It is more of a job to interpret interpretations than to interpret the things M.Montaigne «The Complete Essays Опыты»
The fast pace of a settlement process in Nagorno-Karabakh and the arrival of Russian peace-keepers in the conflict zone took those Russian and foreign ”experts” that cashed in on the one-sided presentation of Russia’s policy, by surprise. Their interpretations of events while they were hot smack of confusion and mutually exclusive conclusions. The impression is that a guidebook for the “analysis” of the situation and “interpretation of interpretations” has yet to be written, so they interpret things at will, thereby creating their own “plausible” myths. Such free judgements range from the allegedly well-planned winning operation by “intriguing” Moscow in Nagorno-Karabakh to V.Putin’s 10 defeats in Trans-Caucasus. What comes to one’s mind in connection with Moscow’s so-called “wicked games” to incite the conflict, is the parable about a man who saws a tree he is sitting on. A passerby tells him: «Don’t cut it – you will fall down», but the man continues to cut the tree. As he falls, at last, he exclaims: «Was it witchcraft that did it?». This can easily be applied to Armenia. It was Y.M.Primakov who warned the Armenians years ago that in the absence of a compromise deal the armed conflict in Karabakh was bound to erupt anew sooner or later: «Azerbaijan can work and wait. And it has the resources. 10, 20, 30 years, and they will gain strength and will grab EVERYTHING from you». The same warning came from Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in 1997, and in 2011.
The Armenians, while fully aware of the impending war, demonstrated inability to collect themselves to counteract the threat. They did not boost their defenses or purchased the required armaments. The country’s combat readiness decreased as well: the new government, fearing a military coup, opted for the support of the army and replaced professional commanders with government-loyal laymen who had no links to the previous top brass. Moreover, the government, which came to power as a result of a color revolution and consisted of officials who used to work for Soros organizations, began to gradually distance itself from its only true ally – Russia, closing Russian-language schools, launching ungrounded persecutions of Russian companies, imposing restrictions on pro-Russian media, think tanks, politicians and civil campaigners. All these measures were presented under the slogan of the versatility of foreign policy and the need to fight against corruption. The versatility of Armenian policy led to an equally versatile attitude on the part of Moscow: it demonstrated the same policy with regard to Armenian allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Azerbaijani partners. Thus, considering the suicidal can’t-care-less approach on the part of the Armenian leadership, it would be absurd to talk about the wicked intrigues of Moscow, which allegedly orchestrated the capitulation of Armenia with a view to “punish” its “democratic” leadership. Armenia orchestrated its own defeat (see below).
A common stance in favor of an immediate end to the bloodshed and a ceasefire control mechanism was repeatedly discussed with countries co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group (the United States, France) at the presidential level, at the level of ministers, and by special envoys. But the formulation of a final three-party statement did not appear possible – a delay was out of the question as it would jeopardize thousands of lives.
Russia, which put an end to the senseless slaughter while other members of the Minsk Group chose to keep a low profile, could hardly be blamed for ill-doing. Nevertheless, the ardent opponents of the “criminal regime” are set on presenting the entire conflict as a number of V.Putin’s defeats. А. Illarionov argues that there were exactly 10.
Firstly, the Kremlin’s former economic adviser blames the Russian president for being unable to prevent and stop Azerbaijan’s aggression in the initial stage, and for failing to prevent the capitulation of Armenia. These are presented as V.Putin’s first three defeats.
What became a target for using force is Karabakh – an unrecognized republic, which received no recognition even from Armenia proper after nearly thirty years of its independence. Under UN resolutions, Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan, which is particularly relevant speaking of territories, occupied by the Artsakh Defense Army in the 1990s and comparable in size to the unrecognized republic itself. The problem is that since then Armenia has done nothing to legalize its paternalism in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh. The uncertainty of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status for Armenia, Russia’s ally in the CSTO, prevented Moscow from coming out in defense of this territory. Technically, the conflict was Azerbaijan’s internal affair: it did not attack Armenia’s territory, carried out military operations against separatists on its own territory. The Artsakh Defense Army was a good deterrent. Even Armenia chose not to deploy its army units in Karabakh but dispatch volunteer corps instead.
Given the situation, deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces was possible only on condition of approval from both parties. The negotiations were under way from the very first day of the conflict but N.Pashinyan, who counted on western assistance, would not agree to the conditions proposed after consultations with western curators. As military operations continued, the terms for a peace settlement became less attractive until on November 9th the situation grew critical with possibilities for a ceasefire deteriorating further.
Undoubtedly, co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group could have stepped in to guarantee an earlier ceasefire, by introducing a balance of strength, by imposing a strict ban on Turkey’s attempts at intervention in the conflict. This could have been secured within NATO, or by threatening with UN Security Council sanctions. However, in early November, one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (needless to guess, it was Britain) blocked a draft resolution proposed by three co-chairing members of the CSTO’s Minsk Group to ensure an immediate ceasefire and prevent third countries from meddling in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, while NATO did not even raise such an issue. Given the situation, the Kremlin could not prevent an attack and neither could it force N.Pashinyan to sign a statement earlier, as the latter, until the very last moment, hoped that “the West will help us”. Therefore, it is the West that should be blamed for being unable to prevent military operations and to nip the conflict in the bud. Meanwhile, if we follow A.Illarionov’s logic, we must ascertain the defeat of the USA in 2008, when Washington proved unable to prevent M.Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia.
Russia entered Georgia after M.Saakashvili attacked Tskhinval from Grad multiple rocket launchers killing Russian peacekeepers who were deployed there on the basis of an official agreement signed by both sides. The fact that M.Saakashvili was the first to start the war (having more than 100 military advisers from the USA and more of them in Georgia’s government agencies) – was pointed out in a EU report. This report, compiled by the EU independent panel, was ready in spring 2009 but was published only in the autumn, after the western media celebrated one year to RUSSIA’s attack on “small” “democratic” Georgia. The report by the EU panel was mentioned in passing. What will be the case this time? If Russian peacekeepers come under attack from either of the parties involved and Russia takes retaliatory action, what will be the reaction of well-wishers, like A.Illarionov?
The war was stopped thanks to intensive peace-keeping activity by V.Putin personally, while Armenia’s capitulation was the result of its “versatile foreign policy” and assistance of western advisers (capitulation can be described as partial, since except Shusha and Hadrut, Karabakh remained under peacekeepers; the other, earlier occupied areas would have surrendered anyway sooner or later – in general, Armenians did not settle there).
As the fourth defeat, A.Illarionov cites the fact that Turkey’s assistance to Azerbaijan proved more effective than Russia’s aid to Armenia, which is rendered in full compliance with Moscow’s commitments as an ally.
An economist by qualifications, A.Illarionov could compare the budgets of the two countries and the oil money on which Azerbaijan for 26 years purchased cutting-edge weapons. Armenia has neither oil, nor the oil money, and the diaspora are not quick to loosen their purse-strings. According to experts, it would cost Armenia 10 yearly budgets to mount an appropriate defense of Karabakh, which, of course, was unaffordable, considering that even the available resources were spent irrationally. For example, Armenia chose to buy the old Osa missile systems from Jordan, though it could have bought ultramodern systems from Russia at prime cost or on credit. It was unclear why Armenia purchased Russian fighter jets which were absolutely superfluous for the country’s military needs and did not make a single flight in the course of military operations. A report to this effect was made a few days ago by an Armenian general, who serves in the capacity of chief military inspector of Armenia.
As it happens, it is not enough to have the resources – it is also vital to have competent military experts. But the incumbent Armenian prime minister, as was said above, got them out of the way as he fought for power.
It is not Russia’s fault that Armenia could not use the opportunity of getting the assistance it needed. It was only after the start of military operations that the Armenian leadership became aware of the shortages of military hardware. Russia was quick to offer assistance but this aid took long to be delivered as it was transported via Iran after Georgia had shut the land and air border with Armenia because of the conflict. Georgia opened the air corridor for Russian peacekeepers alone after the signing of the statement.
V.Putin’s fifth defeat in the interpretation of A.Illarionov is (and this is strange for a liberal) the Russian president’s mediation in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan instead of “dictating their will to smaller nations”.
As far as the Russian mediation is concerned, it would be more appropriate to blame co-chairing countries of the Minsk Group – the USA and France, which failed to act on their commitments to establish peace. They thus tend to shift responsibility from the guilty to the innocent. Should they have followed what Aliyev “dictated” (A.Illarionov writes this about the three-party statement), Azerbaijan would have captured the entire Karabakh, there would be no Russian peacekeepers there, and the observer center would have been opened without Russia. Armenia wouldn’t have welcomed it.
What A.Illarionov also blames the Russian president for is the absence in the final document of any mention of the status of Karabakh.
In the early days of the war, when the terms of peace were much more favorable for Armenia, N.Pashinyan, assisted by western advisers, missed the chance of reaching agreement on the status of Karabakh. After the defense crumbled and Shusha surrendered, this chance was lost altogether – status was not on the agenda, what was necessary was to keep what remained. V.Putin’s hint: talks on the status could be on the agenda in the future, at the moment the most important thing is to put an end to military operations.
In addition, A.Illarionov cites V/Putin out of context, by selecting some words and leaving out the main idea: “Speaking about recognition-unrecognition of Karabakh as an independent state, there can be different opinions to this effect, but what proved essential was that the mere position of non-recognition of Karabakh, including on the part of Armenia, left a visible footprint on the course of events and on how these events were perceived».
V.Putin continued: «We must say about it openly: after the criminal, without doubt, activities of the former Georgian leadership, namely the strikes against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We acknowledged as fair the wish of Crimean people to become part of Russia, we acknowledged their free will, we did it openly. Some may be in favor, some may be against, but we did it in the interests of people who live there, in the interests of entire Russia, and we do not hesitate to openly say so. This was not done with regard to Karabakh, which made a tangible impact on what has been happening there».
While taking for granted the presence of NATO military contingents from Britain, Canada and Germany in the Baltic countries in 2017, А. Illarionov lashes at V.Putin for voicing no objections to the dispatch of Turkish military to Azerbaijan and their participation in the peace-keeping operation. This suggests a selective approach, a kind of “liberal logic”, under which the presence of NATO military in some former Soviet republics should be seen as appropriate while the presence of NATO servicemen in other former Soviet republics should be seen by Russia as inappropriate. The disfavored liberal economist is also indignant over V.Putin’s recognition of the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and his consent to the presence of observer centers consisting of Russian and Turkish experts on the territory of Azerbaijan.
The Turkish influence on Azerbaijan became reality in the 1990s, as a result of the irresponsible policies of Yeltsin/Kozyrev. While we are allies with Armenia, we are only partners with Azerbaijan, so the latter’s desire to win the support of one more guarantor is quite understandable. Had the co-chairing countries of the peace process – the USA and France – not withdrawn from the scene at a critical moment, they could have taken Turkey’s place. Now, instead of demanding, within NATO, that Turkey account for its actions to incite conflict in Southern Caucasus, which were perpetrated in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, western partners in the Minsk Group require Russia to account for the role of Turkey in the Karabakh conflict. They ought to ask themselves first.
About the peace-keepers, A.Illarionov distorts the facts: the statement envisages the presence of only Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh and empowers Turkey to establish a Turkish-Russian ceasefire monitoring center on the territory of Azerbaijan.
For an even score, A.Illarionov argues that among V.Putin’s other defeats is the use of drones in an online regime to monitor the situation along the division line, as the drones, he says, caused the death of Armenians. Does it need to explain that technical means can both carry death and control the peace process, depending on the set purposes.
What A.Illarionov disliked was V.Putin’s support of N.Pashinyan, who opted for putting an end to the bloodshed, eventually. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that the interview by an initiator and mediator in the peace settlement was designed to obtain all but backing the Armenian prime minister, though at the present, his resignation could take place only as a result of an anti-constitutional coup. Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc, who control two thirds of seats in parliament, made it clear that they want N.Pashinyan to stay. So much public disappointment means that there is a chance that radical groups may come to power in Armenia, such as terrorist organization «Sasiatser», and these groups may disrupt all the agreements and unleash a war to a complete self-destruction of Armenia.
Considering an overwhelming public support (over 70%) for N.Pashinyan’s bloc My Step at parliamentary elections in December 2018 and in the absence of any alternative leader or party that would be equally popular, Moscow exerted every effort for 2,5 years to hit it off with N.Pashinyan, despite his apparent tilt towards the West.
When still in opposition, N.Pashinyan called for withdrawing from the CIS, from the Eurasian Economic Union, to join the EU and NATO, and for removing a Russian military base from the territory of Armenia. The “street” were hilarious. After becoming prime minister and waking up to the Armenian reality, N.Pashinyan stopped calling for an immediate breakaway from all integrational Eurasian organizations. Instead, he proclaimed versatility of the country’s foreign policy. In domestic policy he introduced the doctrine of so-called “transitional justice”, which enabled him to get rid of political adversaries under the pretext of fighting against corruption and without any legal instruments. He gave top government posts to a bunch of non-professionals who used to work in Soros organizations and had no experience of public administration.
The Armenians were either hilarious about what was happening, or condescending. For 2,5 years government-supporting media cultivated Russophobic attitudes among the public. It got so bad that some Yerevan residents complained that they found it “unpleasant” to see Russian border guards at Yerevan Airport, or Russian servicemen moving to Erebuni Airport via Yerevan (but there is no other way) – and all this instead of thanking their defenders with flowers. Russian border guards have been protecting Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran under a bilateral agreement of 1992, since Armenia lacks the resources to secure the protection of its borders on its own.
Even now, after a crushing military defeat, n.Pashinyan’s supporters tend to distort the course of talks on a statement signed on November 9th . As it seems, V.Putin gave an interview which is being “analyzed” by A.Illarionov for the purpose of providing undistorted account of the course of the negotiations. As for accusations of backing the Armenian prime minister, it’s either that the author knows nothing and is absolutely unaware of V.Putin’s manner of allegorically ironizing over political opponents, or he is set on deliberately misleading the reader. For example, as the Russian president spoke about the closeness between the US Democratic Party’’s slogans (BLM support) and the CPSU, he definitely spoke with tongue in cheek. In the case of Pashinyan the support by V.Putin of the Armenian prime minister made it possible for the Russian president to inform the people of Armenia about progress at talks with N.Pashinyan and the proposals made in the course of these talks (the latter would spread misinformation on the talks to justify his actions). In addition, Russia’s President “is defending” the Armenian prime minister because for V.Putin, what matters is not the person but the policy he pursues, which at the present stage meets the interests of Armenia and Russia – the national interests of BOTH countries.
If we are to examine the outcome of the conflict from the point of view of the “zero sum” (victory-defeat), I recall an interview of one year ago with one of the commanders of the Artsakh Army, a hero of the first Karabakh war. Asked about the future of the unrecognized republic he said that the best solution would be to deploy Russian peace-keepers in Karabakh, while for the republic itself the best option would be the status of a mandate territory like Palestinian Autonomy (until 1948) or Cyprus (until 1974). At that time I found it utopic as neither the co-chairing countries in the Minsk Group (the USA and France), nor Azerbaijan would never agree to such an option. Life, however, (or our diplomacy?) has made the impossible possible. Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have got protection, Russia – the possibility of controlling both parties in the conflict. Of course, the peace-keepers’ mission is dangerous as there could be provocations on the part of the conflicting parties and on the part of the “co-chairs” as they run trying to jump on the step of a leaving train.
Many interpreters will try to compromise the Russian foreign policy, including those in the West who describe the successful establishment of peace in Karabakh on the principle of “a game with a zero sum” as a defeat of their countries.
Peace has come, but history does not stop there.
From our partner International Affairs
Prospects of Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement
Potential Armenia-Turkey rapprochement could have a major influence on South Caucasus geopolitics. The opening of the border would allow Turkey to have a better connection with Azerbaijan beyond the link it already has with the Nakhchivan exclave. Moscow will not be entirely happy with the development as it would allow Yerevan to diversify its foreign policy and decrease dependence on Russia in economy. The process nevertheless is fraught with troubles as mutual distrust and the influence of the third parties could complicate the nascent rapprochement.
Over the past month Armenian and Turkish officials exchanged positive statements which signaled potential rapprochement between the two historical foes. For instance, the Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that he was ready for reconciliation with Turkey “without preconditions.” “Getting back to the agenda of establishing peace in the region, I must say that we have received some positive public signals from Turkey. We will assess these signals, and we will respond to positive signals with positive signals,” the PM stated. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara could work towards gradual normalization if Yerevan “declared its readiness to move in this direction.”
On a more concrete level Armenia has recently allowed Turkish Airlines to fly to Baku directly over Armenia. More significantly, Armenia’s recently unveiled five-year government action plan, approved by Armenia’s legislature, states that “Armenia is ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” Normalization, if implemented in full, would probably take the form of establishing full-scale diplomatic relations. More importantly, the five-year plan stresses that Armenia will approach the normalization process “without preconditions” and says that establishing relations with Turkey is in “the interests of stability, security, and the economic development of the region.”
So far it has been just an exchange of positive statements, but the frequency nevertheless indicates that a certain trend is emerging. This could lead to intensive talks and possibly to improvement of bilateral ties. The timing is interesting. The results of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war served as a catalyzer. Though heavily defeated by Azerbaijan, Armenia sees the need to act beyond the historical grievances it holds against Turkey and be generally more pragmatic in foreign ties. In Yerevan’s calculation, the improvement of relations with Ankara could deprive Baku of some advantages. Surely, Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance will remain untouched, but the momentum behind it could decrease if Armenia establishes better relations with Turkey. The latter might not be as strongly inclined to push against Armenia as it has done so far, and specifically during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The willingness to improve the bilateral relations has been persistently expressed by Ankara over the past years. Perhaps the biggest effort was made in 2009 when the Zurich Protocols were signed leading to a brief thaw in bilateral relations. Though eventually unsuccessful (on March 1, 2018, Armenia announced the cancellation of the protocols), Ankara has often stressed the need of improvement of ties with Yerevan without demanding preconditions.
Beyond the potential establishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of the two countries’ border, closed from early 1990s because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkey’s solidarity with and military and economic support for Azerbaijan, could also be a part of the arrangement. The opening of the 300 km border running along the Armenian regions of Shirak, Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Ararat could be a game-changer. The opening up of the border is essentially an opening of the entire South Caucasus region. The move would provide Armenia with a new market for its products and businesses. In the longer term it would allow the country to diversify its economy, lessen dependence on Russia and the fragile route which goes through Georgia. The reliance on the Georgian territory could be partially substituted by Azerbaijan-Armenia-Turkey route, though it should be also stressed that the Armenia transit would need considerable time to become fully operational.
Economic and connectivity diversification equals the diminution of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. In other words, the closed borders have always constituted the basis of Russian power in the region as most roads and railways have a northward direction. For Turkey an open border with Armenia is also beneficial as it would allow a freer connection with Azerbaijan. Improving the regional links is a cornerstone of Turkey’s position in the South Caucasus. In a way, the country has acted as a major disruptor. Through its military and active economic presence Turkey opens new railways and roads, thus steadily decreasing Russian geopolitical leverage over the South Caucasus.
As mentioned, both Ankara and Yerevan will benefit from potential rapprochement. It is natural to suggest that the potential improvement between Turkey and Armenia, Russia’s trustful ally, would not be possible without Moscow’s blessing. Russia expressed readiness to help Armenia and Turkey normalize their relations, saying that would boost peace and stability in the region. “Now too we are ready to assist in a rapprochement between the two neighboring states based on mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said. Yet, it is not entirely clear how the normalization would suit Russia’s interests. One possibility is that the Armenia-Turkey connection would allow Russia to have a direct land link with Turkey via Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, here too the benefits are doubtful. The route is long and will likely remain unreliable. For Russia trade with Turkey via the Black Sea will remain a primary route.
Presenting a positive picture in the South Caucasus could however be a misrepresentation of real developments on the ground. The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is far from being guaranteed because of ingrained distrust between the two sides. Moreover, there is also the Azerbaijani factor. Baku will try to influence Ankara’s thinking lest the rapprochement goes against Azerbaijan’s interests. Moreover, as argued above, Russia too might not be entirely interested in the border opening. This makes the potential process of normalization fraught with numerous problems which could continuously undermine rapport improvement.
Thus, realism drives Turkish policy toward Armenia. Ankara needs better connections to the South Caucasus. Reliance on the Georgian transit route is critical, but diversification is no less important. The results of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war present Turkey and Armenia with an opportunity to pursue the improvement of bilateral ties. Yet, the normalization could be under pressure from external players and deep running mutual distrust. Moreover, the two sides will need to walk a tightrope as a potential blowback from nationalist forces in Turkey and Armenia can complicate the process.
Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch
Tighter Ties with China Signal Ukraine’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy
Ukraine is eager to cut deals with China as it confronts the West’s moves to allay Russian concerns. Whether Kyiv’s moves are a sign of a larger foreign policy adjustment or just a bluff aimed to mitigate faltering ties with the EU and the US, they could beget big consequences.
On June 30, Ukraine touted an agreement with China, which proposes revamping the country’s decrepit infrastructure. The decision comes following a US-German resolution to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite longstanding concerns of Kyiv and other CEE nations. Yet, perhaps the biggest motivation was the growing unwillingness in the West to advance Ukraine’s NATO/EU aspirations.
The current state of affairs pushes Ukraine to find alternatives in foreign policy. China, with plenty of cash and political clout, comes as an obvious choice resulting in the signing of the bilateral agreement in June. The document outlines China’s willingness to invest in railways, airports, and ports, as well as telecommunications infrastructure across Ukraine. But otherwise, the agreement details few specifics.
The available details from the deal fit comfortably into the pattern China has been following across Eurasia. For example, China signed similar deals with Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia among others, demonstrating its willingness to penetrate those states’ vital infrastructure. Still, the documents can be also characterized as an umbrella agreement that serves as a roadmap rather than an accord listing concrete details and commitments.
The China-Ukraine agreement is all the more surprising as Kyiv rebuffed earlier this year a Chinese proposal to buy a Ukrainian aerospace company, Motor Sich.
Nevertheless, there are several reasons behind the rapprochement. First and foremost, it is about Ukraine adjusting its foreign policy stance to the state of economic relations. China is now Ukraine’s biggest single-country trade partner outstripping Russia and having a 14.4 percent share of the country’s imports and 15.3 percent of its exports. Perhaps fearful of possible Chinese countermeasures over the Motor Sich decision, Kyiv has been open to mending ties with Beijing with the June agreement.
Secondly, it paves the way for a more active role in China’s near-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims at connecting China with the European market across the heart of Eurasia. Ukraine was among the first to endorse the initiative but has avoided signing memorandums on cooperation similar to what China has done with many others.
More immediately, the tilt toward China follows Kyiv’s decision to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang. While Ukraine initially joined the initiative, together with 40 other states, Kyiv abruptly changed its mind on June 24. It has been confirmed that the withdrawal followed Chinese threats to limit trade and deny access to COVID-19 vaccines for which Ukraine had already paid.
Some larger geopolitical dynamics are also at play, such as Kyiv’s attempt to acclimate to the changing world order and the growing global competition between Beijing and Washington. In this environment, Ukraine might want to carve out an equidistant place between the two powers so as to avoid possible backlash from siding clearly with either of them.
As such, Ukraine appears to be embarking on a multi-vector foreign policy. It would allow Kyiv to alleviate its dependence on the West and seek lucrative economic and political ties with large Eurasian states. Put simply, relations with the West did not deliver on the expected benefits. The country was not offered NATO or EU accession, while the collective West’s consistent concessions to Russia undermine Ukraine’s interests. Ukraine has also often tended to look at China and other Eurasian powers from the ‘Western perspective’, which limited its options.
In Kyiv’s understanding, elimination of this obstructive dependence would enable it to find new partners able to bring in investments and ideally political support in multilateral organizations. China undoubtedly can be such a partner.
Kyiv’s calculations are more understandable when taken in view of its larger diplomatic readjustment in the region. For example, Ukraine recently began building closer relations with another Eurasian power in Turkey. When Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited Istanbul in April 2021, nascent bilateral military ties were seen as a new chapter in the countries’ relations. Most indicative of this shift, a memorandum was signed on the creation of joint defense-industrial projects, which includes joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles in Ukraine.
The story of Turkey could serve as a microcosm, whereby Kyiv displayed that it is more interested in balancing the pressure from Russia and mitigating the failures in its pro-Western foreign policy course. Ukraine thus foreshadowed its increasingly multi-vector foreign policy as a solution to its geopolitical problems. In Kyiv’s understanding, rapprochement with China and Turkey could mitigate threats emanating from Russia as both Beijing and Ankara enjoy closer ties with Moscow, but nonetheless consider it a competitor.
The multi-vector foreign policy for Ukraine however does not mean abandoning its pro-Western cause. It rather involves seeing its NATO/EU aspirations as complementary with the closer economic ties with China and others. It will require an agile foreign policy and leveraging the country’s geopolitical assets.
New Type of Bilateral Relations
Ukraine’s behavior might herald the birth of what could be characterized as a Eurasian model of bilateral relations. Across the continent, the notion of traditional alliances is being gradually replaced by partnerships. Devoid of formal obligations, China, Iran, Turkey and Russia find more space for interaction and see a larger pool of opportunities across the vastness of the supercontinent. Bigger maneuverability makes their foreign policy more agile in finding a common ground for cooperation.
The Eurasian model is a byproduct of an evolving global order in which each state with geopolitical influence recalibrates its foreign ties to fit into the post-unipolar world. Russia and China officially refuse to have an alliance – indeed, they claim an alliance would undermine their purportedly benevolent intentions toward one another. More specifically, the concept relates to how China sees the future world order. It opposes alliances – the ‘relic’ from the Cold War era.
Thus, the shift in Kyiv’s foreign policy could be part of this Eurasian trend where Ukraine seeks to construct its Asia policy which would better correspond to the unfolding China-US competition, Asia’s economic rise, and most of all, the failure to become a NATO or EU member state.
However, closer ties with China and most of all the dependence on Beijing’s investments also involves risks. China’s infrastructure projects are mostly financed through loans, which poorer and weaker countries are unable to repay. Often, ownership of the sites ends up in Chinese hands.
Chinese involvement in Ukraine’s critical infrastructure could also risk giving control over strategic technologies to Beijing, which would be channeled to China and successfully used to advance Chinese interests.
For Kyiv, dependence on Beijing also involves risks because of China’s close partnership with Russia. Dangers could be manifested in a concerted pressure on Ukraine in international organizations, or even China heeding Russian fears and abandoning infrastructure projects which would harm Russian interests.
The June agreement is an umbrella deal that lays out the foundation for deeper cooperation, but in no way guarantees its fulfillment. This could mean that Ukraine only sought to restore worsening bilateral relations with China following the Motor Sich saga. Alternatively, Kyiv might merely be trying to raise stakes in its stagnated relations with the West and hold Washington to account, signaling that it can successfully navigate between geopolitical poles if need be.
Author’s note: first published at chinaobservers
Ukraine’s independence: Shaping new political narratives through art
Ukraine’s 30th Independence Anniversary brings forth a discussion on forming a modern cultural identity in the wake of political instability.
Despite gaining independence 30 years ago, Ukraine is still facing consistent attacks on its sovereignty, both political and cultural. From the ongoing war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine, where 10,000 people have lost their lives since 2014, down to the root of oversimplification of Ukrainian issues in the media, Ukraine’s story is often being told by opponents attempting to distort the modern Ukrainian cultural identity.
My first-hand experience working with kids at the Ukrainian warzone has taught me a deep appreciation for cultural independence. For five years together with youngsters I wrote, directed and staged a performance piece titled ‘Contact Line’ about life at the warzone and personally witnessed the huge impact of arts and culture on the kids’ lives. This experience demonstrated that for too long Ukraine has let someone else present its identity to its youth, citizens and the world.
Shaking away the Soviet legacy
There’s no denying that the Soviet Union left a lasting legacy on Ukraine. The culture of Ukraine is to this day tainted by lingering ghosts of the Soviet past. Soviet authorities vigorously supressed the development of independent cultural identities in all the member states. In Ukraine’s case, simplistic rural folklore was imposed on society as a primary culture and was a means of suppressing creative or progressive thought. National collectives and one-dimensional traditional themes were presented as the essence of Ukrainian culture throughout the 20th century. Anyone who didn’t fit the Soviet mould was eliminated. A specific term, Executed Renaissance, is used to define a generation of Ukrainian artists who were repressed by the Soviet regime for their artistic non-conformism.
It has taken decades for Ukraine to regain its cultural voice and iron out its Soviet imprint. A key concept of postcolonial theory examines the creative resistance to the colonizers’ culture and the fraught slow development of a postcolonial identity. Ukraine has been struggling through this process for 30 years. However, since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity the country has been reimagining its culture, exploring its history and reconnecting with its identity. Ukraine is now striving to be on par with Western culture by ridding itself of remaining Soviet influences. Cultural institutions previously under government control or censorship are finding an independent voice and the population is discovering that authentic artistic expression is providing hope in difficult times.
Looking at the future
Over the past 10 years, Ukraine has witnessed a robust change in the arts sector. The cultural scene has made a significant move away from a conservative ethos to a more contemporary one. Visual arts are the most progressive form of expression in Ukraine, with cinema rapidly catching up. Ukrainian filmmakers are winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Ukrainian artists are receiving praise at La Biennale di Venezia. The expectation is that this trend will not only magnify in the coming years, but also position Ukrainian artists as global creative trailblazers.
Despite ballet being an extremely politicised art form during the Soviet period, it is now going through a revival and modernisation. The Ukrainain school of ballet is gaining recognition as one of the world’s best and Ukrainian ballet dancers are headlining the top ballet companies across the globe, showcasing their immense talent and training. British audiences will have an opportunity to watch the best Ukrainian ballet dancers from the world’s top theatres come together for a one-off unique performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London on September 7th.
Georgian-American ballet choreographer George Balanchine famously said, “Ballet will speak for itself,” and the artform remains a true demonstration of the universal language of dance. The Ukrainian Ballet Gala will be a showcase of the innovation and traditions of the contemporary Ukrainian ballet school.
Global cultural promotion
In a globalised world it’s the wish of every country to promote and engage in cultural exchanges, and Ukraine is very much part of this movement. Ukraine wants to be an active player on the world stage, both politically and culturally, and to be a dynamic culture creator, particularly in Europe. Trust in soft diplomacy is growing and Ukraine’s international relations and diplomacy are benefiting from this trend.
As a Ukrainian-born and British-educated theatre producer and director I appreciate the importance of bringing the best of Ukrainian culture to the world not just for Ukraine’s benefit, but to enrich global culture and share experiences through creative means. It is the job of people like me and my colleagues to tell Ukraine’s story through art and, thus, shape new political narratives about Ukraine internationally. We want to share our rich culture with the world and events, such as the Ukrainian Ballet Gala, are key to achieving this.
Ukrainians are now left with no choice but to stride forward – no outside force should ever again control the vibrant culture of Ukraine.
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