August 4, 2016 –
By Eduard Popov
Translated by J. Arnoldski
On August 3rd, it was revealed that Ukraine has refused to approve the candidacy of Russia’s new ambassador. This was reported by Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine on European Integration, Elena Zerkal.
On July 29th, The International Affairs Committee of the Russian State Duma proposed the candidacy of Mikhail Babich for the post of Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine. Babich is supposed to replace Mikhail Zurabov who had held the post since August 2009. Zurabov is a big businessman (an oligarch) and the former Minister of Health of Russia. His appointment was seen by many as a major mistake in Russian policy towards Ukraine. As ambassador, Zurabov behaved especially passively even against the background of the high activity of the American, German, Polish, and other Western countries’ embassies. He is known for having maintained friendly and business relations with President Petro Poroshenko.
Mikhail Babich is the complete opposite of Zurabov. He is a graduate of the same structures that Russian President Vladimir Putin is, i.e., the KGB and FSB. His past service includes participation in combat and service in the airborne forces and intelligence services.
In an earlier article, I suggested that Babich would be an extremely uncomfortable partner for negotiations with President Poroshenko. As it turns out, Kiev indeed has considered Babich’s candidacy to be too “uncomfortable.” The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and President Poroshenko’s decision to reject his candidacy is quite logical and expected. By rejecting the undesired candidate, Kiev is likely sending a signal to Moscow. Poroshenko wants to see another Zurabov as the ambassador of Russia, the unloved but nonetheless most important partner of Ukraine.
Poroshenko himself is an oligarch and one of the wealthiest people in Ukraine. His fortunes sharply rose after the coup d’etat of February 21st, 2014 by, according to some estimates, threefold. Poroshenko benefits from and is comfortable with a negotiating partner from Russia who is a corrupt official and oligarch like himself.
But what are in Russia’s interests? How can Russia react to this latest unfriendly move by Kiev?
Literally just yesterday I authored a commentary regarding the proposed candidate of Mikhail Babich. The essence of my comments was that although this is a successful candidate, Russia’s optimal option would be reducing diplomatic relations with Ukraine to the level of a charge d’affaires.
Yet another message came out today along with the news of Kiev’s ejection of Babich: the diplomat Sergey Toropov was appointed Russia’s charge d’affaires in Ukraine.
The fate of Russian-Ukrainian diplomatic relations is not yet clear. Russia can propose a new candidate as its Permanent and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Ukraine, or it can “freeze” these relations and practically reduce them to the level of a charge d’affaires. I posit that that, in the conditions of total persecution of everything Russian and pro-Russian in Ukraine, a Russian ambassador cannot achieve any significant positive successes beyond harshly irritating Poroshenko. Reducing diplomatic relations, on the other hand, would yield a number of advantages. Above all, it would show official Kiev the extent of Moscow’s rejection of Ukraine’s anti-Russian policies and open violations of the Minsk Agreements. In addition, this would be a mirror response to the actions of Kiev, which has not appointed a new Ukrainian ambassador to Russia.
Several days ago I wrote that Babich’s assignment to the post of ambassador would mark the beginning of new Russian policy towards Ukraine. Kiev has already made one hostile move by not supporting this candidate. Wonderful! It cannot be excluded that Moscow expected such a move and has prepared a response. Reducing the level of diplomatic relations with Ukraine – which would be Kiev’s fault – is a decision that meets Russia’s interests. This decision could be followed by others which would harm Ukraine’s economy and social sphere. In the least, Russia has enough means in its arsenal to carry out such extremely painful strikes.