“The serious, deplorable problem involving both sides is that two Countries, two peoples, two brothers, are growing increasingly distant from each other; that two leaderships fail to identify a commonly agreed modus vivendi and that the international community has been sitting on laurels for years.” Aldo Ferrari, ISPI analyst, Professor of History of Russian Culture at Ca’Foscari University in Venice, is deeply disappointed. The Parliament of Ukraine has voted to impose martial law for 30 days in response to the capture of three Ukrainian navy vessels by Russian ships near the Kerch Strait which connects the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. The martial law gives special powers to the army, albeit – contrary to what the Ukrainian president had requested – introduced only temporarily and only in regions bordering Russia. However, it allows for the government to limit rights such as public gatherings and media freedom.
Never before had Ukraine decided to enforce martial law, not even during the acute stages of the Donbass conflict. Professor, how should we interpret this signal?
It’s basically an internal political signal. The fact we should bear in mind –not only this aspect, but one of its most important ones – is that in a few months Ukraine will hold its presidential elections, and the president-in-office is projected to loose consensus. It should be remembered that he’s a tycoon, an oligarch who grew enormously rich and in unclear ways. In these 4 years of government the country’s chronic crisis has deteriorated. Thus tapping into the Russian threat, along with the difficult political and economic relations with its neighbouring Country, strengthens his political role.
How is Ukraine reacting to this decision? Martial law is a powerful provision: it could even limit freedom of the press, ban public gatherings, control the circulation of emails and social networks.
All of this is taking place ahead of the elections. This means that although the ruling government may not have full powers, it surely has the strength to control a Country. In the past years Ukraine has strengthened its military capacities, it enjoys the open support of Western countries – NATO, EU and United States. Moreover, the activism of the incumbent Ukrainian president has made the headlines especially with regard to the request of autocephaly of the Church of Kiev, recognized by Patriarch Barthomew. These are great maneuvers made by Poroshenko to consolidate his power.
The pending request of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church could be more important that the naval incident of the past days.
To this regard, is it only a naval incident or is it a sign of escalating tensions? What is your view?
What happened the other night is ultimately an incident, an incident of great proportions but an incident.
Yet it sprung from a very complex situation. With the building of the bridge uniting Crimea to Russian, inland Russia strengthened its control on the Sea of Azov, that comprises important Ukrainian cities and ports. Russia has the possibility to control Ukrainian vessels, obstruct their route and limit economic and commercial transit to the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk. This entails further pressure on Ukraine, which obviously reacts strongly.
Both political leaders could have an interest in this incident. I already mentioned the weak position of Porochenko, but also Putin is experiencing a period of difficulty after many years of strong political support, especially as a result of the unpopular pension law. It can be said that unfortunately both political parties could have an interest in the conflict’s escalation
since patriotic rhetoric draws major consensus both in Ukraine and in Russia, to consolidate their political weight in their respective Countries.
Do you think there’s a concrete risk of war?
I don’t think so. A war would be too dangerous, Russia is a nuclear power. Ukraine is backed by NATO. So the stakes are too high. But this situation of tension could continue, as has been happening in Donbass for the past four years. There are two conflicting parties, effective talks should be initiated, more effective that those characterising the Minsk process.