April 16, 2019
Will Volodymyr Zelensky quickly understand – if he is elected president – that the Russian state is Ukraine’s enemy and a threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security of Ukraine? In other words, think the same as the majority of Ukrainians?
This is very doubtful based upon Zelensky’s inexperience in international affairs and his naivety about Russia.
Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly said that the “Crimea” is a closed question and not open to negotiations. Russia therefore refused to include the Crimea in the Minsk negotiations and agreements.
Russian and Ukrainian citizens hold diametrically opposite views of the Crimea. 85% of Russians agree with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, according to a Levada Centre poll this month. A Democratic Initiatives poll from December of last year found 69% of Ukrainians opposed to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. Similar low numbers of 10% of Russian citizens disagree with their country’s annexation of the Crimea while 17% of Ukrainian citizens are ready to accept Russian control of the Crimea.
If Zelensky wins the presidential elections he will be unable to resolve the status of the Crimea and return it to Ukrainian sovereignty. The Ukrainian president has no constitutional power to give away or trade bits of Ukrainian territory as he is the guarantor of Ukrainian territorial integrity. If he attempted to trade the Crimea for, say a peace agreement in the Donbas it would be a sign of his naivety in trusting Putin’s word when he is more of a liar than Adolf Hitler’s minister for propaganda Joseph Goebbels.
Under a President Zelensky there will be five developments.
Firstly, Russia’s occupation of the Crimea will continue indefinitely. It is very popular beyond Putin and his clan to include most Russian citizens and the majority of Russian opposition leaders. This means that even if Putin were to be no longer Russian president there will not be a change in Russian attitudes to their belief, they were correct to annex (in Moscow’s jargon “reunify”) the Crimea. But anybody who understands Putin’s regime knows as well that he is president for life meaning the Crimea will not return to Ukraine for the next two decades, at least.
Secondly, Ukrainian-Russian relations will continue to be poor and there will be no reconciliation of both countries. As Democratic Initiatives reported: “Спираючись на тенденції громадської думки, можна стверджувати, що українське суспільство не готове сприймати будь-які ініціативи щодо «нормалізації» стосунків із Росією, якщо питання Криму буде відділене від усього комплексу українсько-російських відносин. Варто зауважити, що таке ставлення лишилося незмінним протягом 2014–2018 рр., попри намагання керівництва РФ нав’язати «нову реальність», у тому числі, відкрито погрожуючи війною.”
Let us remember that Leonid Kuchma also had a naïve view of Russia in 1994 when he was first elected and believed Russian President Borys Yeltsyn would visit Ukraine and sign an agreement on the Russian-Ukrainian border. But, Yeltsyn waited four years before visiting Ukraine after which both houses of the Russian parliament took another two years to ratify the treaty.
Thirdly, Russia will continue to undertake political repression and racial and ethnic discrimination against Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.
Fourthly, the conflict in the Azov and Black Seas at the end of last year is only a taste of what Russia has planned for Ukraine. Russia’s strategic aim is to completely cut the Ukrainian state from the Black and Azov Seas and leave it land-locked. Russia’s next strategic goals will be two-fold. The first will be to take control of the water pipes from Kherson into the Crimea and the second will be to use its military presence in the Trans-Dniestr region to support separatism in the southern Odesa oblast and pro-Russian sentiments in Odesa. In Spring 2014, thousands of Russian spetsnaz (“Little Green Men”) were waiting to be “invited” by the “Odesa People’s Republic” to “protect Russian-speakers” from the “fascist Junta.” At that time Russia’s strategic objective was thwarted by lack of support in Odesa city council and by the defeat of pro-Russian activists on the streets of Odesa.
Fifthly, Western sanctions against Russia over its illegal occupation of the Crimea will remain indefinitely in place. This is in many ways to Ukraine’s advantage as it leads to an economically weaker Russia and stronger Western diplomatic, financial, economic and military support to Ukraine.
Although there are similarities between the naivety of Kuchma and Zelensky towards Russia the two elections are different.
The first difference is that Kuchma was director of Pindenmash, the largest manufacturer of nuclear weapons in the world, and was therefore a member of the Soviet elite and had some understanding of high-level politics and international relations. He also had an excellent adviser on national security – Volodymyr Horbulin.
The second difference is that Ukraine was not at war with Russia in the 1990s and faced a more moderate president – Yeltsyn. When, Putin attempted to annex the Tuzla islands, Kuchma mobilised Ukraine’s security forces and halted the invasion. Since 2014, Ukraine is at war with Russia and 72% of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine and Russia are at war.
On Sunday, Ukraine is electing not only a president but also a commander-in-chief. If Zelensky was faced with a similar situation in Kherson to that of Kuchma in 2003 in Tuzla, would he show himself to be an adequate commander-in-chief?Author : Taras Kuzio