When an anti-Russian revolt got out of hand during the Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands were tied hosting the games. He watched from Sochi duly elected Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovic driven out of Kiev into exile Feb. 22 by an angry mob of pro-European Union demonstrators with a litany of complaints about the Russian-backed government. When the United States, European Union and Ukrainian officials meet April 17 in Geneva, the only realistic solution is to dissolve the current post-revolutionary government of 49-year-old Oleksandr Turchinov and 39-year-old Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Ordering tanks and armored personnel carriers into Eastern Ukraine to recapture the town of Slayviansk, the Ukrainian army refused to fight their Russian-speaking comrades. Turchinov and Ystsenuk don’t represent the Ukrainian people.
Whatever happened Feb. 22 to drive Yanukovich from power, what’s clear is that most Ukrainians don’t back Kiev’s attempt to reclaim pro-Russian towns and provinces, especially Crimea. Pro-Russian forcers captured six personnel carriers en route to Slaviansk and another 15 were surrounded near a Ukrainian airbase. When the Ukrainian military refuses to fight, it means Kiev doesn’t have the power or moral authority to command the armed services. White House officials, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel must stop the Russia-bashing and Cold War rhetoric and accept that Ukraine’s current leadership must step down. When the U.S., EU, Russian and Ukraine meet tomorrow in Geneva, Ukraine’s current leaders must be told to resign, replaced by a temporary U.N.-approved caretaker government.
Whatever the push to merge with the EU that drove Yanukovich from power, all responsible parties must find new leadership consensus that works for the West and Russia. Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have some alternative ideas to Yanukovich who just about everyone agreed reeked of corruption. If the U.S. and EU go to Geneva with the same old paradigm, namely, that Turchinov and Yatsenyuk represent the legitimate Ukrainian government, then the Geneva talks will fail, possibly leading to a Russian takeover of Eastern Ukraine. Western officials, including EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, must accept that Turchyinov and Yatsenyuk do not represent a majority of Ukrainians. Refusing to spill blood in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military demonstrated loyalty not to Kiev but to the next generation of democratically elected leaders.
U.S. and EU officials must acknowledge that stealing the Ukrainian government Feb. 22 from Yanukovich was not the way to change leadership in Kiev. Holding new elections that reflect the vast majority of Ukrainians, East and West, is the right path now to heal unrest. Complaining about Russia’s some 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border doesn’t offer a better solution to stop the current trend toward civil war. When you consider the best option to civil war, it’s not an anti-Russian or pro-EU government that promises pie-in-the-sky without any real understanding of rebuilding the Ukrainian economy to self-sufficiency. Forming more dependency on the EU will only turn Ukraine into the next EU-slave state, like Greece or other economically distressed EU countries. EU officials must level with Ukraine about expected austerity from any economic bailout.
Blaming Russian agents for fomenting unrest in Eastern Ukraine doesn’t recognize that Kiev’s post-revolutionary leadership doesn’t reflect the vast majority of Ukrainians, certainly not the ones in the East. “The idea here is that they [Russian leaders] would stop aiding and abetting and supporting these separatists and that they would pull their troops back from the borders,” said an unnamed U.S. official, parroting the old paradigm creating the current mess. “All the soldiers and the officers are here. We are all boys who won’t shoot our town people,” said a Ukrainian soldier, admitting his troops hadn’t eaten for days before fed by locals. No legitimate leadership can send troops into possible battle without the resources needed to survive. “I am a Ukrainian officer, that’s the first thing. The other is that I will not shoot a my own people no matter what,” said the unnamed Ukrainian officer.
When the U.S., Russia, EU and Ukraine meets in Geneva April 17, all preconceived notions must end, including, the most important, that Turchinov and Yatsenyuk can continue running the Ukrainian government. All parties must agree on new interim consensus leaders or turn the government over to U.N. caretakers until realistic and fair elections can be held. Kiev can’t call the uprising in Crimea illegitimate without admitting the Feb. 22 uprising violated the constitutional rights of a duly elected government. Since Moscow won’t accept Turchinov and Yatsenyuk, it’s up to the U.S., EU and Russia to show the kind of statesmanship that finds common ground. With global stock markets jittery and the Russian ruble tanking, no one benefits from a civil war or more social and economic upheaval. Finding the right fix requires all sides to change paradigms before it’s too late.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.