Archives for April 2014

Why Constitutional Talks in the Ukraine Should Start Now

The US, Kiev, their EU allies and their media echo chamber are up to their invariable game of rewriting last week’s Geneva Statement to mean not what it says but what they want it to say.

To repeat the Geneva Statement contains NO time line (see my previous post where I discussed what the Geneva Statement actually says). It does NOT require buildings and public places in the east to be evacuated before buildings and public places in the west. It does not require people in the east to disarm before people disarm in the west. Above all it does NOT require the vacation of buildings and public places in the east and the disarmament of the people there before the start of negotiations on constitutional change or make the vacation of buildings and public places in the east or the disarmament of the people there a pre condition for the start of the negotiations on constitutional change.

I make this point because that is how Kiev and its present supporters are currently trying to misrepresent the Geneva Statement. Needless to say if the buildings and public spaces in the east were vacated and the people there disarmed he pressure there currently is to start serious negotiations on constitutional change would abate with the strong probability that negotiations would then never take place at all. In reality there is nothing in the Geneva Statement that says that negotiations cannot start right away whilst the buildings and public places in the east remain occupied and the people there remain armed with the buildings and public places in the east (and the west) and the people in the east (and the west) disarming as part of an overall settlement achieved as a result of the negotiations. Given the history of broken agreements on the part of Kiev and its western sponsors (eg. the 21st February 2014 agreement) the continuing mobilisation of the people of the east whilst the negotiations are underway and until an agreement is reached and secured would seem to be a basic precaution.

I would remind everybody that the people who currently form the regime consistently refused to vacate Maidan whilst they were negotiating with Yanukovitch and he (wrongly in my opinion) never insisted that they do so.

I make this point because so far there is no sign from Kiev of any attempt to begin negotiations at all. We have not even had the announcement of a negotiating team or discussions about the venue for talks. Instead Kiev and the US administration are hiding behind the continuing occupation of the buildings and public spaces in the east and the presence of armed men there as a pretext for not starting talks. It needs to be said clearly and unequivocally that this is a false pretext and that there is no reason or excuse to delay the start of talks on constitutional change which is the overriding priority at the moment if this crisis is to be brought to a peaceful and satisfactory end.

Deconstructing the Result of the Four Party Talks

The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/ukraine-diplomats-meet-in-geneva-in-bid-to-ease-crisis-live-coverage?view=desktop#block-5350089ce4b056a9012cda6f

As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.

A number of points:

1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;

2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;

3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;

4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document.  There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time.  That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground.  The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.

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Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.04.17

KIEV ATTACKS. On Tuesday what remains of Kiev’s army, accompanied with threats of destruction, entered two eastern cities, Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. The soldiers soon switched sides (or as they say in Kiev “Russian terrorist sabotage groups have been captured six units of armored vehicles”), up went the Russian flags and St George ribbons and the townspeople fed them; I guess the American rations didn’t get to them. Interview. And another column stopped. Good news – especially when you think of what the rhetoric of easterners as “terrorists” and Washington’s enthusiastic encouragement could have led to. Today will probably tell: if the attacks fizzle out, there’s still hope for a federalised Ukraine. I look forward to watching Washington, Brussels (and Ottawa, I am ashamed to include) try and spin their way out of this shattering confutation of their fantasies. Reminds me of the Ossetia War when Wikileaks revealed that the US Embassy had uncritically transmitted whatever nonsense it was being fed by the Saakashvili regime.

TIME TO GO? Staff in Kiev’s power ministries are changing sides, refusing to attack the protesters, melting away; there are more dismissals in the power organs. Kiev’s new rulers have, apart from the uncertain loyalty of the most extreme, little force available (vide Kramatorsk). Moody’s has dropped Ukraine to “default imminent with little prospect for recovery”. Their sponsors in Brussels and Washington have kicked in only a sum that would about cover what China is suing Ukraine for. Meanwhile conditions worsen for the ordinary stiff. Large areas of the east ignore Kiev and demand more autonomy or a referendum. And where’s Right Sector? Disarmed? Mobilising? Or beating up presidential candidates and demanding resignations in Kiev? Can’t think Yatsenyuk will be around for much longer: no power, no money, no support. A visit from the CIA head isn’t much comfort.

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Russia’s Game Plan in Donbass

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Quick piece I scribbled off for RIA:

First off, an elementary observation: Donbass is not Crimea.

Crimea features prominently in Russia’s historical memory, having undergone two epic sieges over two centuries. It was only given over to Ukraine as a pure formality, to mark 300 years since the Treaty of Pereyaslav that was to usher in Russo-Ukrainian unity, and the overwhelming majority of Crimeans have wanted back ever since Ukraine became an independent state. It hosted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and Ukraine hadn’t shied from using it as a lever to extract more favorable gas terms from Russia. Finally, though it needs major investments to lift it up to the level of neighboring Krasnodar, once that happens it can be reasonably expected that it will stop being a net drain on the budget and will become the major tourism center for all Russia that it was during the Soviet era.

Donbass has no such significance in the Russian cultural imagination – one doubts that a majority of Russians can find Lugansk, let alone Sloviansk, on a map. It was always part of Ukraine, or to be more precise, Novorossiya – though separatism is not entirely foreign to it (recall the short-lived Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic). Though it is nominally rich, the coal mines – the mainstay of Donetsk’s economy – are antiquated, and unlikely to survive far into the future; and in any case, they are not much use shorn from the neighboring industrial powerhouses of Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, and Poltava, where separatist sentiment is much more subdued relative to the Donbass. Though the latter provinces might support a federal Ukraine, they will almost certainly be very much against joining Russia outright. And Russia itself doesn’t need the Donbass, especially by itself.

Now, bearing this in mind, I will draw two conclusions:

1) Any help or coordination that Russia provides to the separatist militias in Donbass and other cities in the east isn’t a prelude any unification, as in Crimea, but is meant to exert pressure on Kiev to agree to wide-ranging federalization. Ukraine was “lost” to the Eurasian Union when the Maidan overthrew Yanukovych in their coup. The plan now is to win at least half of it back.

2) Short of truly massive bloodletting on the part of the Kiev regime – and I do not think it will come to that, though I have learned not to be surprised to the downside by those folks – the Russian Army will NOT intervene. The ball will be in Kiev’s court. It can either leave the separatists in control, and they will proceed to carry out referendums that Russia could then exploit to cajole Kiev into federalization. Or it will – inevitably, violently – try to wipe out the “terrorists,” which will totally alienate eastern populations that are already very much unhappy with it. Given the mass defections to the separatist cause amongst the eastern siloviki, and the fact that Kiev can only truly rely upon Western Ukrainian units, the chances of success are low. If it were to pursue this route, it may well truly get a civil war on its hands, as historical Novorossiya rises up against the regime.

My Advice to the Maidan

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

I’m not a Euromaidan supporter. But if I was, and was interested in the junta’s success and a smooth transition to an EU-orientated Poroshenko Presidency…

–> First of all, it has to be realized that Ukraine is weakest precisely in the short-term. An election would give Poroshenko a democratic mandate to carry him through the coming years of austerity and economic hardship, after which the situation will inevitably start to look up again (conveniently just in time for the 2018 elections). The pro-Russian electorate is getting older, and is concentrated in the demographically weaker eastern provinces; all else equal, the political power of the European vector is bound to increase over time at the expense of the pro-Russian vector. Meanwhile, passions in Russia over Crimea will die down, and Putin will start becoming preoccupied with the next election cycle.

The primary challenge, then, is just to survive the next few months.

I am assuming that Russia does not want to annex Donetsk – what for? it’s a subsidized rustbelt – but to use it as a lever for federalization, the consequent development of tight links between the SE provinces and Russia, and eventually, possibly, their independence (Novorossiya) or outright annexation. This can be preempted by Kiev offering decentralization itself, but in a manner that minimizes the actual political autonomy offered to the provinces. Incidentally, this is EXACTLY what Yatsenyuk and co. are doing – they are not the naive, limp-wristed fools that many here take them for.

Since the current authorities do not enjoy legitimacy in the east, especially in Donetsk/Lugansk, using force now is a pretty stupid idea. Especially since the local siloviki have either defected, or are apathetic. I suppose Kiev can still use units from the far west or mercenaries, but that would be doubling down on the stupid. Let them occupy administrative buildings for the time being, while painting them as foreign agents who don’t represent the will of the people (which is, again, what is actually being done). Administrative functions can be moved elsewhere for the time being. Absolutely no fire orders to avoid giving Moscow any kind of excuse for more overt intervention. Take solace in the fact that, at least before February, the opinion polls showed that no more than a third of Donetsk residents – the most seccesionist province – actually wanted full independence/merging with Russia. In the meantime, all efforts should be focused on stabilizing the economy. If that doesn’t happen – worse, if Crimea flourishes against this backdrop – then Kiev might have to deal with a Maidan 3.0 before too long, and not in the east but on the streets of the capital itself. How to stabilize the economy? Short of the EU/US putting their money where their mouth is, it will have to open up serious discussions with Russia. And this will require concessions. You might not think that fair, but it’s a fact. At least for the time being, promise to halt EU integration, and pointedly ignore Crimea (don’t accept it as Russian, but also don’t make scenes about it). Yes, this will enrage the Maidan, but unless I seriously underestimate Right Sector’s power, the caretaker government should survive long enough to run the elections and hand the Presidency to Poroshenko.

Once that is done, and full control over the country is regained as the effects of cadre replacements make themselves felt, promises made before can be broken (they can say they were made under duress, and/or that they were made by Turchinov, and Poroshenko is another Preisdent). As Kolomoysky said, “Promise the scum everything, then hang them.”

Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.04.03

 

THE FUTURE OF UKRAINE. The Ukraine of six months ago no longer exists; it has been destroyed by the scheming of Brussels and Washington. If there is to be something on the map named “Ukraine” at the end of the year that in anyway resembles what was there six months ago, Moscow’s plan must be adopted. Autonomy for the regions so that one half can’t bully the other half; minority language rights; neutrality, neither NATO nor Russia. As to Crimea, it is part of Russia; that is done. If it offends you to call this the Moscow plan, you may call it the Kissinger plan. If these principles are not accepted, and fairly soon, then by the end of the year south and east Ukraine (known as Novorossiya – New Russia – for two centuries) will be independent or part of Russia while rump Ukraine will be in full economic collapse and even civil war (and eventual absorption by Poland?). The only thing left undetermined will be the border of Novorossiya and rump Ukraine. None of this was necessary; all of it was predictable. (Here I am in December. But I claim no special prescience: everyone who knew anything about Ukraine knew it was fatal to the project to force an all-or-nothing choice. The West did this twice: ten years ago with NATO and now with an exclusive EU trade relationship, with NATO in the background). So here we are: hard times ahead for the citizens of any conceivable future Ukraine.

RUSSIA’S INVISIBLE ARMY. Much about how Russia is “massing” its army along the Ukrainian border. These reports are so confused as to be valueless – read this one carefully for example, noting contradictions; note the rag-bag elements tossed together of this one. No “massing Russian troops” were found in a 200 mile trip by Daily Telegraph reporters; nor in a 500-mile trip by NBC reporters. But it’s still hyped by NATO. (Once upon a time I believed NATO over Moscow. No more. Kosovo wounded it; Libya killed it; Ukraine has buried it. From now on my base assumption is that NATO is lying.) There is no need for “massing”: Russian troops in Crimea (already there, which is why US int couldn’t find them) were welcomed by an enormous majority and 90% of the Ukrainian forces either joined them or quit. There is every reason to expect that the reception of the Russians would be the same in Novorossiya, as we should perhaps get used to calling it.

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Was Crimea Worth It?

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Was Crimea worth it? [editorial tone – neutral/objective]

Pros
* Secures major Black Sea naval base; Ukraine no longer able to link it to gas discounts.
* Demonstration that Russia still counts to putsch leaders, pro-Russia elements in S/E Ukraine, and the West. From a realist, non-sentimental perspective, it’s better to be feared than laughed at.
* Massive surge in popularity for Putin and national unity.
* Has confirmed a fundamental wedge between the West and the “Rest”/BRICS on global politics. In particular, both China and India have tacitly supported Russia’s position.

Uncertain
* If it succeeds, it will serve as a beocon on the hill for Ukrainians. (In the same way that “free” and “democratic” Ukraine was supposed to serve as a beacon on the hill for Russians tiring of Putin’s authoritarianism, though that didn’t quite work out). If it fails, of course, it will create the opposite effect. But I think the former is likelier than the latter.
* Western sanctions are fairly moderate for now, mostly touching just a part of the elites. Arguably, some of these will actually have positive effects, with Russia forced to accelerate economic ties with East Asia and to lessen its dependence on Western institutions (e.g. a national payments system independent of Visa/Mastercard).

Cons
* Russia loses any talking points it might have had as a strict adherent to international law (but this wasn’t worth much in the first place). Ukrainians have become less positive towards Russia; in particular, support for NATO accession, always low, has recently soared. It’s unclear whether this is temporary or permanent. Considering the economic and political straits Ukraine is in, one strongly suspects that the Crimea/Russia issue will quickly move from the forefront in the next few months.
* Pundits might talk of Russia “winning Crimea, but losing Ukraine.” I disagree. Ukraine, at least as a unitary whole, was lost on February 22.
* Kicked out of G8, freeze on OECD accession, NATO cooperation – negative but of marginal import.
* Deficit territory in fiscal terms (but irrelevant in the big picture).

Overall
I think that this all adds up to a big overall plus. True, assigning different weights to these factors could move it down to a minor plus or a even a neutral position, but I just don’t see how one could possibly pass it off as a strategic error or blunder.

The Lavrov-Kerry Meeting

We do not have anywhere near complete information about what happened at the Lavrov Kerry meeting on Sunday.  That in itself is a good sign.  It almost certainly means that with the Crimean issue out of the way (and with the western powers having tacitly admitted that the Crimea is now part of Russia) real negotiations have begun.  Lavrov described the talks he had with Kerry as “very constructive” and a Russian diplomatic source has said that for the first time since the start of the Ukrainian crisis there was straightforward talking.  That suggests serious negotiations and that we have at last got past the point of grandstanding and positioning.
A few points:
1. We know what the Russian demands are: (1) federalisation (2) official status for the Russian language and (3) a binding treaty securing the Ukraine’s neutrality.
2. It is completely unclear what US demands are.  Obama has spoken about Russia withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine’s eastern borders.  These concentrations of troops do not exist and Obama has anyway admitted that Russia has the right to deploy its own troops on its own territory.  There are also references to the OSCE mission and to Russian troops in the Crimea returning to their bases.  These are holdovers from an earlier stage in the crisis when it was primarily about the Crimea.  The OSCE mission is now in place and does not include the Crimea whilst the demand that Russian troops in the Crimea return to their bases is now redundant.
3. We also know that the Lavrov Kerry talks began following a telephone conversation between Obama and Putin and that Obama in that conversation asked that Russia put its proposals in writing.  That together with the absence of any demands or proposals from the US side suggests that it is the Russian demands/proposals that are the basis of discussion.
Though the US has not made its demands clear there can be no doubt about what is the predominant wish of its European allies: an end to the crisis and the Ukraine’s stabilisation.  It has become utterly clear over the last few weeks that the Europeans have no wish to be drawn into a prolonged confrontation with Russia that would seriously harm their economies.  If only for that reason the pressure will be on to achieve a settlement that will bring this crisis to an end.  Given that the Germans have already made know that they are sympathetic to the Russians’ proposals that means that the pressure is on the US to compromise.

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