If Kyiv Accepts Moscow’s Demands, Moscow Will Only Make More

February 6, 2015
Rally for the independence of Donbas, October 2014, Moscow | Vladislav Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

Staunton, February 5 — Some in the West and even in Ukraine are urging Kyiv to accept Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and its formation of “peoples republics” in the Donbas in order to resolve the crisis, but such calls are dangerously wrong because if Kyiv agrees to Moscow’s demands, Moscow will only make more, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

Some of those who advocate such concessions, the Ukrainian commentator continues, argue that since Lenin and Stalin added Crimea and the Donbas to Ukraine in order to hold it within the empire, no one should be particularly upset if Moscow takes these territories back.

But such arguments miss the point for two reasons. On the one hand, Portnikov points out, Ukrainian statehood “from the territorial point of view is an heir not of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic but of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.” And on the other, Putin isn’t interested in Crimea or the Donbas except as a place des armes for further aggression.

“How can we give up on that?” he asks. “Certainly, in order to end a war, everything is possible. But what will happen to the residents of the occupied territories? Do we believe that they can freely express their views in the presence of the forces of one of the most disgusting regimes of the contemporary world?”

To be legitimate, any voting on a change in borders would have to take place “under conditions of the absence of occupation forces, competitive views, free media and a transition period. If Putin is allowed to do otherwise, then tomorrow Finland would vote to become part of Leningrad oblast. And why not? Vyborg after all is ours.”

Turning over the residents of Crimea and the Donbas to an occupier without a real referendum is to betray them, Portnikov says. But there is an additional factor which people need to remember: “Putin does not need these territories, and he doesn’t need Crimea. Putin needs a territory” on which he can put troops and from which he can launch “more aggression.”

What the Kremlin leader needs, the Ukrainian commentator says, is a place des armes, whose population he does not care about and which he argues Ukraine should pay for. Putin doesn’t have the money to help the population there or elsewhere, but of course, he has plenty of money for his military: “Putin’s calling is to kill not feed.”

Because that is so, Portnikov says, Ukrainians cannot give up the southeast or Crimea. One doesn’t concede a place des armes to an enemy. “If we give the impression that we believe” Moscow’s version of events that the people there want to separate from Ukraine, then “tomorrow Russian forces will come to Dnepropetrovsk … and a few days later to Uzhgorod … and from there extend a hand to Budapest and Bratislava.”

In that event, the Germans will have to take part in a Moscow-orchestrated referendum: “do they want the preservation of the European Union with Hungary and Slovakia or do they agree to the unification of these countries to the Eurasian Economic Union? And why not,” Portnikov says; after all they too are “sovereign states!”

“Of course, all that sounds phantasmagoric, but Putin’s behavior in recent months is exactly that. And his plan to restore the empire is also phantasmagoric. Therefore,” Portnikov says, “we have no other way out than to oppose this phantasmagoric vision if we do not want to see the destruction of Ukraine, all Ukraine and not only the southeast.”

“To oppose is not only to attack and defend,” he continues. It is also about “not giving the enemy the right to impose his political rules” on you. At present, Ukraine cannot retake militarily the southeast and Crimea, “but this does not mean that we must accept their separation.”

Instead, Portnikov says, “it means that we must evacuate Ukrainians from the occupation zone, struggle on all fronts — military, diplomatic, legal and economic — and promote the collapse of the aggressor state” even if the cost of doing so is high. Thinking otherwise is a dangerous and self-destructive delusion.