Stabilization of Ukraine is in the geopolitical interest of Europe
Today, the European Union is squeezed between two arc of crisis, on its Southern range and its Eastern range and is faced therefore with a worsening scenario regarding its security[i].
The European Union is going through rough times. The belt of instable states in the EU neighborhood generates serious, may be existential, threats to European security. Today the focus is in the south where internal turmoil and expansion of extremism and radicalism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya resulted in terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels and massive illegal migration, which Europe is struggling to cope with.
Still the situation in the East, namely in Ukraine, does also require attention. The Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU highlighted doubts about the benefits of integrating a state that plunges deeper and deeper into crisis. Stagnating economy, large-scale corruption, almost complete dependence on external aid form only a small part of the country’s problems.
The Ukraine crisis provoked by the rush to implement a free trade zone between EU and Ukraine has provoked a double blow to the European project : the destabilization of a territory in the immediate geographical proximity of EU and a deepening of the mistrust of citizens towards EU and its expansionist agenda.
The parallel ongoing suspicion about NATO enlargement in Ukraine has also triggered the crisis, although the risk of fragmentation of Ukraine in case of such a scenario has been previously underlined. Heinz Brill, German geopolitician and Bundeswehr officer stressed already in 2009 in the main Austrian magazine of the Ministry of Defence that Ukraine would split in case of NATO enlargement prospect[ii] (See the map above illustrating the potential split of Ukraine and extracted from Heinz Brill article).
Evolution of Ukraine : a worrying scenario
One crucial point of the Minsk II agreements is the necessity to implement a new Ukrainian constitution focussing on a decentralization process to give an acceptable autonomy to Donbas region.
Ukrainian officials underlined very clearly that the model of decentralization chosen for Ukraine was the "French model", to "unite" the country and avoid further division[iii].
The explicit choice of the "French model", as opposed of the German "federalization model" means the Ukrainian government is not ready to give extensive powers for local authorities in the Donbass region. The French "decentralization model" is twofold : it is composed of a "deconcentrated administration " receiving instructions from the central administration at the regional level, and a decentralized administration receiving instructions from a local elected assembly with specific competencies. However, the "deconcentrated administration" under the authority of a "préfet" (representative of the central administration) has the dominant role for decisions, and nothing can be decided against the will of the prefect who has the last word on the regional development or strategic plan.
As far as Ukraine is concerned, the choice of the "French model" means that the level of decentralization proposed to the Donbass regions will not be large enough to have the approval of the rebel authorities. This scenario directly leads to the evolution of this Ukrainian crisis to a new "frozen conflict". The second implication might be the following : if Minsk II agreements cannot be fully implemented, some EU countries willing to pursue sanctions against Russia will instrumentalize the on-going crisis to protract sanctions against Russia. The third risk is that most extremist political forces in Ukraine might put pressure again on the government to retake by force the rebel regions.
Another point that arises is whether Ukraine is prepared to incorporate fundamental values that Europe is based on, especially when it comes to rule of law, respect for human dignity and “the right to live”, since these are to be found in the main official requirements of EU to modernize Ukraine.
Recent murder in Ukraine of Yury Grabovsky, a defence lawyer, shows that the state of affairs here is far from being normal, according to Amnesty International[iv]. The Ukrainian man of law was representing Alexander Alexandrov, a Russian citizen, captured last year in the rebel-held eastern part of the country and accused of being a GRU operative fighting against government forces. The lawyer was declared missing in early March. Subsequently his body, with signs of torture and gunshot wounds, was found near Odessa-Kiev highway.
The Ukrainian investigators announced three possible motives for the killing to include a homicide, personal enmity and, traditionally, “assassination by Russian special services”. Still most independent experts believe that the murder of the lawyer is directly linked with his professional activities. Yuri Grabovsky was quite successful at proving his client’s innocence and refuting prosecution claims, thus forcing them to drop some of the charges. It is noted that Mr. Grabovsky, before he was declared missing, had received threats via e-mails and phone messages and during personal contacts. And, as he stated himself, some of them used to come from Ukrainian military prosecutors.
Grabovsky’s murder is not the first dubious “political” case, questioning the impartiality of Ukrainian legal system. It is worth recalling a case of Oles Buzina, a sound critic of the authorities who was shot dead in Kiev last year. The police claimed to have found the suspects, members of a nationalist organization, but they were later released and till now no one has been brought to justice. The investigation of the tragedy in Odessa in May 2014, where dozens of people had been burnt alive by nationalists, is also stalled. Same applies to sniper killings of Maïdan protesters in February 2014[v].
Lack of stern response to these crimes from the European Union, primarily from Germany and France as active supporters of the regime change in Ukraine, assures Kiev that its stance towards political opponents is right and is not leading to undesirable consequences. This forms a strong ground for further suppression of alternative opinions, thus making way for further expansion of nationalistic and anti-Semitic movements. Internet resources are already flooded with videos of marching Ukrainian fascists, openly supporting ideology that is unacceptable to the civilized society. The investigative report on a main French TV Chanel "Canal plus", has underlined the dark side of the so called "EuroMaïdan" revolution[vi].
There is a risk that further deterioration of the situation in Ukraine will lead to the point that flourishing criminality and nationalism in Ukraine impacts Europe as such rather than just European businessmen, working in the country. There is a huge possibility of the exodus of Ukrainians to Europe in search for better life as the economy continues to fall. And the EU current policy to associating Ukraine and granting it visa-free status in the future may facilitate the migration of undesirable elements capable of aggravating Europe’s problems. At the same time a state near EU borders that does not respect fundamental rights and values and plunging into chaos can only be perceived as a potential source of instability, requiring focused attention. Does Europe need such Ukraine?
The European Union member states should start to have a more balanced view on this ongoing crisis, and at least require all parties to the Minsk negotiations to fulfill past promises, Ukrainian government included. As the German geopolitician Heinz Brill pointed out[vii], the neutralization on the model of Finland or Austria, the federalization model and "the right of people to determine themselves " based on the German model for the future stability of Ukraine have to examined relentlessly till an acceptable solution is achieved to avoid a further fragmentation of the European continent. It is certainly not with a policy of sanctions on one side only under the pressure of external powers to EU that a solution will emerge[viii].
[ii] Heinz BRILL: Die NATO-Osterweiterung und der Streit um Einfluss-Sphären in Europa; in: Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift (ÖMZ-online), Ausgabe 06/2009 — URL: http://www.bundesheer.at/pdf_pool/omz/oemz2009_06.pdf )
[iii] The Wilfried Martens center for European studies organized a seminar on Ukraine "meaningful change for Ukraine" (24/02/2016).
[v] During a phone conversation between Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Urma Spaet, Estonian Foreign minister, the latter expressed doubts about the official version accusing the Berkut responsibility in initiating firing on the Maïdan demonstrators and pointed the implication of "Euromaïdan" organizers.