(The Voice of Russia) President-elect of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko has vowed to wipe out the resistance in eastern regions of the country and re-establish order across Ukraine after winning office May 25. Sergei Oznobishev, Director of Institute for Strategic Assessment, and Arkady Moshes, Director of EU Eastern neighborhood and Russia Program of Finnish Institute of International Affairs, shared their opinion on the situation with Radio VR.
What is going on in Ukraine? Why such actions, why such contradictions?
Sergei Oznobishev: I suppose that Poroshenko is first of all the president of his own country and he has to reflect the interests that were declared by the political elite in Kiev, in the center. And one of the interest of course, an the principal interest is to keep untouched the united or unitary, as it was pronounced, Ukraine. He never acknowledged some other possibilities for Ukraine. And what is taking place now in any case, I suppose that Poroshenko is trying to gain more, to accumulate more negotiator positions with Russia. He may some day come out with contacting some high level official in Russia, I cannot imagine whether it would be the president or prime minister of Russia, saying that “look, my military operation is rather effective, I may stop it or it is already stopped, but it is not a question for me to squeeze militarily the whole separatist movement”. And this would be a strong position for he cannot just address Kremlin with a no-position saying that “I ask you to stop your active involvement in the Eastern part of Ukraine”, as it is considered in Kiev, and in the world. This would be a weak position. So, he pretends to be a strong president of the strong country. He is addressing Washington rather actively, already planning the visits there, asking for some military support and from this point of view he would be difficult president and a difficult partner in negotiations, from another point of view a strong president of Ukraine would be a person who, I suppose may still keep the promises that he will give. And perhaps a strong person would be much more understandable for the Russian political elite than a weak one. Still the picture is rather contradictory and we should look for some results of what will happen in the coming weeks.
Poroshenko from the very start was trying to pose himself as a leader of united, unified Ukraine, which he sees not as a federal but a unitary state. To what extent you think he would be able to emerge as a national leader when his presidency is washed in blood, as we’ve seen this week?
Arkady Moshes: Mr. Poroshenko is definitely facing a lot of challenges at the moment. But the thing is that speaking objectively, what Ukraine is now facing is a terrible thing but this is still a local conflict. He is not dealing with the conflict which is threatening to tear Ukraine apart to East and West. We are dealing with an insurgency in two areas and the number of people who are actually fighting is still limited. But also it is very difficult to say how many of these fighters are Ukrainian citizens and how many have come from elsewhere. So, it might happen that in the long run this behavior will turn out to be counterproductive but at the moment Ukraine wants to establish political control over the territory over which it has sovereignty. Some of the things which are happening, the deaths of some non-combatants and the collateral damage, it is terrible and this will not boost his ratings in the East of the country. However, I think there are hard choices which have to be made, these choices have been made by Russia time of the war in Chechnya, these are the choices which are now made by Kiev, whether they are right or wrong.
But these actions saw more anger among people and so people more and more are supporting insurgents. Is there any military solution for that conflict then?
Arkady Moshes: I don’t think that there is a military solution per se. Probably not. It is true that those people who are now in the area and who are victims of the conflict, will not be supportive of Mr. Poroshenko. That is for sure and in that sense we clearly see the negative effect of what is happening. But the alternative would be to give us the territory, to accept the dictate of some people with arms, of some gunmen, some of which are not Ukrainian citizens, and this would probably undermine the political position of the president in the rest of the country. So, unfortunately there is no win-win, there is no good solution.
I think that it is now maybe a little difficult to understand how these conflicts and talks with Moscow will start because there is a very negative psychological legacy, we should not expect the chemistry between the two leaders. There’ve been business conflicts, the whole Russian-Ukrainian phase of conflict started last August when Russia banned the exports of Mr. Poroshenko’s candies in Russia. But the point is that it is true that everybody understands that destabilization of Ukraine, and especially Eastern Ukraine would be a security risk for Russia as well. And if you have thousands of men with guns walking behind your border which is not properly protected, and which, it is not a secret, is easily penetrable in both directions, I don’t think people in Moscow would be happy to have only the position of observers and watchers. They are interested in the stabilization and in the end of the conflict it creates a certain ground for the talks. And the other thing is that the economic negotiation has to continue because at this point an all-out gas war between Russia and Ukraine would also work against the interests of both Russia and Ukraine. So, there is a need to have talks. Maybe they should not start at the top political level, but contacts at the technical level go on and will continue and possibly some kind of de-escalation will happen.
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