What the Kerch Strait Clash means for the future of Ukraine's democracy

adminNovember 28, 2018

Ukraine's democratic progress is fragile and there is a danger that the opposition in the home country can manifest itself in an ugly way, independent of Russia.

Russia's November 26 attack on the Ukrainian fleet in the Kerch Strait off the coast of the Crimea, followed by Kyiv's order on the war on the following day, has seen the conflict in Ukraine again dominate the headlines around the world. The cross in Eastern Ukraine has entered its fifth year, taken 11,000 lives, displaced millions and seen terrify trips back to Europe's landscape. However, leading policemen – both in Ukraine and in the wider west – seem to be inferior, offering political proposals that are largely unrealistic or dangerous escalating. Looking forward to what the incident means for Ukraine makes it clear that the status quo is long delayed for a change.

Firstly, it must be noted that orders of court martial, which comes into force on 28 November, is unparalleled in Ukraine's independent history. Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, has voted to approve the measure of the southern and eastern regions of the country as well as the province Vinnytsia, the southern edge bordering on Moldova's interrupted Transnistria region. An enclave relies on Russian military and financial support, and the proxy regimes control half of Ukraine's self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk provinces – the easternmost areas. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine shows no signs of improvement, with disturbances in the front line continuing unmasked, although no major escalation or changes in controls have occurred since 2015.

No Sideshow

By declaring the war laws, President Petro Poroshenko was warned that Ukrainian intelligence had revealed a Russian plot to launch an earthquake and mentioned the threat posed by the great military presence that the Kremlin has built up along Ukraine's borders. Moscow has been in control of the Crimea since the annex of the peninsula in 2014, and so the Russian threat is palpable within Ukraine's internationally recognized borders as well. Without access to the documents quoted by Poroshenko (they are not published) it is impossible to tell how this threat may have changed in the last few days.

Part of that reason, as influential as America's former ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, has rejected the introduction of martial arts as a side show. This is misleading. The very nature of Western support to Ukraine comes less from realistic considerations of power and geopolitics, but first and foremost by the fact that the so-called Euromaidan Revolution clearly made the goal of making Ukraine a liberal democratic state. If the introduction of fighting security threatens that development, this will be an unlimited victory for the Kremlin, who only wants to discredit the Ukrainian Revolution and its progressive aspirations.

In an effort to overcome such concerns, the Verkhovna Rada only enforced the war for 30 days instead of the first 60-day recommendation. It also adopted a resolution that guarantees that the presidential election scheduled for March 2019 would continue as planned. While one must hope for Russia and Ukraine's sake as well as in the world that a complete invasion will not pass, there will be a high risk that the Kremlin will attempt to disturb this poll, potentially through further provocations.

Of course, there are also domestic challenges for the Ukrainian elections. Oligarchic control of the economy and important political blocks remain a major challenge, and institutional reforms are difficult, even though there are some advances. Further involvement is therefore necessary with the Ukrainian civil society, which has been ahead of not only the Euromaidan movement but has valuable experience with the country's challenges without foreign government or activist group can recreate. For example, nonprofit Fakes Radar, which serves to counteract Russian disinformation, was founded by Dmytro Potekhin – the man who helped mark the fraud in the 2004 presidential election that preceded the Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, such activists even lack a sense of political influence on the country's oligarchs; External support can help balance the scales.

The choice that Ukrainian people will do when it comes to the country's next president must remain theirs and theirs alone. It is true that populist forces are on its way up and the current frontrunner in polls is a controversial former prime minister with a routed track, Yulia Tymoshenko. Nevertheless, Ukraine's supporters must also realize that Ukraine's democratic progress is extremely fragile and there is a danger that the opposition in the home country can manifest itself in an ugly way, independent of Russia. Preparing for such coincidences and efforts to ensure the purchase and rigging of voices does not bother the choice lacking.

Sending signals

Instead of such constructive efforts, countless talks can be found that the West must take action to support Ukraine through clear military signaling. The Atlantic Council's top fellow, Anders Åslund, one of the most prospective voices in the United States about the Ukrainian conflict, demanded that NATO send ships to the Azores to ensure it is still open to international freight. Not only will such efforts be extremely escalating; it is also very unlikely to receive support from Turkey's most powerful navy in the region – given the deeper relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and Vladimir Putin.

That's not to say there are no steps Ukrainian Allies can take to support it. Intervention in Russia and Ukraine's economic conflict on Kyiv would be a strong first step. An immediate effort from the US may be the reopening of the government bond guarantee program effectively frozen by the Trump Administration. The US offered such guarantees for $ 3 billion in Ukrainian debt between 2014 and 2017, and should do it again, as Russia's actions in Ukraine's finance costs spike again, preventing Kyiv's access to international credit markets. The International Monetary Fund should also assess the political economy in its mandatory economic reforms in Ukraine, where they are seized by populist and even anti-democratic groups to galvanize opposition to the government and the ideas of the Euromaidan movement.

It is certain that there are also further sanctions against Russia. The discussion about such measures is already underway in March attacks on Russian double Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yuliya in the UK. The US Congress is also discussing further measures, although – at least before the Kerch event – it was expected that these would be delayed to at least January when the new congress is sitting. Numerous sanction regimes are nominally linked to Russia's actions in Ukraine and, at least in theory, will be loosened or lifted completely if Russia adheres to the Minsk protocol, despite this also giving the Kremlin an influence level in Ukraine unacceptable to many of its citizens .


However, many escalations have not yet been met with concrete sanctions. For example, although Australia and the Netherlands announced in May that they held Russia legally responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014, no direct action has been taken. Ukraine is also unable to distribute its own air force in its own sky to assume separatist proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk due to Russian threats to hiring its anti-aircraft force in defense.

Instead of discussing sanctions every time Russia takes an escalating step in Ukraine, or renewing them every six months as the EU today does, Ukrainian Allies must consider sketching sanctions that would automatically come into force at various escalations. Strong arguments have been made for such sanctions to be effective, especially with regard to Russia's economy, although there are valid counter-arguments that they have not managed to isolate Russia politically.

But if the goal is that penalties will appear as deterrent to further Russian hostilities, Prime Minister Talsmann Heather Nauert said only in August that they should be, then it must be clear exactly what measures Russia will face if it escalates. Given the medium-sized state of the Russian economy and the growing sense among Russians that Putin is responsible for the country's economic challenges, such an effort may prove effective in preventing any escalation in Ukraine.

It is a challenging and uncertain time for Ukraine, especially for both foreign and domestic police officers whose efforts are not yet intended to help Ukraine fulfill the promises Euromaidan offered. The recent escalation and imposition of warfare only adds to Kyiv's countless challenges and poses far-reaching threats. They must meet by developing sensible and employment policies that act as deterrent to further escalation and also help Ukrainian civil society to take the lead in developing and protecting the country's future.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observers.

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