ukraine’s national interests and causes negative perception in society. If parts of the self-proclaimed republics receive administrative and political preferences, and the militants fighting for them are able to run for the Verkhovna Rada and hold local leadership positions, this creates the threat of mass protests taking place around the country and socio-political chaos could unfold.
It would seem that the Ukrainian leadership is well aware of the danger presented by this scenario, which could either be an instantaneous catalyst for social explosion or a ticking time bomb that exacerbates social conflicts and is fully capable of playing a destructive role in one to two years. In the case of the latter, if the Ukrainian government manages to neutralize the momentum of public outrage, the problematic areas will be integrated into the Ukrainian political and economic system under Russian conditions. Given the devastated infrastructure and broken social institutions in the regions, they would not only become an unmanageable burden for the Ukrainian budget, but also a destructive element of permanent influence on political processes within Ukraine.
In this regard, members of parliament currently lack the necessary consensus to adopt a controversial bill in its second reading. In trying to avoid another revolution, deputies are exposing themselves to additional pressure from Western partners and jeopardizing the future of the parliament of this convocation. France and Germany are insisting to an even greater extent than the United States on the implementation of the political aspect of the agreement, thereby limiting the field for manoeuvres by the legislative authorities.
International Dimension of the Political Process in Ukraine
Ukraine: 25 Years of Missed Opportunities
Due to the overwhelming involvement of the international community in the Ukrainian political process, the upcoming parliamentary elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands, as well as the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the European Union’s ability to resolve problems related to migration, the escalation of conflicts between countries within the association and the further extension of sanctions against the Russian Federation acquire immense importance.
Prior to the start of 2017, the bureaucratic procedure of transferring presidential power in the United States and the relationship between the political component of the Minsk process and the need to ensure security in the region will play into the hands of the Ukrainian leadership. Although Russia will try to use all available resources to persuade France and Germany to adopt decisions that put diplomatic pressure on Ukraine, it is unlikely that any fundamental decisions will be made on the Ukrainian issue before Trump is inaugurated and the new U.S. administration forms its own position on the situation in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the lack of a full armistice during this period will serve as a key argument in discussions regarding the implementation of the political aspect of the Minsk Agreements. Until the Kremlin ensures a truce by the militants of the self-proclaimed republics, Ukraine will delay the adoption of any major amnesty laws and local elections, citing the lack of necessary security measures in problematic areas.
Given the status of the United States in international relations, the American factor continues to play a fundamental role in determining Ukraine’s future development. Even though the United States stayed out of the Normandy negotiations format, Washington retains sufficient influence over the Ukrainian political process and maintains a channel of direct diplomatic communication with Moscow regarding the settlement of the conflict in Donbass. The U.S. presidential campaign results stunned the Ukrainian political establishment. Kiev was not only openly counting on Hillary Clinton, but also criticized Trump’s plans for his team to include Paul Manafort, who had connections to the “black accounting” schemes of Viktor Yanukovych. In addition, in his campaign speeches, the U.S. President-elect spoke ambiguously about the situation regarding Crimea and the possibility of resuming full-fledged relations with Russia.
Since it is hard to overestimate the importance of the new U.S. administration’s position on the Ukrainian issue, Donald Trump’s unpredictability creates additional complexity with respect to modelling scenarios for settling the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and balancing the architecture of international relations. At present, the 45th President of the United States has created the image of a man who is ready to pursue a “softening compromise” and “reset” relations between Moscow and Washington. Moreover, one gets the impression that the Eastern European aspect of U.S. foreign policy is not a particular priority for Trump and, in a manner characteristic of a businessman, he will value economic pragmatism over political expediency. If Trump adheres to the format of “entrepreneurial thinking” in his political decisions, the question of what Kiev and Moscow are able to offer the U.S. administration will become a relevant one for the development of bilateral relations at the United States–Russia and United States–Ukraine levels. At present, having foregone the rule of “unbiased diplomacy” during the U.S. presidential campaign, the Ukrainian leadership has limited the range of tools it can use.
But is Donald Trump really a man who is capable of reaching an agreement with Vladimir Putin on the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis and fundamentally altering the international political situation? First, despite everything that has been said, we should consider the presence in U.S. political circles – even within the Republican Party – of anti-Russian elites who could regularly influence the President’s position. Second, the principle to “Make America Great Again” will not likely pave the way for a weakening U.S. international authority in favour of a full-fledged reorientation towards domestic politics. Thus, the Ukrainian leadership must hope for a policy of true “realpolitik” by the U.S. administration and its willingness to firmly defend the interests of its own country in the international arena, which could make it difficult to reach a compromise between Moscow and Washington, contrary to all expectations.
Trump’s unpredictability in no way diminishes the important role of the American factor in the Ukrainian political process, but it does not provide any definitive answers concerning the nature of its influence in the short term. Thus, the effects of the U.S. presidential election may have ambivalent significance for Ukraine – from the loss of support of a key partner to the escalation of the confrontation between Russia and the United States, which is not anticipated under the current circumstances.
Ukraine in Five Years: Scenarios
If Ukraine is unable to play the visa-free regime card with the European Union, this could cause discontent among its citizens. Along with the desire for balanced European integration, the country’s leadership would try to return to the relations that Ukraine had with Russia prior to the crisis.
Depending on how foreign policy circumstances correlate with the domestic political situation in Ukraine, we can present a few different scenarios of how events will unfold over the next five years.
1. “Reset of the authorities.” If the European Union increases pressure on Ukraine regarding local elections law adoption, the current version of the Verkhovna Rada will start to lose its external legitimacy and make its Western partners unhappy. In spring 2017, the need to implement the political component of the Minsk Agreement will be of even greater significance. At the same time, winter and the forced lifting of tariffs will have a substantial impact on the ratings of the parliamentary coalition, while opposition political forces will work to fundamentally erode the existing balance in the country by bringing up issues related to corruption and the deterioration of living standards. These circumstances will have a cumulative effect that adversely affects the position of the ruling party. Another important aspect in this context will be cooperation between Ukraine and Europe, specifically the creation of a visa-free regime. The drawn-out bureaucratic procedures inherent in European policy have already delayed the decision-making process in Ukraine. Given that a visa-free regime could be comparable with the signing of the Association Agreement in terms of its importance and will reflect positively on the ratings of the country’s leadership, the stakes remain very high. If the Ukrainian authorities prove unable to position this factor as a foreign policy victory, we can expect another wave of public outrage. In the absence of the necessary consensus between the deputies and the president concerning the implementation of the political package adopted as part of the Minsk process and also in connection with the loss of a sufficient level of public support, the issue of early parliamentary elections in the country could become a sticking point in the first and second quarters of 2017.
Since the domestic political situation is conducive to the popularization of opposition political parties, a new coalition could be formed in the event of new elections in Ukraine. It would have a broadminded vision of the prospects for restoring political and economic relations with the Russian Federation. This newly formed alliance could reach a compromise with the economic elites, who are interested in resuming economic cooperation with Russia and have come under pressure from the ruling political forces. The new parliament would work to reset bilateral relations. Since the Minsk Agreements have reached an impasse, the new coalition could revive them in a practical manner and garner a sufficient number of votes to complete the constitutional reform on decentralization, adopt amnesty laws and organize local elections in the self-proclaimed republics.
Under these conditions, conflicts between the executive and legislative authorities would intensify. The president and the Verkhovna Rada would have different views on how to form a new government, as well as a different foreign and domestic political orientation. By 2018, the all-out escalation of the conflict could lead to early presidential elections and a full restart of political authority. In this case, the country’s leadership would have to walk a fine line between realizing its own interests, which would consist of restoring a full-fledged dialogue with Moscow, and the negative perception of Russia by the majority of Ukrainians following the start of the military conflict in Donbass (43 per cent of the population dislikes Russia, while 80 per cent dislikes the Russian leadership). In this regard, the governing elite would carefully transform the vector of the country’s foreign policy with its obvious pro-Western leanings to a model of balanced European integration that would involve a combination of the geopolitical concept of strategic rapprochement with the European Union and an attempt to restore pre-crisis relations with the Russian Federation.
The members of the Normandy format will not change; however, an adjustment to their negotiating positions may follow the possible changes within the four countries involved.
As part of implementing the roadmap for settling the conflict in Donbass and normalizing the bilateral dialogue between Kiev and Moscow, Russia will continue to persuade Ukraine to integrate the problematic regions into its own system of political and economic coordinates. The foreign policy situation will play an extremely important role in this case. If the fragile positions of Angela Merkel lead to a change in leadership in Germany, and a politician more loyal to the Moscow becomes president of France, Ukraine may face a new challenge in 2017 – “preserving the consolidated position of European partners concerning the issue of Ukraine.” Under this scenario, time would no longer be in Ukraine’s favour, which it has been in the past. But it would play into the hands of the Russian Federation, whose leadership, taking these circumstances into account, would be in no rush to help ensure a full truce by the militants in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and would aim to delay the Minsk process until “better times.” Possible political changes in Germany and France may adjust the negotiating positions of the participants, while preserving the existing participants in the Normandy format.
If the assumed scenario unfolds within the allotted time, we can anticipate a compromise solution under the influence of these circumstances on matters concerning the implementation of the political aspect of the Minsk Agreement. It would become a reality after the necessary security measures in the region are implemented. The formal “cure” could be an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) police mission that satisfies all the negotiating parties at that particular stage, and it would not be blocked by the Kremlin, given that the Presidency of the Council of the European Union would be in the hands of Austria, which is loyal to the Russian Federation. Once the long-standing friction surrounding the development of a roadmap for the peace process is complete, its implementation would be coordinated through the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine. Thus, the main mission of the new Ukrainian parliament could be to adopt a law on elections in the self-proclaimed republics and draft a new roadmap for its implementation.
Given Ukraine’s limited desire for Euro-integration, cooperation between Kiev and NATO will solely consist of a few joint projects and periodic exercises.
Given the complexity of the situation, the Ukrainian leadership would have to find a balance of the political process and public opinion, and prevent the radicalization of mass protests, which would be chaotic at this stage. Softening the negative attitude among Ukrainian citizens towards Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and healing the wounds caused by the death of a large number of Ukrainians would be a long and complicated process that would be difficult to conceal behind the screen of political games or limit to a certain timeframe. And it is here where we find the weak link in this scenario, something that politicians would struggle to resolve over the next five years. The issue of Crimea, whose reintegration into Russia only remains legitimate within the foreign policy vision of the Russian leadership, would continue to have a destructive influence. During the long process of settling the conflict in the eastern part of the country, Russia has deliberately tried to push the problem of Crimea to the background. This trend will continue in the coming years, as Moscow will insist on the formal recognition of the legitimacy of its actions, while Ukraine and the Western will continue to perceive it as an annexation.
The negative side of these events, should they unfold in this manner, is that Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations would be limited in the short-term. At present, the conflict in the east and the lack of a consolidated political will among the alliance’s member nations serves as a deterrent. However, if the scenario described here is implemented on a practical level, an additional obstacle towards deepening Ukraine–NATO strategic relations would arise in the Verkhovna Rada. Under such conditions, we should not anticipate substantial progress on this issue in the next five years, and cooperation between Ukraine and NATO will remain at the level of implementing individual programmes and joint exercises.
2017 Foreign Policy Outlook
The free trade area between Ukraine and the European Union would remain in effect as they move towards international cooperation, which would further alienate the country from the Eurasian Union, even if changes in foreign policy are made. Nevertheless, the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement would come under pressure due to the political situation in the Netherlands in connection with the results of the latest referendum and the attempt by populist political forces to gain electoral support in the run-up to the spring parliamentary elections. At the same time, it can be assumed that European institutions would develop an effective mechanism to preserve the free trade area even if the Netherlands were to denounce the agreement.
Thus, this scenario is based on the settlement of conflict trends in Europe through the partial infringement of Ukraine’s national interests. In this case, the Ukrainian authorities would have to remain on the path of “forced pragmatism” and seek possible benefits in the existing political realities. Theoretically, as a result of the preservation of the free trade area with the European Union and work to restore economic relations with the Russian Federation, Ukraine could become a centre for the revival of the Greater Europe projects that have been largely forgotten in light of recent events; however, finding a balance between economic viability and socio-political contradictions would make it difficult to realize this forecast in a practical manner.
2. “Freezing of the permanent conflict zone.” The implementation of this scenario depends on how effectively relations between Russia and the United States develop. If Moscow is unable to reach a compromise with Washington and come up with a new format for bilateral cooperation to resolve the Ukrainian issue, the settlement of the conflict will be drawn out and the leaders of both countries will gradually use up their existing goodwill. Trump’s advisors could convince him to back-pedal on his campaign declarations and take on a tougher position in the dialogue with Russia. Such a situation would enable the Ukrainian leadership to step up its role in the negotiation process.
In this case, the Minsk Agreements would remain a nominative agreement that had already fulfilled its minimal function – to contain military escalation and provide the parties with an opportunity to determine the vector for further actions. At the same time, the plan for dealing with the crisis that is approved by all the parties would have no future and would be supported solely for the sustained preservation of the existing conflict in a diplomatic impasse. While the first scenario implies Ukraine’s adherence to the political will of the European Union in attempting to implement the Minsk Agreements, the second situation is based on the willingness of the Ukrainian leadership to take tough political decisions while acquiring the status of a full-fledged subject of the political process. Time is not as critical in the second scenario, although certain preconditions would exist for a slight deterioration in relations with the European Union. How would this scenario be implemented?
The existing plan for settling the Ukrainian issue is only capable of keeping the conflict at a diplomatic impasse. A new approach could not only worsen relations with Russia, but also undermine the prospects for visa-free travel and the free trade area.
If relations between Russia and the United States were to worsen as assumed under the scenario described, the U.S. administration could easily switch from a “softening compromise” to issuing tough requirements and ultimatums, which would give Ukraine some room for manoeuvre. Ukraine could initiate a referendum on whether or not to grant Donbass a special status, or it could have parliament pass the frequently discussed law on the occupied territories. In doing so, the Verkhovna Rada would be released from the political burden of having to adopt an unpopular decision while also legally recognizing the presence of Russian forces on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics. Such a move would run counter to the European concept for settling the conflict and could lead to some difficulties in relations with the European Union, which is firmly convinced of the correctness of its intentions to resolve the Ukrainian issue utilizing the tools of the Minsk II Agreement.
This new approach to resolving the crisis would not only threaten to exacerbate the confrontation with the Russian Federation, but it would also jeopardize the two main national priorities in its international policy – the visa-free regime and the free trade area. Ukraine’s partners in the United States would firmly seize the initiative from the European Union in the dialogue with the Kremlin, and the ultimate failure of the Minsk Agreements would negate the economic sanctions associated with them, which would provide European countries with an excuse to revise the existing restrictions or consolidation them in connection with the conflict in Syria. Ukraine would get additional leverage to influence the foreign policy situation, and parliament would extend its term in office. At the same time, we should not forget the threat of the conflict escalating in the east. Only the drafting of an updated roadmap for an armistice could stop the conflict from entering a new active phase. In this case, the United States and the Russian Federation would be responsible for the new peace process model, while the European Union would take a backseat after losing its prevailing positions.
Even in the unlikely event the European Union disintegrating, it could be replaced by a new integration initiative based on the Baltic-Black Sea Union. The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics could become ordinary quasi-state formations that disrupt stability in the post-Soviet region.
It can be assumed that under the new political circumstances the sides would reach a difficult compromise that is based on satisfying tactical objectives: the United States would contain the newly erupted military confrontation and earn political dividends, thus strengthening its status as a key player in the region; the Russian Federation would have the chance to get out from under the pressure of sanctions and temporarily postpone the problematic issue of the accession the Crimea; and Ukraine would prevent the integration of the problematic regions into its own political system on Russia’s terms and preserve its current leadership, giving it one more year to carry out the reforms required by the West and limiting the destructive potential of using these regions to influence the domestic policy situation.
In this case, it would still be important for Kiev to preserve the balance in its relations with the European Union, which could be partially realized by developing a comprehensive plan for settling the conflict and maximizing the effective mobilization of diplomatic communication channels in order to convince its European partners of its viability and the fact that there are no alternatives. If this fails, Ukraine would have to come up with a Plan B for its Euro-integration strategy. The ultimate goal of this strategy would presumably be full membership in the European Union.
One option would be to expand and deepen relations with Central European countries within the context of the geopolitical concept of the Baltic-Black Sea Union. The viability of this project is its universality. In the unlikely event that the European Union disintegrates under the pressure of existing problems, the project could become a new model for establishing a European political space that is based on a strong national state and a high-priority regional partnership. If the European Union continues to function successfully, it will remain attractive as a promising platform for the development of economic and security cooperation. Ukraine could become an interesting component of the new mosaic of a Central and Eastern European political system, although the dynamics of Ukraine–Poland relations in the years to come are a potential pitfall of this process. At present, these relations are very discordant. Success achieved on the basis of strategic military cooperation would be accompanied by a worsening of historical conflicts based on the contrast between the national ideas of the leadership of both countries. It would seem that, right now, Ukraine does not have a coherent plan for strategic rapprochement with Poland, which significantly limits the field for foreign policy manoeuvres. And this needs to be remedied in the short term.
What would become of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics? If the described scenario is implemented on a practical level, the artificially inspired political projects would be transformed to match the existing quasi-state models of Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although at this stage it would be difficult to determine their administrative and organizational form, in this scenario we could expect another controversial political entity to emerge on the post-Soviet map and violate the security architecture in the region. Freezing the conflict would shift it into a latent phase without providing any of the parties with guarantees concerning the final conciliation of the bloody confrontation and leaving the door open for further escalation.
If Poroshenko is able to consolidate political and financial groups on a compromise basis, he will manage to hold onto his position.
3. “Normandy format compromise.” We should not rule out the possibility of the conflict being settled within the Minsk process while at the same time maintaining the status quo. For now, this scenario seems unlikely due to lack of common political will in the Ukrainian parliament. In any case, the president needs to pursue the laws on elections, amnesty and decentralization, with Donbass being granted a special status (the latter is in its second reading) via the Verkhovna Rada. So far, Ukrainian deputies have not expressed a willingness to work on drafting the problematic bills and have not mustered the required number of votes for their approval. In this case, the quantity of meetings within the Normandy format cannot be translated into quality. The main component of this scenario comes down to the following dilemma: can pressure from European partners and the constructive actions of the president change parliament’s views?
To achieve this goal, the president not only needs to consolidate his political power within the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, but also needs to enlist the support of the other parties that gained seats in the Verkhovna Rada. Do the executive authorities have such a resource? Who will these ad hoc allies be? The answer to these questions will be sought on the margins of Ukrainian politics. The position of the United States and its vision of how to resolve the situation will be just as important as in the previous scenarios. In the event that a genuine rapprochement occurs between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and an effective platform for bilateral relations is established, Ukraine will lose an irreplaceable ally and its negotiating positions will be significantly weakened. The Ukrainian government will be forced to keep a lower profile and ensure the practical implementation of all the requirements of the Minsk process and minimize the potential destabilizing effects.
If the Poroshenko administration manages to pull off the virtually impossible – that is, find compromise positions for the competing political forces and influential financial groups while ensuring the realization of the political component of the Minsk process – it will be able to extend the goodwill of Ukraine’s Western partners and maintain its positions. At the same time, the authorities will encounter public outrage, which will have to be suppressed in order to pre-empt the threat of it transforming into mass demonstrations. We should keep in mind the fact that in such a situation Kiev would nevertheless have to integrate the problematic regions into its own political shell, which would have a destructive effect on the stability of the country’s political situation going forward. Ukraine would become a neutral state without any apparent preconditions for accession to NATO or the European Union in the short or medium term.
In the years to come, Ukraine will continue to seek both a path for its own self-determination and resolutions to relevant problems. At the same time, it will always have to take the Russian factor into account.
In addition, given the wide range of circumstances that affect relations between the European Union and the United States, Ukraine must not limit itself to a geopolitical choice and needs to expand its field of actions in the international arena through strategic rapprochement with other influential members of the global political process. In the second scenario, the Baltic-Black Sea Union would be the likely alternative to the existing foreign policy concept. In this projection, however, due attention should be given to the prospects of developing cooperation with China. China is always interested in economic and political projects that contribute to a country’s international self-determination, and the potential normalization of the Russian-U.S. dialogue would only encourage Beijing to be more active on the issue of implementing its “Silk Road” concept. Ukraine should formulate a clear vision of possible areas of economic cooperation and come up with interesting proposals for Chinese investors that contribute not only to the realization of individual ideas, but also to the implementation of large-scale projects such as the free trade area.
Geopolitical Realities and the New Concept of Ukrainian Policy
The scenarios presented here take into account the segmented set of Ukrainian socio-political values, the pressure of economic determinants and the influence of foreign policy, which allows a coordinate system that specifies the dynamics and vectors of how the situation will develop in the short term to be modelled. They identify current political trends, reinforce the fundamental basis of the future Ukrainian political process and are capable of generating alternative forecasts for the next five years or more. Given the unpredictability, subjectivity and chaotic nature of modern Ukrainian socio-political realities, it is possible that other scenarios derived from the two that have been presented could arise. For example, in the event that the geopolitical confrontation escalates further, the level of public outrage increases, the existing social balance is purposefully eroded through the hostilities in eastern Ukraine, or individual ethnic groups step up their activity in the west of the country, there is a clear threat of the country being “Balkanized,” or of yet another round of revolutionary changes taking place. The Ukrainian leadership needs to overcome these challenges in order to ensure the country’s territorial integrity and prevent any dangerous trends from occurring.
At the same time, over the next five years Ukraine will continue to struggle for national self-determination and seek mechanisms to overcome problems within the scope of its domestic and foreign policy. The Ukrainian authorities still need to carry out long-awaited reforms that are capable of modernizing the makeup of the socio-political and economic system, settle the military conflict in Donbass, promote the concept of European integration and develop a new strategy for establishing bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. Despite Ukraine’s clear reorientation towards the western vector of political and economic development, the country will always have to take the Russian factor into account. Regardless of how successful its further policy with respect to Europe or a rapprochement with the United States may be, Ukraine’s proximity to Russia means that it has to manoeuvre between geopolitical centres and defend its national interests while taking into account all circumstances of both a constructive and destructive nature.
The European Union sees greater prospects in Ukraine–Russia cooperation than in their confrontation and thus will hold out hope for the Minsk process until the very end, relying on it as a tool for restoring regional security.
For now, Ukraine continues to play the role of a kind of buffer zone between the eastern borders of the European Union and Russia. And realizing its enormous economic potential depends on the success of reforms to its domestic policies. The country needs to: achieve the necessary balance in terms of interaction between state institutions; ensure the successful functioning of previously adopted constitutional amendments regarding decentralization and justice, while preventing the federalization and centralization of political power; and find a way out of the impasse that has formed as part of the Minsk agreements.
Over the next five years, the approval of a strategy on the Crimean issue and the development of a programme for the reintegration of the problematic Donbass regions will become even more important. Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in determining its foreign policy priorities have become hostages to the complex geopolitical process. The only way out of this situation is conducting clearly coordinated actions to consolidate the political establishment with civil society and develop an effective communication channel with all those involved in this complex geopolitical game.
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