Russia Sees Ukraine’s Future in the Past

Kommersant found out why Moscow insists to return to the agreement, signed on February 21st

Original article here

Elena Tsjernenko, Kommersant, 05/03/2014

Translation by Nils van der Vegte



Фото: Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

Yesterday, in Madrid, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov discussed the events in Ukraine with the `Minister` of Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Catherine Ashton. Lavrov told Ashton that Moscow is not going to change its policy and criticized the EU and America for the failure of the previous agreements. A Russian diplomatic source called `B` confirmed: The Kremlin convinced Yanukovich to sign the now defunct agreement. Reporting from Madrid with more details is Elena Tsjernenko. 

The meeting the foreign ministers began in a tense atmosphere. Lavrov talked to Ashton at the residence of the Russian Ambassador in Madrid and offered her a plate with biscuits on it: `The biscuits are, of course, not from Maidan , but still`. Ashton refused: `I have never eaten cookies in my life` she said. There was an awkward pause after this. `It looks beautiful here`, Ashton said, trying to lighten the mood. `Yes, our ambassador has earned the right to work in such a place`, the Russian minister said but could not resist taunting Ashton: `Unlike some, we appoint people on merit, not on political beliefs.` He clearly hinted at the new government in Ukraine. Ashton started to objecting but then asked the press to leave the room.

The sarcastic remarks of Lavrov reflect the mood in Moscow, which now clearly harbors a grudge against Brussels. Not only in connection with the announcement of sanctions but also of events that transpired much earlier. A Russian diplomatic source confirmed the statement by Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski that it was Vladimir Putin who, during a telephone conversation on february the 21st, convinced Yanukovich to make consessions to the opposition. According to this source, Vladimir Putin urged Yanukovich to abbandon plans for a state of emergency and begin negotiations with the opposition to stop the bloodshed.

According to the source, President Barrack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France and Poland, requested Putin to influence Yanukovich on this matter. In return, these countries promissed the Kremlin that they would ensure that the Ukrainian opposition would hold up their end of the agreement of February the 21st, which included the creation of a government of `National Unity`, constitutional reforms, early elections and surrendering the illegally acquired weapons. `Yanukovich completely fulfilled his side of the agreement but the opposition did not comply with anything`, the source said. `Now the EU and US wants us to behave like there was no agreement in the first place and `look ahead` but we will not do this.`

In addition, the German authorities have recently reported that Vladimir Putin accepted the proposal of Chancellor Angela Merkel to establish an international mission to investigate the situation in the Crimea under the auspices of the OSCE. However, the source told Kommersant that this is `wishfull thinking` of the Germans. `There are fears that they are trying to draw us in all kinds of formats for legitimizing the new Ukrainian government.` `We are ready to continue the dialogue with our Western partners but only if they are prepared to return to the agreements of February the 21st and that all political forces will be involved in this.` Moscow, according to the source, will not insist on returning Yanukovich to power, but will seek a reallocation of ministerial portfolios which is in the interest of those regions not supporting Maidan.

The EU and the US, it seems, have already given up on the agreements of February the 21st. The statement put out after an emergency session of the Foreign Ministers of the EU did not say a word on these agreements. What it did say is that the EU may impose sanctions on Russia if it did not `de-escalate` the situation in the Crimea. It could be that the EU will consider freezing the negotiations on the liberalization of the visa regime and work on a new basic agreement between the EU and Russia.

`Those who get angry are always wrong` Lavrov answered on the request of Kommersant to comment on the threats made by the West.  `If our partners in Europe and the U.S. are not able to do anything in order to fulfill its obligations pertaining to the agreements between the government and opposition , why are others guilty of their own inaction?` According to Lavrov, Russia´s position is honest and Russia will therefore not change it.

On top of that, the threat made on suspending work on the simplification of visa formalities and the new basic agreement is not particulary worrisome for Moscow: negotiations on those themes stalled long before the Ukrainian crisis. However, the EU does not rule out that it may expand the number of sanctions to include  financial and trade restrictions , as well as the introduction of extensive black list of banned individuals. According to ” Kommersant ”  Moscow is  hoping that the EU will not be able to agree on a common list of measures and sanctions , and believes that  ” Old Europe ”  wil soften the zeal of “Young” East European members of the Union . Such a calculation may well be justified : Germany , the UK and Spain are against those sanctions.


  1. hey guys!

    could you post a future article detailing your thoughts on this lecture by Anne Applebaum on ”Putinism”.

  2. The more I read about this present crisis in the Ukraine, the more I’m convinced it’s a result of reaction against Moscow as Ukraine slowly, but surely, drifts back towards a consistent pro-Russia stance. In the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was united against Moscow pretty much (minus Crimea), but now a good chunk are drifting back to their natural ally. The violent nationalists don’t like it, and neither does the West or its ideological allies within the old Soviet space, which still view Russia as the ultimate bad guy. Never mind that the bad guys throughout the globe are now masked terrorists of all stripes seeking to impose their will through violent coercion.

    All Putin really has to do is be patient and get a peace agreement along the lines of the February 21st agreement and wait it out as the Ukrainians slowly drift away from Europe and towards Moscow. It was easy when Russia represented violent Communist repression, and so we are seeing people clinging to that out of date worldview in the West and within the old Russian/Soviet Empire itself. Slowly, that worldview will be shattered amongst the fair minded, which is admittedly a small group these days.

    • Polls consistently show increased support for a pro-Western course among Ukrainians, and the areas within Ukraine that are pro-Western have experienced demographic growth over the last 20+ years compared to the other areas of Ukraine.

      A more realistic interpretation is that Russia, seeing its chances of union/close alliance with Ukraine drift away, is “salvaging” parts of Ukraine that are friendly to Russia, before the whole country is lost. Holding Kiev is out of the question, but maybe taking Crimea or perhaps other areas can still be doable…though it increasingly looks as if Crimea may be it. The new government has wisely coopted the southern/eastern oligarchs by making them governors, which I think (as long as these oligarchs don’t get a better deal from Russia) dramatically lowers the odds of separatism in those regions, whose passive people generally do what their bosses want them to do.

      • You might be right. It just seems to me, without knowing too much about the polling data you cite, that the Ukrainians want to have it both ways: Pro-West plus Pro-Moscow, which they should be able to do if both sides play fair. There is, after all, no law that says that Russia and the West must forever be pitted against each other. I saw a poll from early February that said half supported Euromaidan, the other half didn’t. Almost everyone hated Yanukovych (besides the die hard loyalists, I guess). Now, I don’t know the repute of the polling organization or anything like that, but I’d guess that those opposed would have been generally pro-Russian, while the Euromaidan supporters would have been generally pro-Europe, but that doesn’t necessarily make them anti-Russian.

        The question would be: what if they’re forced to make a decision in a more stable political environment? Right now, Russia is the bad guy in the eyes of many Ukrainians because it is seen as attempting to invade and occupy parts of the country, but tempers should cool sometime after the crisis is resolved. Considering the economic and cultural ties to Russia, I would guess that over time they would drift in that direction. It also depends on who gets the better end of the propaganda war. If Russia can present a better vision to Ukraine than simply a return to the old days, she might win the fight in the long-term. Furthermore, the EU is no place right now to integrate Ukraine right now, nor can it offer much help.

        My two cents, albeit I’m no international policy expert. I’m also biased against the European Union and the modern liberal consensus in Europe. I just do not see the E.U.’s political vision selling long-term in Ukraine. Does the average even know how much of a bureaucratic beast the E.U. has become? I doubt it.

        • I should also mention, briefly, I think the nationalists who oppose both European and Russian integration are long term Russian allies if the EU and Russia are pitted against each other. They won’t ever support Russian integration, but they might be able to delay European integration long enough for Russia to get its act completely together in that scenario.

          • I think it’s difficult not to see Russia as the bad guy here. The stance Lavrov defends — we just want our partners to keep the February agreement — is in principle OK and would be very defensible IF it weren’t for the Russian forces in Crimea.

            See, here’s where I see the whole Russian position fall to pieces. They didn’t HAVE to send troops to Crimea. They didn’t HAVE to destabilize it. If they had kept cool, they could simply go on accusing their “Western partners” of disregarding the February agreement, and they might actually have a point: I am sure they would have found sympathetic voices abroad. Putin could then say that the Europeans were ready to make deals with “extremists” (calling the Maidan people simply extremists is an oversimplification that verges on lying, but still there would be some truth in it), and come out of it looking like he was the guy who took the high road.

            And he could have pushed for a referendum in Crimea. Which, if it was done honestly and correctly (a few outside observers should be able to guarantee that), would have given him Crimea, since most Crimeans would certainly have chosen to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia (especially when fed with the propaganda in the Russian channels, exaggerating the level of danger they would be in because of the new government). He might have to wait a couple of years for everything to be done by the book, but he would get it. Eventually Crimea would rejoin Russia. And, who knows? It might even have worked also for Donetsk, Kharkiv, the Donbass… All in the name of democracy and the will of the people. In other words, popular support is high enough there that he would have a very good chance of getting Crimea and perhaps even some regions of Eastern Ukraine to join Russia anyway.

            BUT he sent the troops… and became the bad guy. There is no way now he can make the international community see him as ‘doing the right thing’. He did it so well in the Syria case; if only he had done the same thing for Ukraine!… Gosh, he talks about the West having “not wanting to respect” on the February agreement… and he sends troops to a foreign country, thereby disrespecting a whole pile of preceding agreements and international law.

            So: he will get Crimea. Perhaps even part of Eastern Ukraine. And quickly; Crimea will probably be (unrecognized, but still) part of Russia next month. But he’s made enemies all over, everybody now thinks he is the bad guy, and every time he says the West is not respecting the February agreements he’ll have to hear that he hasn’t respected international law.
            “I reserve the right to intervene to defend the interests of Russian citizens,” my ass! If this counted as an argument, then Turkey would have the right to intervene on behalf of the Crimean Tatars — they’d just have to issue them passports first, right?…

      • I have to side with AP here:

        To expand a bit, back in 1991, all of Ukraine minus a few far western provinces and Kiev – but the latter only by a small margin – voted to preserve the USSR in a free referendum.

        Today, realistically, the focal point of the Europe/Eurasia division has shifted from Kiev to Dnepropetrovsk. And unless there are some “state shifts,” these trends will continue. This is why I think the emphasis now will be on federalizing Ukraine so that Russia can more effectively work with individual (aka south/eastern) Ukrainian oblasts, as opposed to the now unrealistic goal of bringing it into the Eurasian Union.

        • Optimistically or pessimistically, depending on one’s point of view, recent events may have shifted the boundary line even further southern and eastward than Dnipropetrovsk. Based on protests, actions, elite behavior it looks as if Dnipropetrovsk is leaning westward/”unity.” It isn’t Kiev, and no doubt there are significant pro-Russian sentiments there, but it seems to be relatively solidly in the western camp now. I suspect the Crimean action, while galvanizing the hard-pro-Russian people in Ukraine, may have created a backlash among swing voters (as well as further incited anti-Russians forces). I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it, but I suspect the current swing areas are Odessa and Kharkiv. There have even been large, but not huge, pro-Ukraine demonstrations in Donetsk.

          What do you make of the Crimean referendum? I think that rushing it through under Russian guns suggests that its supporters are unsure of whether it would pass under free conditions. A mid-February poll showed only 41% of Crimeans supporting union with Russia (in Donetsk it was 33%):

          A major caveat: the poll didn’t say how many in Crimea opposed union with Russia – it could have been 41% support union, 35% opposed, the rest undecided. So the poll result doesn’t necessarily mean that most Crimeans wouldn’t choose union with Russia. But it does suggest that any honest referendum results might be too close for comfort for the current pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, so they don’t want to take chances and thus the desperate move to have the referendum as soon as possible, without any observers.

          • Here are the full poll results:


            A majority of Ukrainians want friendly relations and visa-free travel with Russia. Even 66% of Western Ukrainians and 58% of Svoboda voters want this.

            Support for union with Russia is 41% in Crimea, 33% in Donetsk, 24% in Odessa, 15.1% in Kharkiv, and only 13.8% in Dnipropetrovsk. In Kiev it was 5.3%.

            Compared to a year ago most eastern and southern regions have seen an increase in pro-union-with-Russia sentiments (this is logical – if one’s own people are in charge of Ukraine, why end the country’s independence or leave the country?). Dnipropetrovsk is an exception – support for union with Russia in this region has decreased in the past year, albeit by only .9%.

        • See, I was under the impression that 92% of the Ukraine, including a majority of voting ethnic Russians and the Crimea, supported breaking away from the Soviet Union. Maybe we are talking about different things, though. Once again, I’m by no means an expert on this subject. The support for strong relations with Russia should be compelling over the long term in Ukraine. They share long-term strategic interests with each other, and share a common history of statehood, even if they have not always been together in one state.

          As far as the Crimean referendum, I would think that we are seeing reactions on both sides right now. Whether those reactions entrench themselves will depend on the actions of leaders in each region. I think the popular support for Russia probably has legitimately expanded in the Crimea and other pro-Russia regions since the breakdown, and clamor for joining the Russian Federation has reached fever pitch. It might be a legitimate desire to express their opinion to the global community which is essentially saying that Crimean interest do not matter right now. It also might be an attempt to use Russian guns combined with backlash against Kiev to get an aberrant result and then transfer that momentum into a more permanent position.

          Leaders on both sides within Ukraine need to urge calm and attempt to come up with a detente that acknowledges the interests of both sides. The government in Kiev appears hell bent against that though. That’s provoking harsh reactions: A sort of with us or against us attitude.

  3. donnyess says:

    “All Putin really has to do is be patient”

    And wait for NATO to move terror cells into Russia…not to mention massive firepower into Poland and the Black Sea.

    What Putin could do is prepare an all-out nuclear strike against the coastal perimeter of US / Canada and most importantly…Israel. If you see rooster-tails coming out from the back of Toyota trucks loaded with arabs in Palestine…you’ll know whats going to happen

    • Which wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t invaded Crimea.

      As for preparing an all-out nuclear strike… You do know the US has nukes too, right? And you wouldn’t like to see Moscow and St. Petersburg become nuclear wastelands, now would you?

  4. AP,

    I think you are wrong on Eastern Ukraine (as the latest events show). The oligarchs can’t pacify the east if there is Russian support for the population there. If they use force they risk a Russian intervention and a doubt there is enough money around to buy their way into power.

    The Euromaidan crowd (oligarch sponsored) turfed out of Donetsk (March 5)

    • And then there is this:

      Donetsk will be the most extreme test-case, I’ll give you that.

  5. And I forgot to add….Kiev is Russia’s ultimate (longer term) aim in all this

  6. donnyess says:

    Looks like the Kremlin is getting chumped out over RT…what else could go wrong? If RT moves any farther to the left they might fall off the planet.

  7. RT America’s Liz Wahl resigns live on air

    I guess not everyone is following the script and there is some decent from unexpected sources unlike like majority of Russian bloggers and commentators who can never see a fault with Mr Putin or any of his actions/policies when they are disastrous and against Russia’s long term interests like the occupation of the Crimea.

    • George Bordakov says:

      They don’t follow the script they follow the pressure from their relatives, friends, compatriots just like Liz Wahl did. These compatriots do believe en masses that the West plans to turn them into slaves as much as people in Baltic states believe Russia plans to turn them into slaves. It is common to call it paranoia (we are all psychiatrists now) on both sides.
      I would say it is all blatant judgementalism and inability to be compassionate to an alien.
      Today I heard interview with Lithuanian ambassador in US on NPR (National Public Radio for those who don’t know). He of course condemned Russia actions and woved for more US military support (without boots on the ground so far). He said that Russia actions are so 19th century and they are not allowed in 21st. They would say something similar 100 years ago. And 19th century turned to be much less bloody than 20th. God save us in 21st.

      • Nobody forced her to quit she did it on her own accord.

        She felt enslaved by the west so she quit? What sense does that make when it was over the crisis in Ukraine which she gave her personal reason as to why she was doing it.

        • George Bordakov says:

          you are putting words in my mouth. Of course she was not felt enslaved by the West. And I did not say so. Russian feel enslaved from the West as well as Baltics feel enslaved from Russia. And I said both feeling should be given due attention and not just called paranoia.
          She felt pressure from here compatriots. That is what I said. Of course she did, either she mentioned it or not. The pressure is palpable. And she gave a personal reason, that is pressure from family, friends, etc.

          • No she didn’t. She mentioned that here family arrived from Hungry during the Hungarian Uprising and that her boyfriend is serving in the armed force and is opposed to the whitewashing of Putin and his regime at RT nothing to do with any pressure from friends or family.

            The issue her resignation has do with journalist freedom at RT and media in Russia and how they are not allowed to criticise Putin or Russian policies.

            As I said to Karlin:

            “With Russian commentators and bloggers there doesn’t seem to be any criticism of any of Putin’s actions/policies either domestic or foreign like his disastrous adventure in the Crimea and policy in Ukraine.”

            • George Bordakov says:

              “her boyfriend is serving in the armed force and is opposed to the whitewashing of Putin and his regime at RT nothing to do with any pressure from friends or family”
              Sounds illogical. The opposition from her boyfriend to whitewashing of Putin in RT (her job) is a pressure from family, isn’t it?
              Now all this business reminds me relationships between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy.

              • That was in reference that she was opposed to the whitewashing of Putin and his regime at RT not the boyfriend.

    • Truly a heroic stand that is rightfully being applauded throughout the Western media.

      Just like the resignations of Al Jazeera journalists in 2012 over its Syria and Bahrain coverage. Truly marvelous to behold the consistency and high universal principles at play here.

      • Yes but Al Jazeera is also state funded but doesn’t promote the whole Question More? angle to it.

        You are missing the point about the criticism of RT and the significance of the resignation is that RT and the media in Russia that is viewed as being pro-Putin and anti-western propaganda.

        With Russian commentators and bloggers there doesn’t seem to be any criticism of any of Putin’s actions/policies either domestic or foreign like his disastrous adventure in the Crimea and policy in Ukraine.

  8. donnyess says:

    I’ve known for a long time that RT was compromised…one of their anchors parroted a euro-wide smear job about the neo-pagan skinhead Varg Vikernes after he was arrested in France for “supposedly” plotting terrorism.

  9. donnyess says:

    “Truly a heroic stand that is rightfully being applauded throughout the Western media.”

    Don’t expect anyone in the US working for corporate media to emulate this behavior. It could lead to getting blacklisted…and nowadays it’s really easy for someone in the government to freeze your bank account.

  10. donnyess says:

    Now would be a good time for Obama to dissolve the NATO alliance and welcome the creation of a multi-polar world. One way or the other…the semitic influence is headed downward.

  11. donnyess says:

    It’s time for Dugin to take control of RT and make it into a *real* channel about *real* Russia featuring *real* Russians.