“Putin is angry and wants to punish Ukraine”

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Ivan Krastev, one of the leading “world thinkers”, about the escalation in the Ukraine and why Putin sent his troops.

Ivan Krastev, 49, is one of the leading political analysts on Eastern Europe and Russia. He is chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna. His latest books include: "In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don't Trust Our Leaders", (TED Books, 2013); "The Anti-American Century", co-edited with Alan McPherson, (CEU Press, 2007) and "Shifting Obsessions: Three Essays on the Politics of Anticorruption" (CEU Press, 2004). He was Number 56 on the list of “World thinkers 2013” in “Prospect magazine” and is now preparing a book on recent protest movements between Turkey and Russia.

Profil: Russia practically took over Crimea? Will it keep it for good? Or return it under pressure to an Ukrainian government once the dust settles?

Krastev: Russia’s president Putin currently shows the West that he does not fear political isolation. He even invites it. This might be a decisive moment. The Russian leadership does not strive anymore for consensus with the West but shows how much it detests European values such as “the people’s power”. A few days ago it still seemed so unlikely that Russia would send troops – Russia can apply enough pressure through it’s gas prices to avoid sending tanks and keep its influence in the Ukraine. Now Russia risks to get Crimea, but creates very strong anti-Russian sentiments elsewhere in the Ukraine.

Profil: It feels so absurd that Putin spent first 50 billion Dollars on an image event, the Olympic games in Sochi, and a week later destroys all the good will by invading Crimea. Does he not care at all how this looks?

Krastev: Russia’s president Putin is angry and wants to punish the Ukraine. And he wants to cover up the fact that the Russian policy makers gravely misjudged the situation in the Ukraine. They placed their money solely on Yanukovich, but he is out of the game now. Putin told him to deal with the protesters how he dealt with the Russian protests two years ago – and it backfired. Russia’s policy now is reduced to one thing: Topple the government in Kiev.

Profil: And then what?

Krastev: After the Orange Revolution in 2004 the Russian leadership realized that they had relied on old Soviet networks. They had not seen the new democratic movements coming. The Soviet networks were hated. At first the Kremlin learned from that lesson. They tried to broaden their contacts not only to pro-Russian parties but also to those interested in a pro-Russian consensus. But when Yanukovich came back to power they soon fell into their old behavior to focus on the man in power. Now that he is gone they do not have a clear strategy. Yanukovich in the end was controlled by oligarchs, Rinat Achmetov mainly. Now Russia will have to look for a pro-Russian party which is not controlled by oligarchs and has some credibility. That’s not so easy. Julia Timoshenko’s release was, I imagine, probably coordinated with the Russians. This is the problem with the Russians. They were strong enough to keep Russia in the game, but not strong enough to take Ukraine in the Russian lead Eurasian union.

Profil: What will Russia do next?

Krastev: Russia will try to boycott the May election. When the Ukrainian opposition under the mediation of the EU foreign ministers signed a compromise agreement with Yanukovich Friday a week ago, it called for presidential elections in December. Now the elections are supposed to be already in May. The Russians could say: The election should legally only be in December according to the old agreement. Technically it is also not easy to produce the elections within the next two months. But now everything is quickly escalating, even prime minister Dmitri Medvedev is making radical statements. The leadership wants to show that when it comes to Ukraine even the Liberals talk tough.

Profil: What should the EU do? Offer membership?

Krastev: This is not so easy. If you offer membership the EU has to pay for the Ukraine in the coming 5 to 10 years. This would be very expensive. And the Greeks or Italians or Spanish would certainly not like this idea. The North-South divide in the European Union on questions like the Ukraine is very deep. Plus: For Russia the EU membership would mean renewed humiliation.

Profil: If the current Ukrainian leadership crumbles, could Vitali Klitschko be the next strong and democratic president?

Krastev: Klitschko is perceived as non corrupt and clean. And everyone needs now a presidential candidat with a new face. He is not the most powerful politician. The Germans love him, he had a weekly column in “Bild”-Zeitung simply because of his boxing career. But: The Ukraine till now was kept together on a “corruption contract”. Corruption was the glue. The corrupt elite members held each other in power. In the last twenty years the Ukrainian identity became stronger. But if you clean out corruption now, you might get a new elite with a more separatist agenda. This is dangerous.

Profil: Would the people of Lwow, or Lwiw as the Poles call it, or Lemberg, as we Austrians say, fancy separation, be incorporated into Poland and get the EU membership?

Krastev: For the first time the people from the Western Ukraine have the feeling they have won. This revolution was their revolution and Kiev seems now closer to Lwiw than to Donetsk in the East. The Western Ukrainians don’t want to go to Poland, they want to have a Ukraine which leans towards Europe. That’s a big difference. Also, Poland is playing a very reasonable pragmatic game. The Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski is very skeptical and he wants order and reform of the economy in the neighbouring country. There is a lot of talk about the industrialized East – but the plants and factories are becoming old. They need reform. Sikorski knows that he needs a stable neighbor.

Profil: With Russia’s military intervention the danger is mounting that the East of Ukraine falls to Russia, too.

Krastev: People in the pro-Russian regions don’t want to be part of Russia. Even those 25% of the Ukrainian population who listen to the news from Russian TV stations do not want that. Although there was very strong propaganda coming from these media outlets – they were constantly talking about the threat of Neo-Nazis in Kiev. They drew a parallel with the Balkan wars, when neighbours turned against neighbours. This scares the people in the East. But: There are no spontaneous demands to get annexed to Russia. Most of the protests are about Russia being a part of the deal. But it’s not about splitting the Ukraine in two and disappearing into the souveranity of the neighbouring countries.

 

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz