Staunton, January 26 – As rumors swirl that Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will discuss Ukraine and possibly make a deal about them, Ukrainian officials say that there must not be any discussion about them without them and Ukrainians experts add that regardless of any such “deal,” Ukrainians are ready to fight to defend their country.
Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Elena Zerkal said today that Kyiv is concerned that Trump in his pursuit of a deal with Putin may be ready to discuss a resolution of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict without the participation of any representative of the Ukrainian side (nakanune.ru/news/2017/1/26/22459205/).
“We do not want to be excluded from talks” where the future of Ukraine may be discussed, she continued. “We do not want to be a bargaining chip” for others; “we want to be a full participant.” But Russian officials have repeatedly insisted that Ukraine has no place in such talks because, according to their false claim, Russia is not involved militarily in Ukraine.
Whether the United States will agree with Kyiv or whether in pursuit of a deal with Moscow it will sideline the Ukrainians, however, may make less difference to what will happen next because regardless of what Trump does, Kyiv experts say, Ukrainians remain committed to fighting for their country against Russian aggression.
The Kyiv Center for Research on the Army, Conversion and Disarmament has released a new report, “Challenges and Risks for Ukraine: The Main Tendencies in the Security Sphere for January-February 2017 (cacds.org.ua/ru/safe/news/992). Kseniya Kirillova excerpts and summarizes it for Radio Liberty (ru.krymr.com/a/28260594.html).
The report says that any agreement between Trump and Putin “can inflict great harm on Ukraine” by promoting “a new, earlier unheard of re-division of spheres of influence” in Eastern Europe and a change in the balance between Russia and the US around the world. Moreover, it adds, there is a risk that some European countries will follow any new American line.
At the same time, the Kyiv research center says that Trump may be restrained in reaching an accord with Putin by some of his own cabinet members and also by Republicans in the US Congress. But while these forces may slow a rapprochement between Washington and Moscow, Ukrainians would be wrong to expect that they will prevent it.
The report continues by pointing to another trend which is working against Ukraine: the rise of “an ideology of double standards” in which Ukraine is blamed for all kinds of things and Russia is not blamed even for the things it so obviously has done. Indeed, in the West, few officials use the words “war” or “aggression” in the case of Russian actions in Ukraine.
Over time, this works for Moscow and against Ukraine, the Kyiv report continues, because ever more Ukrainians are discouraged and even are displaying less patriotism than they did and because of “the worsening conditions of the development of a professional [Ukrainian] army.”
Other analysts, Kirillova points out, note that “about 95 percent” of the weapon systems Ukraine has are “more than 25 years old” and that the lack of sufficient financing – and she might have added restrictions imposed by Western governments on what Ukraine is able to purchase make this problem even worse.
According to the new Kyiv report, the Ukrainian government’s reluctance to attack anywhere lest it provoke Russian “terrorist groups” has allowed the latter to achieve “tactical advantages” on the battlefield even as it has increased discouragement among Ukrainians that they will ever gain a victory.
Moscow is exploiting this to promote the destabilization of Ukraine and the re-arrangement of its political system to Russia’s benefit. And it is also taking advantage of the position of Kyiv and the West to militarize Russian-occupied Crimea, a development that is also intended to intimidate both of its opponents.
But the report continues, not everything is going against Ukraine. Its military units are improving in quality and its development program gives hope that the Ukrainian army will become ever more capable over the next several years, and consequently, Mikhail Samus, the deputy director of the Kyiv center, says that “Ukraine is moving in the correct direction.”
As a result, he adds, “even Putin’s hopes for a deal with Trump and a Yalta-2 agreement will not help change the situation” in Russia’s favor. “In simplest terms, if the Ukrainians in the future will fight with Russia, no Trump will be able to help Putin.”
Russia is too weak for that. It lacks the time and resources “for a major campaign against Ukraine,” Samus says. Consequently, “now Moscow’s main hope is internal destabilization” through the political system via “the activities of ‘a fifth column’ and agents of the Russian special services inside Ukraine.”
If Ukraine is able to solve its economic problems, and if at the same time, Russia is not and faces ever more difficulties in that sector, he concludes, Russia will face a more complicated future, one in which it will have to consider what it can afford to do – and equally what it can no longer afford as well.