The Russia-Ukraine relationship has moved from cozy mutual exploitation to lethal hostility. Neither side is prepared to admit its deep dependence on the other.
After throwing his hat into the Ukrainian presidential race, popular comedian Volodymyr Zelensky will likely attempt to woo the country’s Russian-speaking southeast. That will make the race more difficult for incumbent Petro Poroshenko and front-runner Yulia Tymoshenko. It will also challenge Russia, using ideas amenable to the Kremlin to undermine its favored candidate.
President Poroshenko is making use of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine for political ends. The new church may become a state-sponsored church, while the pro-Moscow church could present itself as a marginalized persecuted entity.
The narrative that Russia is under attack has long dominated Kremlin propaganda, with Vladimir Putin positioning himself as the commander of a fortress besieged. But Putin's latest attempt to "remind" Russians that they are being attacked is unlikely to work.
President Poroshenko’s partial declaration of martial law may be a short-term success for him. But much of the Ukrainian public is skeptical of his intentions.
Legal positions and geopolitical realities are different things. No one besides Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Only a handful of countries apart from Russia back the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nagorno-Karabakh is formally regarded by everyone as part of Azerbaijan. Yet any attempt to substitute the legal position for the geopolitical reality in any of these cases is bound to lead to a collision. Crimea belongs in the same category, only the consequences of the collision are likely to be on a much higher order.
Ukraine’s pro-Russian opposition is targeting next year’s parliamentary elections, not the presidential ones—so is Russia. But they cannot agree among themselves on who their leader should be and what their strategy is.
Russia’s recent imposition of sanctions on Ukrainian politicians and businessmen is all about Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election. No, the Kremlin isn’t trying to get Ukrainian oligarchs to back a hypothetical pro-Moscow candidate. Rather, this is a misplaced attempt to restore the pre-war status quo, consolidate the elites of Ukraine’s notorious southeast, and end the war that hinders the business community.
The romantic spirit of 2014 that supporters of the unrecognized Donbas republics remember so fondly has completely dissipated. Today, the poster child of Donbas is not a tough guy in fatigues, but an “effective manager” in a suit and tie who is ready to take unpopular decisions as directed from above and relay the bad news to the people, including about negotiations with Kyiv.
The Russian Orthodox Church has broken off full communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople after he took steps to recognize two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches that Moscow regards as “schismatic.” Russian Orthodox believers will bear the brunt of these self-imposed sanctions. But it didn’t have to be this way.