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8 May 2014, Gateway House

Six takes on the Ukraine crisis

It is seven months since the first round of protests began in Ukraine, and the crisis has only escalated further. Russia has rejected calls for another round of talks and parts of eastern Ukraine are seeing violence on a daily basis as pro-government loyalists try and take back cities controlled by the pro-Russians

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The political and security situation in Ukraine is deteriorating every day. An increasing number of fights are breaking out in eastern Ukraine, as pro-government loyalists try and take back cities controlled by pro-Russian loyalists. An enormous debt crisis means that Ukraine faces imminent bankruptcy and given that Ukraine is a major channel for oil and gas exports from Russia to western Europe, any further escalation of tensions could send prices soaring.

Gateway House asked six experts for their perspective on the current state of play and on what to expect in the weeks ahead.

Rajrishi Singhal, Senior Geo-economics Fellow, Gateway House

“As the violence escalates, the economy of Ukraine is slipping from a state of fragility to a level of impairment that will take years to heal. Ukraine’s economy has been shrinking and it is deeply in debt with money owed ironically to even the Russian gas supplier Gazprom – $3.5 billion as of May 1. Much of the heavy industry subsisted on this source which was supplied at subsidised rates. The Ukraine government was negotiating for a $15 billion debt from Russia before mobs deposed the former president. Now the U.S. and the EU will have to step in and the IMF might also fork out another $10-15 billion to stave off bankruptcy. The new government is contemplating a number of measures, such as raising household gas prices, increasing taxes, freezing minimum wages and laying off parts of the bureaucracy, although fears of mobocracy might force some degree of gradualism.

As far as the impact on India is concerned, Ukraine is India’s second largest trading partner after Russia in the Commonwealth of Independent States and India’s total trade with Ukraine in 2012-13 was over $3 billion. Pharmaceutical exports make up for 30% our total exports to Ukraine and the FICCI  had recently expressed concerns that a prolonged crisis could impact the country’s exchange rate, leading to a rise in the landed cost of Indian pharmaceuticals.”

Ronen Sen, former Indian Ambassador to Russia

“What is unfolding is unfortunate because one had hopes that the terms agreed upon at the quadrilateral accord in Geneva in April would be honoured. Under those terms, all sides were to refrain from violence and the pro-Russian separatists were to disarm and return to the authorities’ control of the buildings that they had seized during protests. This was obviously aimed at disarming all protesters – those in Kiev and in the east. However, things don’t seem to be moving in that direction.

India has no special stake in Ukraine apart from sharing our sorrow at the loss of lives and our hopes for a peaceful resolution. As the world’s largest democracy we hope that there will be a comprehensive dialogue for creating conditions conducive for the holding of both presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine. These elections would hopefully be held within a federal framework taking into account the interests of all citizens that would rule out the possibility of secessionist trends such as referendums for so called state sovereignty in different regions.”

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Ksenya Kysil, Correspondent, Kraina magazine

“The people of Ukraine have never felt hatred towards the Russians and this was the case even during  the years when Ukraine got its independence from Russia – a period when emotions were running high. Today, our most akin brother slowly devours our eastern territories. However, Russians do not realise that a majority of east Ukrainians do not support them. The Crimean scenario is impossible there because Crimea has a sizeable presence of ethnic Russians who were resettled there after WW II. They never identified themselves as Ukrainians – they had Russian flags hanging in their homes and dreamed of drawing their last breath in “Mother Russia”. However, what unfolded in Crimea is unlikely to repeat itself in the rest of Ukraine. Ukrainians have come together and will not surrender to the aggressor. The agenda is to now overcome the crisis and reform a neglected Ukraine.”

Pepe Escobar, Roving correspondent, Asia Times

“Russia expects respect from “our western partners” who since 1991 have treated it, not as “an independent, active participant in international affairs,” but as a backward or dangerous nation to dismiss and “contain.” History clearly shows Washington does not respect the national interests of anybody. The Kremlin, in a nutshell, has invited Washington to play realpolitik. The Obama administration, at best – and we are being lenient here – plays checkers. Moscow plays chess. A mad drive to instill chaos in Russia’s western borderlands while “ignoring” Putin won’t change the Kremlin’s defense of what it perceives as Russia’s national interests.

Yet the sanctions game will persist, like it did with Cuba, Iraq and Iran.  No adults in Europe will follow. Even poodles are able to sniff out that the Obama administration does not even qualify to play Game of Thrones on PlayStation 3.”

Jaromir Novotny, former Deputy Secretary of Defence, the Czech Republic

“The government in Kiev is gradually losing control over the eastern region. The police and army in these areas are proving to be unreliable, with some of them choosing to join the separatists. Ukraine is on the edge of bankruptcy. There is a real possibility that we could see a repeat of what happened in Yugoslavia which broke up after a series of political upheavals in the 1990s.

This is the beginning of a long-term crisis where we will possibly even see a redrawing of  the borders of eastern Europe by means of force. Who will care if the guarantees given by the permanent members of the UN Security Council are not even worth of the paper they are printed on? This is the beginning of a chess game being played between the West and Russia for the redrawing the spheres of influence in eastern Europe.”

Robert Pettinger, U.S. Congressional Committee on Financial Services

“It is necessary to understand your adversary. If a man (Russian President Vladimir Putin) says that the worst things to happen in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union and leaves out the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the two World Wars, then you have to get inside his mind and think of what his objectives would be.

The U.S. President while no doubt working for, what he thought was in the best interests of the U.S., has acted in a way that has encouraged Mr. Putin to be the aggressor. The way to pressurise Putin is to put back our missile defence and place strong economic sanctions.”

Shai Venkatraman is the Website Editor at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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