Piece Movement

Israeli Dove: Give Putin a Chance

Yossi Beilin was once the Jewish state’s progressive justice minister. Now he’s pushing a ‘two-state solution’ for Ukraine, under the auspices of a pro-Putin think tank.

09.11.15 5:00 AM ET

A former Israeli Justice Minister is working with a Brussels-based think tank linked to the sanctioned former head of Ukraine’s tax service and promoting a “two state solution” for the embattled European country.

Yossi Beilin, who served in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and an erstwhile leader of the country’s peace movement, is touring Europe under the auspices of the Ukrainian Institute of Strategies of Global Development and Adaptation, an outfit founded last December. Headed by Victor Levytskyy, a one-time deputy to the Minister of Revenue and Duties in the government of ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the organization promotes Ukraine’s neutrality as well as the idea that Russia’s assault on the country is a “civil war.” (PDF)

Beilin has thus far participated in two public events sponsored by the organization and written a series of opinion pieces stressing these themes. In February, he authored an article for the website of i24news, a privately-owned, multilingual broadcaster based in Israel, entitled, “There is a solution to the Ukraine crisis and it’s not U.S. weapons.” In addition to opposing defensive arms shipments to the besieged pro-Western government in Kyiv, Beilin also wrote that, “Moscow should be reassured that NATO will not seek to add Ukraine as a member-state,” subjecting Ukraine’s ability to choose its own alliances to Kremlin diktat. A paper Beilin wrote for the Institute went as far afield from the topic of Ukraine as to oppose “permanent NATO deployments to the Baltic states,” as many in Europe have recommended in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and repeated violation of its neighbors’ airspace, as such placements would “likely result in an escalation of military crisis and a dramatic increase in casualties.” Beilin also terms sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin “unproductive.”

In a June 11 interview conducted on the sidelines of an Institute-sponsored conference in Brussels, Beilin stated that any solution to the Ukraine crisis must incorporate “one independent state with different levels of autonomies for the regions.” But two months later he appears to have changed his mind about Ukraine’s status as a united country. Now, he applies the diplomatic framework of the Middle East peace process—“two states for two peoples”—to an utterly incongruent conflict in which a sovereign country has been invaded by another, seen its territory formally annexed, and since then become the proving ground for a bloody war. In an August 30 piece for i24news entitled, “Two-state solution for Ukraine?” Beilin arrived at the self-contradicting conclusion that “dividing Ukraine while recognizing the Russian Ukrainians seems to the outsider as the most reasonable way to ensure Ukraine’s unity, but the real question is how important this territorial unity is to the Ukrainians themselves.” As to the latter assertion, a series of polls conducted since the start of last year’s crisis have demonstrated overwhelming support among Ukrainians for a united country; a Pew survey conducted in June found 85% backing that option. Ignoring this abundant evidence, Beilin suggests that, “A ‘two-state solution’ is not necessarily the best solution in every situation, and both sides might not want it, but holding on to a fake sovereignty while living under constant Russian threat might not be better.”

Throughout his commentary on Ukraine—a country in which, prior to February, he had shown absolutely no public interest—Beilin has drawn moral equivalencies between the Russian aggressor and the Ukrainian victim of its predation. “On the one hand, Russia annexed Crimea, in violation of international law, and the world accepted it as a fait accompli,” he wrote in August. “On the other hand, Poroshenko named ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region — the same president who got his country involved in a war with Russia and then fled Georgia following corruption allegations.” To Beilin, the unprovoked invasion and annexation of another country’s territory — the first such Anschluss on the European continent since World War II — is parallel to a democratically elected president appointing a regional administrator whom Vladimir Putin doesn’t like.

By enlisting Beilin in its cause, the institute clearly hopes to trade on his name as an internationally recognized peace-seeker, providing a gloss of legitimization to its agenda of discrediting Ukraine’ post-Yanukovych government. It is unclear if the Institute is paying Beilin for his services, and Beilin did not respond to an email from The Daily Beast seeking an interview. Though the center claims that it is “a non-profit public organization, is free from any external influence, and all kinds of bias,” it plainly advocates the interests of exiled members of the former Yanukovych regime, in which the director’s previous boss, ex-tax authority head Oleksandr Klymenko, was a significant figure. The think tank’s sudden formation after Yanukovych’s downfall attests to its campaigning, rather than analytical, mission (it’s hardly alone as a think tank pushing an accommodationist line towards the Kremlin).

Adrian Karatnycky, a Ukraine expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says that the Institute’s director Victor Levytskyy, “does not have the resources to be able to fund this institute and for that reason it is widely believed that he is working hand in glove with his former boss.” (Levytsky’s official biography on the institute website describes him as a “philosopher” and “religious studies scholar.”) At a recent institute-sponsored panel discussion in Rome, where Beilin spoke, Levytsky studiously avoided mentioning his previous employment as deputy to a fugitive Yanukovych-era official, according to a Ukrainian diplomat who attended the event.

Indeed, the only reference on the think tank website to Levytsky’s senior role in the Yanukovych government is the following sentence: “From 2010 to 2014 he worked in public service.” That Levytsky would want to hide this affiliation isn’t surprising, considering how his former boss Klymenko was one of several high-ranking government officials to flee Ukraine amidst the chaotic collapse of the Yanukovych regime. Surveillance video taken last February from the VIP Lounge at Donetsk Airport (since destroyed in the war), shows the physically imposing Klymenko, the former Ukrainian chief prosecutor, and a group of bodyguards fighting with airport security officials and overturning a metal detector in their rush to board a plane waiting on the tarmac to spirit them away to Russia. Gunfire was exchanged during the melee, Klymenko and his associates were ultimately prevented from escaping, and they drove away. Eventually, Klymenko made his way to Moscow, where he still resides.

Last April, the EU added Klymenko to its list of sanctioned Ukrainian regime figures, freezing his assets and preventing him from traveling to any country in the 28-member bloc. Klymenko stands accused by his successor of perpetrating a massive tax fraud scheme which siphoned off anywhere from $3.4 to $5 billion in 2013 alone. In a report about the alleged corruption, the Associated Press detailed Klymenko’s abandoned office, which contained a “steel, soundproof vault…equipped with a white-noise generator to beat eavesdroppers and furnished with clear plastic tables and chairs so those haggling over their spoils could see there were no listening devices attached to the furniture.”

Allying with such characters and advocating a resolution to the Ukraine crisis more extreme than that proposed by the Kremlin itself, marks a sorry but fitting end to Yossi Beilin’s career. Beilin was an architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization establishing the Palestinian Authority as the government of a nascent independent state but which fell to pieces with the Second Intifada. A decade later and out of public service, he was the main mover behind the extra-governmental Geneva Initiative, a draft permanent settlement to the conflict that went nowhere. In light of this string of failed diplomatic proposals, it’s perhaps appropriate that Beilin would push a “two-state solution for Ukraine.”