On February 15, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz was interviewed by a DC-based reporter for the English-language Russian website Sputnik News on the current Russo-Ukrainian crisis. In the end, it never made the cut, and Sputnik News decided not to publish the interview. No doubt, the Kremlin sees things much differently than Dr. Chodakiewicz, but, for the sake of media freedom, we are publishing the interview below.
Sputnik News: I was hoping to get your comments regarding a Minsk declaration, which was agreed upon during the so-called Normandy format meeting on Ukrainian reconciliation on Thursday. The document stipulates ceasefire at 12:00 a.m. local time on February 15 (February 14, 22:00 GMT), and withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the existing contact line for the Ukrainian army, and from the line agreed on last September for the militia.
How likely is it that the parties will follow through with this agreement? One of the conditions for Kiev to regain control over the border with Russia is the implementation of constitutional reforms in Ukraine, according to the Minsk declaration. Will Kiev really implement constitutional reforms and give more rights to the regions?
MJC: I will first answer both questions above. Everything mostly depends on the Kremlin. If Moscow orders the separatists to stand down, most of them will. A few may bristle, but they’ll also follow suit. Kyiv barely holds its own. It should wish for a freeze in fighting, if for tactical reasons only. Whereas for Russia the choice is simple, for Ukraine any move is fraught with multilayered problems. Of course, the government in Kyiv cannot countenance giving up any Ukrainian territory, including Crimea. It would then stop being a Ukrainian government. However, there are pragmatists in the government who may want to consider the federal option as a face saving device. Nominally, a federated Ukraine would remain a single state. Practically, however, rebel-occupied areas would exercise autonomy and affiliate very closely with Russia. So Ukraine would become a de facto confederation of regions. Instead of a single unrecognized state of Transnistria, we would have a bevy of them, stretching along the current eastern border and the northern shore of the Black Sea. And Russia would expand unimpeded at a glacial pace, except in times of periodic crisis when history would accelerate for the Kremlin.
This scenario has already been tried in history. It was the case with the Cossack Rebellion of 1648. First, the Cossacks, especially their leaders, who were Polish nobles usually of Ruthenian roots and mostly Orthodox faith, considered themselves faithful servants or the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, objecting “only” to the Parliament (Sejm) and the local magnates (most of them Ruthenians by ethnicity, and freshly converted to Roman Catholicism). Then, the Cossacks asserted a de facto autonomy. They entered into direct relations with the Ottoman Porte and the Crimean Khan, and later with the Muscovites. They lacked the wherewithal to master this dynamic relationship; their attempts to reconcile with the Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth came to naught. And they were ultimately gobbled up by Moscow.
And, in the long run, that is the most likely scenario for Ukraine, whether it adheres to the Minsk accords or not.
The Minsk document adopted by the leaders of Ukraine, Germany, Russia, and France on Thursday calls for an «all-for-all» prisoner swap within five days after troops are pulled back in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
In your opinion, can this be carried through?
MJC: If there is political will in the Kremlin, it can be done. Thank God there is not enough bitterness yet among the fighters to prevent an “all for all” prisoner swap. However, even with good will in Moscow and Kyiv, there may be snags in the timetable. Five days is an awfully short time. Yet, it may be exactly what the doctors ordered: a leap of faith. The government forces withdraw without paying attention to what the other side is doing, and vice versa. It will have to be a huge leap of faith.
How would you evaluate the possibility of direct talks between Kiev and Eastern Ukraine?
MJC: They are slim, except on technical issues. Please remember that, although in a way brothers are fighting against brothers here, it is not a classical civil war because the center of the rebel command is in a foreign country: Russia. And we are not talking about a rebel eastern Ukrainian government in exile, we are talking about the master of the Kremlin: Vladimir Putin. He directs the battle. He is the commander-in-chief of the rebel forces.
What is the future of Russia-Ukraine military contacts?
MJC: I wish I could say peaceful. At both the tactical and strategic levels, the Russians play a crucial part in the unfolding drama. When they stop, peace shall prevail.
Should the administration reconsider arming Ukraine?
MJC: Sure. It is not often that a people want to defend themselves from an aggression from a foreign country. Usually, everyone expects the US to pull one’s chestnuts out of the fire.
Will US training program for the Ukrainian National Guard be effective, is it enough to change situation on the ground?
MJC: Tactical training will be effective. It will definitely boost the morale of the Ukrainian troops. It won’t change the situation on the ground, but, instead, it is a show of solidarity on the part of the White House. Thus it is a diplomatic tool to indicate to Russia that we are serious about helping Ukraine. I am afraid, however, that if it is not followed up with arms, it will be too little and too late.