Presidential elections and Kremlin “partial legitimacy”

May 16, 2014

In ten days time the first round of voting of the presidential elections in Ukraine will occur.  The second round on 15th June.

That the election will occur, there seems little doubt.  Something of a small victory in and of itself, though it is an absolutely necessary step along the road away from interim leadership to that of an unquestionably legitimate one.

Yet the question of being unquestionably legitimate has already been raised by those close to, and within The Kremlin.

This tweet yesterday by Dmitri Trenin caught my eye – particularly given his access to “Moscow-think”.

What precisely is “partial legitimacy”?

Either something is legitimate – or it is not – by definition.  It either conforms to the laws and rules, or it doesn’t.

Other legitimate governments from across the globe will either recognise the legitimacy of any new Ukrainian president – or they won’t.  The elections and the results will be seen as valid and accepted – or not.

Thereafter any interaction will be warm, regular and respectful of a just winner, or cool and infrequent of a dubious process that generates an unrepresentative leader as an outcome – in general that’s how things work out.

But what of The Kremlin’s “partial legitimacy”?  It provides for a broad spectrum of ambiguity and shades of grey – a scope wide enough to maneuver comfortably within when required – one quite necessary for the real audience The Kremlin plays to, and for whom much foreign policy is crafted around – that audience is the Russian people themselves.

In any bilateral agreements – or multilateral agreements – involving Russia and Ukraine, will any provisions within be only partially binding because one of the presidential signatories is deemed to be only partially legitimate by another?

There will be no Head of State visits over the next 5 years because one party is only partially legitimate and therefore cannot be formally received by the other or vice versa?  Perhaps so, it is clear that Ukraine will be in The Kremlin sights under the current Kremlin leadership for many years to come – unless it capitulates.

Does The Kremlin recognise as legitimate a new presidential signature on constitutional changes that decentralise some power and/or elevate the status of the Russian language – but call illegitimate any signature with the EU Association Agreement for example?  Similarly with domestic Ukrainian laws it may like or dislike?

Is it simply a case of The Kremlin laying the foundation for accepting certain decisions by Kyiv and not others – thus accepting certain policies, whilst others presumably frowned upon by The Kremlin are immediately to claimed as questionable and/or illegitimate?

Presumably this “partial legitimacy” is firstly based upon the fact that genuinely free, fair and truly national elections are going to be rather difficult to accomplish in some parts of eastern Ukraine and exceptionally difficult to do in Crimea – in effect partially national.

Secondly as The Kremlin maintains Viktor Yanukovych remains the legitimate president of Ukraine, any replacement can therefore only have “partial legitimacy”?

Lastly, if The Kremlin only recognises “partial legitimacy”, then by extension that encourages and/or legitimises elements within the eastern regions of Ukraine to do the same – and therefore it remains somewhat unstable.

How, exactly, will this “partial legitimacy” work in the real world – particularly in Ukrainian-Russian bilateral relations at presidential level – or are matters between the two nations destined to be conducted at a level far further down the political and diplomatic food chain for the foreseeable future – perhaps even a full 5 year term?

“Partial legitimacy” – It will be interesting to see how The Kremlin actions – rather than words – will define that, but however that is done, Ukraine will remain a front-line State for as long as it resists.



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