The V4 Must Help Ukraine Win its Struggle for a Democratic Future

In the near future I will be having guest posts from contacts I have globally. The first of these guest posts is below.

By Volodomyr Valkov

In November 2013 Ukraine was peacefully preparing to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union at the Vilnius summit. Back then it would have probably been considered an absolute hallucinating nonsense to say that in just several months Ukraine would be swallowed by the murder of civilians, outright annexation, terrorism, military conflict, missile fire, and crashing planes.

In a matter of a few months Russia has stolen a huge part of Ukraine’s territory, forever introduced the reality of terrorism into the hearts of many Ukrainians, orchestrated a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, and started the process of creating two grotesque breakaway republics known as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. The most recent and most somber consequence of this political whirlwind is the tragic loss of lives in the downing of flight MH17.

There are important conclusions that we need to draw from the crisis in Ukraine. First, Russia (as in Vladimir Putin and his circle) has zero tolerance for the democratization of the post-Soviet space, especially in neighboring Ukraine. After all, Ukraine transports 80% of Russian gas to Europe, is the second largest buyer of Russian gas after Germany, has over 1,800 defense enterprises – some of which have unique capabilities in the indigenous production of ships, submarines, missiles, and other armaments – and possesses valuable human capital and large reserves of fertile land, important minerals, and natural resources.

All of Ukraine’s assets would be easy to control if Viktor Yanukovych had stayed in power. Yanukovych and his pro-Russian successors were supposed to oversee Ukraine’s accession to the Eurasian Union. Yanukovych almost completely eroded Ukraine’s defense potential, maintained Ukraine’s astronomic energy inefficiency, increased the presence of Russia’s military base in Crimea, amended the Constitution to usurp power, limited civil liberties, and was about to sell Russia control over the Ukrainian gas transport system.

The second lesson is that international security is a fragile concept. A difficult conflict can develop very quickly, affecting many more states that the warring parties themselves. The shocking way in which the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has rapidly affected many different countries is a demonstration of the unpredictable, gruesome nature of conflict in a globalized, interconnected world. In a matter of days, the supposedly limited conflict has instantaneously spilled over to the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, the United States, Canada, and Germany.

Most likely, even the Russian side did not anticipate that the MH17 disaster could have ever been produced by terrorists under its control. Nevertheless, Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, and the ideological and material sponsorship of the military fighting in eastern parts of Ukraine, including the supply of sophisticated weaponry to these terrorists, has irresponsibly claimed the lives of too many innocent people.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has been given different names, including hybrid war and proxy war. The main point is that it is, in fact, a war. Currently, the war is limited, but the fate of MH17 demonstrates the susceptibility of this war to expansion.

The countries of the V4 must take important lessons from this tragedy. Their own experience of Soviet rule and thus a deeper understanding of Putin’s actions, must serve as a constant reminder that only a democratic, united, and independent Ukraine can be a reliable, secure, and beneficial neighbor and partner. The V4 need to pass this knowledge along with foreign and security policy recommendations over to the rest of Europe and their allies in order to help Ukraine win its struggle for a democratic future.

Volodymyr Valkov is a human rights activist, researcher, and political analyst, as well as a project manager at the American Jewish Ukrainian Bureau for Human Rights “UCSJ” in Lviv, Ukraine. He holds an MA in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

This piece originally appeared at: Visegrad/Insight