Breaking off Ukraine-Russia Diplomatic Relations: Pros and Cons

Both points of view on the issue have influential and well-known supporters who appeal to specific arguments and factors


Mykola Zamikula

Ukrainian version

The question of the need to break diplomatic relations with Russia because of its ongoing hybrid aggression is being discussed repeatedly on the highest level in Kyiv. In the nearest future we can expect its return to the agenda. Both supporters and opponents of such measures have their own arguments. A detailed analysis of their thoughts will help to assess situation.


Political aspect

  • Disappearance of direct communication channel between Ukrainian and Russian authorities. Breaking off bilateral contacts between Kyiv and Moscow will make impossible the multilateral format of negotiations on a peaceful settlement (such as Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, Normandy format etc.). Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko notes that “With Russia we have diverse relations, and there is Trilateral Contact Group. Who will represent Ukraine there [in the case of rupture of diplomatic relations]? “.
  • The need to find a third party that has to represent Ukraine in Russia (as an example – the Russian-Georgian relations are formed through the mediation of Switzerland). Today the candidature of such mediator, who will be able to perform these duties properly, is uncertain. In any case, the possibility of solving problems by using mediation mechanisms is narrower than in the case of bilateral contacts.
  • Reduction of opportunities to protect interests of Ukrainian individuals and legal entities in Russia. As of March 2016, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry there were about 4 million Ukrainian citizens in Russia. Ambassador-at-large of the Ukrainian MFA Dmytro Kuleba noted that “In Russia there is millions of Ukrainian. Therefore, our embassy there now performs two functions – consular assistance, consular service for Ukrainian citizens … People have a lot of problems. There is a war, but life has not been canceled, people come for references, passports, other documents which they need. Assistance should be provided”. Also provision of the necessary protection to the Ukrainian citizens who are being held as illegal prisoners in Russia will be complicated. “We are losing the opportunity to pull out Ukrainian citizens from the Russian torture chambers. Today you can see what pursuit of Ukrainians on its territory was organized by Russian Federation… We will lose the opportunity to defend those millions of Ukrainian citizens who are on that territory” said political director of the Ukrainian MFA Olexiy Makeyev.

Social aspect

  • Potential introduction of the visa regime (in this scenario obtaining of the visa for entry will require appeal to a third party – mediator) will greatly complicate labor activities for Ukrainians on the Russian territory. The necessity to get a work visa will limit access to jobs. As a result we can whiteness the increase of unemployment and social tension in Ukrainian society.
  • Use of visa issue by Russian propaganda (in the form of special attention to cases where some families have no opportunity to meet and to visit relatives on the other side of the border) will help to escalate situation.

Economic aspect

  • Reduction of remittances from Ukrainians who work in Russia (up to 2 billion US dollars annually).
  • Creation of a reason to review the Ukraine-Russia economic and trade agreements (including treaties in the field of energy trade) concluded by state companies.
  • Reduction of the index of mutual trade. Despite the decrease of the Russian share in the structure of Ukrainian foreign trade (from 31.8% in 2010 to 16.3% in 2015; in 2016 the reduction continues), it still ranks first among the partner states.

Ideological aspect

  • Initiative to break diplomatic relations with Russia from Ukraine may be regarded in the West as a sign that Kyiv undertakes course for conflict escalation. In the eyes of the public Ukraine will be responsible for the escalation of the crisis, which will affect negatively its image. According to a member of Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ariev Ukraine could not take this step in order to demonstrate its partners in the world – states that support us – its civility and willingness to resolve conflict peacefully.
  • Breaking off diplomatic relations – an important tool in the diplomatic struggle. It requires adequate and timely use to achieve a successful effect. Delayed action will leave Ukraine without last trump. Chairman of the International Centre for Policy Studies Vasyl Fylypchuk writes that “Severance of diplomatic relations – a serious step, and it makes sense when it is part of the global strategy. What the Parliament and the President are planning to do next? By now this is nothing more than political declaration … Diplomatic relations had to be severed in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Then it was reasonable and logical”.


Political aspect

  • Breaking off diplomatic relations will affirm de-jure the character of Ukraine-Russia dialogue, Russia’s position on Ukrainian authorities, which de facto existed since 2014. Chairman of “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” Foundation Bohdan Yaremenko stressed out that “There is no point in diplomatic relations between two states now. Normally they are established between the states that recognize each other and want to develop relations. Today Russia does not recognize Ukraine in the borders that were set. Given that Russia wages war against us, the presence of its diplomats in our state means that we help the aggressor to fight against us… Russia is not a real constitutional state, laws are not being applied [on its territory], so Ukrainian consuls cannot perform their duties fully to Ukrainian citizens… I think that there is not anything bad for the average Ukrainian in breaking off diplomatic relations. Moreover, citizens of Ukraine will become safe politically“.
  • Breaking off diplomatic relations will not automatically lead to the termination of consular relations. This leaves some tools for Ukrainian diplomats to assist Ukrainian citizens abroad. At the same time Kremlin in any case does not respect and implement its commitments. Even now – while diplomatic relations are existing – it prevents activities of the Ukrainian diplomats in the Russian territory. Former Foreign Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Ohryzko says: “With such “partner” as the Russian Federation, any international law does not work. Today diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia continue to exist; the question is – did they help to protect … hundreds of our prisoners who remain on the other side of the border?”.
  • Such action will demonstrate consistent position of Kyiv (today public statements about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine are in conflict with the continuing diplomatic relations between states), as well as the nature of the confrontation. Professor of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv Georgiy Perepelytsya writes that “If diplomatic relations will be officially supported, then the entire world community will come to conclusion that we work in the form of strategic partnership with Russia; we are partners, not the parties to the conflict”.

Security aspect

  • Closing of the Russian embassy – that legally collects information on Ukraine, and undoubtedly takes part in illegal intelligence and espionage activities of aggressor. Political analyst Olexandr Paliy says that under this policy “the activities of Russian diplomatic missions in Ukraine will stop and, accordingly, there will be less of Russian agents here”.
  • The potential introduction of visa regime will complicate intelligence and diversionary activities of aggressor on Ukrainian territory.
  • The potential introduction of visa regulations will complicate transfer and residence of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, eliminating the dangerous situation when Ukrainian citizens are held hostages by Russian regime and at any moment could be accused of espionage.

Social aspect

  • Such measure will deescalate the political situation in Ukraine, where the patriots, especially from former voluntary batallions demand a decisive response to Russian aggression, and accuses the authorities of inaction.

Information aspect

  • Drastic actions of Kyiv will draw international attention to the Ukrainian Crisis, which now finds itself in the shadow of events in the Middle East.

Thus, both points of view on the issue have influential and well-known supporters who appeal to specific arguments and factors. In such circumstances, we hope that Ukrainian authorities will review each one in detail and take an informed decision in the interest of our state.