VoxUkraine Brief:
War on many fronts — weapons, gas, budget, exchane rate

#VoxUkraine weekly selection of best articles on Ukraine.

by Kateryna Dronova, VoxUkraine Law Editorial Board

The results of the second round of Minsk peace talks resonate in media second week in a row. Although one hopes to find at least one unambiguous aspect of the deal, experts’ opinions range from highly optimistic to somewhat hopeful, from precautious to rigorous.

The piping hot feature by The Economist provides the brief overview of the recent events happening after signing peace plan in Minsk. It discusses Poroshenko’s “risky” order for retreat of Ukrainain troops from the town of Debaltseve elaborating on military and political aspects of this incident. The loss of Debaltseve is characterized as “a blow to Mr Poroshenko, but not a fatal one” mainly due to his distinguished diplomatic skills. The piece also suggests arguments against imposition of a martial law and concludes with remarks on a potential flow of the Western countries’ policies. This commentary leaves pessimistic aftertaste, nevertheless is a perfect reading material on the background information of the past week.

In his convincing but radical piece, Carl Bildt suggests that provision of lethal defensive military assistance to Ukraine by Western allies is not only desirable but also necessary. This prognosis shares little optimism regarding Ukraine’s prospects to reassert control over Donbas region and Black Sea Coast if the status quo is preserved. Since Russian-backed belligerents are targeting Ukraine’s major weakness (namely low defensive capacity) the resolution of the conflict through political and diplomatic dialogue is “next to impossible”. While admitting that “one-on-one military confrontation with Russia is not a viable option” and emphasizing that political dialogue together with diplomatic support are crucial, author argues that foreign assistance in strengthening Ukraine’s defensive capabilities is a factor that would significantly improve country’s current position.

The Guardian editorial tends to dissent and suggests Ukraine should “play the economic card”. The article is built on a presumption that the truce will last: the land-grabs (like the battle near the town of Debaltseve) are interpreted as a common feature of ceasefires once parties are willing to abstain from military action for the agreed period. The other premise is that eastern belligerents are rational actors that would favor reconciling and living within “a prosperous western Ukraine” to satisfying Vladimir Putin’s “regional ambitions.” Since the truce will last, Ukraine should use this time to its own advantage. While the military confrontation between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists is asymmetrical and clearly favors Russia, the economical confrontation is also evidently asymmetrical and favors Ukraine and its western allies. Thus, Ukraine should contribute its efforts into advancing in a field where it has a privilege: “[t]he fundamental aim must be to transform the conflict into a contest in which force is at the far end of the spectrum.” Successful implementation of economic, social and political reform would require external support by the EU, the USA and international institutions. While it is mentioned that sanctions are “necessary evil” since not only they damage Russia but also the state imposing them, it is emphasized that provision of economic assistance to Ukraine is a “win-win” option beneficial for both Ukrainian and European economies.

Paul Gregory elaborates on the change of rhetoric in diplomatic dialogue concerning the ongoing hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. Minsk II became a turning point for the Western community to expressly admit the presence of Russian military units on Ukrainian territory. For the first time Russian official position, which is insisting on being non-party to the conflict, was openly contested by the spokesperson for the US Department of State. Subsequently EU authorities have joined this stand. The significance of such shift in diplomatic relations is the potential for redistribution of roles in the struggle: international community no longer deems the conflict to be “internal” (“a civil war”) but tends to characterize it as a military confrontation between two states.

The major politically significant event of this week is the Natural-Gas Deal reached between Russia and Hungary. Vladimir Putin offered Hungarian government more favorable terms for gas supplies, and Viktor Orban accepted the offer even though his decision diminishes European struggle to reduce reliance on Russia for energy. The joint appearance of the two political leaders triggered strong critique in other European countries due to the European stance on the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Edith Balazs and Zoltan Simon in their article “Orban Attacks EU Energy Plan as Putin Link Nets Hungary Gas Deal” explain the essence of the deal and briefly cover terms and conditions of the agreement. Their commentary also provide an insight to the political angle of the agreement. The European Commission plans to adopt the energy pact proposal aimed at creating an internal market, as well as strengthening member-states in negotiations “with non-EU countries.” Hungary opposes amending the EU’s charter with a purpose to create an “energy union” because it would equate to “abdicating our sovereignty” in Viktor Orban’s opinion. Hungarian Prime Minister also confirmed that the country will refrain from re-selling gas to Ukraine, stressing that Russia and Hungary are “mutually dependent” and such dependence requires “to give something in return” since Russia “needs to know it can count on us.”

Anthony Faiola starts with explaining the official Hungarian position: the “strictly business” approach instigated by the logic, which has been articulated by Hungary’s foreign minister: “[y]ou cannot afford in this part of the world not to have a pragmatic cooperation with Russia.” In addition to being a strong business partner, Russia is a perfect ideological ally in building so-called “illiberal democracy”, who would not criticize Hungary for anti-democratic transformations. In exchange Russia would acquire comrade among EU-members. However, the article infers that this interstate friendship is not so unequivocal since so far Hungary has voted in favor sanctions against Russia, while Hungarian pro-government media “has adopted a moderate tone toward Russia

Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Gerard Roland, Edward Walker provide a “wide shot” on the potential development of Russian foreign policy which extends the argument expressed in the above-mentioned articles on a wider scale. An analysis begins with contrasting European model of democratic governance to Russian Soviet-like order, characterizing this struggle on a diplomatic field as “a battle of values”. By drawing several historical parallels, authors debate that Russia’s intent to win this confrontation is executed through weakening European unity by “Eurosceptic parties” (viewed as Russian potential allies). The argument that “Putin’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit” is strengthened by several intriguing examples from academic, political and media spheres. This article summarizes that European effort in confronting Russian political and ideological undercover expansion is not sufficient and illustrates this idea with the German example of austerity.

Paula J. Dobriansky is suggesting arguments in favor of Ukraine’s ratification of the Rome statute and recognizing ICC’s jurisdiction over Ukrainian territory. It makes an unusual take on the issue: “[t]he court’s failure to take action against Moscow’s war crimes casts doubt on its integrity.” Thus author turns the question of the impunity into the matter of institutional incapacity of the Court. Paula Dobriansky provides examples of the war crimes committed by Russian troops and belligerents during the conflict and describes the steps that have already been done by Ukraine to facilitate the ICC’s investigation in “Maidan cases” and cases originating from ongoing hostilities in the East. She insists that a failure to prosecute the offenders would be the sign that the court is politically driven.

On February 18 Ukraine has been commemorating victims of the last year attacks conducted by member of law enforcement agencies against protesters. This week Amnesty International issued detailed Report “Ukraine: the year after Maidan- the justice is delayed, the justice is denied” on the investigation of the crimes committed during the 2013/2014 winter protests. The Report is built on 11 individual cases, interviews with civil society representatives and chief investigator of the General Prosecutor’s Office.

The other relevant piece is an interactive map developed by RadioSvoboda to capture the logic of tragic events.


This week Ukraine commemorates One Year Anniversary of the Maidan Protests. Tymofiy Mylovanov and Olena Bilan from VoxUkraine summarise how far the country has gone on the way of the structural reforms, and with what speed it has been moving forward. In brief, Ukraine is at a critical juncture. The currency has plummeted, and Central Bank reserves have depleted, the war is stealing more and more lives and devastates the country. However, the quality enhancement in composition of the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Parliament, together with forced maturation of the civil society, have been framing fundamental changes. There are, though, other glimmers of hope: cooperation with IMF has been renewed, anti-corruption strategy has been formulated and anti-corruption bureau is likely to air dirty laundry, deregulation is underway and the EU Association Agreement has been signed. The weather should become less stormy.

Olena Shkarpova in cooperation with VoxUkraine evaluated the progress in Ukrainian statehood development during a post-revolutionary period. This concise piece pictures the wide scale of changes which happened during the last year: introduced and partially implemented reforms, intensified cooperation with international institutions, reorganization of the financial market, etc. Along with admitting improvements, this commentary also outlines the main challenges for the government and its past failures. This opinion welcomes Ukraine’s decision to substitute the “multi-vector” foreign policy with a focus on a European direction, but criticizes the inability of Ukrainian authorities to forbear soviet legacy obstructing the effective reforms implementation.

Kateryna Dronova, VoxUkraine Law, puts forward a sore of Ukrainian legislation — the double standard approach which has been continuously polarizing the society. Two recent cases illustrate how those having power marginalize the rest of the society using the legislation and the loyal media. First case is about Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist at the local news bureau “Firtka” (Ivano-Frankivsk) who was detained, being suspected of the high treason and impeding the legitimate activities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ruslan has made a video for his YouTube blog, where he addresses Ukrainian President requesting to put an end to ongoing hostilities and claims that he would rather serve a sentence for draft evasion than participate in “civil war” in Eastern Ukraine. Second case is the failure of Ukrainian Parliament in adoption of Resolution №1887 accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. The author shows, how sentiments and vested interests framed both stories in the perception of the public, as well as in the legislative field.

VoxUkraine Index for Monitoring Reforms value for the third monitoring period (January 26th — February 8th 2015) stood at +1.5 points out of the possible range from -5.0 to +5.0 points.




Also, this week on #VoxUkraine

Edward W. Walker guesses is that the Kremlin is not going to enter into new negotiations over Debaltseve. Instead, it is going to insist that Kyiv negotiate directly with the “representatives” of the DPR and LPR. That, presumably, would help legitimize the DPR and LPR authorities. But more importantly, it would force the Ukrainians to withdraw to new lines that would allow the separatists, with economic and humanitarian assistance from Moscow, to begin to restore at least a measure of order in the breakaway region.

http://voxukraine.org/2015/02/18/ukraines-hostage-crisis/

It seems like there are no further arguments needed to be advanced for the urgent necessity of cutting budgetary expenditures: obviously, considering the severity of the external threats the country faces, if we do not cope with this issue Ukraine can simply disappear altogether — writes Vladimir Dubrovskiy in his column for VoxUkraine.org. So if we want to save our country and at the same time the inheritance of the Revolution of Dignity, we have to consider a number of political, economic and institutional factors that are usually underestimated by both the government and the IMF.

http://voxukraine.org/2015/02/16/political-economic-and-institutional-aspects-of-making-cuts-to-the-ukrainian-budget/

Ukrainian budget’s annual losses from smuggling amount to several billion euros. Luc Vancraen proposes a cheap way for EU to help eliminate corruption in the customs by establishing a joint border control. This will raise Ukraine’s budget revenues and hence, reduce the need for direct external financial assistance.

Have a great weekend!

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