It has been over a year since the war in Ukraine made the entire civilized world restless. The very possibility of a military conflict in Europe in the 21st century was absolutely unthinkable just 1.5 years ago – especially in peaceful Ukraine with no national or religious hatred. During all 23 years of Ukraine’s independence, the country did not have a single armed conflict either with its neighbors, or within its borders.
Shock and Awakening
A Russian invasion seemed absurd and impossible to the Western world because it did not have a rationale. Really, why would a normal modern country, closely integrated into the global financial market, a strong international trader, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum, suddenly, for no clear reason, want to attack one of its largest trading partners? Sounds bizarre, right?
It looked more than strange to pragmatic Europeans and Americans, and the Kremlin’s generous bankrolling to western media outlets did a good job of presenting all the events as a “civil war in Ukraine” for a long time. Only when the facts of deliberate pre-planned Russian invasion reached a critical mass, the West finally realized that Putin brazenly, without declaring a war, attacked Ukraine, annexed part of its territory and plunged his troops deeply into the lands of Donbas.But, by that time, the situation had spun out of control.
When the entire world finally realized that the aggressor # 1 is a nuclear state ruled by an archaic kleptomaniac dictator with imperial ambitions, unrestricted in the ways of redoubling his power — then, presidents, prime ministers, chancellors and monarchs lost sleep.
The war, out of the blue, in well-fed old Europe!The wheel of history, carefully guided by some thorough cynic with an exotic sense of humor, came full circle, sending Europe back to the fatal year 1939.The rhetoric and actions are well familiar, everyone knows what will happen next; the list of Russian crimes against humanity is getting longer, more and more opponents of Putin’s regime end up in the cemetery; here come the first calls of ethnic cleansing, but all countries have frozen, as if spellbound, and are just waiting to see what will happen next.
History repeats itself, and yet there are differences.Russia, unlike Germany in 1940s, does not have outspoken allies.Knowing what will happen next, no country in the world is willing to cooperate with Russian analogue of the Third Reich.
Nevertheless, Ukraine has no reason to rejoice, for it does not have strong allies either.
Despite its big name and beautifully written charter, the UN has been unable to fulfill its fundamental task: to prevent another war between its members.
The UK and the U.S., as country-guarantors of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum, took the ostrich position, preferring to avoid open confrontation with Russia, and put the issue on the backburner in the hope that Russia will grow tired of this gainless adventure, sooner or later.
The EU, as an interstate union, did not know how to react at all. This is not surprising, given that each European country carries heavy historical baggage of feuds and divided houses, and it is very difficult to take a common stand under these conditions.
Germans, for instance, still nervously shudder when they hear the word “war”, regardless of reasons or war participants. They will do anything to not associate the name “Germany” with a new war. Aggressor’s burden was too heavy for the German people, so Merkel and Steinmeier will block any non-diplomatic solution of the conflict.
Of course, Germany has an extreme position on the issue. Many countries of the EU are too well aware of what is happening and how it threatens the EU itself. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland are experiencing harsh déjà vu and raising the alarm, but the EU is bureaucratic and sluggish, while Germany plays a too important role. EU decisions, therefore, mostly come in a “too little too late” form.
And in America, despite the enthusiastic support for Ukraine in both houses of Congress, Obama remains inert and indifferent. This is also understandable. He is serving his second President’s term and does not have to think about the next election. Obama wanted to put himself on record as a peacekeeper, the one who reset relations with Russia, instead of leading the U.S. to a new Cold War. It is very difficult for him psychologically to abandon these dreams, even under the blows of a new reality. Responding to Russia can undermine his President’s term, so the U.S. has been slow, too. The Obama Administration does everything to avoid sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, and it remains absolutely unclear whether the U.S. will actually support Ukraine, even if gloomy forecasts continue to come true.
Box of Solutions for Ukraine
At the same time Ukraine has enough problems in the country.Bureaucracy is immense and corruption is still too strong.Despite the enormous vote of confidence that President Poroshenko received during the election, the government machine could not fully switch to a war footing, and the government has not implemented most of the announced reforms.To make the detachment from reality appear even stronger, Poroshenko keeps repeating like a mantra that he is the President of peace, even though the war has been going on for over a year now and Mr. Putin clearly lacks negotiability. At this point to become a President of peace one has to win the war first.The situation in Ukraine is aggravated by political struggle and a back-room standoff between the President and Prime Minister. Questions about the competence of the General Staff arise regularly, and this also adds fuel to the fire.
However, not everything is bad in Ukraine.There are responsible actors, too, thanks to whom the country is moving forward, albeit with difficulty, but in the right direction, responding to the aggression of the eastern neighbor and gradually building up a new chain of command in the country.They are civil society, volunteers, a number of MPs and regional council members who go all out fighting on two fronts: supporting the army and pushing reforms.And certainly, these are Ukrainian heroes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, volunteer battalions and guerrilla groups who hold back the Russian bloodthirsty horde coming from the east.All these people hold Ukraine together, help it to stand and give a strong rebuff.
Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Western experts often use the phrase: “There are no good options for Ukraine”.This means that any of the alternatives implies substantial losses.But is it really so?Sometimes we focus on a certain set of solutions, limiting ourselves by the walls of the box, and do not consider the alternatives that are beyond our usual comfort zone. Let’s try to analyze this.
The stakes in this war are too high for Ukraine.If defeated, Ukraine will not only lose a statehood Ukrainians have been struggling to keep for three centuries, but will also face ethnic cleansing of a huge scale, next to which the Holodomor of 1932-33, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and Stalin repressions may look like a mere discomfort.Putin has proved that he hates freedom-loving Ukrainians and will seek revenge for his humiliation until the whole nation is exterminated.Here many people may question the possibility of such a scenario: we all live in the 21st century – what genocide or ethnic cleansing are you talking about?Well, it is worth reminding the skeptics of the recent genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when just within 100 days Hutu brutally slaughtered 500,000 to 1 million Tutsi, fueling the “bloodlust” by the Rwandan equivalent of Russian propaganda.The UN did not prevent this genocide. Its charters, rules, Security Council and General Assembly did not help to avert the mass murder.Russian occupants who invaded Horlivka have already announced the start of ethnic cleansing; and the history of humanity, and particularly of Ukraine, teaches us to better take these threats seriously.
So, What Are the Conditions?
In the event of Russian massive military aggression, Western countries, certainly, can help Ukraine, but not as quickly as a large-scale military operation requires.While EU and U.S. leaders make arrangements for summit talks, the Russian air force can bomb out Kharkiv or Dnipropetrovsk, in the worst-case scenario, maybe even reach the Dnieper and approach Kyiv.And there is no guarantee that in response the West will not propose that Ukraine sign another Minsk Agreement, which will compress the borders of Ukraine even further and produce another million of internally displaced people, homeless, jobless and penniless.
It is crystal clear that the Russian army will not be able to keep such a huge territory: the resistance movement and guerrilla groups sooner or later will knock the enemy out. Still, Russian occupants may have enough time to cause very serious damage, killing a lot of people, destroying businesses (including the defense industry) and paralyzing infrastructure.
It should also be noted that Ukraine cannot teeter on the brink of survival forever, keeping the hot spot so close by, even if Russia suddenly decides to stop the offensive (which is very unlikely). Thus, sooner or later, Ukraine will have to start looking for a solution to neutralize the threat completely.
Ukraine cannot afford a protracted scenario, but Western countries can.Basically, they will be fine with any of the options which will leave a 100-200 km strip of Ukraine to separate the EU from Russia.Up to this point the EU can play for time and prepare for possible invasion by building up armaments on its own territory, but at the same time insisting that Kyiv should stick to a purely diplomatic solution.
So, what to do? If Ukraine wants to win and, at the same time, minimize the losses, it should start looking for new, out-of-the-box solutions. During its long history Ukraine often had to resort to unconventional diplomacy, to engage in and out of military alliances, build complex lines of defense and enter into pacts with the most unexpected allies. The reason for that was Ukraine’s “too central” geographical position. Rich lands were a target for all who passed by, and this “by” would almost always fall into Ukraine, because this is where the roads leading from east to west and from north to south ran, and land, river and sea routes met. To protect themselves against constant attacks, people had to negotiate a joint defense, and now, in the 21st century, Ukrainians should recall this diplomatic experience and try to find a solution which would minimize the losses, but preserve Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.
To do this, we all need to get out of the dusty dark box and look at the whole situation under a new light.
Evaluation of the Possibility of Military Assistance to Ukraine
- Even if the UN peacekeeping mission will be approved, peacekeepers will not push Ukraine out of the crisis.Why?Because UN peacekeeping missions have not helped any country to overcome the conflict – they only freeze it.
- The EU will support Ukraine only financially, and just as long as there is hope for Ukraine to pull out of the conflict with Russia and out of its economic crisis.If the EU sees the signs of sinking, all extra aid will be called off.
- The U.S., while Obama sits in The Oval Office, will mainly provide financial help without military assistance to Ukraine. Shall the signs of a serious conflict with Congress appear, the Administration will send small batches of non-lethal weapons, but only to ease tension in Washington.
- The United Kingdom, as life shows, does not act on its own authority. Despite its advanced intelligence service and piles of incriminating evidence against all and sundry, London always prefers to act through proxies. British diplomacy is world-famous for a reason: the British are ultimate masters of backstage and separate negotiations. Russia is an old enemy of the UK, and London has plans of revenge, but Great Britain is strong because it takes no chances: if it is necessary to wait 10, 20 or even 50 years, the British will wait. Ukraine can count on the support of the UK under condition that Ukraine keeps its mouth shut about assistance. This poses a problem for Ukraine’s military and political leaders: they hardly know how to be silent and keep a secret. Therefore, Great Britain is unlikely to provide military assistance.
- After World War II, Germany has become a number one pacifist in the world. Up until the moment when Russia decides to attack Germany, Merkel and Steinmeier will passionately defend some political agreement, be it “Minsk-28” or “Astana-15”.By this time, tens of thousands of people will be killed in Ukraine.
- Poland, Lithuania and Sweden are the friendliest to Ukraine.They are the ones who actively defend the Ukrainian position.However, in recent years, Kyiv failed to meet their expectations so often that these countries do not want to take a high risk any more.Ukraine will get assistance from them, for they understand who can become the next target of Kremlin’s invasive war better than other nations.In any case, their assistance will increase only with the growth of confidence in Kyiv.
In summary: Ukraine, unlike Russia, has allies, but for various reasons they are in no rush to spearhead, exposing themselves to a possible strike from nuclear Russia.Shall Putin finally decide to launch a full-scale invasion, Ukraine may simply not have enough time to get help.The Kremlin, no doubt, foresaw this when starting its military advances.Putin knew that the Western world is delinked and extremely sluggish.
A Glance to the East
Alternatively, what prevents Ukraine from looking for allies beyond the West? The country is now in a situation when every opportunity should be used to stand up until the moment when Russia destroys itself, which is just a matter of time.
Russia has proved many times it does not care about international law, the UN Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights and other rules of the civilized world. For Russia, these are merely conventions that tie the hands of spineless and clumsy Western countries, while Moscow does whatever it wants, without limitations, using any methods to achieve the goals. It is much easier to invent excuses than to ask for permission. The Kremlin figured this out a long time ago, and no one stopped him.
The Russian Federation understands and respects only force, and until Ukraine does not prove its strength, the Kremlin will burst forth, and no Minsk Agreement will stand in the way.If Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief is not ready to organize mass shipping of Russian “leave men” back home in body bags, then it is time to find a strong ally who will be ready to scare off Russia and ensure the restitution of Ukraine’s territories.
China may well become such an ally.Yes, you got it right; this is China, for it is the only country that Putin and his Russia are afraid of.
China – with a population of 1.4 billion, the largest economy in the world, huge reserves in foreign currency and securities, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is vital to keep in mind that China is Russia’s largest creditor and is the actual owner of many Russian plants, factories, land plots and natural deposits.
In the war between Russia and Ukraine, Beijing resorted to its traditional neutral “wait and see” attitude. At the same time, China officially supported independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs of Ukraine. For China, as for the rest of the civilized world, Crimea and Donbas are integral parts of Ukraine, and China has no intention to side with the aggressor, putting at threat trade relations with two largest markets in the world – the EU and the US. Only Russia can enthusiastically shoot itself in the foot by waging the war and getting isolation in return.
Benefits of the Alliance with China
Alliance with China is gainful not only to Ukraine and Beijing; it is no less beneficial for the EU and Obama personally. PRC needs land; it needs resources and a convenient base area to get closer to the EU. China needs to get access to a future free trade area between the EU and the U.S., it will strengthen its positions.
What can Ukraine offer to China?The things China needs: land, markets, access to mineral resources, the role of a preferred investor and strengthening of its geopolitical influence.Ukraine can offer China Donbas and Crimea for lease.Let’s say, for 50 years.This is a reasonable term for Beijing to seriously consider the proposal.
The lease of land is an absolutely legal transaction that does not contradict international law or the laws of Ukraine.It will be recognized by any international organization and admitted by an international court.Chinese presence in Ukraine will force Moscow to withdraw troops and tame Russia’s ardor to invade other regions of Ukraine and attack other European countries.
Russia will not confront China: this country is too strong, and Russia owes China a large amount of money.As soon as China politely asks Russia to get out of the land leased from Ukraine, the Kremlin will withdraw all troops, stop sending “humanitarian convoys” with weapons and paying wages to its mercenaries.Border control will also be restored within a very short time.To go for a confrontation with China means a complete self-destruction for Russia resulting in China gaining even more land from Russia.No doubt, Putin is crazy, but not that much.
By signing an agreement with China, Ukraine will be able to pull out of this war through diplomacy with minimal losses. Also, it will give the opportunity to rebuild the destroyed Donbas without significant investments.
This agreement, in fact, should satisfy all parties: Germany will get the desired diplomatic solution without direct military intervention; Russia’s neighbors will get at least a temporary respite and hope for a peaceful future; for the United States, Russia will stop being a looming threat of World War III and step down to the level of a regional destabilizer. In 3-5 years everyone will forget about the Russian menace, because by that time it will simply fall apart.
China is not a crazy Russia.It is possible to cooperate with China; it has demonstrated this to the world many times. This is a domineering country, but not a thug player.Cooperation, when Ukraine will receive real guarantees of security and inviolability of borders in exchange for the use of its territory, can be very profitable for Ukraine.This alliance will help Ukraine get rid of its worst enemy with little sacrifice and get a strong business partner, who can push Ukraine’s economic development forward.
Just within some 30+ years China evolved into an industrial giant from an undeveloped country, built modern cities, and despite the obvious lack of resources, stepped into a new era. If Kyiv enters into alliance with China, it can help Ukraine overcome the challenges in the depressed, economically weak regions of Ukraine. New business startups and Chinese investments can finally transform backward communities, previously run by Ukrainian “feudal” oligarchs, into the areas of economic growth.
Cooperation with China can be established not only in the agricultural sector, but also in the technology field, with the possibility to set up a joint venture for defense production, which is highly attractive for China. Right now China is very interested to find a new partner in the defense industry. The Chinese are very pragmatic and are well aware that soon Russia will not be able to meet China’s needs, for, on the one hand, the Russian defense industry is highly dependent on Ukrainian components, and, on the other hand, China has no illusions about Russia’s future.
China is a complicated country, not easy to negotiate with, and it never asks for anything from others. But, Ukraine’s proposal, if thought through and properly prepared by Ukrainian diplomats, will be too good for Beijing to turn it down. If push comes to shove, as a pis aller, Ukraine can offer China the opportunity to place its naval base in Kerch with access to the Sea of Azov (which will also create an extra buffer for Ukraine).
The decision to lease Donbas and Crimea to China, as any other way out of the crisis, has its drawbacks. This is a serious step which should be carefully weighed. However, the risks associated with this cooperation agreement are a pinhead compared to the threats Ukraine faces now, with no strong ally behind its back. The agreement with China can protect the independence of Ukraine and guarantee its territorial integrity. All is fair in war, and the alliance with China can completely change the balance of forces. There is too much at Ukraine’s stake to ignore such a convenient opportunity to save the country and people’s lives.
Author: Christina Dobrovolska
Editor: Maya Woloshyn
Статья доступна на русском языке: “Шелковый мир” как дипломатический выход для Украины