December 11, 2019
Ukraine has featured prominently in the American media for the past several months. As a former member of the Ukrainian Parliament, I view this situation with broad global perspectives and outcomes in mind, especially as Russia continues to threaten Ukrainian democracy. If Russia succeeds in destabilizing Ukrainian democracy, and the European Union and the United States both fail to stand up to Russia’s aggression, there will be serious security implications across the globe.
I can hardly believe that the recent scandal in the United States involving U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is accidental. The scandal serves as an opportunity for Russia to discredit Ukraine and has a direct impact on other events surrounding the war in eastern Ukraine; this all clearly plays into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This scandal is especially timely given the peacekeeping negotiations to establish a United Nations mission in eastern Ukraine, discussions which count on the agreement of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia.
During my time as a World Fellow at Yale, I have spoken to a number of audiences on campus and have found there to be many questions around U.S.-Ukraine relations, Ukraine and Europe, and how recent events influence both relationships. In this moment, there are three key points to understanding the situation better:
1. Ukraine-U.S. relations today
When reading about relations between Ukraine and the United States in American media, you often see words like “scandal,” “impeachment,” “corruption,” “pressure,” “unfair political struggle,” and “abuse,” all which play into the partisan divide in the U.S. today. What is really happening in Ukraine has little effect on American’s emotional perception of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
The negativity surrounding Ukraine creates serious problems pertaining to U.S. aid to Ukraine. The U.S. will continue to publicly support Ukraine, but at a minimally sufficient level. Getting practical help or expanding strategic partnerships between countries will be an extremely difficult task for Ukrainian diplomacy and politicians for at least the next year.
There is reason to be optimistic. The congressional testimony of most U.S. diplomats who have worked or are working in Ukraine focuses on the need for Ukraine’s support in the region and demonstrates the real intentions and attempts of Ukrainians, in difficult times of war and economic loss, to transform their country into a democratic state, closely mirroring democracies like the U.S. and others in Europe. This has brought much-needed context to the partnership between the U.S. and Ukraine.
2. EU-Ukraine relations (namely France and Germany)
The U.S impeachment proceedings against President Trump have led to some freezing of the active position of the U.S. on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine: the positions remained unchanged, but the intensity of communication by the U.S. against Russia has clearly weakened.
As a result, the leaders of the global coalition in the Russian war against Ukraine have been deactivated for some time. This, on the one hand, gives room for the European Union to lead in sanctioning Russia for its actions against Ukraine. On the other hand, it weakens the position of European partners, who, thanks to the active position of the U.S., have constantly supported the continuation of sanctions.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to go down in history and strengthen his leadership in Europe through the settlement of military conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the heart of the European continent, is obvious. Plus, at the expense of solving the Ukrainian issue, Macron hopes to improve Ukraine’s economic situation once sanctions against Russia are lifted. There is nothing wrong with this intention, but the problem is that the essence of the agreements and their implications for the internal situation in Ukraine is of little concern to the French leader. And this is a key threat for Ukraine today.
No one cares that the price of Macron’s ambitions may be the statehood of Ukraine and the intensification of internal confrontation through Russian agents who will remain in the territories of the Donbass. All this has catastrophic consequences for Ukraine in different scenarios of agreement on Russia’s terms.
Most worrying is the readiness of European leaders to leave Ukraine alone with Russia, which officially recognizes itself as an aggressor, making it likely negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will not take place.
3. Relations between Russia and Ukraine
In essence, Ukraine’s success and strong democracy would mean a collapse of Vladimir Putin’s regime. He fully understands this, so for him the war in Ukraine is the only way to halt democratic development and destabilize the country. In addition, the intention and choice of Ukraine to become a member of the EU and NATO is a direct security threat from Russia’s perspective, and therefore cannot be tolerated, according to Putin. Sanctions against Russia have been important, but they are not enough to stop Putin.
If the EU and the U.S. decided to support Ukraine in its right to European self-determination, they must help ensure that Ukrainians will have the capacity to implement this choice. Today, there is only one possibility to do this: fight all together against Russia as a threat to the world order and to democratic societies around world.
Olena Sotnyk is a 2019 World Fellow and Ukrainian politician, lawyer, and human rights defender. As a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Olena was well-known for her work on the rule of law, judicial system reform, anticorruption, and youth policy.