Living in a neighbouring country to an unrestful territory, while also being part of the barricade that at least half of the country wants to cross (i.e. being a part of the EU or at least being associated with the Member States), one cannot help but wonder – what may be done in order to tip the balance in favour of one of the two conflicting parties? Or, on a separate note, can an equilibrium be struck or is secession of Ukraine actually needed in order to aid the cause of a partly-russified, partly-europenized country?
It is to no one a surprise that this somewhat dual conflict enlisted, in the end, the intervention and activity of other actors not directly linked with the differend. I believe that, while seeking to appear as a global mediator to major conflicts erupting around the world, including the one in Ukraine, the US play an important role in negotiation aspects of the process. It is a long-gone impression that the US can really act as an impartial arbitre of conflicts – in this case, imposing trade restrictions similar to ones at the end of April has the aim to fend off any possible economical threats from any emerging (or, in this case, re-emerging) parties that would seek global dominance.
Another important actor on the playing field is the EU, but there is no certain degree of independence and a distinct image in managing this international crisis from EU representatives; although the seed of the conflict lies in the (at some point) imminent association treaty of Ukraine with the EU, the latter continues to display an inability of being anything other than the right hand of the US. This inability ricochets the EU in the position of more likely mediator of the conflict than the US, because the EU does not benefit from an unitary standing point of its Member States to be able to impose a distinctive and firm third-party point of view in relation to this conflict.
What is Ukraine’s main goal in this? As Petro Poroshenko recently described in its investiture speech, unity of Ukraine is the first step in any peace negotiations that might occur in the following period. But can this unity be based only on the fact that, after all, we are talking about a people united in nationality and language? I believe that the best alternative to a negotiated agreement for Ukraine would be to decide on its own whether it decides to enlist the help of the above-mentioned international advocates – the US and the EU – in resolving the conflict. At the moment, Ukraine is providing both the playing field and the playing pieces for ambitions of other powers. If the political system can be stabilised – and it will be up to Mr. Poroshenko to prove its capability in conducting a country in decline; it is interesting to see how well can entrepreneurial and management skills can be applied to a macro-level – Ukraine can take the matters into its own hands; after all, it is the second largest country in surface in Europe and, although decreasing, it counts approximately 45 million inhabitants. If it wants, it can play a distinctive role in at least regional relations.
What is Russia’s main goal in this? Keeping Ukraine is its sphere of influence ought to be desirable, but would leave Russia isolated and with no direct involvement (on a territorial and ideological level) in Europe. I believe that the best alternative to a negotiated agreement for Russia would be to try to impose some economical liaisons with Ukraine and position itself as a trustworthy trade partner, aiming to develop long-lasting commercial exchanges with Ukraine and transform it into an entering EU market for its goods and services. Although keeping Ukraine in its sphere of influence is what Putin is after, aiming to create a new Russian empire (which can be seen also by its actions to establish the Eurasian Economic Union as a counterbalance to the EU), this would only lead to medium- and long-term isolation of Russia on the playing field; if Russia reverts to anachronical territorial expansion, it will be distressed in its efforts by economical constraints of its trading partners.
I believe that, in order to efficiently and throughly solve this conflict, the aid of international organizations and NOT individual state actors (I would include EU’s concerted actions here as well; the EU is on paper and international organization, but by trying to level the economies of all its Member States, each of these lacks individuality and act as a whole) is needed. We are at a considerable distance from what the likes of Jimmy Carter managed to achieve in 1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli conflict where, although of course chasing American beliefs and needs, he acted as a more „a-la-carte” mediator than any of the current international actors. Thus, group envoys of international organizations (such as the UN), comprising members from all regions of the world and regardless of the interest in the Ukraine crisis, should come together and mediate talks between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US.
Nevertheless, from a practical point of view, I believe that the possible unfortunate outcome, in the following years, will be that Russia exerts a certain pressure on the eastern part of Ukraine and maintains commercial ties with it, while the western part will become more linked to the EU. Think of it as German Federal Republic versus the German Democrat Republic, but without actual state separation.