Today Putin blinked. He was visibly uncomfortable in formulating a suggestion to postpone the illegal Donetsk referendum being organized by a few thugs with a photocopier. This was the strongest indication yet that Putin’s second attempt at creating a pretext for invading Ukraine has failed. Certainly, he is now working on Plan C, a pretext that won’t rely on forces outside of his control but will be entirely the work of Russia’s intelligence agencies.
Still, today’s announcement appears to give the government in Kyiv a tiny window during which it can lay out clear goals it will pursue in the next few years. While the operations in Donetsk and Luhansk to disarm or eliminate all armed “separatists” must continue until May 24 to allow for a free and fair election on May 25 in as many cities as possible, and Ukraine’s military must continue to prepare for the coming Russian invasion, Ukraine must now lay out clear goals that every future government will pursue. By presenting such goals while demonstrating that the nation is capbale of fighting Russian infiltrators in the East without causing too many civilian casualties, Ukraine will receive much stronger support from Western nations, support that the country will continue to need during the coming years. What are the key steps that Ukraine should undertake now?
Begin a thorough lustration: The events of the last few weeks have shown that Ukraine’s government, civil service, law enforcement, military and justice system are riddled with Russian agents and corrupted personnel. All of them need to be fired and, where they are Russian spies, brought to trial for treason. Without a professional, clean and non-partisan public administration, military and law enforcement, all attempts to reform and defend Ukraine will fail. Putin doesn’t want to see such a lustration process and has even demanded that it should not take place. This suggests, on the contrary, that it must be undertaken thoroughly and relentlessly, as soon as possible. Undoubtedly, any lustration will be contentious, but Ukraine has also to extend this process to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Too many of its leaders and priests actively supported the Yanukovych regime, the Russian invasion of Crimea, and the Russian-sponsored terror campaign in Donetsk and Luhansk, not to mention being corrupt and spying for Russia intelligence agencies, just like their bretheren back home in Russia. Any treasonous priests and bishops, just Russian spies, should be expelled from Ukraine permanently.
Fight corruption: Simultanously with lustration, Ukraine must fight corruption seriously. Euromaidan was the second uprising of the Ukrainian people against endemic corruption in their government. It is time to eliminate this cancer. Corrupt individuals should be jailed; there must be zero tolerance attitude to corruption from now on. The appointment of Tetiana Chornovol to chair the National Anti-Corruption Committee was a first and excellent step, which now needs to be backed up with resources, so she can effectively go after corrupt officials in every single city, village, oblast, ministry and state-owned corporation. To help in this, legislation needs to be introduced to pay whistle-blowers, a percentage of the recovered assets, and legislation that will force all public entities to publish all tenders, bids, contracts and agreements on the internet, just as Poland does, making backroom deals impossible. Last, but not least, Ukraine must aggressively sue European banks and corporations that aided, abetted and profited from corrupt officials and others in Ukraine.
Invest in defense: Ukraine’s military was in a dreadful state and only over the last two months has it finally got the money necessary to put a part of its equipment in service again. But more needs to be done. Greece, with a population of 10.8 million fields 18 active combat brigades, while Ukraine, with a population of 44.5 million, only fields 13. Besides increasing its land, air, marine and costal defense forces, Ukraine also needs to build up a strong territorial army, which should be able to fight a spirited guerrilla war if Russia ever crosses the country’s border again. Ukraine also needs more modern main battle tanks and should move most of its armed forces to the South and East of the country. To prevent Russia from infiltrating and corrupting the ranks of Ukraine‘s Armed Forces, salaries for troops and officers alike need to be tripled and general standing orders similar to Norway’s poster on the wall need to be issued to counter disinformation from Russia. To improve Ukraine’s defense industry, the government should encourage defense companies to cooperate closely with the defense companies of NATO members. Switching to NATO standards would also help to quickly improve the technological level of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Finally, Ukraine should apply for NATO membership as soon as possible and even if it’s not given a specific date when it will join, the country should prepare its military for combined combat operations with the Alliance.
Decentralize and pass a new language law: Decentralization is always a positive step in every country—provided that corruption is kept to a minimum. Ukraine should not devolve powers to the regions just yet, but announce which powers it will devolve once they meet certain goals in the fight against corruption. The same should apply to a new language law, which is needed to ally fears among Ukrainians in the East. A new language law should protect the language rights of all minorities and make it clear that, while regions may decide to have one or more regional languages in education, administration and government, the official state language remains Ukrainian. For a detailed working model, Ukraine can look to Italy, which has Italian as the state language, but French, Slovenian and German as regional, and Ladin as local languages.
Renew law enforcement and the justice system: The last few months have shown Ukraine that too many police officers are corrupt. All of these officers need to be fired and replaced with fewer, but better-paid and better-trained officers who are loyal to the country and its people The same applies to the justice system, where too many judges and attorneys have been handing down rulings based on the highest bidder. Only a corruption-free police and justice system will be effective in eradicating corruption elsewhere and forming an atmosphere were property is respected, so that investment and business activity can prosper.
Make Crimea hell for Russia: Russia occupied Crimea illegally and by force, held an illegal pseudo-referendum and published some ridiculous results (123% turnout in Sevastopol), and then annexed Crimea illegally. Ukraine should not got to war to regain Crimea because civilized nations don’t go to war to conquer territory. What Ukraine should do is everything in its power to make Crimea hell. First of all, send only as much water, gas and electricity to Crimea as is needed for the people there to survive normally, but no more, hopefully shutting down all industry on the peninsula. Next, Ukraine must sue every company that even considers investing in Crimea (like Burger King), demanding compensation and creating a PR disaster for them. And if Russian state entities invest in Crimea, sue them in every court imaginable and freeze their assets if they profit from Ukrainian state assets. Keep this legal campaign going indefinitely. At the same time, encourage civil and peaceful resistance in Crimea. Russia will quickly resort to brutal repression, as Putin abhors any form of dissent and such repression will expose his lie that Crimea’s annexation was universally welcomed. Even under duress, resistance should remain peaceful, persistent and visible. As long as resistance in Crimea continues, no one will forget the illegal annexation.
Troll Russia in international organizations: All nations recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. Ukraine should take advantage of this to troll Russia relentlessly among international organizations. First Ukraine should remind all nations that the Crimean Tatars as the indigenous people of Crimea deserve special protection and that Ukraine, in coordination with Türkiye, will act as protecting power for them. Along with Western partners Ukraine should then bring a resolution confirming this to the United Nations and have it backed by the members of the General Assembly. Russia will try to prevent this, but all nations that did not recognize the annexation of Crimea will vote with Ukraine and hand Russia a real defeat. Then, Ukraine must take this fight to other organizations like UNESCO and add key sites like the Genoese fortress at Sudak to the list of World Heritage Sites. Then add the ruins of the ancient capital of the Crimean Goths at Mangup and so on. Then troll Russia by designating Crimean War cemeteries of European nations and Türkiye as exclaves of these countries. This will thwart Russian attempts at stealth recognition of Crimea’s annexation via international organizations.
Help topple the Putin regime: Russia today is the main enemy of a free and prosperous Ukraine. There can be no illusions, now, that, in order to prosper, Ukraine needs to help topple the corrupt regime ruling Russia. Ukraine should generously offer shelter and protection to all dissidents persecuted in Russia, especially opposition politicians, journalists and bloggers. In addition, Ukraine should invite Russian students to study at its universities to experience freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom from persecution, and freedom from corruption. At the same time, Ukraine should gradually reduce trade with Russia, especially in defense-related industries, and refocus on arming its own military. Russia should also not be allowed to buy spare parts for its helicopters and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, Ukraine can foster closer ties with Belarus and try to help that country break free of Putin’s yoke.
Ukraine can defeat Russia, as Russia is nothing but a self-imagined giant, with llittle intelligence and even less power. While a Russian invasion is still very probable and Ukraine needs to be eternally vigilant against any aggression, it is also high time that Ukraine begin to present its long-term strategies to wean itself off Russia and its negative influence, and to develop a truly European society, state and nation. Putin is frightened by the idea of a European society and mentality taking hold in Ukraine and subsequently spreading to Russia, so he will do everything to obstruct Ukraine on this path. Going this way without going astray is the best defense Ukraine has against Russia and its hostile influence.
Edited by Lidia Wolanski
Thomas Theiner is a writer and production manager. He has previously lived in Kyiv for 5 years and worked at a subsidiary of Ukraine’s biggest film company.