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War in Ukraine: “The new multipolar world wanted by Russia promises to be extremely brutal”

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Why did Ukraine agree to join Russia and Belarus when the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was founded in 1991 when its independence was already at stake?

The fall of the USSR appears to the former Soviet republics as an opportunity and a risk. The Ukrainian economy was then so closely intertwined with that of Russia that the sudden severance of ties would have destabilized it. Nevertheless, Ukraine reserves room for maneuver by not contributing to the creation of a new USSR: it refuses to sign the statutes of the CIS. Then, it tries to promote alternative organizations to the CIS without Russia, such as GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), which brings together states having tensions with Moscow. Ultimately, there is a dual attitude in Ukraine: it is part of the CIS without renouncing to emancipation from Russia.

How are relations with Boris Yeltsin’s Russia going?

Like in a couple who rushes to sign the divorce document before they have finished dividing the joint property. Yeltsin, in a hurry to put an end to the Soviet heritage, concerned about the good relationship with the West and monopolized by internal crises, skirts the issues of Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet, for which he has been reproached in Russia. In spite of the problems, agreements are signed: that on Friendship, cooperation and partnership (1997) recognizes the inviolability of the borders and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which retains Crimea. The solution to the nuclear question is found with the Budapest memorandum, signed in 1994 with the participation of the United States and Great Britain. Thus, Ukraine renounces the status of nuclear power and all atomic weapons are transferred to Russia, which, in return, reaffirms its respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

As you point out, the issue of Crimea and that of the Black Sea Fleet raise questions. How did the negotiations go?

These are the thorniest issues, sources of tension between kyiv and the Crimean authorities, which several pro-Russian separatist forces have been calling for reintegration into Russia since the fall of the USSR. We tend to forget it, but a mediation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) worked from 1994 to 1999 to stabilize the situation in Crimea. In other words, the seeds of conflict are already there. The game calms down under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, a skilful politician who gives pledges of autonomy to Crimea and reassures Moscow. This autonomy allows the peninsula to live with one foot in Russia (with the Black Sea Fleet, the subsidiary of the Russian University, the Russian-speaking media) and the other in Ukraine. Regarding the Black Sea Fleet, there have been discussions about the creation of a common fleet, attempts by each of the parties to submit it to its authority and a division: the Russian fleet and the Ukrainian fleet are stationed in Sevastopol on two separate bases, and the Russian side undertakes not to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea. This evolution is accompanied by recurring tensions. In 2010, President Yanukovych signed the Kharkiv agreements for the lease for the Russian fleet until 2042, agreements that were shattered after the Maidan and the annexation of Crimea.

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