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For the West, Ukraine has turned from a promising market into freeloader

Oleg Nemensky

They in Russia pin big hopes with Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, as they anticipate that among others, Trump will change Washington’s policy towards the Ukrainian crisis. Such anticipations are based on the Republican president elect’s pre-election statements. First, Trump promised to establish “a very, very good relationship” with Russia and its president, which can hardly be combined with the support to the aggressive Russophobe regime in Ukraine. Trump made it clear that Ukraine is of secondary importance for U.S. and that it is mainly Europe’s problem. In addition, he told his voters that during his presidency, U.S. will stop “building democracy” throughout the world and interfering with the situations it has no right to interfere with. In an interview with EADaily, Oleg Nemensky, leading research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, speaks about whether the U.S. strategy towards Ukraine will change, whether Trump’s statements will appear to be more than just rhetoric, and how it will affect the future of Novorossiya.

Mr. Nemensky, will U.S. really take a neutral position towards Europe, including Ukraine, and let Russia and EU settle that problem independently, as Trump comes to power?

Well, it is impossible for U.S. to take a non-interference stance on its major allies, more precisely, vassals. However, Trump’s task is to gradually reduce the United States’ involvement in conflicts important to it only in the context of absolute global leadership. Many responsibilities will be returned to Europe and the European elites will have to deal somehow with those issues again.

As for the Ukrainian crisis, all indications are that U.S. will lay a significant part of the responsibility for it (and for its resolution) on Berlin. It is not a new strategy. The Normandy Four is actually the same, but it was a kind of game, apophasis. Now, the situation may change seriously.

Germany is radically against it. For Berlin, interference into what is happening in Ukraine was connected mostly with the prospect of forming Transatlantic Free Trade Area and there is no sense in doing it outside that that zone. Now we can see that Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is likely to be postponed or even thrown back, while Ukraine has turned from a promising market into a freeloader. To support it, Berlin needs too much effort and finance to let, for instance, Poland to do it alone. Germany does not know yet what to do in such situation.

Will Trump agree on a compromise with Russia over Crimea and Donbass? What kind of concession will it be? Will Russia and U.S. become partners or rivals over Ukraine under Trump?

Trump has clearly mentioned that Crimea’s status is an issue that can be discussed with Russia. Another matter that this just defines Crimea as “a trading position”, it is so far impossible to forecast the trading process.

At the same time, the general frames of the concession regarding Ukraine are known and will hardly change i.e. although Crimea is not considered as Russian, it is no longer an essential topic in the Russian-Western relations, while Donbass may be returned to Ukraine under the Minsk Agreements. Russia has actually agreed on this.

Another matter that now it will be much more difficult for Kiev to evade implementation of the agreements and blame for it Russia that is allegedly responsible for the implementation of the agreements. In fact, it is almost unrealistic to return Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to Ukraine because of the reasons connected with the people’s republics and the narrow Ukrainian ones. Consequently, the prospects of this process will be, in fact, determined with further degradation of Ukraine’s government system.

How will Trump be building the relations with Kiev? Will he be patronizing Ukraine’s leadership or take a tough stance on it?

Now, U.S. has a strong foothold in Ukraine, but they are not the masters in that country and do not govern it from outside. They will not yield their positions, but they will not want to bear a responsibility for what they do not control either.

Washington has proved in an unpleasant situation with Ukraine yet long ago. This becomes evident in the talks with Kiev, where it sets its conditions and uses open blackmail to make U.S. reckon with it. This is what Trump is actually not going to bear any longer, and unlike the previous administration, he has such a chance to end this.

U.S. will start talking to Ukraine tougher and they in the country (elite, first) will perceive this as failure of the incumbent authorities. A good reason to change power.

What do you think about the future of the Minsk Agreements? Will the war in Donbass end, if yes what will be its outcome for the people’s republics?

I am afraid the war in Donbass is just the beginning of bigger conflicts. The reasons that triggered that war have not disappeared, quite the contrary, they have become even more weighty. I doubt greatly that the Minsk Agreements can be implemented. Yet, they can pretend implementing them for a long time and U.S. will hardly hold them from doing it. On the other hand, this conflict can be gradually moved from the front page of the agenda of the world community, including the Russian-American and Russian-European relations.

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