Billionaire oligarch Victor Pinchuk has supported Ukraine’s integration with Europe through his Yalta European Strategy Conference, but he’s now promoting a different line, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Ukraine should give up Crimea and medium-term hopes of European Union and NATO membership in exchange for peace in Donbas.
Pinchuk’s article – published on Dec. 29 under the headline “Ukraine must make painful compromises for peace with Russia” – argues that Ukraine should remove EU membership and its claim to Crimea from its national policy priorities as part of a broad deal to end Russia’s war against the eastern Donbas.
“We should also make clear that we are ready to accept an incremental rollback of sanctions on Russia as we move toward a solution for a free, united, peaceful and secure Ukraine,” Pinchuk wrote in the column. “The Ukrainian lives that will be saved are worth the painful compromises I have proposed.”
Pinchuk’s proposal has sparked debate in Kyiv political circles, with the country’s pro-Western activists expressing emotions ranging from revulsion to a cynical appraisal of Pinchuk’s business interests in building ties with both Russia and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
Hanna Hopko, an independent lawmaker who heads the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that Pinchuk was sacrificing Ukrainian statehood for his own business interests.
“Apparently, by this publication he tried both to please Kremlin, and to show off for Trump’s new administration,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Pinchuk wants to show that business stands for the reboot of relations between the U.S and Russia, even if Ukrainian national interests are the price for that.”
She stressed that Ukraine’s official position now should be so firm and loud that the separate voices of oligarchs would not have chance to drown out the nation’s united message.
“If Pinchuk is talking about compromise, he should start with the renewal of trust, which would be possible only if Russia withdraws its forces and returns full control over the border to Ukraine, including Crimea,” she said, adding that elections are not possible in Donbas until those conditions are met.
On the Crimea issue, Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov wrote on Facebook that Pinchuk “urges us — Ukraine and Ukrainians, including Crimea and Crimean Tatars — to surrender.”
“This capitulation will be total and self-destructive, as Pinchuk cannot understand that after handing over Crimea and Donbas, after refusing to join EU and the NATO, Ukraine will stop existing as independent state,” he wrote on Facebook.
In Chubarov’s words, Pinchuk just suggests that Ukrainians destroy Ukraine’s national dignity with their own hands
The political angle
Others suggested that Pinchuk was using the op-ed as a means to gain traction with the incoming Trump administration.
Political analyst Taras Berezovets told the Kyiv Post that Pinchuk’s op-ed sends troubling signals to Ukraine. Berezovets argued that there are people in Trump’s team who are ready to follow the Kremlin’s initiative to restart U.S.-Russian relations with Ukraine at stake.
“Russia is ready to withdraw forces from Donbas, but it wants to leave the issue of (annexed) Crimea behind, and to lift the sanctions,” Berezovets said.
In his words, the proposals that Pinchuk suggested in the article were not his ideas. The op-ed was inspired by the members of U.S. establishment and shaped in a way that they look like they come from Ukraine.
“It all depends on us now,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s top officials should respond, and do that as well through the Western media.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a political scientist and head of the Penta political studies center, told the Kyiv Post that Pinchuk’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal wasn’t a signal to Ukrainians or Ukrainian politicians, but to Trump’s new administration.
“Trump’s administration will possibly be looking for an alternative way to resolve the situation in Donbas. They will start from active negotiations with Russia, trying to find a compromise,” he said. “And maybe, just maybe, Pinchuk was trying to show that he was ready to become one of the negotiators.”
Fesenko also said that Pinchuk, like any savvy oligarch, was adjusting to new business realities.
“He realizes that prolonged aggressive fighting with Russia will slow down Ukraine’s economic development for many years and will damage any business, including Pinchuk’s,” Fesenko said.
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