Six Mistakes the West Has Made (and Continues to Make) in Ukraine

Six Mistakes the West Has Made (and Continues to Make) in Ukraine

"Recognizing the indigenous nature of Ukraine’s problems therefore leads directly to a radically different strategy toward Russia—one of cooperation rather than confrontation." 


ODESSA, Ukraine - If the West appears confused by Russian actions in Ukraine and unable to find an adequate response to the crisis, it is because from the outset, it has misread the situation, transforming an essentially domestic dispute into one that threatens the security architecture of Europe. While all sides have contributed to the current debacle, six widely held assumptions have played an inordinate role in shaping Western discourse about Ukraine. These will need to be corrected before any real progress can be made.

1. The Ukrainians are one people, united in their support of change: This is a familiar refrain among Western politicians, yet anyone familiar with Ukrainian history knows that its borders have changed many times in the past century. As a result, millions of people without any ethnic, cultural, or linguistic attachment to Ukraine wound up in its present borders. Since 1991, the most visible division has been between Western Ukrainians, many of whom seek a Ukraine culturally and politically distinct from Russia, and Eastern Ukrainians, who want to live in a Ukraine that is independent, but that also maintains close spiritual, cultural, and economic ties to Russia. The fact that Western governments have identified the national aspirations of Ukraine with those of the Western regions of the country puts them at odds with half the country. Even if the Western regions prevail over the Eastern regions in the current struggle, choosing sides in this way has generated anti-Western sentiment in the East that is likely to linger for years to come.

2. Supporting the Euromaidan’s ouster of president Yanukovych: At the height of the Euromaidan riots, Western governments warned president Yanukovych not to use force to disband the protests, even as they turned violent. Later, during a critical phase of negotiations with the opposition, officials from the United States were taped discussing which specific opposition leaders they wanted to replace him. To a Ukrainian public already sharply divided over the legitimacy of the public protests on the Maidan (three-quarters of the population in Ukraine’s eastern cities regarded the Euromaidan protests as illegal), this merely proved that the West was intervening to thwart the political preferences of half the country.

3. Failing to stand behind the February 21 agreement: The failure of France, Germany and Poland to stand behind the negotiated transition of power that they had called for, has been a blow to the legitimacy of Ukrainian state institutions from which it has had great difficulty recovering. The subsequent seizure of power by the opposition not only brought down the much reviled, though legitimately elected president, it also led to the collapse of the country’s largest political party which, for all its faults, embodied the political aspirations of roughly half the population. To this day, fewer than a third of the population in Russian-speaking Ukraine view the acting president and prime minister as legitimate, while in Donetsk and Lugansk, the hotbeds of armed resistance, this figure falls to less than 15 percent.

4. Ignoring the rise of the Radical Right: The Western media has slowly caught on to the fact that right-wing nationalist groups like Svoboda and the Right Sector played a decisive role in the radicalization of the Euromaidan, and in the dramatic seizure of power immediately after the February 21 accords. Officially, however, Western governments continue to insist that their role is marginal. Yet, even today, such groups wield inordinate influence within the parliament and on the streets of central Kiev, which they continue to occupy despite pleas by the acting president to leave. They intimidate politicians, judges, and journalists, indeed anyone who speaks out against the policies of the current government. Their intimidation of presidential candidates associated with the Party of Regions elicits almost no comment from Western governments. Many in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine see this as further confirmation of Western partisanship.

5. Labeling protesters in the East and South “pro-Russian” and “separatists.”: Both labels are misleading because attachment to Russia in these regions is cultural and linguistic, not political. Reports from the region, surveys, and statements by local and national politicians, make it abundantly clear that there are significant local grievances against the interim government in Kiev. Even firebrand Yulia Tymoshenko recently acknowledged as much on national television. The vast majority simply want their Russian heritage to be recognized as part of their Ukrainian identity. The easiest way to do this, they say, would be to acknowledge the reality of Ukraine’s bilingualism in the constitution. The interim government’s resistance to this idea only deepens their mistrust of Kiev.

As for the charge of separatism, it is worth noting that in every instance where separatism has become an issue, including Crimea, the original demand was for greater regional rights and autonomy within Ukraine. Only when Kiev responded by replacing local officials with ones loyal only to the new government, did the issue of secession arise. That is one reason why most people in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine (62 percent) blame the loss of Crimea on Kiev, rather than on Crimean separatists (24 percent), or on Russia (19 percent). The same approach is now being taken toward eastern and southern Ukraine, with the same disastrous results.  

6. Blaming Russia for Ukraine’s problems: Despite the heated rhetoric coming from Western governments, Russia’s primary objective in Ukraine has actually been to reduce the level of domestic instability. The reasons are not hard to fathom. First, such instability is bad for business, which in the case of Ukraine, involves military, industrial and energy investments that are vital to Russia. Second, continued instability is bad for Russia because it increases the likelihood of Ukraine becoming a failed state, which Russia will feel obliged to support with massive humanitarian assistance. Third, such instability is bad because it increase tensions with the West, which has a tendency to blame Russia for everything that happens there.

Russia would very much like to see Ukraine as a stable economic and political partner, able to provide enough growth and jobs to its own citizens to reduce the annual flow of more than 3 million Ukrainian migrant workers into Russia, and thus contribute to the prosperity of the 11 million Russians who live along the border with Ukraine. Having already spent as much as 300 billion dollars over the past two decades to prevent the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, it hardly seems likely that Russia now seeks its economic demise. It most certainly does not want to spend the tens of billions of dollars it would take to absorb these regions, and raise their standard of living up to that of Russia.

What Ought To Be Done Instead

If Russia’s actions are not the root cause of Ukraine’s problem, then chastising it cannot possibly resolve the current crisis. In fact, it compounds the crisis in three ways: first, by distracting Western policy makers from the real divisions within Ukraine that need to be dealt with; second, by reinforcing the notion, popular among some in the interim government in Kiev, that Western backing means there is no need to negotiate with the discontented eastern regions; third, by antagonizing the external actor with the greatest stake in Ukraine’s well-being—Russia.

By interpreting current events in Ukraine through the prism of a new Cold War with Russia, the Obama administration has already achieved one of that conflict’s most unfortunate byproducts—the manipulation of external power by local actors seeking maximum advantages for themselves.

But Russia is not the USSR. In an odd historical twist, in the current crisis, it is defending the rights of local populations to be heard by their government, whereas the West is defending the removal of a legitimately elected president. Significantly, all this is taking place in an area of the world that retains strong sympathies for Russia.

An extensive survey of Russian-speaking areas in April 2014 shows that while 70 percent do not support secession, if a referendum were held today only 25 percent would want to join EU, whereas 47 percent would prefer to join the Russia-led Customs Union. Only 15 percent feel that Ukrainian relations with Russia should be the same as with any other county, whereas three-quarters say the two countries should have open borders, and 8 percent feel the two should be one country. Most worryingly for the prospects of the military campaign against the rebels being conducted in the East, while nearly three-quarters say they do not support the introduction of Russian troops, only 10 percent say they would take up arms to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

This is the minefield within which the United States and the EU are now trying to maneuver—deep in the historical heartland of the Russian empire, where popular sympathies for Russia are both vast and deep, and where the West has yet to define any clear strategic objectives.

Historians of the future will wonder greatly at the forbearance that Russia has shown in wielding its potentially vast influence (the ease with which Crimea was taken by Russia should be highly instructive), in contrast to the boldness verging on recklessness with which the United States and EU have sought to manipulate the political outcome in Kiev.

Recognizing the indigenous nature of Ukraine’s current problems, which often go back to promises left unfulfilled by past Ukrainian governments, is therefore a necessary first step toward dealing with them realistically. But it is only the first step. The next is to apply meaningful pressure on the interim government to do what it has thus far refused to do—establish a government of national unity.

Understandably, it is not easy for those who came to power on the wave of revolutionary enthusiasm, to admit that many of their countrymen regard what they did as illegitimate. Fortunately, however, most people in the East and South are still eager to reach an accommodation in the name of national unity. But they feel that such an accommodation should be based on concrete actions taken by Kiev that demonstrate that law and order is actually being restored, and that the interim government is not under the thumb of radical nationalists. Presently, the number one concern of people in the East and South is fear of “rampant banditry;” i.e., falling prey to the violence unleashed in Kiev in January and February, and the lawlessness they are witnessing there today.

A second critical step is making Russian Ukraine’s official second language. This one gesture would reassure the predominantly Russian-speaking regions of the country that their cultural legacy is indeed fully accepted in today’s Ukraine. Such a step has been promised by many presidential candidates since Ukraine’s independence, but has always been opposed by Ukrainian nationalists. That is why its advocates now demand that it be enshrined in the constitution.

A final step is political and economic decentralization, which some identify as federalism. The essential difference between regional autonomy and federalism is that the latter is a compact between regions and the central government stipulated in the constitution. Some types of federalism are very broad, while other types are very narrowly defined. If autonomy is not constitutionally established, its advocates say, any new group of legislators could rescind what was previously granted, as happened with Crimea in 1998.

The interim government, however, cannot accomplish these urgent tasks on its own. It is too strongly beholden to the radical nationalists and pro-revolutionary street forces that brought it to power. Let us not forget that the latter even approved the current government. Since any move toward a true government of national unity will have to be taken against the wishes of one of the interim government’s core constituencies, it will require political cover, and this can only be provided by its major supporters—the United States and the EU.

Recognizing the indigenous nature of Ukraine’s problems therefore leads directly to a radically different strategy toward Russia—one of cooperation rather than confrontation in the pursuit of a strong and independent Ukraine. Last, but certainly not least, it could put to rest once and for all the calls for a new Cold War.

Nicolai N. Petro, professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island, is currently a Fulbright Research Scholar in Ukraine. The views expressed do not reflect the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

by 인형사 | 2014/05/11 10:33 | 인형사 찾기 | 트랙백 | 덧글(6)

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☞ 내 이글루에 이 글과 관련된 글 쓰기 (트랙백 보내기) [도움말]
Commented by 전략전술 at 2014/05/11 11:38
서방이 우크라이나에서 잘못한 여섯 가지의 치명적인 실수라...

틀린 말은 아니죠. 러시아의 만류가 좀 컸지만 군을 동원하여 진압하지 않은 야루코비치를 차라리 지원했으면 극우 민족주의 놈들이 불을 지펴서 발생한 유혈사태도 막았고, 자기들 개혁안에도 반대하는 극우 민족주의 세력이 지배하는 과도정부도 되지 않았고, 러시아에 명분 다 줘버리는 바보짓도 안했을 꺼니깐요.

야루코비치를 지원하여 소강시킨 후에 모가지를 쳤으면 되는데, 지들 편한대로 '친러'니 '분리주의자'니 딱지를 붙이니 친러 아닌 그 지역 사람들까지 알아서 친러화되고, 금방 꺼질 수 있던 불에 가스통을 던져서 아주 잘 타오르게 해준게 서방이니 말입니다.
Commented by 인형사 at 2014/05/11 12:07
지금 키예프 정권이 하는 걸 보면 차라리 야누코비치가 성자로 보입니다. 군의 동원을 끝까지 거부했으니까요.

그런데 실수를 여섯개씩이나 연달아 할 수 있을까요? 실수라고 이야기하는 것도 미안해할까봐 예의상 하는 이야기일수가 있지요.

만약 저것이 실수가 아니라면 그것이 의미하는 것이 무엇일까요?

저는 키예프 정권이 멀쩡한 군을 소외시키고 국민방위군을 창설한다는 이야기를 듣고 이미 분단이 키예프 정권의 목표라고 판단했습니다. 그리고 그 것이 키예프정권을 지지하는 미국과 유럽 강경파의 의도이기도 할 것이고요.

전에 말한대로 멕킨더적 게임에도 완벽하게 부합하는 것이고요.

위의 글에서도 지적해듯이 미국과 유럽의 지지가 키예프 정권이 괴격하게 나가는 것을 가능하게 하고 있지요.

by reinforcing the notion, popular among some in the interim government in Kiev, that Western backing means there is no need to negotiate with the discontented eastern regions

그러하기에 해결의 열쇠도 그쪽에 있는 것이고요.

The next is to apply meaningful pressure on the interim government to do what it has thus far refused to do—establish a government of national unity.

Since any move toward a true government of national unity will have to be taken against the wishes of one of the interim government’s core constituencies, it will require political cover, and this can only be provided by its major supporters—the United States and the EU.


그런데 이런 뻔한 걸 왜 안하고 있을까요?

그런데 이거 보셨습니까?

키예프에서 한 전승기념식에서 키예프정권의 대통령과 총리가 "히틀러 죽여라! 반데라 죽여라!"라는 야유를 받았다는군요.

키예프에서 지지기반도 그리 강하지는 않은 모양입니다. 기다리고 기다리던 긴칼의 밤이 가능할까요?
Commented by 전략전술 at 2014/05/12 01:05
그리고 다시 한번 읽어보았는데, 과격화를 통한 분단을 통해 러시아의 고립을 불러오는 것은 충분히 부합되지만, 그 과정 중에 있는 '언론통제'가 '아랍의 봄'처럼 깔끔하게 실패하여 네오 나치의 발호를 전 세계에 알렸다는 점에 있어서는 결국 실패라고 봅니다. 에스토니아처럼 은폐에 성공하지 못하였기 때문에 유태인과 이스라엘의 엄청난 반발에 직격해버릴 것이 뻔한 미국과, 러시아의 가스비 상승 정책을 통해 더 후들겨맞을께 뻔한 유럽의 강경파들 역시 말이죠.

러시아를 무지무지 싫어하는 공화당조차 저런 과격한 짓거리에 동참하지 않았습니다. 티 파티와 네오콘이라는 생각없는 애들이 2008년에 전쟁하자는걸 싸그리 무시했죠.

더군다나 일본의 병크(한국과 중국 입장에서는 감사할 따름입니다만)로 인해 다시 한번 파시즘과 나치즘 같은 극우에 대한 관심이 많아진 상황에서 그런 시도를 했다는 것은 강경파들 스스로 독약을 마신 꼴이 되었습니다.
Commented by 전략전술 at 2014/05/11 23:55
그 영상은 다른 루트에서 이미 보았었습니다.

대통령뿐만 아니라 시장까지도 친절하게 참전용사를 모독해 주었었죠.

EU는 결국 미국으로부터의 에너지 자원 수입이 불가능한걸 알고 협상에 들어갔고, 미국 또한 상원에서 의심하고 자빠진 상황이다 보니 미래가 없습니다.

오히려 남부도 오뎃사를 빌미로 해서 독립해버릴 상황까지 왔으며, 키예프 과도정부의 붕괴와 네오 나치 정권이 헝가리와 비슷하게 발호되어 버리면 내륙국화 될 가능성이 큽니다.
Commented by 인형사 at 2014/05/12 03:35
그 언론통제에 관한 부분이 많이 애매하죠.

주류언론의 논조는 철저한 반러 친키예프라서 저명한 러시아 전문가인 Stephen Cohen 같은 사람이 울고가는 지경이지요.

It’s a form of censorship. I know people in American universities who think as I do and they’re afraid to speak out and I say, shame on them. There’s nothing to be afraid of in this country. Be afraid in Russia. But here, what are they going to do?

Alright, so you won’t get that great job you wanted, or you might not get the promotion. You get tainted, you become toxic, you get labeled.

They want to silence me. Calls I’m getting are threatening me. I would disregard it as silly except I’m too alone. I need others to come out of the political closet.

주류언론의 논조가 저렇게 전혀 반론없이 일사분란하게 움직이는 것도 신기한 일인데, 이런 전례없는 선전공세가 잘 먹히지 않고 있다는 더 신기한 일이 벌어지고 있지요.

얼마전에 가디안에 있었던 사태를 알고 계신가요? 스노든의 폭로를 특종했고 진보로 분류되는 영국신문 가디안이 우크라이나 사태에 대해 철저히 반러, 친미, 친키예프 논조를 취하는 바람에 원래 독자층의 엄청난 반발을 받았는데 이에 대한 가디안의 대답이 이건 푸틴 알바가 선동하는 거라는 거였죠. 그래서 현재 독자층이 이를 부득부득 갈고 있습니다. 내가 수십년 독자인데 이런 말을 들을 줄 몰랐다고 분노하는 독자들이 많이 있습니다.

이걸 다른 사람도 아니고 가디안의 옴부즈만이 썼는데 아마 언론사에 길이 남을 충격적이 사건이 될 겁니다.

시간나면 가디안 독자란을 한번 찾아보십시요. 우크라이나 사태 기사마다 댓글이 수천개씩 달리고, 가디안의 논조를 성토하고 이 사태와 관련된 정보들을 서로 교환하는 아주 재미있는 공론장이 성립되어 있습니다.

저번에 소개드린 뉴욕타임즈 기사처럼 미국은 현재 단기봉합을 시도해야 하는 것이 맞습니다. 말씀대로 유럽의 반발을 감당하기 힘들테니까요. 우크라이나가 분열되면 그건 러시아와 유럽의 패배가 되겠지만 미국이 그에 따라 감수해야할 위험도 만만치 않으니까요. 그런데 그러려면 극우세력과 선을 그어야하고 러시아가 제시하는 협상에 의한 연방제 개헌과 중립화를 통해 우크라이나의 통일을 유지해야 합니다.

문제는 아직 그런 기미가 보이지 않는다는 것이고, 그러려고 해도 브레이크가 작동하지 않을 정도 사태가 너무 빠르게 진행되고 있는 것이 아닌가 하는 것이지요.

그리고 현 키예프 정권에 참여한 세력들은 단기봉합이 이뤄지면 자신의 목을 걱정해야할 처지가 될 겁니다. 이 사람들은 못먹어도 고를 부르면서 내전을 향해 돌진하겠지요.

참 그리고 어디서 정보를 얻으시나요? 서로 교환하지요.

저는 위에서 말한 가디안 독자란이 있고, 또 러시아 투데이나, 러시아의 소리같은 러시아쪽 언론은 이미 아실 것이고.

그리고 다음은 개인 블로그인데 사람들이 많이 와서 정보를 교환하는 장이기도 하지요.
Commented by 전략전술 at 2014/05/12 13:24
전 다른 일로 바빠서 인형사님처럼 그렇게 열심히 찾아보고 있지 않습니다 ㅎㅎ

그냥 밀리터리 포토넷의 유투브 영상이나 서방, 동구권 메이저 신문을 보는 정도입니다.

제한적인 내용인 것은 맞지만, 학사과정때 배운 정치외교 및 국제관계쪽 지식과 그 지역에 역사에 대한 내용을 포함시키면 다양한 관점이 들어간 여러 기사들보다 더 핵심 요소를 확인할 수 있더군요. 굳이 전문적이지 않아도 주변 사람들을 이해시킬 정도면 충분하다고 오랜 밀덕 스펙찾기 생활(...) 끝에 깨달아서 말입니다 ㅎㅎ

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