October 6, 2015

The “Ukrainian Issue”: from New York to Paris

Oleksiy Volovych

(Part 1)

The end of September — beginning of October 2015 were very important for Ukraine. It was in those days that the world saw a set of political-diplomatic events, the results of which were important for the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas and termination of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We mean the President B. Obama, V. Putin and P. Poroshenko's speeches on the 28-29th of September within the framework of the general debate at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly and the meeting of the “Norman Four” in Paris, October 2.



The General Debate at the UN General Assembly

It was extremely important for Ukraine — what the President of the United States of America would tell the whole world at the international forum of the highest level about the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation and the situation in the Donbas. It was also important to know whether B. Obama would not be tricked by the Kremlin's maneuvers to push the “Ukrainian issue” into the shade by putting forward initiatives to establish instead of the current — a new anti-terrorism coalition of the USA, Russia and other 60 countries to struggle against the terrorists from the “Islamic State” (IS).

The US President B. Obama's Speech. The US President spoke for almost 40 minutes. It is noteworthy that Barack Obama's speech was interrupted by applause nine times. In his eloquent in form and deep in the content speech, B. Obama touched upon many aspects of the current international life and the US policy regarding them, but in this article, we are interested in what he said on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In our view, it was said briefly but succinctly and exactly what we were expecting to hear from the head of the great power of the world — our strategic partner.

Here is a short quote from President B. Obama's speech, in which he spoke about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict:

...If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation

“...Consider Russia's annexation of the Crimea and further aggression in the East of Ukraine... We recognize the deep and complex history of relations between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia… Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians. Now more than ever, the Ukrainian people are interested in aligning with Europe instead of Russia.... We continue to insist that the crisis must be resolved in a way that allows the sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory”.

These words of support to the Ukrainian people and the condemnation of the Russian aggression against Ukraine have been heard by the whole world, for which we should be very grateful to Barack Hussein Obama. Of course, support for Ukraine on the part of B. Obama was not the only one. Apart from the US President, leaders of many other countries (Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Holland, Israel, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc.) also spoke in support of Ukraine.

The Speech of Russian President V. Putin. While the Presidents of the USA and Ukraine in their speeches at the general debate in the current session of the UN General Assembly spoke freely, Russian President V. Putin actually read his speech, even though the Russian media pointed out that he himself had been writing his speech for a whole month. Of course, this does not matter much; but what Putin said is important. As you know, the main part of his speech was devoted to the dramatic situation in the Middle East in recent years, of which he accused the West: “Do you realize now what you have done?” We would also like to know — whether Putin realizes what he has done in Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Crimea, the Donbas and what he is going to do in Syria?

But back to what Putin said about the “Ukrainian conflict”. First of all, the Russian President accused the West of having allegedly “made post-Soviet countries face a false choice: to be with the West or with the East?” According to V. Putin, “...such a confrontational logic had to result in a serious geopolitical crisis that happened in Ukraine, where dissatisfaction of many people with the government was used and an armed coup was provoked from the outside. As a result, a civil war broke out”. In this passage of Putin's, unfortunately, we do not see “any enlightenment”, no changes in the long-familiar blasphemous sayings and postulates.

In Putin's opinion, “...the bloodshed can be stopped, the deadlock can be broken only at full and faithful implementation of the Minsk Agreements of February 12, 2015”.(And who always violated and keeps violating them if not militants and terrorists, backed by Moscow?! — Author). And further: “...integrity of Ukraine cannot be ensured by threats and force of arms. But it has to be ensured. We must really take into account the interests and rights of people in the Donbas, respect their choice, negotiate with them, as stipulated in the Minsk Agreements, the key elements of the political system of the state. This is the guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized state, as a key link in the construction of a common space of security and economic cooperation in Europe and Eurasia”. That's all that Putin said on the “Ukrainian conflict.”

The fact that Putin spoke so much on the situation in the Middle East and so little about the military conflict in the Donbas, which arose exactly because of Russia's aggressive actions, only shows that the Russian President wanted to avoid serious discussion of the disadvantageous for him, “Ukrainian problem”, trying to outshine it by Middle East problems. But he did not succeed. Nobody is going to swap Ukraine for Syria. Not only the US President B. Obama, but other leaders of the leading states and, of course, first of all the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko spoke about Russia's direct involvement in fostering and maintaining the military conflict in the Donbas.

The Ukrainian President P. Poroshenko's Speech. Already in the first minute of his speech on 29 September at the general debate of the UN General Assembly, President P. Poroshenko began speaking about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The President of Ukraine reminded that in February 2014, “...Russia conducted an open and unprovoked aggression against our country, having occupied and annexed the Crimea”, and thanked the delegation of the majority of the UN member states that on March 27 of last year supported the Resolution of the UN General Assembly entitled “The Territorial Integrity of Ukraine”, condemning Russia's cynical annexation of the Crimea. However, as pointed out by P. Poroshenko, after that condemnation by the international community, “...Russia has not come back into the framework of civilized international legal field, but began a new reckless military adventure — this time in the Donbas”.

We hate the idea that it is necessary to ask for Vladimir Putin's permission, if we have to be a European nation

The Head of the Ukrainian State stressed that in the Donbas there is neither a civil war nor an internal conflict, as stated by the Russian propaganda, but a real Russian-Ukrainian war in order to “...make the Ukrainian people give up their sovereign choice to build a free, democratic and prosperous European country”. P. Poroshenko reminded the world that the Russian aggression has been going on for more than 20 months because of Russia's financing of terrorists and mercenaries in the Donbas, supplying them with weapons and military equipment, as well as through the direct intervention of the regular military units of the Russian Federation's Armed Forces. At this, the President of Ukraine pointed out that in the occupied territories of the Donbas “...Russian weapons and military equipment are concentrated in such numbers, which the armies of the majority of the UN member states can only dream about”. President P. Poroshenko pointed out that over the past year and a half, more than 8 thousand Ukrainians died at the hands of terrorists and occupiers in the Donbas, and more than 1.5 million residents of the Donbas had to leave their homes and move to other safer regions of Ukraine.

In response to the call of the President of the Russian Federation to build a broad international antiterrorist coalition to fight the ISIS, President P. Poroshenko asked: “How can you call for the anti-terrorist coalition, if you yourself are supporting terrorism directly at your door?” These P. Poroshenko's words aroused applause from the audience.

Concluding his speech, the President of Ukraine said: “We want the future of the Ukrainian people to be decided by the Ukrainian people itself, not by Moscow. We hate the idea that it is necessary to ask for Vladimir Putin's permission, if we have to be a European nation. We are a European nation, and have paid a high price for this”.

It is noteworthy that after the ex-president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who from 2008 to 2013, from year to year from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly had regularly denounced and condemned Russian imperialism, P. Poroshenko became the second President of a former Soviet republic, who from the rostrum of the General Assembly before the whole world angrily condemned Russia for its aggressive actions.


Bilateral Talks

B. Obama — V. Putin. According to the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power, in response to V. Putin's persistent requests for a meeting, B. Obama agreed to hold bilateral talks with him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, considering that losing the opportunity to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and Syria would be “irresponsible” on the part of the White House.

Moscow should unswervingly fulfill the Minsk Agreements, otherwise sanctions against Russia will be strengthened

The first of the last two years, B. Obama and V. Putin's bilateral talks lasted for almost an hour and a half. According to the Press Secretary of the White House, John Ernest, the Presidents mainly discussed the situation in the East of Ukraine. B. Obama reminded V. Putin that he should withdraw Russian troops from the Donbas and close the 600-kilometer stretch of the border with Ukraine, allowing Ukrainian border guards to it. B. Obama once again reminded that Moscow should unswervingly fulfill the Minsk Agreements, otherwise sanctions against Russia will be strengthened. The Head of the White House pointed out that the Kremlin should facilitate the holding of elections in the occupied areas of the Donbas according to Ukrainian legislation, and having agreed it with the authorities of Ukraine. Besides, B. Obama demanded that Moscow's puppets in the occupied territories of the Donbas should open unrestricted access for the representatives of the OSCE to all checkpoints on the lines of demarcation.

After the meeting with V. Putin, at the press-conference at the White House, B. Obama in regard to the Middle East issue, stated as follows: “I made it clear to V. Putin that the only way to solve the Syrian problem is a political transition mechanism. President Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power in Syria, since he cannot be rehabilitated in the eyes of the Syrians”.

According to the Kremlin, most of the time of the meeting the Presidents of Russia and the United States had been discussing the situation around Syria and the IS. The two leaders differed radically in assessing the role of President B. al-Assad and the Syrian government. While B. Obama stressed the need in transition from the B. al-Assad to a new leadership, V. Putin stated that the refusal to support the legitimate President B. Assad would be a big mistake.

According to some reports, V. Putin tried to persuade B. Obama to create a new coalition against the ISIS, led by the United States and the Russian Federation. But it seems that B. Obama did not agree to it. However, as it seems he does not mind Russia's attempts to contribute to the fight against the IS, because he knows how difficult, dangerous and expensive it is. His victory over the IS, V. Putin hopes to present to the international community as a great achievement in the destruction of “the world's biggest evil” as B. Obama worded it. In case of a success, the Russian President is counting on the weakening and even lifting of sanctions, as well as on his returning into the G-7.

During the talks of the Presidents of the USA and the Russian Federation, an agreement was reached to hold direct military contacts and negotiations in order to avoid possible collisions during potential the USA and the RF's military operations in Syria. V. Putin also ruled out the possibility of a ground operation of Russian troops in Syria.

On the other hand, the Syrian gamble may distract Moscow from the adventure in the Ukrainian Donbas. Besides, Russian aviation's bombing of positions of the moderate Syrian opposition will cause considerable dissatisfaction on the part of B. Assad's opponents such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and other countries. El-Riyadh has already condemned the bombing by Russian aviation of locations of the units of the moderate Syrian opposition. And it is likely that the KSA will not rush to put forward some initiatives within the framework of OPEC to raise oil prices. Besides, the creation of the Russian Federation's military base on the territory of Syria does not cause great excitement in Israel — Syria's long-time opponent.

In my opinion, there are several factors that prompted V. Putin to send troops to Syria. And one of the main such factors is an attempt by a Syrian gamble to ease the international isolation and sanctions. The fact that V. Putin had an hour and a half meeting with the leader of the most powerful country in the world, suggests that to a certain extent he succeeded. Say what you will, but Vladimir Vladimirovich is a clever man. And it's no comfort to us. We, too, should be at least not more stupid.

Putin, having failed to create "Novorossia" (“New Russia”) in the East of Ukraine, will try to create “Novosyria”

After the talks with B. Obama, V. Putin shared his impressions with Russian journalists. First of all, he blamed the US side for deterioration of the bilateral Russian-American relations. However, V. Putin called his meeting with B. Obama “businesslike, constructive and frank enough”. As for the USA's participation in resolving “the conflict in Ukraine”, the Russian President pointed out that “...the United States is behind the Kiev authorities and is in constant contact with the Europeans”. In my opinion, it is very good that the Americans are behind our back. At least some will be less tempted to plant a knife into that back... As President P. Poroshenko pointed out, V. Putin, having failed to create "Novorossia" (“New Russia”) in the East of Ukraine, will try to create “Novosyria” (“New Syria”) to restore his influence in politics, returning to it through the “back door.”

B. Obama, J. Biden — P. Poroshenko. In his speech at Columbia University in New York, the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko pointed out that during all the time of his participation in the activities of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, he had had three short private meetings with the US President B. Obama, during which they discussed issues of “defending peace, freedom and democracy against the background of the Russian aggression against Ukraine”.

During meetings with P. Poroshenko, B. Obama said he continued to support Ukraine and appreciated the efforts that President P. Poroshenko makes to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, implementing reforms and ensuring the peaceful settlement of the conflict, created by Russia. Despite the fact that during the brief meetings on the sidelines of UN General Assembly it was impossible to discuss the whole range of Ukrainian-American strategic relations, P. Poroshenko and B. Obama exchanged mutual invitations to visit Washington and Kyiv with full official visits before the end of this year.

The issue of Ukraine's security is in no way connected with the situation around Syria

In New York, P. Poroshenko also met with the US Vice President Joseph Biden. The two agreed that Russia must fully implement the Minsk Agreements. US Vice President stressed that the issue of Ukraine's security is in no way connected with the situation around Syria. During the meeting, J. Biden also said that already this autumn the USA will send to Ukraine counter-battery radar systems Q36 — mobile radars designed for detecting and tracking shots of artillery and missile launches and to provide counter-battery fire. Supplies of American radars are part of the United States in the amount of 118 million US dollars to provide military equipment to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

September 29, P. Poroshenko met with representatives of the US business circles, which was organized by members of the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU). The meeting was attended by representatives of 30 American companies and financial institutions.

Poroshenko pointed out the importance of trans-Atlantic unity, including at the level of representatives of business circles

During the meeting the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko drew the American businessmen's attention to the prospects that are opening in Ukraine. He pointed out that decentralization reforms will make the Ukrainian regions freer to determine their economic prospects and will also increase their investment appeal. Special attention at the meeting with American businessmen, President of Ukraine paid to the achievements in reforming the Ukrainian financial and banking system, pointing out the important role of the Cooperation Program with the IMF. P. Poroshenko stressed that the new tax law will most enhance the investment attractiveness of the country. The Ukrainian Head of State thanked the American businessmen for supporting our country, being interested in the prospects of investments and pointed out the importance of trans-Atlantic unity, including at the level of representatives of business circles.

In his September 28 speech from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, referring to the situation in Ukraine, President B. Obama said in particular that “...America has very few economic interests in Ukraine”. And it certainly is bad. The Ukrainian government must do its best for the American business to be powerfully represented in Ukraine, especially in industry, energy and agriculture. Strong US-Ukrainian economic relations are a prerequisite for strong political relations between Washington and Kyiv.


The President of Ukraine considers the creation of a world coalition in support of Ukraine the main result of the Ukrainian delegation's participation in the 70th jubilee session of the UN General Assembly. In particular, Ukraine has significant chances to be elected a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council at the UN General Assembly October 15. P. Poroshenko does not rule out the possibility of his participation in the meeting of the General Assembly during the consideration of this issue.

To a certain degree the active work of the Ukrainian delegation headed by President P. Poroshenko at the session of the General Assembly was our preparations for the summit of the “Norman Four” in Paris October 2.


To be continued…