Thursday, June 16, 2016

Is the West Forgetting Ukraine as Putin Wants and Expects?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – Vladimir Putin has always operated on the assumption that regardless of what he does, the West will eventually overlook it and resume more normal relations with Moscow because of Russia’s nuclear weapons and geo-political importance and because of the possibilities the Russian market presents for European and American firms.

            Thus, it is no surprise that the Bloomberg news agency, citing Kremlin sources, says the Russian president will tell the St. Petersburg International Economics Forum tomorrow that the time has come for Russia and the West to “forget about Ukraine and return to business as usual” (

            And Putin will do so, these sources say, without making any concessions on Ukraine but rather focus entirely on the economic prospects of Russia and on reassuring potential foreign investors that Russia is now very much “open for business” and that Moscow has stabilized the situation there (

            Because he is not subject to the kind of domestic pressure that leaders of democratic countries are, the Kremlin leader can simply wait until those leaders decide that they have to show “progress” in the “key” relationship with Moscow and send their top diplomats and politicians to Moscow.

            And while he waits, Putin can ramp up the pressure on those leaders by encouraging Western publics that Russia can play such an important role in so many areas that it is a mistake to focus on any one area of disagreement and that it offers such economic possibilities that Western corporations would be foolish not to seek a rapprochement.

            Those are powerful arguments in many Western countries especially on issues which, with the passing of only a short period of time and with the constant introduction of new issues, some of which Moscow itself plays a key role in creating, all too many in the West find persuasive.

            But because Putin has violated so many international norms in Ukraine, his efforts in this direction have not yet achieved all that he hopes for. Indeed, many in both Russia and the West have concluded that the Kremlin leader’s moves in Ukraine have been counter-productive, uniting the West as almost nothing else has since the days of the cold war.

            And these analysts have pointed to the remarkable success that Ukraine has had in attracting attention and support from countries that had not provided it with that kind of backing in the past.  The issue is how long this can last, how long in short Putin can afford to wait and how long the West is willing to make him.

            Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe asks nine experts whether the West has “forgotten” Ukraine.   Their answers are moderately encouraging to those who want to see Russian aggression pushed back, but they also indicate that Ukrainians have much to fear with regard to what Putin hopes for and expects (; in Russian at

Key passages from their answers are given below:

Svitlana Kobzar, head of the Department of International Affairs at Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel: “No, the West has not forgotten Ukraine. However, the policy agendas of the EU and the United States are crowded. ... Without a doubt, these issues distract from the policy focus needed to help Ukraine succeed. Nevertheless, during such challenging times, it is worth remembering the successes of the West. The war in Ukraine has reinvigorated transatlantic ties. So far, despite the shrinking support for sanctions among some member states, the EU’s united stance on assisting Ukraine sent a strong message to Russia.

Anna Korbut, deputy chief editor at The Ukrainian Week: “There is no impression in Ukraine that the West has forgotten it. Instead, an understanding is developing that the West is not a homogeneous entity but a group of countries and voices with different interests, principles, domestic political challenges, and levels of farsightedness. Ukrainians see the severe challenges the West is facing. There is also an understanding that the West, for the most part, continues to see Russia, unlike Ukraine, as a strategically important country—even if not necessarily in a positive sense. This is the context in which Ukraine has to act politically and diplomatically, at least for now.

John Kornblum, senior counselor at Noerr LLP: “In one way, yes. Ukraine has been pushed onto the diplomatic back burner by daunting challenges ranging from Syria to the self-proclaimed Islamic State to refugees to China. The inability of the Ukrainian government to put its own house in order also contributes. But this is not all bad. In the shambles of the era since former president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians have found a sense of identity that they had not been able to build during their first quarter century of independence … Much of this has been helped along by Ukraine’s secret ally. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s angry, anti-Western rhetoric has awakened many Europeans to realities they had ignored for decades. It has also begun to shake the Americans out of their strategic stupor.

Mikhail Minakov, Kyiv-based professor: As expected, the West has too much on its plate to be constantly focused on Ukraine. The West may not have forgotten Ukraine, but it definitely seems distracted … The less attention the West pays to the East, the greater the risks for peace and democratic progress in Ukraine and the region.

Gianni Riotta, member of the Council on Foreign Relations: “Yes, because there are too many other issues. The world no longer cares about Ukraine. The kleptocracy running Kyiv now has zero sympathy. If sanctions on Russia are still in place, they are to counter President Vladimir Putin, not to help Kyiv.

James Sherr, associate fellow at Chatham House: “The danger is not that the West will forget Ukraine but abandon it. Ukraine fatigue is only partly to blame. The greater culprit is fatigue as such … This situation is as unnecessary as it is distasteful. Russia’s internal dynamics do not favor a prolonged conflict with the West. Yet the short-term dynamics favor Russia and those who would cut deals with it.

Ulrich Speck, senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy: “There has never been much interest in Europe and the United States for Ukraine. Since the country gained independence in 1991, the West has implicitly accepted that Ukraine is more or less part of the Russian sphere of influence. That the West sided with Ukraine in the country’s recent conflict with Russia is not the consequence of a sudden interest in Ukraine as such; rather, it is a reflection of deep concern about Russia’s ruthless use of military force … Support for Ukraine is therefore no more than an element of the West’s Russia policy; there is little genuine interest in helping the country become a more stable liberal democracy with a market economy. The West has not forgotten Ukraine, it never thought about Ukraine in the first place.”

Susan Stewart, senior associate in the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs: “The problem is not that Ukraine has been forgotten. Rather, the EU’s approach to the country is eroding … There is also less momentum with regard to support for Ukraine. The country’s political difficulties and the numerous obstacles to reform have disappointed many Westerners and led them to question the current level of support.”

Stephen Szabo. executive director of the Transatlantic Academy: “The West is clearly suffering from Ukraine fatigue due not only to the slow pace of reform in Ukraine but also to the other more pressing concerns the West faces … While it remains important to continue to support Ukraine’s evolution toward an open society, the possibilities for Western disengagement will grow … A loss of Western unity and focus on Ukraine will be a disaster for the security and political order that has been painstakingly constructed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

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