By Rostislav Ishchenko
Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard
cross posted with

On August 28th Poroshenko tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine with preparing documents on the denunciation of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia (it is also called the Big or Basic treaty). On the same day the Minister of Foreign Affairs Klimkin reported that Ukraine will notify Russia about the cancellation of the treaty before September 30th…

I, of course, understand that Klimkin was supposed to have the documents ready long ago, because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine officially suggested to denounce the treaty on March 18th of the current year. But nevertheless, the ratification and denunciation of the international treaties of Ukraine is an exclusive prerogative of parliament. Neither executive power – which by the way isn’t Klimkin and even not Groisman, but the entire government in general – nor Poroshenko as the head of state have the power to dissolve the treaty without putting it to the vote in parliament. And the situation nowadays is such that collecting the majority of deputies’ votes, even during a Russophobic event, won’t be simple for Poroshenko.

The president lost control over the parliament long ago, and on the eve of elections his opponents will think three times before creating a precedent for consolidated Rada voting for the proposal of the president. Especially since Poroshenko’s opponents build their own electoral campaign on the basis of theses about the need to terminate civil war and normalise relations with Russia. It is clear that denunciation of the Treaty of friendship won’t promote the achievement of these goals. It is in the course of Poroshenko’s radical nationalist electoral program. Denunciation of the treaty will show that the Verkhovna Rada rallied around Poroshenko like around the leader of the party of war. This can give him a free hand to attack to the opposition.

And I am absolutely sure that, besides the creation of conditions for the forceful suppression of the opposition, Poroshenko, who demands to end the Treaty of friendship, has no other goals.

Firstly, Ukraine could’ve ended it long ago. In 2014-2015 moods in society were much more favourable for it, and the parliament was ready for the corresponding vote, and even western partners perplexedly asked Ukraine how it manages to affirm that it is at war with Russia if the Treaty of friendship remains inviolable. Now the situation radically changed, and the corresponding actions of Kiev won’t receive neither internal, nor international support (which Poroshenko is perfectly aware of).

Secondly, ending the Treaty gives nothing to Ukraine, but only expands Russia’s space for manoeuvre.

Let’s start with banalities. It is precisely under his Treaty that the inviolability of the existing borders is recognised, and the parties undertake to respect the territorial integrity of each other and not to use their territory to the detriment of each other’s security. Ukraine, however, accuses Russia of violating these provisions, but Moscow has more grounds to make pretensions to Kiev. In 2014 Ukrainian troops repeatedly fired artillery and small arms at the Russian border checkpoints and border settlements. One citizen of Russia was killed at a minimum. Also, back then groups of armed Ukrainian soldiers breached the Russian border in armored vehicles several times (yet not with the purpose of surrendering, as was the case later).

Nevertheless, the Treaty worked and that’s why nobody called the border into question, and the territorial integrity of Ukraine was respected so much so that the DPR/LPR still are not recognised. If Ukraine denounces the Treaty, its border will then lose international legitimacy. It will become just a conditional line on the territory that Ukraine considers as the border. But Russia in this question won’t have any more obligations.

What can this lead to? For example, to the recognition of the DPR/LPR (after all, the obligation to respect territorial integrity is absent). At the same time, it is necessary to remember that the republics consider the entire territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine as theirs, which currently they control only a third of. I.e., another solid piece of Ukrainian territory will immediately hang in suspense. There is also the problem of the northern part of the Arabat spit that didn’t leave [Ukraine – ed] together with Crimea, which it geographically belongs to only because it was administratively attached to the Kherson region. Not necessarily immediately, but all these questions can become actual.

However, it is unlikely Russia will immediately start making territorial claims to Ukraine. Even the question of recognising the republics can be postponed in connection with the general geopolitical situation. But it’s not a coincidence that this Treaty is called a Basic one. By declaring a strategic partnership between two countries, it in fact is the basis for agreements regulating Ukrainian-Russian relations in all spheres. The economy, finance, science, culture, the rights and freedoms of citizens of the two countries – nothing escapes the coverage of the Treaty of friendship. Any agreement in any spheres can be ended with a reference to its denunciation (or their action can be suspended).

Should the denunciation of the Treaty of friendship happen, both Russia and Ukraine – everyone on their own arbitrariness – can at will limit the crossing of their border by citizens of the other party, their right to work, and the acquisition of property and doing business on their territory. Only, if Ukraine already used this option (in those aspects in which could), then Russia hasn’t even started to use it. Now Kiev tries to create for Moscow the international legal basis for any actions concerning Ukraine.

Poroshenko’s plan is clear: denounce the Treaty to provoke Russia into taking drastic action, such as putting forward territorial claims, and thus rally radical nationalist forces around himself, and also to increase the degree of patriotic hysteria in society – if not to the level of 2014, then up to some noticeable size. This should reduce the electoral base of his opponents, having at the same time increased the number of votes for Poroshenko. Besides this, in such conditions it will be much more difficult for the opposition to demand the normalisation of relations with Russia.

But after all, Moscow in recent years gives everyone only asymmetric answers, which are even more painful as a result. After all, it can turn out that instead of Russian pretensions, Poroshenko will receive the return to Ukraine of millions of gastarbeiters, who will lose the grounds to work in Russia, and the conditions of them crossing the border and staying on the territory of the country will demand additional negotiations and the conclusion of a new agreement. I think that their “love” for Poroshenko, who deprived them and their family of a livelihood, will become so heated that Petro Poroshenko will need to think not about elections, but about fleeing (well, or about his soul).

Russia’s diapason of opportunities to react should the Treaty of friendship be denounced is wider than ever. In the end, this Treaty is something like the constitution of bilateral relations. If there is no Treaty, then the contractual-legal basis weakens. But, as was said at the beginning of the article, one shouldn’t forget also about the interests of the Ukrainian opposition, which isn’t interested at all Poroshenko unleashing a conflict with Russia (even if it isn’t a hot conflict) at the end of his reign. After all, it is they who will be obliged to restore the destroyed contractual-legal basis of bilateral relations. But times have changed. There is no more Yeltsin, who demanded from Russian officials just after they had woken up in the morning to think about “what you’ve done for Ukraine”, and who was the head of Russia when the Treaty was approved and signed by the parliaments of the two countries. The conditions of the new Treaty will be much more strict. And the opposition also is not interested in giving Poroshenko the chance to take the initiative in the internal political fight. So the first thing that Poroshenko-Klimkin’s initiative will lead to will be a growth in internal tensions in Ukraine, and all the rest  – later.

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