Kyiv must seek collapse of Putin regime, not ‘restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity at any price,’ Portnikov says

Devastation in the Donbas - the product of Putin's military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy)

Devastation in the Donbas - the product of Putin's military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy) 

2015/11/20 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov argues that the goal of the Ukrainian government should not be “the restoration of territorial integrity at any price but rather the undermining of the economy of the aggressor country and the collapse of Putin’s political regime.”

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

Western media say that the EU and the US “do not intend” to lift their sanctions against Russia “in exchange for cooperation in the struggle with international terrorism. This is completely logical: Russia was sanctioned in response to its annexation of Crimea and the occupation of the Donbas,” he says.

Thus, these sanctions against Russia will be extended at the upcoming EU summit. But the real question is “for how long?” And Ukraine has a vital interest in that question.

The Kremlin understands all this perfectly well, Portnikov says. It assumes that sanctions will be extended for several months, and consequently, it plans to use that time to “show that Ukraine itself is not fulfilling the Minsk agreements” while Moscow is doing everything necessary so that the sanctions won’t be extended again.

Instead, the West will increasingly view both Russia and Ukraine as being to blame and therefore there will be calls not to punish only one side, something that will contribute to pressures to lift the sanctions against Moscow and push for “a final resolution of the conflict and the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine all together.”

Given that “the crisis in the Donbas could be solved in 24 hours if Putin ended the occupation and support of the militants,” that is Moscow’s position, the one it is “discussing with representatives of the pro-Russian lobby in the West,” Portnikov says. And that reality should dictate Kyiv’s approach and negotiating goals.

Russian terrorists are deliberately destroying the infrastructure of the Donbas. Destroyed railway bridge over the road Sloviansk-Donetsk-Mariupol

Russian terrorists are deliberately destroying the infrastructure of the Donbas. Destroyed railway bridge over the road Sloviansk-Donetsk-Mariupol

“Kyiv’s chief task must be the extension of sanctions against the aggressor for the maximum extent possible [now] and work for their further prolongation” when more decisions are made in the future, he argues.

And he says that Ukrainians “must remember that our goal is not the restoration of territorial integrity at any price but the undermining of the economy of the aggressor country and the collapse of the political regime of Russia. Only this – and nothing else – will secure us long-term security and normal development in the future.”

Portnikov’s position on this will infuriate many in Ukraine but even more in Moscow and the West, both of whom have made the issue of the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, albeit defined in entirely different ways and to be used for entirely different purposes, the centerpiece of their policies.

But Portnikov’s realism on this point is likely to spark new debates on how Kyiv should proceed especially now when many in Moscow are demanding and many in the West are considering an easing of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine in the name of cooperation between Russia and the West in the war against ISIS.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Lev Havryliv

    Portnikov is correct. Ukraine will not have full security until Russian fascism and its imperialist ideology is defeated.

    In the meantime Ukraine must boost its military and defense capabilities. A strong, united, independent Ukraine is the best guarantee of security and stability in Europe.

  • Nowhere Girl

    “the crisis in the Donbas could be solved in 24 hours if Putin ended the occupation and support of the militants” – I wouldn’t be so sure about it. Putin has already lost much of his control over the Donbas terrorists. Putin is to some extent pragmatic, while these people are either “russkiy mir” fanatics or just bandits who are drooling over an opportunity to rob and kill with at least temporary impunity (which is, by the way, yet another similarity between them and ISIS).
    The war in Donbas simply didn’t go as Putin expected. He thought that after Crimea he could steal even more land from Ukraine just as easily. It seems he really believed that there are millions of people in Ukraine who are dreaming about being a part of Russia. It didn’t work – in Odesa the danger was averted, in case of DNR and LNR it also didn’t go so smoothly because Ukraine started to put up a fight. Putin isn’t so dumb not to notice that this is a failed project and he would be eager to abandon it completely. He clearly said he doesn’t want to annex these territories. Sure, if Putin’s body reacted to lying like Pinocchio’s, Putin’s nose should already have reached Alpha Centauri. But I think this time he is serious – he would like to give the Donbas project up, but he can’t because there are thousands of thugs – invited, of couse, by himself – who are more radical than him and want him to annex these territories. As I wrote – either fanatics who suffer from Russian land grab habit even more than Putin himself – or bandits who don’t want the war to be over because they consider it an adventure.

  • Sergey Sedlovsky

    Both elements are very important. They’re interconnected.