Ukraine elites locked in dispute over ‘red lines’ in conflict with Russia

Ukraine elites locked in dispute over ‘red lines’ in conflict with Russia
Victor Pinchuk at the Davos Ukrainian Lunch 2010
By Sergei Kuznetsov in Kyiv January 6, 2017

“Compromises on Russia’s terms are the wrong policy,” Kostyantyn Yelisieiev, deputy head of the administration of the Ukrainian president, wrote in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal on January 4.

Yelisieiev’s statement was a response to another op-ed published in the same paper a week before, in which Victor Pinchuk, a powerful Ukrainian oligarch and philanthropist, called for “painful compromises” with Russia over the military conflict in the eastern region of Donbas, Crimea, European integration and Nato membership, in order to secure a peaceful solution with Moscow.

“No reversal in European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. This would be a surrender of independence, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Yelisieiev underlined, presenting ‘red lines’ that “no one in Ukraine would dare to cross”.

According to the official, Kyiv does not consider any “trade in the territory” of Ukraine to be possible: neither Donbas nor Crimea. “These territories cannot be part of a trade-off for peace,” he added.

Finally, Kyiv rejects any elections in Donbas “with Russian boots on Ukraine’s soil”. ”The Kremlin would definitely like to legalize its hybrid occupation and puppet regimes in Donbas by Ukrainian hands. No one should fall into this trap,” Yelisieiev wrote.

“Painful compromises”

Pinchuk, one of the country’s richest oligarch, controls Ukraine’s largest steel pipe producer Interpipe and the London-based EastOne group, an international investing company.

The businessman is married to Olena Pinchuk, the daughter of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who represents Kyiv in the trilateral OSCE-Ukraine-Russia contact group for settling the Donbas conflict. Pinchuk’s media empire, including the ICTV television channel, provides support to Kuchma, who remains a powerful actor in the clan-style political system of the war-torn country.

In his op-ed published in the WSJ on December 29, Pinchuk urged the Ukrainian leadership to consider temporarily removing EU membership from its stated goals for the near future. “We can build a European country, be a privileged partner, and later discuss joining [the EU],” the oligarch wrote.

He also proposed accepting the fact that Ukraine will not join Nato in the near to mid-term. “The offer is not on the table, and if it were, it could lead to an international crisis of unprecedented scope. For now, we should pursue an alternative security arrangement and accept neutrality as our near-term vision for the future,” Pinchuk underlined.

The billionaire also urged maintaining Kyiv’s stance towards Crimea’s 2014 annexation by Russia. However, it will take Ukraine 15 to 20 years to generate enough economic growth and stabilise Ukraine’s infrastructure, social safety net and financial system.

He added that there will be no conditions for fair elections in the Donbas until Ukraine has full control over its territory. “But we may have to overlook this truth and accept local elections. Such compromises may mean letting down Ukrainians from the east who have suffered enormously,” Pinchuk wrote. ”But if this is what it takes to demonstrate Ukraine’s commitment to peaceful reunification, then we may have to make this compromise to save thousands of lives.”

Outrage in Kyiv

The oligarch’s call triggered a storm of accusations among Kyiv-based pro-Western activists, reformers and some lawmakers.

“I sincerely believe that in the current situation a compromise that brings pain and losses to one side only is not a compromise – this is a capitulation,” Mustafa Nayyem, a prominent reform-minded lawmaker, wrote in his blog published by the Ukrainska Pravda online outlet.

“What Pinchuk coyly calls ‘painful compromise’ is in fact an invitation to us, Ukraine and Ukrainians, including Crimea and Crimean Tatars, to surrender,” the Crimea Tatar leader and lawmaker Refat Chubarov wrote on his Facebook timeline. “To surrender totally, to self-destruct, because Pinchuk cannot fail to understand that behind the surrender of Crimea and Donbas, the refusal to join the EU and Nato, Ukraine will simply cease to exist as an independent state.”

Meanwhile, the absence of immediate reaction to Pinchuk’s statements from the Ukrainian leadership has triggered speculation that it was an attempt to check possible public reaction on such initiatives.

This theory will face a serious test in two weeks, when the Davos Ukrainian Lunch is scheduled to take place during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The event, sponsored by Pinchuk’s charity, traditionally gathers high-level decision makers from Ukraine.

The list of this year’s participants and their speeches could be the best indication of moods among the Ukrainian elites.