By Paul Goble
When one country invades another and occupies part of its territory, the victim normally breaks diplomatic relations with the aggressor. But despite the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, has illegally annexed part of Ukraine’s territory and continues its aggression, Ukraine still maintains diplomatic relations with Russia.
There are at least two reasons for that. On the one hand, the governments of many countries which support Ukraine do not want to see Kyiv take a step that would deny them the ability to deny the obvious and even accept the Kremlin’s constant muddying of waters via fake news and outright lies.
And on the other, many in Ukraine feel that their country is still so intertwined with Russia that Kyiv would lose more than it would gain by taking an action that would leave Ukraine without a diplomatic presence in Russia both to negotiate and to offer consular services to the millions of Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.
But in recent weeks, the Ukrainian government has been moving in the direction of annulling many of the agreements it has with Moscow, having cancelled 49 so far and announcing plans to denounce 50 more. After doing so, there will be fewer reasons to maintain diplomatic ties (lb.ua/news/2019/01/18/417469_ukraina_razorvala_49_dogovorov.html).
On Friday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said that Ukraine had not yet moved to break diplomatic relations with Russia completely because it has not been able to find another country whose embassy in Moscow will represent the interests of Ukraine in Russia (2000.ua/novosti/ukraina_novosti/klimkin-ukraina-ishet-formulu-dlja-razryva-dipotnoshenii-s-rf.htm).
The Ukrainian diplomat said that Kyiv is continuing to seek a country who will play this role and has talked to many. “I will not name the countries because this is a question of politeness.” But there must not be any confusion in Ukraine’s plans: It intends to break relations with Moscow as soon as it finds “a formula” that will allow it to do so.
In most such cases, prominent non-aligned countries such as Switzerland are quite prepared to play this role. But in this case, it is highly likely that Moscow has put out the word that Russia would view the willingness of any country to represent Ukraine’s interest as an unfriendly act.
One very much hopes that a major Western country will step up and play this role, allowing the victim of Russian aggression and occupation to break relations with the regime responsible.