Staunton, April 30 – – “When Vladimir Putin or Sergey Lavrov talk about Ukraine,” Pavel Kazarin says, one has the impression that they think there is a pro-Moscow faction in Kyiv waiting in the wings to take power. That might have been true in 2005, but it is not the case now: Moscow has no political allies in Kyiv and won’t have any ever again.
As a result of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas, “there is no pro-Russian alternative,” the Kyiv commentator says. “More than that,” he adds, “for the Kremlin, the Ukrainian opposition will be in no way a lesser evil” than the government now in place.
Ukrainians might elect “populists or pragmatists or socialists or libertarians, but whoever occupies the chief position of the country” will have the same view about the country that is occupying part of Ukraine and, whatever Putin and Lavrov or anyone else thinks, it is not and will not become positive or even acceptant.
After the flight of Viktor Yanukovych, his Party of the Regions renamed itself the Opposition Bloc, but it isn’t an opposition and its base is shrinking. What support it has comes from Ukrainians who vote for people they know because they are from their city or region rather than because of ideology.
And Moscow destroyed this group not only by its aggression but by removing Crimea and the Donbass, the two most “pro-Russian and pro-Soviet” regions from Ukrainian politics. According to Kazarin, as a result, “Ukraine is much more monolithic” and thus much more anti-Russian.
Radical populists like Oleg Lyashko and Yuliya Timoshenko are a real opposition and they use their lack of responsibility to win support by making promises than they could not possibly deliver. But despite that and despite the fact that their statements may help destabilize the situation, they too oppose Moscow on all the most important issues.
For them as for others on the Ukrainian political scene, the worst label they can be given is “’agent of the Kremlin’” because they know that “loyalty to Moscow could be the very last thing that would attract voters. They too view Crimea as a Rubicon, and they are not going to change either.
The Ukrainian far right exists in the television broadcasts of Moscow’s Dmitry Kiselyov, but it is “absent from the Verkhovna Rada.” Ukrainians aren’t attracted by ethnic nationalism, Kazarin says, because “the Maidan created a demand for a political nation in which blood and land are secondary factors and convictions are what matters most.”
“Before Yanukovich, Ukraine was a corrupt oligarchic country. After [his] victory, it became a criminal country.” It can’t go back to either as long as Ukrainians are mobilized, and they will remain mobilized because they have no doubts about the presence of Russian forces on the territory of their country.
This leaves Moscow with only two possible ways forward: Either it can try to force Kyiv to take back the Donbass on the Kremlin’s terms and thus institutionalize a brake on its European aspirations, or it can push to destabilize the country and then say that “there is no reason to conduct dialogue with ‘an East European Somalia.’”
But neither of these variants “will return that Ukraine which existed before 2014,” Kazarin says. Russia’s shedding of blood and occupation of Ukrainian territory have made that impossible for a long time to come — whatever some in Moscow or other capitals now prefer to think.