Ukraine-Russia: officially not friends any longer?

Events | | 7-10-2018, 10:00

Recently Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree not to extend the Friendship Treaty with Russia. The Topchubashov Center interviews Nurlan Aliyev, Warsaw-based expert on Eastern Europe, on how this unilateral act will affect the Ukraine-Russia relations and what the Donbas conflict`s perspectives on becoming a frozen one look. 


On 19 September 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree not to extend ‘Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation”, which is to expire in spring 2019. What does the legal basis of terminating friendship promises each party?

On September 17, President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree "On the Decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine dated September 6, 2018 on the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation" and after that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note to Russia regarding the non-extension of the treaty. Both sides undertake to respect the territorial integrity and borders of each other. 

The aforementioned Treaty was signed by the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma in the heyday of the bilateral relations, on May 31, 1997. According to Article 40 of the Treaty, it was concluded for a period of ten years and its validity would be then automatically renewed for subsequent ten-year periods if none of the High Contracting Parties notifies the other High Contracting Party of its desire to terminate it by a written notification no less than six months before the end of the next ten-years period. The Verkhovna Rada ratified the treaty on January 14, 1998 and the State Duma on December 25 of the same year. The document came into force on April 1, 1999. The starting date of which began from the date of entry into force of the treaty ended on April 1, 2009. Then neither Ukraine nor Russia wanted to terminate the document, so it was automatically extended for another 10 years. According to the treaty, it was necessary to notify Russia of the refusal to prolong the contract until September 30. So, we cannot say that the Ukraine terminated the contract; it just did not prolong it. Moreover, one of the main facets of the treaty was violated by Russia itself in 2014, because The Friendship Treaty codified the principles for each country to respect the other's territorial integrity and borders. So, such clauses as “the treaty recognizes the territorial integrity and borders of Ukraine and in case of its termination, Russia is freed from all obligations" already lost its validity in 2014. The fate of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances proved that contemporary Russia prioritizes conventional deterrence over legal obligation.   


Is the Western support to Ukraine enough? 

I think the West – the United States and EU – is supporting Ukraine in a way what they could regarding conditions in the conflict. NATO member states specialists train Ukraine military staff. Ukraine’s efforts to further develop interoperability with NATO is actively supported by the Alliance. Ukraine has received some defense armaments, for instance, it obtained the U.S. Javelin missiles and launch units. Moreover, as Russian vessels have grown increasingly aggressive toward Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is being supported by the United States in building its mosquito navy. Just recently it has obtained two U.S. Coast Guard Island-class cutters. This support would certainly not be enough in case of large scale military operations. But the major aim of the military support to Ukraine is deterrence, to let Russia know that it is attack would be more costly and it might have prolonged military conflict. The Western countries also support negotiation process and some of them participate as peace brokers between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine also receives economic support from Western states and institutions. The West provides advisory and capacity-building support to bring local authorities and communities together for joint reform and development activities. In my opinion, the key issue here is successfulness of reform results in Ukraine. Not only development of the relations between the West and Ukraine and social and economic prosperity of the country will depend on this issue, but it also will influence the conflict resolution.


Is the Donbas conflict also getting gradually frozen to be in line with other conflicts in the GUAM countries?  

We cannot consider developments in the Donbas as a frozen conflict, at least for now it is a low-intensity conflict. Even conflicts in two other GUAM member states, Azerbaijan and Georgia, could also be considered as low-intensity conflicts, the exception being Transnistria in Moldova. On the other hand, Moscow is trying to maintain the status quo in these conflicts as a part of its strategy to support a broader buffer of “gray” zones between Russia and the West. Moscow will also try to exploit these conflicts in an effort to improve its relations with the United States and EU. The main goal of the Kremlin is to block the NATO and EU from possibly extending its influence into aforementioned countries. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that all members of the GUAM, which was established mainly as a counter-balance to Russia’s integration initiatives in 1990s, are still facing conflicts.