Viktor Pinchuk, The Wall Street Journal, 29.12.2016
Crimea should not get in the way of a deal that ends the war. The lives that will be saved are worth it.
Many Ukrainians are worried about the new U.S. administration because it has promised a different approach to Russia — which invaded and forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and then initiated and supported a so-called “separatist” movement to also gain control over parts of eastern Ukraine. We additionally worry that amid anti-establishment currents in Europe, coming elections across the Continent will usher in leaders who will want to make a deal with the Kremlin.
There will not be a solution over the heads of the more than 40 million Ukrainians. Our citizens have demonstrated since the end of 2013 that they will fight if the prospect of living in a free, democratic, tolerant and fair country is taken away. Those looking for a “realist” solution would be well advised to take this into account.
But the instinctive response of many Ukrainians to the new circumstances — to demand the same as before, but with greater intensity and urgency — may not work. Instead of issuing ever-shriller appeals, we must also adapt to the new reality, and help our international friends help us.
The new administration in Washington can be an opportunity for Ukraine to contribute to the solution of Russia’s intervention.
Yes, we must stand up for the fundamental principles of our struggle — Ukraine’s right to choose its own way, safeguard its territorial integrity and build a successful country. Moscow must implement its obligations under the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It must ensure enforcement of the cease-fire and the withdrawal of its fighters and heavy weapons, which it has failed to do.
But this can be part of a larger picture in which we make painful compromises for peace. Consider the following ideas.
• Ukraine should consider temporarily eliminating European Union membership from our stated goals for the near future. We can build a European country, be a privileged partner, and later discuss joining.
• While we maintain our position that Crimea is part of Ukraine and must be returned, Crimea must not get in the way of a deal that ends the war in the east on an equitable basis. It will take Ukraine 15 to 20 years to generate enough economic growth and stabilize our infrastructure, social safety net and financial system. Everyone from Crimea will then want to live in this future Ukraine — just as East Germans wanted to become part of West Germany.
• Conflict in the east was initiated from abroad and is not a genuine autonomy movement or civil war. There will not be conditions for fair elections 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. 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. We must focus on helping those who had to leave their hometowns, and cannot return to live under repressive and unsafe conditions, by offering them all possible support to rebuild their lives in a new reality.
• Finally, let’s accept that Ukraine will not join NATO in the near- or midterm. 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.
Ukraine will need security guarantees. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China gave security assurances in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal. We trusted this agreement but learned painfully when Russia invaded Crimea that assurances are not guarantees.
Ukraine must offer realistic, detailed proposals on all of these points. We should also make clear that we are ready to accept an incremental rollback of sanctions on Russia as we move toward a solution for a free, united, peaceful and secure Ukraine.
The Ukrainian lives that will be saved are worth the painful compromises I have proposed. We must reiterate that Ukraine can be part of solving its own problems and addressing global challenges as part of a broad international coalition.
When I hosted Donald Trump as a speaker by video link at the 2015 Yalta European Strategy annual meeting, he expressed great respect for Ukraine and the belief that we were not getting the support we deserved. I am hopeful that his sympathy for Ukraine can be the basis for meaningful negotiations, agreements and eventually a peaceful settlement.
Mr. Pinchuk is a Ukrainian industrialist and philanthropist.