.
Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has become both a focal point of U.S.-Russian geopolitical competition, and an important issue in the European Union’s relations with Russia. Some American policy makers believe that by pulling Ukraine into the U.S. sphere of influence, Russia can be prevented from reestablishing its “empire” (or as Moscow puts it, its “privileged sphere of influence”) over the so-called post-Soviet space (which from the Moscow’s standpoint, is also pre-Soviet space). Indeed, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has argued that without Ukraine, Moscow’s hopes of an imperial restoration are doomed to fail. On the other hand, American liberal internationalists—who deny the existence of “spheres of influences”—have strongly argued for the inclusion of Ukraine in the EU and NATO. For liberal internationalists, Ukraine’s inclusion in those structures would enhance the liberal international order created by the US after the Soviet Union’s collapse. On 21 November 2013, President Yanukovych's decided to forgo an EU-Ukraine trade agreement and seek closer cooperation with Moscow. The events that follow—the Maidan protest, the seizing of Crimea by the Russians on March 2014, the declaration of independence by the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk (May 11, 2014)—put U.S.-Russian relations in the deep freeze. In both Washington and Moscow pundits are talking about a “New Cold War”. The U.S. and the EU (although not always on the same page) have imposed economic sanctions on Russia. NATO created a Spearhead force, and expanded its military exercises notably in Eastern Europe. The Russians, reportedly, are amassing troops at the border with Ukraine and flying planes all over Europe. On February 12, 2015 The Minsk II agreement was signed by Ukraine, Russia, and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Yet, the situation in Ukraine did not improve. On one hand, Chechen Islamist paramilitary troops fighting on the Ukrainian side have started to operate in Donbas. On the other hand, the Right Sector—an ultra-nationalist paramilitary Ukrainian party—once part of the Maidan revolution—is calling for the resignation of the Ukrainian government. Those developments have the potential to throw Ukraine into chaos and bring U.S.-Russian relations to a point of no return. To avoid these outcomes, Kiev must make efforts to strengthen its control over Ukraine’s territory, and make sure that it doesn’t further exacerbate the relations between Washington and Moscow. Kiev needs to follow a two-pronged policy. First, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should settle his disputes with the Donbas separatists. Second, Kiev needs to deal with the Right Sector paramilitary units. Ukraine’s decentralization will make it easy to negotiate with the Donbas separatists. On July 15, the Ukrainian parliament—the Rada—voted to submit constitutional amendments to the Ukrainian Constitutional Court for review. If approved, those changes would allow Ukraine’s regions—including the eastern separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk—more autonomy. The White House welcomed the news. The heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) asked for the right to elect their own leaders and civil servants through an independent electoral commission; independent public management; the right to recruit their own local militia; “financial independence” meaning financial aid from Kiev; and military neutrality for Ukraine (non-accession to any military alliances).    The Ukrainian government should seek an agreement with the separatists along these lines. That would lessen the pressures coming from Moscow, and eventually contain the Chechen Islamic paramilitary, who otherwise could destabilize other parts of Ukraine. As for the Right Sector, on July 12, violence erupted in the town of Mukachevo, in Western Ukraine, between members of its paramilitary and local authorities. The New York Times reported that: “the Right sector has refused to incorporate formally into the army of Interior Ministry troops, leading to worries of a possible second wave of the revolution in Ukraine” led by the extreme right.  In the aftermath of the clash, President Poroshenko called the paramilitary “terrorists”. In return, the Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh called on Poroshenko, the cabinet, and the Rada to resign. Speaking at the rally at Kiev’s Maidan on July 21, he denounced the Minsk agreements and declared a new stage of the Ukrainian revolution. If the Right Sector continues its fight, and opens a “Western front” for good—short of the U.S. intervention—Kiev will not be able to cope simultaneously with military pressures coming from the Right Sector in the West and the Donbas in the East. In other words, Kiev is between a hammer and an anvil. The lesser evil are the Donbas separatists who do not want to leave Ukraine anymore, and, who cannot economically survive on their own. Kiev should not cave in to the Right Sector demands. If it does so, President Poroshenko could be making the same mistake that the Russian Provisional Government made in 1917. The Bolsheviks organized an armed uprising in Petrograd in July 1917. The upraising was suppressed, but in late August 1917, Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky allowed the Bolsheviks to arm the workers and restore the Red Guard in order to help the government to fight back the revolt of General Lavr Kornilov. As a consequence, the Bolsheviks became both legitimized and emboldened, and two months later toppled the Provisional Government. If Kiev cannot stop the Right Sector paramilitary, the Ukrainian government may suffer a similar fate. Sealing a deal with the leaders of DPR and LPR may be the only way to save the Ukrainian statehood. There are clear signs that such a deal is actually possible. On the one hand, DNR and LNR dropped the independence claim on their own, and reportedly began pulling back tanks and light artillery from the frontline. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin has refused to annex them. Therefore, it is time for Poroshenko to pick the lesser evil and, first and foremost, settle the disputes in Donbas. About the authors: Gabriela Marin Thornton is an Instructional Associate Professor with the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. Alexey Ilin is an intern at the Kennan Institute (Wilson Center) and an Edmund S. Muskie fellow.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Saving Ukraine: What’s Next for Poroshenko?

KIEV, UKRAINE - FEB 10, 2014: Downtown of Kiev.Situation in the city.Destruction,propaganda and barricades. Riot in Kiev and Western Ukraine.February 10, 2014 Kiev, Ukraine
August 11, 2015

Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has become both a focal point of U.S.-Russian geopolitical competition, and an important issue in the European Union’s relations with Russia. Some American policy makers believe that by pulling Ukraine into the U.S. sphere of influence, Russia can be prevented from reestablishing its “empire” (or as Moscow puts it, its “privileged sphere of influence”) over the so-called post-Soviet space (which from the Moscow’s standpoint, is also pre-Soviet space). Indeed, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has argued that without Ukraine, Moscow’s hopes of an imperial restoration are doomed to fail. On the other hand, American liberal internationalists—who deny the existence of “spheres of influences”—have strongly argued for the inclusion of Ukraine in the EU and NATO. For liberal internationalists, Ukraine’s inclusion in those structures would enhance the liberal international order created by the US after the Soviet Union’s collapse. On 21 November 2013, President Yanukovych's decided to forgo an EU-Ukraine trade agreement and seek closer cooperation with Moscow. The events that follow—the Maidan protest, the seizing of Crimea by the Russians on March 2014, the declaration of independence by the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk (May 11, 2014)—put U.S.-Russian relations in the deep freeze. In both Washington and Moscow pundits are talking about a “New Cold War”. The U.S. and the EU (although not always on the same page) have imposed economic sanctions on Russia. NATO created a Spearhead force, and expanded its military exercises notably in Eastern Europe. The Russians, reportedly, are amassing troops at the border with Ukraine and flying planes all over Europe. On February 12, 2015 The Minsk II agreement was signed by Ukraine, Russia, and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Yet, the situation in Ukraine did not improve. On one hand, Chechen Islamist paramilitary troops fighting on the Ukrainian side have started to operate in Donbas. On the other hand, the Right Sector—an ultra-nationalist paramilitary Ukrainian party—once part of the Maidan revolution—is calling for the resignation of the Ukrainian government. Those developments have the potential to throw Ukraine into chaos and bring U.S.-Russian relations to a point of no return. To avoid these outcomes, Kiev must make efforts to strengthen its control over Ukraine’s territory, and make sure that it doesn’t further exacerbate the relations between Washington and Moscow. Kiev needs to follow a two-pronged policy. First, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should settle his disputes with the Donbas separatists. Second, Kiev needs to deal with the Right Sector paramilitary units. Ukraine’s decentralization will make it easy to negotiate with the Donbas separatists. On July 15, the Ukrainian parliament—the Rada—voted to submit constitutional amendments to the Ukrainian Constitutional Court for review. If approved, those changes would allow Ukraine’s regions—including the eastern separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk—more autonomy. The White House welcomed the news. The heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) asked for the right to elect their own leaders and civil servants through an independent electoral commission; independent public management; the right to recruit their own local militia; “financial independence” meaning financial aid from Kiev; and military neutrality for Ukraine (non-accession to any military alliances).    The Ukrainian government should seek an agreement with the separatists along these lines. That would lessen the pressures coming from Moscow, and eventually contain the Chechen Islamic paramilitary, who otherwise could destabilize other parts of Ukraine. As for the Right Sector, on July 12, violence erupted in the town of Mukachevo, in Western Ukraine, between members of its paramilitary and local authorities. The New York Times reported that: “the Right sector has refused to incorporate formally into the army of Interior Ministry troops, leading to worries of a possible second wave of the revolution in Ukraine” led by the extreme right.  In the aftermath of the clash, President Poroshenko called the paramilitary “terrorists”. In return, the Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh called on Poroshenko, the cabinet, and the Rada to resign. Speaking at the rally at Kiev’s Maidan on July 21, he denounced the Minsk agreements and declared a new stage of the Ukrainian revolution. If the Right Sector continues its fight, and opens a “Western front” for good—short of the U.S. intervention—Kiev will not be able to cope simultaneously with military pressures coming from the Right Sector in the West and the Donbas in the East. In other words, Kiev is between a hammer and an anvil. The lesser evil are the Donbas separatists who do not want to leave Ukraine anymore, and, who cannot economically survive on their own. Kiev should not cave in to the Right Sector demands. If it does so, President Poroshenko could be making the same mistake that the Russian Provisional Government made in 1917. The Bolsheviks organized an armed uprising in Petrograd in July 1917. The upraising was suppressed, but in late August 1917, Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky allowed the Bolsheviks to arm the workers and restore the Red Guard in order to help the government to fight back the revolt of General Lavr Kornilov. As a consequence, the Bolsheviks became both legitimized and emboldened, and two months later toppled the Provisional Government. If Kiev cannot stop the Right Sector paramilitary, the Ukrainian government may suffer a similar fate. Sealing a deal with the leaders of DPR and LPR may be the only way to save the Ukrainian statehood. There are clear signs that such a deal is actually possible. On the one hand, DNR and LNR dropped the independence claim on their own, and reportedly began pulling back tanks and light artillery from the frontline. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin has refused to annex them. Therefore, it is time for Poroshenko to pick the lesser evil and, first and foremost, settle the disputes in Donbas. About the authors: Gabriela Marin Thornton is an Instructional Associate Professor with the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. Alexey Ilin is an intern at the Kennan Institute (Wilson Center) and an Edmund S. Muskie fellow.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.