A Trap or a Conciliatory Gesture?

What Is Behind Moscow’s Proposals for Friendship with Ukraine

 

 

Ivan Sichen

In our previous publications, we have already written about the change in Russia’s methods of action to implement its plans for Ukraine. In particular, this concerns using more covert methods of “soft power” in the addition to the open pressure on Ukraine. For example, Moscow has recently moved from forming an image of Ukraine as an “enemy of Russia and the Russians” (for justifying Russian policy towards Ukraine) to demonstrating its readiness to restore positive relations with it. However, this does not mean that Russia will stop its aggression against Ukraine or that Moscow will abandon its strategic goal of establishing control over our state. It just uses new forms of “hybrid” war against Ukraine, which increases the level of threats to our country’s security.

 

I would like to recall a few key facts that allow a clearer understanding of the nature of Russia’s actions in the Ukrainian direction and the reasons for changes in its approaches to achieving its goals in relation to Ukraine.

As you know, at the end of last year, Russia broke the ceasefire in the Donbas and resumed armed provocations on the front line. In the spring of this year such actions by Moscow were supplemented by the intensification of military activity near the eastern border of Ukraine, which, in fact, had the character of Russia’s preparing for a new attack on our state.

…Under pressure from the United States, NATO and the EU, the Russian leadership was forced to de-escalate military tensions in the Ukrainian direction…

However, under pressure from the United States, NATO and the EU, the Russian leadership was forced to de-escalate military tensions in the Ukrainian direction. A certain decrease in the scale of the “West-2021” SCPE in comparison with previous years was also quite indicative. At this, the exercise’s activities did not actually affect Ukraine, except for some of its individual episodes at training grounds in the annexed Crimea and in Bryansk, Orel, Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh regions of the RF. However, it was practicing secondary tasks with limited involvement of troops.

As we already pointed out on our website, from the second half of September 2021, Russia again intensified military exercises near Ukraine at training grounds in Rostov region of Russia, as well as in the annexed Crimea and the occupied territories of the Donbas, which was called “response” to Ukrainian exercises Joint Endeavour-2021 and Rapid Trident-2021 with the participation of our country’s Western partners.

And in October 2021 an inspection of the troops of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces was announced, which was also accompanied by the intensification of measures for the operational and combat training of the Russian Army and Navy near Ukraine. However, both in the second half of September and in October 2021, such measures were inferior to those held in the spring of this year.

 

…Russia changed its approach and moved on to “forcing Ukraine into friendship” in a somewhat veiled form…

Against this background, the Kremlin’s rhetoric towards Ukraine has also changed. Thus, along with the continuing accusations of Ukraine of “anti-Russian policy”, “intentions to regain control of the Donbas and Crimea by force”, and “oppression of the Russian-speaking population on Ukrainian territory”, V. Putin began to take steps to demonstrate readiness to restore Russian-Ukrainian relations. In particular, the most resonant of them were V. Putin’s known article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” (published in July 2021) and his consent to a personal meeting with President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi, which was announced for November 2021. According to Moscow, during such a meeting the parties could agree on establishing full-fledged diplomatic relations, returning of ambassadors, lifting trade and economic restrictions, lifting sanctions from individuals and legal entities and resuming transport communication between the two countries, as well as reaching an agreement on supplies of Russian gas to Ukraine and its transit through Ukrainian territory.

At the same time, Russia flatly refuses to discuss the Crimea issue and again encourages Ukraine to negotiate directly with the “DPR” and “LPR”. For example, Russia agrees to support all peace agreements of Ukraine with them.

 

…The Kremlin uses more covert methods of “soft power” in the addition to the open pressure on Ukraine…

In fact, similar steps were taken by Moscow back in 2019 after the change of power in Ukraine as a result of the last presidential election, but now they have acquired a qualitatively different meaning. In particular, at that time Russia expected a quick capitulation of Ukraine, which, according to the Kremlin, should have created a basis for the normalization of relations between the two countries on Russian terms. In fact, to return Ukraine to Russia’s sphere of influence.

It was the failure of such Moscow’s plans that was the reason for its disrupting the ceasefire in the Donbas and increasing military pressure on Ukraine in the spring of 2021. As a result, Russia changed its approach and moved on to “forcing Ukraine into friendship” in a somewhat veiled form.

Today, this issue is of particular importance for the Putin regime, because of the further intensification of negative consequences for Russia from its aggression against Ukraine. Moscow is obviously tired of this situation, especially since it became completely unexpected for it.

We have repeatedly raised this issue, but we will return to it once again in the light of recent events which showed Moscow’s inability to break the “deadlock” in which it found itself as a result of the attack on Ukraine.

 

…Russia is virtually excluded from the process of important international decision-making…

First, Russia is virtually excluded from the process of important international decision-making, which had been defined as one of the main threats to its strategic interests since the second half of the 1990s. Despite the preservation of Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council, since 2014, none of its initiatives has been accepted by the organization. In particular, this concerns the leading Western countries’ de facto refusal to cooperate with Russia in resolving world problems (including counteracting COVID-19 and restoring the positive dynamics of the world economy), as well as Moscow’s attempts to legalize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas (through involving their representatives in various events within the UN).

Second, relations between Russia and the United States and Europe have become completely frozen. Despite the US/NATO leaderships’ declarations about readiness for dialogue with Moscow, in reality, the parties’ contacts are limited to discussing individual issues of mutual interest. In addition to the termination of most forms of cooperation between the US/NATO/EU and Russia since 2014, the manifestations of this trend were Brussels’ rejection in June 2021 of France and Germany’s proposals to resume joint summits of the European Union and Russia; and NATO leadership’s decision to almost halve Russia’s mission to the Alliance. At this, the Kremlin openly acknowledges the fact that the level of cooperation between Russia and the United States/NATO/EU has dropped to the lowest level since the crisis periods of the Cold War and no prospects for improving their relations.

…The establishment of the Crimean Platform by Ukraine contributed to the international actualization of the problem of Russia’s annexation of Crimea…

Third, Moscow’s hopes for international recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, or at least the loss of relevance at the global level by the Crimean problem, have by no means come true. As before, this problem remains in the field of view of the UN, as well as leading Western countries and international organizations.

In particular, in early August of 2021 UN Secretary-General A. Guterres’ report on human rights violations in the occupied Crimea and Sevastopol was published. Besides, the situation around the Crimean peninsula became one of the issues on the agenda of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2021. At this, leading Western countries and Turkey reaffirmed their positions on support for Ukraine and non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They also condemned Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine. Emphasis was placed on the illegality of the Russian parliamentary elections on the Crimean peninsula.

The establishment of the Crimean Platform by Ukraine caused extremely negative impact on Moscow, and became another powerful factor that contributed to the international actualization of the problem of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Thus, despite Russia’s attempts to disrupt the event, it was attended by representatives of 43 countries (including at the highest level), as well as the European Union, NATO and the GUAM group.

Fourth, attempts to force Ukraine to accept the Russian scenario of the “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas also failed. Moreover, neither the change of power in Ukraine nor the increasing pressure on it in the political-diplomatic, informational and military spheres helped Moscow. Moreover, such actions by Moscow caused another aggravation of its relations with the West in the spring of 2021 and pushed Ukraine to deepen cooperation with the United States and NATO.

…Moscow failed to overcome the effects of Western sanctions, which continue to cause significant economic damage to Russia…

Fifth, Moscow has failed to overcome the effects of Western sanctions, which continue to cause significant economic damage to Russia. To date, they have not led to a critical aggravation of the Russian economy, but cause its permanent stagnation. In turn, this complicates social problems in the country, undermines the authority of the country’s leadership and increases the level of the Russian society’s dissatisfaction with the Kremlin’s policy.

Manifestations of such processes were: the fall of V. Putin’s rating to the lowest level during his tenure — less than 30 %; mass protests in support of one of the opposition leaders A. Navalny at the beginning of this year; the actual loss of the ruling United Russia party in the parliamentary elections in Russia in September 2021, which was hidden only due to mass falsifications of voting results.

…More than 70 % of Russian citizens are for changes in the country’s policy, including the cessation of confrontation with the West and Ukraine…

Russian sociologists point out further changes in moods in Russian society. Thus, more than 70 % of Russian citizens are for changes in the country’s policy, including the cessation of confrontation with the West and Ukraine. Moreover, according to some estimates, some Russian oligarchs, who suffer significant losses due to Western sanctions, are also against Putin’s policy. This was shown by the obvious support of A. Navalny by certain groups in the Russian government, which allowed him to ensure the work of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, as well as to make a film about V. Putin’s secret estate on the Black Sea coast.

…Moscow failed to undermine the unity of the West’s position on its attitude toward Russia and Ukraine…

Sixth, Moscow has also failed to undermine the unity of the West’s position on its attitude toward Russia and Ukraine. On the contrary, after the election of J. Biden as President of the United States of America, transatlantic unity begins to reach a qualitatively new level, as evidenced by the Washington Declaration on bilateral cooperation and strategic partnership between the United States and Germany, signed by their leaders in July 2021. As for certain problems in relations between the United States and European countries (in particular, France through a submarine contract for Australia), they are temporary and are resolved by reaching mutual compromises.

Unsuccessful were also Moscow’s attempts to divide the member states of the European Union. As before, the EU continues to pursue a coordinated policy of exerting pressure on Russia as part of a policy of sanctions and support for Ukraine. The only “achievement” of the Kremlin was the deepening of trade and economic cooperation with some minor countries of the European Union with populist regimes such as Hungary. However, even Hungary supports the EU’s policy towards Russia.

Seventh, the consistent intensification of the Russia — US/NATO confrontation objectively draws Moscow into an arms race with them and requires significant financial costs. At this, the dominant advantage of US/NATO economic potential over Russia and the availability of more advanced technologies allow them to stay ahead of it in this sphere too.

Thus, since 2014, the United States/NATO have already equaled Russia in the strength of their troops at the European theatre. And the US/NATO’s DEFENDER-Europe strategic exercises have shown their ability to curb Moscow’s expansion in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and in Central and Eastern Europe.

…The only factors influencing the United States and Europe that remain in Russia’s arsenal, are nuclear blackmail, and for the EU — the issue of gas supplies…

Eighth, the only factors influencing the United States and Europe that remain in Russia’s arsenal, are nuclear blackmail, and for the EU — the issue of gas supplies. In particular, the current gas crisis in Europe is being used by Moscow to exert political pressure on members of the European Union and to promote its Nord Stream 2 project.

However, the possibility of using nuclear weapons is a purely hypothetical issue, as it would have catastrophic consequences for the Russian Federation itself. And Europe has practically got rid of its gas dependence on Russia by building new LNG terminals.

And finally, Russia is irreversibly losing Ukraine. We have already written about this and will not tire readers with additional details. Let’s just say that the United States, NATO and the EU have already actually taken responsibility for Ukraine and will not hand it over to Russia.

 

In general, these circumstances force Russia to establish relations with Ukraine as a key factor in resolving Russia’s problems. By doing so, Moscow hopes to demonstrate to the West “that it has no disputes with Ukraine” which should lay the groundwork for restoring Russian relations with the West and lifting Western sanctions from Russia. In addition, under the guise of establishing “friendship” with Ukraine, Russia is trying to maintain its influence over it.

…Moscow views “friendship” with Ukraine solely in the form of subordinating it to its interests, as is the case with Belarus…

However, as noted above, Moscow views “friendship” with Ukraine solely in the form of subordinating it to its interests, as is the case with Belarus. At this, Russia sees such an opportunity only if the government in Ukraine changes to a new pro-Russian regime. This position of the Kremlin is openly declared both in Putin’s article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” and in the publication of the former Russian Prime Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia D. Medvedev “Why Contacts with the Current Ukrainian Leadership Are Pointless”, which was published on October 11th, 2021.

That is why any expectations of real positive changes in Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine are pointless. This should be clearly understood when building relations with Russia. Although, as Ukrainian experts rightly point out, Medvedev’s article is a manifestation of despair of Russia, which has finally understood the complete collapse of its policy.

 

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