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Fyodor Lukyanov: Russia is interested in united Ukraine as a buffer zone between the West and Russia

ArmInfo’s Interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of Russia's Foreign and Defense Policy Council, Chief Editor of Russia in Global Politics magazine

  • by David Stepanyan

  • Monday, May 26, 23:28

The Agreement on Eurasian Economic Union is to be signed on May 29 in Astana. According to Vladimir Putin, the procedure of Armenia’s accession to that union will be completed in the near future. Many think that Kyrgyzstan will also shortly join the Eurasian Economic Union. Can we expect this to happen on May 29, before the two countries join the Customs Union?   


I am not sure that Armenia and Kyrgyzstan will be admitted into the Eurasian Union on May 29. There must be no haste here. The Eurasian integration project is an internally complicated process. Now that it is taking its final shape, we see how many contradictions there are among its three authors. I don't doubt that the agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union will be signed, but the key concern of the signatories on May 29 will be to solve their existing problems and to outline their future positions. And the union's enlargement will hardly be helpful at that moment. Russia, on the one side, and Kazakhstan and Belarus, on the other, have quite different positions on enlargement. Russia is interested in admitting new members as it has more than just economic interests, while Kazakhstan and Belarus wonder why they should hurry to enlarge. In any case, speaking logically, I see no need to hurry about this.


Do the refusal of Nursultan Nazarbayev to take part in the Summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the reluctance of Alexander Lukashenko to support Vladimir Putin's statements on Ukraine mean that the Ukrainian events are the key factor causing controversy among Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus?


I don’t think so. Of course, the situation in Ukraine has cast a shadow on the Eurasian Union project. But the key problem is that Kazakhstan is no longer sure about Russia's Eurasian priorities - for Eurasian integration is one process, while reunification of the Russian world (the idea that has been widely discussed after the events in Crimea) is a quite different story. These two processes are not mutually exclusive but they certainly need to be fit to one another. So, Russia must try to find some common ground here.


Following the reunification of Crimea and Russia within the frames of reunification of the Russian world, the Luhansk and Donetsk republics have also applied for such “reunification”. Will that application be satisfied? 


No response from the Kremlin to the requests by the Luhansk and Donetsk republics to join Russia means that this is not the same story as Crimea. In Russia crucial decisions are made by one person, and this is not a secret.  Putin's spokesman officially confessed recently that it was Putin's single-handed decision to reunify Crimea with Russia. This proves that in Russia any decisions can be made single-handedly. And as far as Luhansk and Donetsk are concerned, the plans of the key designer are not yet known. Judging from the current developments, we can assume that the Kremlin wants these territories to remain part of Ukraine, but a different Ukraine, cynically speaking, a Ukraine that will serve as a buffer zone between the West and Russia. And all these 'republics' are supposed to transform into one big Russian party, a force that will block any of Kyiv's attempts to integrate into NATO. This would be the best scenario for them in the Kremlin. Of course, they can convince their citizens that Odessa, Luhansk and Donetsk are also parts of the Russian world, but this is hardly what they want for the moment.


How high is the probability that the West and Russia will at last agree on Ukraine? How can one avoid Ukraine’s split similar to that in Georgia in 2008?


The Ukrainian proportions are larger than the Georgian ones. I think that here we may compare the situation with that in Germany at the end of the World War II, that is to say, on the one hand, the sides being the buffer zone, and on the other hand, a unique potential battle field. At the same time, principally, it is possible to make an arrangement with the West on Ukraine. The West's position will change in future. Of course, the West's position is not becoming more positive regarding Russia, but it will become more politically correct and reflecting the reality. That is to say, the viewpoint, according to which, Putin has been ruling everything in Russia and if he wants, everything will end in Ukraine, is wrong. The Ukrainian society is splitting at present because of different reasons. The people that proclaim people's republics have not come from abroad, and are not political fringes. These people are from Ukraine. In such a unique way they have been reflecting local mood in the Ukrainian society. And the authorities of Ukraine can do nothing with a help of force. In this context the time will come when the West will understand the core and the deep reasons of the situation in Ukraine. After the election of Pyotr Poroshenko as a president of Ukraine, an attempt of the national dialogue for reformation of the Ukrainian statehood has become possible. A new man has come, and it is not important if the whole country has elected him or not. Even Russia is ready to blench it. Poroshenko is a man of another team, differing from those who have been dealing with the crisis management in Ukraine now. So, Turchinov, Avakov and may be Yatsenyuk will be forced to leave. After that, the new president will gain a space to maneuver. He may simply blame Turchinov for the anti-terrorist operation, and offer a serious dialogue to Russia and the southeast regions of Ukraine.


For successful dialogue, it should involve those who the present Ukrainian authorities call terrorists and separatists. There is no sense to hold a dialogue with the oligarchs of the east. The West understands it and makes statements according to which the population of the southeast of Ukraine must not be ignored. These statements made by Berlin and Washington are evidence of the fact that they have started understanding the Ukrainian reality there. Incidentally, there are many obstacles on the way of settlement, including the fact that actually Russia does not control everything happening in Ukraine. It would be simpler, if Russia controlled. Actually, the Pandora's box has opened in Ukraine, and those who were pressed for the last years, have stepped out of it. For this reason, it is rather hard to make the settlement scenarios. Certainly, there is a chance that in the near future Ukraine will become a treaty state. But by such settlement nobody will finally make friends. This is a principally important problem. I do not mean settlement of the conflict between the West and Russia. I mean only minimizing of the risks in the spheres of their interests. Such an agreement may work for a certain period of time. But the problem in the relations of these force centres is endless, and it is at least for the forth time in the history that Ukraine is again between the West and Russia.

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