“A position of strength”–Novorossia negotiating strategy

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2/2/2015

Kiev breaks off Minsk negotiations “within one step of capitulation.”

By Russkiy Malchik

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

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The Minsk negotiations were broken off one more time, this
time without having even started: DPR and LPR representatives never met Kuchma
on January 30, and on January 31 it was Kuchma who had nobody to meet with. The
situation would have been comedic had it not been for the continuing battles
around Debaltsevo and the intensifying shelling of Donetsk and Gorlovka. But
nothing has been decided yet, as the negotiations could resume any day: it
takes an hour to get to Minsk.

One should not complain about the eternally failing
negotiations: it takes no great skill to wave a sword around, but forcing an
opponent to capitulate in a way that he himself does not notice takes
consummate skill. What makes the current round of negotiations different is
that Novorossia is dealing with Kiev from a position of strength. It’s not even
September, when Kiev was forced to issue a memorandum under the threat of
losing Mariupol: back then Kiev was forcing only a scattered militia that had neither
the experience nor the forces to take a major fortified area or, especially, a
city. Now the Kiev forces are facing a powerful and effectively coordinated
Novorossia army, which closed its flanks over the Debaltsevo salient. The
pacification force is being defeated, there is growing discontent in Kiev,
while the junta is under a growing pressure from various sides—the local
radicals, the US, and Moscow which is compelling it to make peace. There is
talk about the imminent overthrow of Poroshenko. What is more, the commander of
the Azov pacification battalion for all intents and purposes forbade Poroshenko
to conduct negotiations and warned that “Ukraine is within one step of
capitulation.”

Kiev’s unwillingness to hold negotiations from such a weak
position is understandable. Kuchma delayed his arrival on the 30th
possibly because Poroshenko hoped the Debaltsevo salient would be relieved. But
it did not happen, so Kuchma flew to Minsk but by then Novorossia
representatives ignored the meeting. Moreover, they issued conditions: stop the
shelling of Donbass cities and send a plenipotentiary representative (Kuchma,
in Pushilin’s words, does not have that status). In other words, Donbass will
put down its signature only together with official government representatives
of Kiev, ensuring automatic recognition of the Novorossia
government by Kiev and its Western curators. After that one can negotiate as
equals, assuming there will be someone to negotiate with (if there remains a
single government in Kiev).

Russia’s post-Crimea strategy, in spite of all the doubts in
its effectiveness, is weakening the junta by hook or by crook. The main thing
is that Novorossia’s army must not stop before reaching a genuine agreement
with Kiev. And until it pushes the pacification force as far as possible from
its current positions. It is that offensive—difficult, bloody, and heroic—which
with every kilometer is forcing the junta to capitulate.

Translator’s Note: It is difficult to say whether “Russkiy
Malchik” speaks for Zakharchenko or any other Novorossia leaders, but one has
to keep in mind that his earlier writings described Novorossia’s strategy of
limited battlefield aims (and reasons for them) very accurately. What he writes
here is also very consistent with Zakharchenko’s oft-stated intent to bring
Poroshenko to the negotiating table, sooner or later, and the later it happens,
the worse Kiev’s position will be.  It
may be that the reduction in the pace of Novorossia operations is motivated by
the desire to give Poroshenko an opportunity to protect his “right flank”
against the neo-Nazi radicals who very openly threatened a revolt should any
agreement be reached in Minsk, before returning to the negotiating table and
hammering out a final agreement. At the same time, Zakharchenko was careful to
warn Poroshenko not to expect to use this relative lull to rebuild his badly
damaged forces. However, it is clear that Novorossia’s preferred endgame is a legal, binding agreement between Kiev and Donetsk/Lugansk on the special status of Novorossia. That is why there is little interest in seeing Poroshenko fall (which, incidentally, allows Poroshenko to get away with murder of innocent civilians on the Donbass). What is more, external pressure by EU, IMF, and even the US which thwarted the next tranche of IMF assistance, appears to have the intent of pushing Kiev in the same direction.

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