On December 29, one of Ukraine’s most influential figures, Viktor Pinchuk, declared that pre-emptive and ‘painful’ compromises would be needed to forestall a US-Russian bargain ‘over the heads of more than 40 million Ukrainians’. The path of compromise is hardly new for Pinchuk, son-in-law of Ukraine’s second president, Leonid Kuchma, a prominent philanthropist and one of the richest people in Ukraine, with long-standing business ties to Russia. Unlike some other prominent figures, it is rare to find Pinchuk accused of being a front man for Russia’s interests. Nevertheless, he has been a consistent proponent of a conciliatory course: a policy hospitable towards the West, respectful of Russian red lines and critical of those who believe that Ukraine must choose between one side and the other.
But despite Pinchuk’s laudable goals – preserving ‘Ukraine’s right to choose its own way, safeguard its territorial integrity and build a successful country’ – his solutions effectively abandon them. They call for ‘temporarily’ renouncing the goal of EU membership, pursuing ‘for now’ an ‘alternative security arrangement’ to NATO and perhaps most controversially, holding local elections in occupied areas before ‘conditions for fair elections exist’. Such compromises are the stuff of the ‘grand bargain’ that ‘realists’ usually talk about. But even in Donald Trump’s world of deal-making, few would consign Ukraine to Russia’s embrace without qualifications and safeguards, however illusory these might be. Pinchuk’s ‘realists’ are not real characters but rhetorical foils that appear designed to give credence to his proposals.