Two days ago Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State [for European and Eurasian Affairs], arrived on an official visit to Ukraine. And, as usual, new information was brought to the Ukrainian authorities.
Traditionally, these informative messages are served in the form of an incentive-warning, to both motivate Kiev on the required steps and to also make it clear that there is no other choice for Ukraine.
Among the most encouraging statements Nuland said is that the United States is ready to provide financial guarantees to Ukraine, totaling billions of dollars. Since these guarantees were previously planned in tandem with the next tranche from the International Monetary Fund, then obviously the assistant secretary of state gave a positive signal to Ukraine’s largest creditor. In addition, the politician has also included the usual assurances for Kiev in the form of further technical military and economic support from Washington.
But the most interesting part is a stimulus bordering on diplomatic blackmail. This time Nuland did not limit herself to the old cliché about a lack of alternatives to the Minsk agreement. She made her claims to the leadership of Ukraine concrete. In particular, the official has placed a clear focus on elections in the temporarily-occupied territories of Ukraine, militants’ amnesty, and special status for an occupied territory of Ukraine, Donbass. In contrast to the announcement of these requirements in previous times, solving the problems of each block now has its deadline: the election legislation by the end of May, the elections themselves in July, and special status for Donbass by the end of 2016. However, this format of requirements is nothing new for Ukraine. There is clearly not enough incentive to act. Therefore, the State Department has decided to work harder.
The main highlight from Nuland’s statements is a promise to continue Western sanctions against Russia for another nine months (the final decision will be taken in June) in exchange for the Ukrainian adoption of an election law for Donbass in May. A spokeswoman for the State Department did not specify if sanctions against Russia would still take place if Ukraine didn’t take this step. However, it is clear that the strong position of the United States in such a scenario may effect change to the benefit of Moscow. Thus, the abstract appeals for implementation of the Minsk agreements have changed to specific conditions, Ukraine’s compliance with which will guarantee the continued policy of anti-Russian sanctions. Kiev is finally cornered with a difficult choice, which will require changes regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine. But such changes could be very painful and unpopular.
In this situation the most unpleasant aspect is linking sanctions from the West to Ukraine’s acts, rather than Russia’s aggression in terms of banning the Mejlis* in Crimea — again, the world closes its eyes. Instead of being stricter with the Kremlin, the U.S. chose the ultimate tactic of a soft policy toward Ukraine.
*Translator’s note: a self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars.
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