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AMBASSADOR'S ARTICLES

11.09.2015

On recent Chatham House pieces: minding Ukraine's and one's own business

Sir Andrew Wood writes of the 'flawed' Minsk-2, though he knows, as a diplomat, that those agreements stopped fighting when the Ukrainian forces, including so called 'volunteer battalions' were losing. So, they meant peace. He also knows well enough, that there is no middle ground between peace and war. Leon Trotsky thought otherwise when he stormed out of the Brest-Litovsk peace talks, launching his famous "no peace, no war". Anyway this transient state is not sustainable. And a clear-cut road-map to peace, which the Minsk-2 is, represents the best hope for a long-term stability in Ukraine. It is either political solution, helped by diplomacy (the 'Normandy Four' etc.), or attempts at a military solution. It is also a choice between war and reform for war is a pretext for stone-walling on reforms.
It is in Russia's best interest to have as a neighbour a European Ukraine, but it will not be born out of the barrel of the gun. As to the wild nationalism, to the point of millenarianism against Russia (at the cutting edge of another 'European crusade', with some fanatics ready for martyrdom in the cause of 'rescuing European civilization from Russian menace' etc.). What world do these sick people live in? To appease them President P.Poroshenko lists among the options a military solution (though Minsk-2 'preferable') and even 'drang nach Moskau' (maybe, to remind us that Ukrainian nationalists fought on the Nazi side in another crusade, i.e. WW2).
I'd like to quote Dmitry Bykov, whom Sir Andrew, as former Ambassador in Moscow, may know and who in his lecture on Isaac Babel said, quite rightly, that nationalism reflects absence of "life programme", of any positive narrative at all. This explains why Ukrainian nationalists demand weapons and believe reforms imposed on Ukraine from outside to be a Western plot. And that is precisely where Sir Andrew is wrong in his flawed, very much un-European analysis.
Those who launched Ukraine on this destabilizing path by way of the EU 'expansionism on the cheap' were blind, or preferred to be blind, to the fact that they were unleashing nationalistic forces of the type that led to WWII, and that the West, to have its way in Ukraine, would have to fight another Crimean War. This is precisely what people like Carl Bildt, Radoslaw Sikorski and Victoria Nuland kept out of the picture, with the cover provided by the previous Brussels team. As is know, this 'lack of foresight' and 'contingency planning' is blamed by the political elite on professionals, i.e. FCO and intelligence. Is it why Sir Andrew takes the situation as a personal offence?
His colleague, James Nixey in his piece of 21 August admits: "Clearly the West does not always behave well, but few Western countries (I wonder which ones) can be classed as autocratic kleptocratic regimes". This strange logic absolves democratic governments of any responsibility, including for blunders with huge tragic implications. It is not only about destabilizing Ukraine, but also the British dead in the War in Iraq, not to mention that that war is one of the key sources of the migrant onslaught on Europe, which causes headaches to the security services.
Why not discuss the West's mistakes in the first place? Henry Kissinger in his recent interview with the National Interest magazine suggested "analyzing first how the Ukraine crisis occurred", "the first mistake being the inadvertent conduct of the European Union" for "they didn't understand the implications of some of their own conditions" and "there was no significant political discussion of what was in the making".
He also said, like Zb.Brzezinski did on many occasions, that Russia-Ukraine relationship is a special, unique case and has to be treated as such by outside players. Now everybody sees why, but there has always been enough expertise around to foresee that. Henry Kissinger also talks of decisions being made by "ahistorical people", who strip problems "of all context".
As to qualifying economic nature of government, why not take opinions on the US system, which is close to the British The NYT (25 August) recently quoted Nick Hanauer as follows: US "is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society". Roger Cohen in his article 'Politics upended in Britain and America' writes of "radical discontent and people believing the system is rigged": "They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor".
Leaving Thomas Pikety and Owen Jones in peace, 'feudal' means rent under various guises (PPP, PFI etc.), "return to the XIXth Century", domestic demand stuck at the level of 15 years ago, the postwar 'social contract' in tatters, and many other things meaning a rip-off at an immense scale. Does it quality as kleptocracy? I don't know. Certainly, it is not like 'taking food from the mouth of babes', to quote from a scene in the 'Scarlet Pimpernel'. But something is profoundly wrong from the point of view of a capitalism with a human face. There is a palpable sense of a demolition job being done in the society.
Once, at a Global Strategy Forum meeting last year Sir Andrew in response to my question said that the EU Association Agreement and a DCFTA were a bilateral matter for the EU and Ukraine and it was none of Russia's business. We could have said the same, but we have been engaging with the Germans and the French in finding a political solution to the crisis. And that is a responsible approach.
As to the Crimea, the power grab in February 2014 destroyed the politics of consensus that helped keep Ukraine together. It was through the subsequent hole in the constitutional space that the Crimea fell out, perhaps well in line with the Roman maxim quod cecidit erat gone, Russia merely provided a safe environment for the Crimeans to decide their own destiny.
Of course, the EU had blundered in Ukraine before the present twin crises of uncontrolled migration and Isis threat struck. But the truth still is that everybody has a sacred duty, including under the 'Protestant ethics', to mind his/her business well enough not to create problems for others. Adventures abroad may be a luxury one can afford, but they are mostly a sure indication of people being bored to death by having to deal with their own intractable problems. Creating problems for others doesn't help, just creates an illusion that one's own seem not that bad. Distractions like that of the Ukraine crisis still remain what they are, mere distractions.




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