The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed the joint session of Congress this week. Controversial, hawkish, aggressive and many other synonyms of the same kind come to my mind while listening to his statement. What amazes me the most is that with such rhetoric, Poroshenko expects to get lower prices on Russia’s gas and economic indulgences. The tonality taken was predictable – he needed to persuade the U.S. political establishment to provide Kiev with tangible support and military, primarily lethal, assistance. “Blankets, night-vision goggles are important, but one cannot win the war with blankets” seems to be the most shared quote from his speech.
What is Ukraine now? In my view it is a poor, devastated, coup-struck, disordered state, with a huge part of territory the central government doesn’t control, with hostilities – it seems to be a typical failed state.
The dramatic situation in the country doesn’t prevent the Ukrainian president from declaring Ukraine a democratic stateMaria Dubovikova
During his speech, Poroshenko demonstrated a brilliant capacity to play with facts, to garble them and to skew history in his own favor. It’s important to focus on some of his declarations.
Poroshenko talked about the people of Ukraine that stood up to the corrupt regime of Yanukovych during the bloody events on Maidan, apparently forgetting or deliberately dissembling that once he was a part of this regime. He also forgot to mention that he was a part of the regime of Yushchenko that, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index was also seen as relatively corrupt.
It seems that the Ukrainian people have just replaced one corrupt, oligarch-led regime with another one. In my mind it is practically the same, but more criminal, nationalist and unprofessional. This becomes evident if we analyse the results of their work or the declaration of Ukrainian political figures.
Poroshenko speculated on Russia’s will to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, saying that for this purpose it is even eager to fan the flames of war. He cited as an example Russo-Georgian was of 2008. He reminded in this context that in Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria reside Russian speakers. He garbled the facts again. Russia’s view is that it intervened in South Ossetia to stop the perfidious attack of the Georgian army on civilians. Russia didn’t annex the territories of these republics and declined their demand to join Russia. Poroshenko played on the Baltic State’s paranoiac feelings and hatred towards Russia as well. However, during all these years Russia is trying to manage the problem of its ex-citizens, Russians, who stayed in the republics after the U.S.S.R.’s collapse. Most of these people have a status of non-citizens with no civil rights and look for the opportunity to return back to Russia. For sure, the Russian politicians and functionaries with their sometimes little-thought out declarations and rather foolish social media usage are culpable themselves in the perception that Russia will intervene and act unpredictably everywhere to protect Russians and Russian speakers. But this doesn’t correspond to the truth and real political approaches to the problem.
Poroshenko talked about his country and its people as if they had a long history, while its history starts only with the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was never such political and social formation as Ukraine before the Soviet Union consolidated the separate lands into Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic that got the name of the Ukrainian Republic after the U.S.S.R.’s collapse. Also, Crimea was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 as what was widely seen as a gift. At that time, Khrushchev could hardly have imagined that the huge country would finally fall into pieces. That decision was criticized and the loss of Crimea was very painful in the 1990s. For sure it doesn’t add credibility to the Crimean return back to Russia, however it is rather understandable, I feel.
The dramatic situation in the country doesn’t prevent the Ukrainian president from declaring Ukraine a democratic state and doesn’t stop him from talking about democracy and from putting his country on the same level as the U.S., saying “democracies must support each other.” He insisted that “in Ukraine, you don’t build a democracy – it already exists. You just defend it!”
So, according to Poroshenko’s words, Kiev’s military crackdown on the south-eastern regions, causing death of numerous civilians and the displacement of Ukrainian people (internally displaced Ukrainians reached 260,000 and 814,000 people found refuge in Russia.) is supposedly absolutely democratic.
Such declarations undermine the whole concept of democracy. He talked about the glorious fight for freedom and insisted on the presence Russian aggression as if Kiev’s forces were fighting directly with the Russian army. He convinced the audience that it was Russia which intervened. He depicted Russia as the greatest evil of the modern world and pressed for more sanctions to be imposed against it. He said exactly what the Americans and the U.S. political establishment, as well as NATO, would like to hear.
He told Congress the stories of The Heavenly Hundred, about some warriors who lost their lives fighting between separatist and aggressor. Civilians are dying because of the actions of the Ukrainian army in Donetsk or Lughansk, it is not only the “rebels” or “separatists.” It seems, however, that Poroshenko didn’t find it appropriate to commemorate them in his speech while commemorating his own heroes, telling only one-side story.
The speech, I feel, was truly hawkish, nationalist, and tough. Poroshenko was trying to be impressive on the anti-Russian wave, dominating in political circles in some European countries and most part of the U.S. political establishment. However, despite all Poroshenko’s hope, Ukraine will not receive the lethal aid from the U.S. and Obama has declined Poroshenko’s request to grant Ukraine special ally status, but it will receive a $53 million aid package of general military assistance and one more $1 billion in financial guarantees from the U.S.
Apparently the U.S. understands all the possibilities and consequences of the further escalation of tensions with Russia. Lethal aid could force unpredictable steps on Russia’s side with more unpredictable consequences. The stakes are high, but the risks are much higher. Moreover, taking into account numerous problems with the spread of ISIS, the U.S. is mostly interested in at least a temporary de-escalation of the crisis with Russia. Obviously, the U.S. and NATO will not let Ukraine and Baltic States push it around, as inevitably it would bring the whole international community directly into WWIII. However, the visibility of the toughening rhetoric will be demonstrated, even with the redeployment of military capacities closer towards Russia’s borders. But this apparently would be mostly gestures with very relative real impacts and intentions - it’s mostly about containment.
While the U.S. will connive at Kiev’s leaders growing self-conceit with warm applauses and words of support, the Ukrainian leaders will be farther and farther from understanding that Ukraine is neither an ally of the U.S. nor a partner, but just an instrument in a tough geopolitical game.
Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogmeSHOW MORE