Created On Monday, 10 February 2014 13:49
The deal involving US $15 billion has dug such an unbridgeable gap between the two countries and their political elites that Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych themselves, the two men Moscow most loved to hate, could not have done as well.
There were many expectations of the meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents in Sochi—cutting financial deals, agreeing candidates for the PM’s seat, and, in the end, deciding just how the Ukrainian regime should respond to its unresolved political crisis. In the end, no meeting actually took place. An announcement by the Russian President’s press secretary of a rendezvous “on Olympian fields” was little more than an excuse, the typical line Putin’s administration offers whenever its boss simply doesn’t want to see someone.At the Olympics opening ceremony, Sochi-2014 (photo: Myroslav Otkovych)
The point is not in so much that there was no meeting, but rather in the demonstrative contempt which the organizers of the show hold the Ukrainian leader. Gossip about the fact that “No one wanted to sit next to Yanukovych” seemed comic to any professional diplomat. Yanukovych sat exactly where he was placed—nowhere. He was not in even relative proximity to Putin, so that he would not accidentally be photographed next to the Olympic host. Nor was he seated among the Kremlin vassals who have joined the Customs Union. Yanukovych was left to wave his flag alone. In Putin’s eyes, Yanukovych was neither a guest of honor, nor a vassal. He’s simply a failure. But the worst of it is, that he is a living reminder that Putin himself is a failure.
The Russian President, as he and people close to him must have thought, pulled off the biggest deal of his career as a businessman in big league politics. Having promised USD 15bn to the Ukrainian leader in a masterfully meld of promises and threats, the Kremlin dreamer forced Yanukovych to ultimately abandon possible European integration, quarrel with the West and return a country that seemed irrevocably on the path of civilized development to the arms of a half-dead quasi-empire still desperately resisting modernity. But at that point the Ukrainian people once more got in the way and Putin—who has absolutely no skills as a public politician and prefers bribery and provocation to serious discussions—found his plans in disarray.
Now, what he was supposed to do? Force Yanukovych to crush Maidan? The consequences of such a dispersal are unpredictable and the risk is that a change of government might bring to power new forces that have no wish to talk with the Kremlin at all. Destabilization, exploding pipelines and the collapse of Gazprom, which has not yet completed its long-awaited underwater routes or modernized the Belarusian GTS, are something Putin doesn’t even want to think about. The break-up of Ukraine is also not in his interests: Russia will find itself with completely useless coal and steel industries under its control, most of which it will be forced to shut down in favor of its much more competitive Kuzbass. The most important bits will remain in the west: the pipeline and—!—Ukraine’s immense underground gas storage facilities.
That’s why Putin doesn’t need any break-up. He needs order. And Yanukovych is obviously unable to restore order. Should we give him more money? But the three billion already disbursed has vanished without a trace—without Kyiv even paying for gas. The same fate is likely to meet any further Russian tranches. So the question now is: what happens when the money runs out? After all, the Motherland’s bottomless barrels aside, when the 15 billion end, Putin won’t find more money for Yanukovych. Right now, he can bluff a little, playing as though he is an equal partner to the West in the tug-o-war over Ukraine. But when the money ends, so will his bluff.
And that’s why Putin has begun to listen to the West’s proposals regarding a settlement of Ukraine’s conflict with greater interest. Unfortunately, those proposals exclude the option of Yanukovych maintaining a monopoly on power, and that means that Ukraine’s foreign policy course could shift in a matter of hours. Negotiating with Ukraine’s powers-that-be will become a lot more complicated. And negotiating with Ukraine’s people will be out of the question.
Now that’s why the Russians have begun to retrench in Kharkiv. There are several reasons for this. First is to have their influence group, a pro-Russian party in the event that a parliamentary republic is established and horse trading begins for the formation of a new Government. Second is to show Yanukovych that the break-up of the country is not in his interests, either. One map of a split Ukraine making the rounds of social networks shows the Center and the West are an integrated state, but the East is divided into several parts. This is actually the Russian map of Ukraine’s possible future: Moscow is ready to leave to Yanukovych and his Donetsk cohort their patrimony of Donbas and to turn the rest—Left Bank Ukraine, Bessarabia and Crimea—into a protectorate along the lines of Transdnistria, which incidentally will finally have almost a common border with its sponsor. Clearly, this is quite a scary plan, so we can agree that such a turn of events is not of interest to Yanukovych or to Ukraine’s elite as a whole.
Now then, what can Putin want to speak to Yanukovych about? Money? He doesn’t want to hand out money. The Premier’s seat? Yanukovych just dismissed a PM whom Putin trusted as his own man. Dispersing Maidan? Putin doesn’t want the West to see him as responsible for a crackdown, so let Yanukovych figure it out for himself. Celebrating Shevchenko’s anniversary? Seems that that was already discussed.
So, the brilliant USD 15bn deal that was supposed to turn Ukraine into a Russian homeland has instead dug an unbridgeable gap between the two countries and their political elites, one that Moscow’s beloved Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych themselves never managed to dig. Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych have done the job for them.
Translated by Olena Grudnenko