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09KYIV1740, UKRAINE-RUSSIA: IS MILITARY CONFLICT NO LONGER

October 8, 2009

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09KYIV1740 2009-10-08 12:10 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv

VZCZCXRO5368
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHKV #1740/01 2811210
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081210Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY KYIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8547
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 KYIV 001740 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2019 
TAGS: PREL PBTS PGOV PNAT UP RS
SUBJECT: UKRAINE-RUSSIA: IS MILITARY CONFLICT NO LONGER 
UNTHINKABLE? 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 2412 
     B. MOSCOW 2349 
     C. MOSCOW 2071 
     D. KYIV 1433 
     E. KYIV 1728 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. James Pettit.  Reasons: 1.4 (b/d) 
. 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1.  (C)  Recent Russian actions have spurred a public 
discussion within the Ukrainian elite about Russian 
intentions toward Ukraine.  The most systematic contribution 
to the debate has been made by former National Security 
Advisor Volodymyr Horbulin, who believes that internal 
Russian considerations are pushing Russia toward a 
confrontation with Ukraine prior to the expiration of the 
Black Sea Fleet basing agreement in 2017.  Some of our 
contacts have echoed and even amplified Horbulin's sense of 
alarm; others have downplayed the risk of armed conflict 
while remaining concerned about the general trajectory of 
Russian-Ukrainian relations.  The overall impression is that 
Russian military action against Ukraine, while still 
unlikely, is no longer unthinkable.  End summary. 
 
SHOTS ACROSS THE BOW? 
--------------------- 
 
2.  (U)  Russian President Medvedev's August 11 letter to 
Ukrainian President Yushchenko (refs c-d), followed by the 
September 9 passage by the Russian Duma of the first reading 
of a draft amendment to the Law on Defense, expanding 
authority for Russian forces to be deployed abroad (ref b), 
have generated a high-profile public discussion here about 
the parlous state of Russian-Ukrainian relations. The day 
after the Duma's action, an open letter by 29 Ukrainian 
intellectuals and public figures, including former President 
Kravchuk, took Russia to task for allegedly disregarding 
Ukrainian sovereignty and trying to interfere in Ukraine's 
foreign-policy and security choices.  "For the first time in 
many years," the authors warned, "there are signs that the 
Kremlin is not excluding the use of force from its arsenal of 
foreign-policy instruments toward Ukraine." 
 
3.  (U) Still more noteworthy were two long articles in 
consecutive issues of "Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" ("Weekly Mirror") 
September 12 and 19 on Russia and Ukraine co-authored by 
Volodymyr Horbulin, currently Director of the Institute of 
National Security Issues and formerly National Security 
Advisor to President Kuchma.  After a lengthy analysis of 
Russian politics, Horbulin concluded that various ideological 
and domestic factors "are forcing the Kremlin to make the 
extraordinarily dangerous and risky wager on Russian 
imperialist chauvinism and the fanning of militarist 
psychosis."  While Moscow is not looking for a new global 
competition with the West, he wrote, Russia views the 
"taming" of Ukraine as the key task in restoring its regional 
domination. 
 
4.  (U) Because Russia's "aggressive policies" are driven by 
the needs of Russia rather than the actions of Kyiv, argued 
Horbulin, even a major change in Ukraine's political course 
would not produce any substantial change in Moscow's 
approach.  Horbulin reckoned that Moscow realizes it has a 
relatively short window of opportunity offered by Ukraine's 
internal political squabbling and international isolation, so 
"the 'assault on Kyiv' will unfold in the nearest future and 
will be determined and merciless."  Moreover, experience has 
convinced the Russians, he maintained, that "pro-Russian" 
politicians in Ukraine quickly adopt a 
pro-Ukrainian/pro-Western course as soon as they come to 
power.  While Horbulin believed that Russia has many 
non-military levers with which to influence Ukraine (above 
all, by stirring up trouble in the Crimea), he did not rule 
out the use of military force, especially if Ukraine's new 
president proves not to be as pliable as the Kremlin may hope. 
 
5.  (C) In a recent meeting with Polcouns, Horbulin 
characterized the Medvedev letter as unprecedented in the 
brazenness of Moscow's attempt to interfere in Ukraine's 
upcoming presidential election, with the message that 
"whoever becomes (the next Ukrainian) president must follow 
in the wake of Russian policies."  Since the 2008 Russian 
 
KYIV 00001740  002 OF 003 
 
 
invasion of Georgia, Russian military action against Ukraine 
is no longer unthinkable.  Russian journalists are already 
drawing analogies between Georgia and Ukraine, he alleged, 
adding that the "psychosis" created by Russian mass media, 
especially TV, could easily get out of hand and create a 
slide toward armed conflict. 
 
6.  (C) Asked about speculation that Ukraine could be divided 
into three parts (with the east/south annexed by Russia, a 
Russian-controlled central region,
and a European-oriented 
rump Ukraine in the west), Horbulin dismissed it as largely a 
fantasy and part of the "information war" rather than a 
serious plan.  He said the focus should be on the scheduled 
departure of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in 2017, which will 
be the main issue for the Ukrainian president(s) elected in 
2010 and 2015. 
 
7.  (C) Horbulin emphasized that Russia's window of 
opportunity will close toward 2015, as a new generation of 
Ukrainian politicians comes to the fore ("the most important 
idea in my article").  In closing, he said he tells his 
Russian friends that Moscow's actions are only widening the 
split between Russia and Ukraine. 
 
8.  (C) Other Embassy contacts echoed much of Horbulin's 
thinking, with several of them recommending his second 
article, in particular, as a close reflection of their own 
thinking.  The gloomiest assessment of Russian plans toward 
Ukraine was offered by the Foreign Policy Research 
Institute's Hryhoryi Perepelytsya, who had a book on the 
Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40 prominently displayed on his 
desk ("Ukraine needs a Mannerheim," he solemnly intoned). 
Moscow, he insisted, will not be satisfied with anything less 
than the incorporation of Ukraine, or most of it, into the 
Russian Federation. Perepelytsya and Stepan Havrysh of the 
National Security and Defense Council agreed with Russian 
analysts who surmised that the draft amendment to the Russian 
Law on Defense was undertaken with Ukraine principally in 
mind (ref b).  Havrysh maintained that "the military threat 
(to Ukraine) is real," although he added that Russian 
saber-rattling ultimately works to undermine Russia's 
position in Ukraine. 
 
 
 
THE SKY IS NOT FALLING -- BUT IT MIGHT BE STARTING TO CRACK 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
9.  (C) Other Ukrainian analysts were less apocalyptic.  MP 
Andiy Shkil, a Western Ukrainian member of the Yuliya 
Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and head of the Ukrainian Rada 
delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, was 
unconcerned about any near-term outbreak of military 
hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, believing that some 
Ukrainians feel the need to exaggerate the threat in order to 
rouse the country out of its torpor.  Nevertheless, a new 
element in the equation, he said, is the sense that Ukraine 
now stands alone vis-a-vis Russia, with no real guarantees or 
protector.  Shkil was troubled by what he viewed as a Russian 
propaganda campaign against Ukraine, adding that Ukrainians 
were shocked to hear how many Russians in public opinion 
polling actually labeled Ukraine an enemy of Russia. 
 
10.  (C) Oleksandr Potiekhin, a former diplomat and currently 
an expert at the Institute of Global Economy and 
International Relations, maintained that President Yushchenko 
has exaggerated the Russian danger for his own political 
purposes.  He agreed with Horbulin that Russian policy toward 
Ukraine is driven primarily by Russian domestic political 
considerations.  Unlike Horbulin and Perepelytsya, Potiekhin 
argued that Russia seems to lack a strategy, with its 
approach to Ukraine driven more by emotion than calculation. 
He observed that Ukrainians continue to have warm feelings 
toward Russia, and most of them cannot even imagine an armed 
clash.  Nevertheless, if it came to hostilities, Potiekhin 
said the Russians should not imagine that the Ukrainians 
would welcome them as liberators. 
 
MISSILE DEFENSE:  UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES 
----------------------------------------- 
 
11.  (C) Horbulin, echoed by others, was chagrined by the 
U.S. decision not to deploy missile-defense infrastructure in 
Poland and the Czech Republic.  Whatever the merits of the 
decision, it had emboldened pro-Moscow elements in Ukraine 
 
KYIV 00001740  003 OF 003 
 
 
and left pro-Western forces feeling even more beleaguered. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
12.  (C) As Oleksiy Melnyk of the Razumkov Center observed to 
us, recent Russian actions have certainly alarmed a large 
percentage of the Ukrainian political and intellectual elite, 
but the population as a whole seems untroubled.  No one is 
digging tank traps around the northern approaches to Kyiv, 
nor do people appear to be making arrangements to send their 
families abroad, out of harm's way.  There is a sense here 
that relations with Russia ought to improve after Yushchenko 
leaves office a few months from now (more septel on the 
Russia factor in the presidential campaign).  And yet, there 
is also a palpable sense that Russia and Ukraine have moved 
psychologically in recent months in an unhealthy direction. 
The example of Georgia; the Medvedev letter to Yushchenko 
(the tone of which shocked even critics of Yushchenko's 
Russia policy); the amendment to Russia's Law on Defense 
(coming on the heels of the Medvedev letter); a perception 
(rightly or wrongly) that Ukraine is on its own, bereft of 
any concrete Western support; the troubling public-opinion 
disconnect (with Russians perceiving Ukraine as hostile while 
Ukrainians continue to view Russia and Russians positively); 
and the sense that even educated Russian friends just "don't 
get it" when it comes to Ukraine's independence and national 
aspirations -- all these factors have created a sense of 
disquiet about the trajectory of Russian-Ukrainian relations, 
and a fear that armed conflict, while certainly unlikely, can 
no longer be dismissed out of hand. 
PETTIT

Wikileaks

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