Most of those who seize administrative buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk or put up barricades on Odesa’s Kulikov Field are not quite aware of what they are doing this for. Apart from shouting “Down!” or “Long live!” they cannot pronounce any articulately. They repeat like a mantra, in and out of place, that the Kyiv authorities do not hear or speak to them. Therefore, their slogans are federalization, a referendum with no questions so far, and, of course, Russian as a second official language.
The second conclusion is they are parroting someone else’s words. This follows from the article “It’s not Russia that is destabilizing Ukraine” by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the British newspaper The Guardian.
What does the Russian minister think can take us out of the crisis? Next to nothing:
“We are firmly convinced that this can be achieved through, among other steps:
- real constitutional reform, which would ensure the legitimate rights of all Ukrainian regions and respond to demands from its south-eastern region to make Russian the state’s second official language;
- firm guarantees on Ukraine’s non-aligned status enshrined in its laws, thus ensuring its role as a connecting link in an indivisible European security architecture;
- and urgent measures to halt activity by illegal armed formations of the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups.
“We are not imposing anything on anyone, we just see that if it is not done, Ukraine will continue to spiral into crisis with unpredictable consequences.”
The phrase “we are not imposing” can deceive nobody. Moscow considers everybody naive and gullible.
Let us set aside “the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups.” It is much more important to look into the first two sentences to understand the Russian position. Different in form, they are in fact interconnected.
By “real constitutional reform” Moscow means federalization of Ukraine and, consequently, recognition of Russian as a second official language.
At first glance, it is not clear what Moscow finds attractive in the federalization of Ukraine. Clearly, granting more rights to the regions must become an important provision in the new constitution. Nobody opposes the right of the regions to address most of their problems. On the contrary, the central authorities are being pressed into carrying out this long-needed reform.
However, Russia is not interested in this. Moreover, this is even harmful to it in this shape because this runs counter to the vertical chain of command in the neighboring country. Moscow attaches an altogether different meaning to the federalization of Ukraine. To be more exact, the form and the real essence are not quite the same.
There are not so many federal states, and they differ a lot. Suffice it to compare the Russian and, say, German federations. Moscow’s claim that only a federal setup can save Ukraine from disintegration should be taken with a pinch of salt. A strong Ukrainian state is not part of our neighbor’s plans. Just the contrary, they want our state institutions to weaken as much as possible as a result of federalization.
Russian politician Vladimir Ryzhkov writes in his Moscow Echo radio website blog: “To this end, one must form semi- or fully autonomous (ostensibly Ukrainian) public administration bodies in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia. These regional councils and administrations must be more oriented to Moscow than to Kyiv. The Kremlin needs a loyal buffer of Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions.”
After occupying Crimea, the Kremlin has lost every hope that politicians who favor, one way or another, close cooperation with Russia will come to power in Kyiv. The Western vector is decisive in Kyiv’s policies. Moscow is unable to prevent Ukraine from signing the remaining part of the EU Association Agreement. They are very well aware that no blackmail, including gas price hikes, will help. Moreover, pressure, military buildup on the border, and support for separatists in the east only increase the wish to keep Russia as much as possible at bay – in the political sense of the word.
Being aware of losing Ukraine for the foreseeable future, Moscow is trying to impose on us a confederative relationship between the south-eastern regions and the central government under the guise of federalization.
Moscow’s idea of federalization is that the regions should be self-sufficient not only in taxation and humanitarian matters, but also in political ties.
Moscow means the latter when it talks at length about the so-called federalization. In spite of patriotic assurances, the Russian military-industrial complex will not be able to function normally in the next few years without supplies from Ukrainian enterprises. Russia cannot launch the production of substitution items for objective reasons. The rupture of complementary-production, logistical, scientific and technological ties, which is a proven fact now, may thwart the ambitious plans of Russian army rearmament. Although we were constantly told that no other country but Russia needed Ukrainian military products, the real situation is different. We will have to restructure and attract investments, which is quite a feasible thing.
Another important point is that the Ukrainian army badly needs national military production items. Our defense factories can thus receive long-term orders of this kind. Rearming the Ukrainian army with sophisticated weaponry is not part of Moscow plans either.
Structurally, the military-industrial complex (MIC) is rather centralized. Therefore, withdrawing it from under the Kyiv control is the No.1 goal of Ukraine’s federalization, Russian style. The situation is that most of the MIC factories are in the south-eastern regions. So they became the object of the Russia-exported separatism. It does not matter that this plan is being carried out by people with Ukrainian passports. The masterminds and inspirers are in Moscow, which is confirmed by a bumper catch of spies and saboteurs spotted by Ukraine’s Security Service.
Lavrov’s second demand is neutral (non-aligned) status for Ukraine. This is closely connected with the aforesaid.
Moscow has made a hostile state out of Ukraine with its own hands – nobody forced or tried to persuade Russia to do so. And it is not an expedient fluctuation of the foreign political course but a long-term political, military, and strategic factor. One does not have to be too wise to guess that Kyiv is keen on fitting in with the Euro-Atlantic system of security. Even though NATO membership is not on the agenda now, it is still clear that this matter will be considered in a relatively short term.
The point is not only in the weakening of Russia’s military-strategic position in the Azov-Black Sea region as a result of Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance. What matters more for Moscow is the irreversible nature of these changes. And the Kremlin will have to put up with this. This is why the federalization question is being closely linked with Ukraine’s neutral status. Should this happen, the Kremlin will always have an opportunity to tear away the lucrative south-eastern regions on a legal basis. A Ukraine that stays out of the Euro-Atlantic security system will always be an object of separatist schemes concocted by an unfriendly neighbor which, incidentally, suffers in an acute form from a crazy idea of gathering “Russian lands” and restoring the “Russian World.” The entry of Ukraine into NATO will finally nullify both ideas. For Moscow, the neutral status of Kyiv is a question of not only military strategy, but also ideology. So it will keep pressing this point.
There may be quadrilateral negotiations on resolving the Ukraine crisis. The hopes of their success are slim, for there are too essential differences in attitudes. While Russia needs a weak federal or confederative Ukraine, we need a strong European state. Water and flame will never mix.