The “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in the Ukraine has been a Disaster

In a short piece I wrote on 11th April 2014 on my Facebook page under the the title “More evidence of the Ukrainian security forces’ refusal to carry out Kiev’s orders” I said:

“A report I read on Novosti citing an anonymous but apparently senior source in Kiev suggested that the force deployed today in Slavyansk consisted of all the available units in the western Ukraine that could be deployed there. If so then this may explain why the unit that will be sent to the eastern Ukraine tomorrow is according to Turchinov so small……If this does indeed turn out to be the case then I for one cannot help but think that Kiev is going to have to rely increasingly on the right wing militias to enforce its control since it doesn’t seem likely that such small forces would be sufficient to suppress such a large territory as the eastern Ukraine. Given how people in the east feel about the militias and given their lack of discipline and propensity for violence deploying them on any significant scale in the east must however run the risk of inflaming the situation even more”.

At the time a month ago when the above words were written, shortly after the “anti terrorist operation” was launched, most cities and administrative centres in the Donbas were at least nominally under Kiev’s control with only Slavyansk being in open revolt. Today there are more reports of defections from the regular military including incredibly from the supposedly politically reliable National Guard (http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_17/Ukraine-National-Guard-soldiers-accused-of-treachery-7264/), the junta’s forces remain bogged down around Slavyansk – which they have so far repeatedly failed to capture despite boasts from the likes of Yarosh that he was engaged in “mopping up operations” there – Mariupol (Donetsk’s second biggest city) is lost, more towns and territory are being lost, border posts are under attack and are in the process of being lost, a large swathe (in my opinion a substantial majority) of the local population has voted for some form of independence from Kiev, alternative bodies of power and administration independent of Kiev’s are being set up and the junta has been forced to call off its plan to hold its second “roundtable” conference in Donetsk (it took place in Kharkov instead).

By any objective measure the “anti terrorist operation” has from Kiev’s point of view been a total disaster. Far from securing the Donbas and suppressing the resistance there it has antagonised the local people and confirmed them in their support for the resistance and in their hostility to the Maidan movement and to Kiev.

There is no evidence however that either the junta or its supporters in Washington have learnt any lessons from this debacle. Whilst one of the key reasons for the failure of the “anti terrorist operation” (as I predicted a month ago) has been the violent and undisciplined behaviour of the right wing paramilitaries enlisted in the National Guard upon whom the junta is increasingly coming to rely (see their actions in Mariupol) the junta is astonishingly proposing to rely on them even more.. See this comment on VoR.

I reiterate what I said on 11th April 2014: reliance on right wing militias to suppress resistance in the Donbas is a certain guarantee of disaster given (1) their violent and undisciplined behaviour and (2) the feelings the local people have for them.

After the Odessa fire and the response of Maidan supporters to it I have lost the wish I once had to see the Ukraine hold together. However to those in the west who still want that I say do what Russia urges and what was agreed on 17th April 2014 in Geneva and pressure Kiev to:

1. Stop the “anti terrorist operation” immediately. Persisting with something so politically counterproductive is an exercise in political perversity;

2. Disarm the right wing paramilitaries and clear Maidan without further delay. It should be obvious by now that the right wing paramilitaries are the problem not the route to the solution. Maintaining these people in arms is a recipe for more violence, gross human rights violations, atrocities against the civilian population such as we saw in Odessa and Mariupol and ultimately for civil war;

3. Open immediately negotiations with the leaders of the resistance and other interested parties in the Donbas and elsewhere with all options including sweeping federalisation and even outright secession on the table. I think it might still just be possible to persuade a majority of people in the Donbas to stick with the Ukraine if sweeping federalisation is now conceded (though I am far from sure of this) but as I said in an interview I did for RT on 7th April 2014 such willingness as there is in the Donbas to compromise diminishes with every day that substantive negotiations fail to take place and if the “tipping point” I spoke of in that interview has not actually already been reached it will be reached very soon now:

“RT: Do you think the protesters – who seem very hands-on, to put it mildly at the moment – will be willing to negotiate? Should Kiev, as you say, be forced to back down and go for negotiations?

AM: Yes, I think they probably would be, but their demands are very clear and the longer Kiev takes to actually address those demands, the more their demands will escalate. And there will come a point, a tipping point, beyond which negotiations are no longer possible. I do not think we are there yet, but we are coming close”.

http://rt.com/op-edge/eastern-ukraine-tension-negotiations-985/

All this means recognising that this is first and foremost a domestic Ukrainian dispute and not a dispute between the Ukraine and Russia. It also means returning to what was purportedly agreed in Geneva on 17th April 2014. To reiterate what was agreed there was:

1. Suspension of all use of force including of course and primarily the “anti terrorist operation”;

2. Disarming of all paramilitaries and militia including first and foremost Kiev’s right wing paramilitaries (who are the only paramilitaries so far actually guilty of atrocities) and the freeing of all occupied buildings and squares including not just those in the east but also Maidan;

3. Comprehensive negotiations involving all parties for a political settlement involving sweeping constitutional change.

As I have discussed previously the junta and its western supporters have misrepresented the 17th April 2014 Geneva Statement as requiring the unilateral disarmament and demobilisation of the resistance in the east. That is hopeless. As should by now be obvious it is not going to happen and to insist on it is a guarantee of failure and ultimately of civil war and eventual partition. A stool designed with three legs cannot stand on half of one.

Alexander Mercouris

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