The American foreign policy blunders in Ukraine have been colossal, and as it currently stands, it looks as like they have completely backfired. Ukraine rejected the EU Association Agreement in November, only to have a covert Western-led coup usurp power. At that time, American policy seemed to have prevailed, but the flimsy foundation it was based on, as well as the flirtations with Fascist forces, spelled the long-term doom of the US’ short-term success. America’s repeated policy failures in Ukraine mean that it is time for Washington to make a pragmatic, face-saving exit from this catastrophe, the benefits of which could return Ukraine to its neutral position and reap tremendous advantages for the Euro-Pacific civilization from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
The US’ policy began to unravel after American support for extremists elements and the junta drove the Russian-affiliated citizens of the East, South, and Crimea to request Russian humanitarian support. The lawlessness, militia bandits, and Pravy Sector’s attempted storming of Parliament in Kiev, for example, signify that the junta cannot even guarantee its hold on power, and another civil conflict could erupt if the militias refuse to disarm and instead fight the junta. The chaos and uncertainty born out of the coup resulted in Crimea overwhelmingly voting to reunify with the Russian Federation, forever removing America’s hope of establishing a strategic NATO base in Sevastopol. Instead of succeeding with its plan for control over a unified Ukraine, the US’ failed disorganized strategy is breaking the country apart. This runaway policy now risks provoking Russia to humanely intervene in Eastern and Southern Ukraine to protect its threatened compatriots there, possibly repeating the Crimean reunification scenario and resulting in even more zero-sum losses for the West. It is now high time for the US to stop its shenanigans and pragmatically retreat from the crisis.
The recent Lavrov-Kerry talks brought forward the idea of Ukraine’s federalization, which is the only pragmatic political resolution of the crisis. Speaking before his meeting with Kerry, Lavrov said that such a solution “would grant each region sweeping powers in the fields of economy, finance, culture, language, and education, as well as external economic and cultural ties with neighbouring countries or regions, where all minority rights would be ensured.” Federalization would thus shield the Russian-affiliated East and South from Kiev’s central dictates and actually increase direct democracy in the country. The East and South, through their relative economic autonomy, could mitigate the effects of Kiev’s recent catastrophic signing of the Association Agreement. Educational, linguistic, and cultural freedoms would organically bring these regions closer to Russia, with which they share a filial affiliation. The East and the South, for example, are ardently against learning a “history” that glorifies Stepan Bandera as a national hero, as they understand the truth of that Nazi collaborator’s crimes against humanity.
To prevent the East and the South from seeking Russian protection before federalization, the US needs to instruct the junta to purge its most extreme fascist and racist elements. This appears to already be in motion, since the junta has moved against Sashko Bilyi (who was killed after shooting at police) and now may ban the entire Pravy Sector. Even though this would put it at odds with the neo-Nazi militia and possibly result in terrorist attacks against the junta and regular civilians, it is a step in the right direction for stabilizing the situation in Ukraine. The EU’s foreign minister musketeers from France, Germany, and Poland agree that the junta needs to cut its links with the ultra-radicals. This shows that the convenient fools have served the purpose of their patrons and are now an image liability, hence the new pressure by the West to have them disbanded. US political and strategic carelessness created the situation where fascist militias like Pravy Sector rove the country and terrorize its citizens, so it is only appropriate that it work on correcting this human rights mistake.
A neutral Ukraine, as recommended by Lavrov, is another pragmatic path to follow. Ukraine already declared such a non-aligned intention back in 2010, but with the rule of law only being selectively applied by the junta, this policy is not being respected. In fact, the junta has been agitating for closer NATO integration, and a joint NATO-Ukraine statement on 1 April confirms that concrete steps are being made in this direction. NATO cannot legally Ukraine into its apparatus because its unresolved territorial dispute with Russia over Crimea (Ukraine’s junta says it will “never accept” Crimea’s reintegration with Russia) makes it ineligible for de-jure membership. Making Ukraine a de-facto shadow member will only increase tensions with Russia, thereby mandating that NATO’s members (many of whom are already cash-strapped due to the economic crisis) pay and contribute more to the organization. Moving Ukraine towards NATO could also instigate a new type of Cold War, which inevitably would hurt business links between the West and Moscow.
A neutral Ukraine would decrease rivalry between NATO and Russia and serve as a political link between the EU and Russia. By respecting Ukraine’s neutrality, the two can also work on tackling important non-state actor threats together, such as transnational organized crime, terrorism, and drug and human trafficking. If Europe returns to sanity and goes against the US’ plans for de-facto NATO integration of Ukraine, then can demonstrate its independence from the US and work towards truly becoming a third pole between Washington and Moscow. Ties with Russia would increase, and business between the two would grow. This could eventually pave the way for a future free trade zone and visa-free travel from Lisbon to Vladivostok, complementing Euro-Pacific civilization.
The US also has a lot to gain by lessening tensions with Russia. According to Edward Lozansky, the US needs Russia to work with it towards dealing issues in North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, and space research. Pragmatic and peaceful ties between the US and Russia, which are endangered by the current aggressive (and mismanaged) US foreign policy towards Ukraine, are in the interest of both actors. With the US and Russia cooperating on a wide range of global issues, international stability would be more assured. As with the Syrian Chemical Weapons Crisis, it is imperative that the US retreat from its aggression while saving face, and diligent Russian diplomacy can once more assist with this. A chemical weapons transfer agreement was the result of Russian diplomatic efforts in Syria, and likewise, a plan for the federalization of Ukraine, the neutralizing of its fascist and radical elements, and a constitutional guarantee of Kiev’s military neutrality could be the American face-saving result of Russia’s outreach in Ukraine.
Andrew Korybko is the American Master’s Degree student at the Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO).