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  • Ukraine - Russia Diplomatic Relations - Zero Sum Games Continue?

    12.08.2009

    On August 5 President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko signed the agrement for the appointment of Mikhail Zurabov as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Ukraine. According to Russia’s charge d'affaires ad interim in Ukraine Vsevolod Loskutov, the newly appointed ambassador had to proceed to his duties quite soon. However, already on August 11 in his public address to the President of Ukraine Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev announced his decision to postpone the arrival of Mr.Zurabov to Ukraine "taking into account the anti-Russian course of the Ukrainian leadership".

    Although Russian accusations as to the aggravation of the bilateral relations addressed to the Ukrainian leaders have an openly pre-election nature, evidently Russia intends to wait for the results of the presidential elections in Ukraine and possibly take the opportunity of the new ambassador’s arrival for a symbolical "reset" of the diplomatic dialogue between the two countries.

    Nevertheless, there should be no illusions that a new Ukrainian leader will bring any significant changes in Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine, even if the Kremlin is finally relieved of the current Ukrainian President, who reminds it of the painful foreign policy defeat of 2004. Despite the discrepancies in their rhetoric, none of the political leaders of Ukraine who have chances to win the elections will be prone to give up the political sovereignty or economic benefits not only in terms of national but also purely pragmatic interests. Meanwhile Russia’s policy will remain directed at the restriction of Post-Soviet states’ political sovereignty using all the available range of levers: political, economic and cultural. Thus, due to the chosen confrontational policy the Kremlin is unlikely to change its perception of the Russian-Ukrainian relations as a zero-sum game.

    At the same time, Moscow more and more frequently differentiates between a tough political dialogue with Ukrainian leaders and cultural and information influence over the Ukrainian citizens engaging in the latter mainly non-state actors. This approach was demonstrated once again in Mr. Medvedev’s address where "fraternal relations" with the people of Ukraine and the initiatives strengthening cultural cooperation were separated from the harsh criticism of "the Ukrainian leadership".

    Against this background the nomination of Mr. Zurabov (whenever he proceeds to his duties as Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine) demonstrates that the main priority of his activity will be to communicate the Kremlin’s position. Therefore, the newly appointed Russian ambassador will hardly resort to the rhetoric consolidating the Ukrainian society that sounded quite appealing (and for some Ukrainians - even encouraging) in the addresses of Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Cyril during his recent visit to Ukraine.

    Generally speaking, in order to overcome the critical state of its relations with Russia Ukraine will have to apply significant efforts requiring to refrain from the widespread in the Post-Soviet region "mirror" approaches and attitudes to the cooperation in terms of a zero-sum game, that have already proved its inefficiency especially given the obvious asymmetry in the Ukrainian-Russian relations. Unfreezing the dialogue with Russia will demand both unilateral initiatives from Ukraine and active involvement of the EU, particularly in the issues, which are of mutual interest for all the three parties.

    Authors: 
    Research spheres:  Politics
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