Those in Moscow who believe that all is not lost for Russia in Ukraine, citing the example of Georgia, which is gradually normalizing relations with Russia despite the 2008 war, are being overly optimistic. While the current animosity in Russian-Ukrainian relations will almost certainly cool down in a few years, the underlying foundation of that relationship has been fundamentally altered. Most crucially, Ukraine’s economic dependence on Russia has been decreasing—and with it, Russian leverage over its neighbor.
The establishment of independent Ukrainian and Belarusian statehood facilitates the development of Russia’s own national project, which is oriented towards the future, rather than towards the restoration of the past. Its key foreign policy feature is real sovereignty and the freedom of geopolitical maneuvering.
Last week’s events change little on the ground in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic.” They do, however, demonstrate the degree to which Moscow cannot control the strategically important region. Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts, conflict between local authorities grew so out of hand that Moscow was forced to send armed reinforcements.
A complete cessation of violence in southeastern Ukraine, the essential first condition of Minsk implementation, requires nothing less than a full-scale peacekeeping operation authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
The world will see the Kremlin as the culprit whether or not Denis Voronenkov’s murder is ever solved: for too long, Russian authorities have portrayed their country as one that doesn’t hesitate to violate every international norm—including by murdering their own citizens abroad.
The most likely scenario for eastern Ukraine is that a low-level conflict will continue to simmer. Moscow needs to give up its pipe dream that a pro-Russian government will come to power in Kiev, and forget its convenient but misleading stereotypes about its large neighbor.
The Kremlin is using the alleged terrorist plot in Crimea as way of delivering an ultimatum to its Western partners. It’s saying: “You said yourselves that there can be no military solution to the deadlock over Crimea and Donbas, so go ahead and broker a peaceful settlement. If you can’t, Russia reserves the right to make the next move.”
Vladimir Putin’s decision to pardon Nadezhda Savchenko was a purely pragmatic one. Left with no viable alternatives to freeing the Ukrainian pilot, Putin was forced to make a concession that may not sit well with the Russian population, which has come to see Savchenko as a symbol of the “Kiev junta.”
Despite Kiev’s official rhetoric, the national consensus on integration with the EU is increasingly fragile. Pro-Russian forces are reasserting themselves in the southeast, while ultra-right activists are campaigning against the European Union in the west. On top of that, the current pro-European government has no real achievements to boast of.
The past two years have shown that in order to reliably end the fighting, an essential condition for the implementation of the Minsk agreements is a full-scale peacekeeping mission under the mandate of the UN Security Council with the use of military contingents of OSCE countries, equipped with armored vehicles, artillery, helicopters, and drones.