It is no secret that Kiev has turned into a grave geopolitical problem between the West and Russia. The issue is of such a great magnitude that it is being debated about within almost all major international events. The parties are accusing one another, while the Minsk agreement contains number of provisions that regrettably remain unfulfilled. For now experts are suggesting different development scenarios and evaluate various options. Yet, no conclusive positions are shaped and therefore the problem only adds to the geopolitical uncertainty.
Sanctions: Not a Solution
Some believe that possibilities for solving the Ukraine crisis have not been exhausted. Although no concrete way out is suggested, there are different development scenarios. It must be stressed that in any case, it is difficult to provide a definite answer owing to the fluidness of the situation. Both domestic and external factors have aggravated the situation. Despite that a document known as Minsk agreement is on the table, its provisions are hardly implemented.
Russia and the West remain defiant. Experts doubt that Russia would concede to compromises on some of the principal issues. Experts with the Carnegie Centre suggest the following prognosis: “Sanctions will create a perception among the Russians that they are under constant pressure from the U.S. This stimulates patriotism and nationalism and also forges a foreign enemy image embodied by America. New sanctions would only solidify this perception and consolidate the government” (see: Дмитрий Тренин. Украинский кризис и возобновление великодержавного соперничества / Московский Центр Карнеги, 15 October 2014).
Such an opinion of the experts is not accidental. In one of his recent interviews President V.Putin specifically mentioned the issue of federalization of Donetsk and Luhansk. He criticized some politicians that saw no prospects for federalization of Ukraine (see: Интервью Владимира Путин немецкому телеканалу ARD / “Российская газета”, 17 November 2014). There is another aspect that deserves consideration, namely, Kremlin’s resolute position on the issue of Crimea. Moscow is aware that Crimea rests in the core of the Ukraine crisis and this is a reality that cannot be altered under any circumstances.
Currently, there are two approaches. The first one is that Russia isolates the issue of Crimea from the negotiations process with the West and Ukraine, meaning it is out of discussion. The second one – Moscow concedes to some compromises in Donbas in exchange for keeping Crimea and ensures that such a situation endures for several years (see: Александр Гущин, Сергей Маркедонов. Россия и Украина: коридор возможностей / РСДМ, 21 November 2014).
Regardless of the choice, several scenarios are suggested with regards to the fate of Ukraine. Moreover, the complexity of the problem is beyond this. The key factor is associated with the short-term substance of the U.S.-Russia relations. Experts differ on this issue as well. They presume that Washington’s policy on Russia will be of a fiercer nature upon the end of Obama’s presidency. This would mean tougher sanctions and further dire economic situation for Russia. In that case, the wave of domestic resentment may grow, entailing situation similar to that in the Middle East. This certainly would affect the life of ordinary Russians. On the other hand, it would curtail Moscow’s capacity to establish the Eurasian Economic Union (see: Дмитрий Тренин. Украинский кризис и возобновление великодержавного соперничества / Московский Центр Карнеги, 15 October 2014).
Such a process is likely to impact the entire post-Soviet geography. The likes of Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and even Armenia and Central Asia would be compelled to start searching for new partners (see: previous reference).
Three scenarios: No Solution Found
All of these aspects are contingent with Ukraine crisis scenarios. The first one is called a compromise scenario – decentralization. The objective is to solidify self-administration capacity of Donbas and adjacent territories. Crimea is unequivocally attributed to Russia. Moscow is hopeful that the Minsk agreement could be the bedrock for the realization of this plan.
In this context, the experts argue that even Washington is pressuring Kiev. They point out that during U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden’s recent visit to Ukraine he urged President P. Poroshenko to honour the Minsk agreement (see: Киев возвращают в Минск / “Эксперт Online”, 21 November 2014). In his statement after the meeting Biden stressed the support of the “trilateral contact group” stipulated by the Minsk agreement, whereas shortly before that official Kiev rejected the idea of getting around a same table with the Donbas separatists. Thus, Russia is said to gain an opportunity for the compromise scenario, with one of the arguments being failure of the President’s supporters to ensure absolute majority in the Ukrainian Parliament. This aspect may deepen the rift in Kiev and this is why Poroshenko must concede.
In the meantime, given that different political forces may find their way into the parliament, Moscow continues to accuse Ukrainians of nationalism and Banderovism. This is another factor that supports the compromise scenario. Nevertheless, development of events based on other scenarios is not excluded (see: Александр Гущин, Сергей Маркедонов. Россия и Украина: коридор возможностей / РСДМ, 21 November 2014).
Second scenario is the use of force that leads to confrontation. In fact, this would mean Russia-NATO war in the east of Ukraine. This would be a destructive move for all the parties involved. Russia’s socioeconomic situation would deteriorate, while along with significant financial burden, the West would have to confront a bellicose nation like the Russians. Moreover, the issue of security of post-Soviet nations and Europe in general, would become an utterly sensitive issue.
Experts also highlight perilous scenarios for Russia itself. For example, if the opposing side would ensure military dominance in the Eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s allies may turn away. Conversely, Russia’s military victory would imply a political and geopolitical defeat because it would perpetuate eternal enmity with Ukrainians. It would also compel other peoples within Russia to draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, relations of the West with Russia would become utterly aggravated, while China may take advantage and realize a geopolitical leadership model with Russia in a subordinate posture.
Finally, the third scenario is called a “deep-freeze” or “status-quo”. It envisages freezing of contentious elements in the South-East Ukraine, Russia-Ukraine and Russia-West relations. This scenario is the most probable one; the problem is not solved but rather temporarily postponed. On one hand, Moscow may seize the opportunity and expand its influence over the area of Donbas, Luhansk and their surroundings. On the other hand, Ukraine may strengthen its engagement with the West and enhance its economic and military capabilities. Association agreement factor would certainly be widely employed here.
Such an event scenario provokes certain questions. The issue is not completely resolved, the parties seek to boost their prowess and expand their relevance in the conflict zone. The outcome of the processes is difficult to predict.
We must admit that the summary of the above mentioned scenarios demonstrates how the Ukraine crisis has evolved into a serious problem for the world. For the moment there are hardly any promising solutions available. Apparently, the key element is associated with the geopolitical and geostrategic aspects of Russia-West relations that abundant with uncertainty and risks. It is another matter that Ukraine crisis serves as the catalyst here.
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