New Speculation on a Deal on Donbass


Fort Russ – 23rd January, 2016 

‘rufus magister’

* The following is a thought-provoking comment from the Moon of Alabama article: “Warmed-Over Propaganda: ‘Putin Asks Assad To Leave'”. *

The Nuland/Surkov meeting, as well as Gryzlov’s visit to Kiev, has raised speculation of a deal.

Russia, it seems, would like to move towards a final resolution of the conflict in the Ukraine that would guaranty genuine autonomy within a reformed Ukraine for the Donbas. This has been their position from the first.

One supposes that they see the present parlous state of the Ukrainian economy and the dysfunction in the Ukrainian state and hope that they can persuade Washington and the IMF to lean on their client before the regime implodes. Is our singular superpower going to play ball? Will Poroshenko and the assorted fascists go along? I’d say no on both counts.

New Cold War has two items of note on the escalating difficulties in the Ukraine.

The first is a piece originally in Foreign Policy by Taras Kuzio, a son of the Ukrainian diaspora and former CIA/NATO asset (see his Wiki). It is naturally sympathetic to the aspirations of the Banderists, but he is realistic enough to see all is not well.

He begins by discussing the expectations raised and dashed by the “Revolution of Dignity” on the Maidan. The desired end to corruption is perhaps more distant now than two years ago, as Poroshenko has used the judiciary to punish enemies and protect friends. The economy has tanked. Poroshenko’s popularity is below that of Yanukovich’s before he was deposed.

Reforms on paper and the creation of new institutions will not satisfy Ukraine’s widespread hunger for justice, dignity, and humanity after the atrocities following the Euromaidan and the nation’s costly war with Russian-backed separatist proxies…. With massive disillusionment and radicalization growing, Ukrainian sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina has warned that Ukraine needs “radical transformations.” If these reforms do not happen, Poroshenko could be overthrown in a country that is now awash with weapons and more tolerant of political violence.

Bekeshkina’s article is of interest as well. This extract is a blend and tweaking of machine translations from the Ukrainian cited by Kuzio and from the Russian version referenced in a link on the Ukrainian text.

It is important to note that today, sociologists have observed in the Ukrainian society two main processes: on the one hand, there is a massive increase of frustration, on the other, radicalisation of moods. Both of these trends are dangerous.

Frustration leads to inaction and radicalization, conversely, increases activity, but one that goes beyond the legal field. While in Ukraine, the free float is too many weapons, and the level of intolerance for violence has declined . And already we are seeing manifestations of these two processes — there is occuring a different kind of power of excesses, shootings and other acts of violence.

To see such dangerous trends aren’t turned into a disaster, the authorities should decide to carry out radical reforms. They simply have no choice, otherwise they [will be] demolished, and with it down the Ukraine can be torn down. Unfortunately.

Frankly, I don’t see any real reforms happening, and wouldn’t mind Banderastan torn down and something nice put up in its place.

In the second piece, M.K. Bhadrakumar discusses various appointments and diplomatic meetings. The appointments of Dmitri Kozak, a deputy prime minister and trouble-shooter, to be point man for Donbass and especially of Boris Gryzlov as the new Russian delegate to the Trilateral Contact Group signal an increased importance for the problem. “Gryzlov is a political heavyweight… [whose] presence in the Trilateral Contact Group (which is entrusted with implementation of the Minsk Agreement) literally electrifies the body.”

He discusses the recent meeting of Nuland and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov, a concrete manifestation of an attempted resolution.

The Russian press has been reporting lately that the Kremlin is trying to push the insurgent-held areas of Lugansk and Donetsk in Donbass to bring them back under Ukrainian control as autonomous entities (while Putin urges western capitals to simultaneously push Kiev to implement constitutional reform for breakaway regions to enjoy autonomy.) Surkov is identified with the Kremlin push to ‘de-escalate’ in eastern Ukraine.

Putin perhaps may be able to pressure Donbass to return; certainly, it is not the preferred option in Novorossiya and a hard sell. I think the difficulties will lie in persuading Kiev.

Kyiv Post reproduced this little gem from the Washington Times, which reports that the Ukraine is pushing back against fiscally weak Russia. The hope is that, with IMF & EU backing, the destitute Ukrainians can regain not only Donbass but the Crimea as well. The author is astute enough to know that “The Putin government will never relinquish control of this territory,” referring to Crimea, though he thinks it’s possible Kiev might get Donbass back. Not me, though.

While the Contact Group was able to get a renewed ceasefire extended, progress on a political settlement looks meagre. While the details are behind a paywall, this Kyiv Post headline says that the Political subgroup fails to agree on Donbass elections in Minsk. Fortunately, other sources provide details.

Fort Russ has an item from the Russian press on the meeting between Biden and Poroshenko on the implementation of Minsk-2. As the article makes clear, Kiev is refusing to conduct negotiations over the elections and constitutional reforms providing autonomy specified by the accord. It notes that Poroshenko’s press office highlighted the “US support for Ukrainian reforms and increased military-technical cooperation” and the intensification of these relations.

This report adds that Euro-diplomats sent by France and German failed to convince the Rada to enact constitutional reforms on autonomy backed by the West. It also quotes Poroshenko as saying nothing positive was being put forward by Moscow.

The headline of this badly formatted article from Prensa Latina pretty much sums it up — Poroshenko Breaches Minsk Agreements and Criticizes Little Advances .

Ivan Zadorozhny of Sputnik News considers what Poroshenko intends; I link to the NCW repost, as MoA has problems with Sputnik links. He sees the meeting Poroshenko had with Gryzlov in Kiev recently a sign a deal could be possible.

With their policy in the Ukraine a hot mess, the West is tiring of Poroshenkos erratic ways.

Poroshenko’s problem is that he is caught in a dilemma, faced as he is with various challenges to his political and perhaps even personal survival in Ukraine. The country’s economic collapse and political fragmentation continues unabated, and he seems to be unable to stop that. His most pressing task now is to end the war in the east with a minimal loss of face so he could claim some credit for his almost two years in office, and then proceed to declare a new start for Ukraine.

Poroshenko knows he will face nationalist fury if he tries to make peace with Donbass. For Ukrainian radicals, the only peace they could stomach is unconditional surrender by Donetsk and Lugansk. Even though he has been shoring up his defenses, Poroshenko is uncertain whether he would be able to take on the nationalist challenge, and in any event he wants to avoid a showdown for as long as possible.

Any future elections, Zadorozhny says, “are sure to roll back the Maidan onslaught….” This would leave Poroshenko vulnerable to a loss of power, assets, and possible criminal charges. “So Poroshenko is under pressure to act to secure his political future… [leaving him] little choice but to seek a deal with Russia….”

I’m inclined to see the recent maneuvering by both sides as tactical. Both the Russian Federation and the Banderists want to be seen as interested in peace. I think Moscow is a little more genuine; it is making serious, good-faith efforts. Poroshenko is acting in bad faith, putting on a shadow-puppet show. His public statements are all theatre, largely for Western consumption. The actual conduct of negotiations shows his intent. When the utter impossibility of Kiev implementing the Minsk-2 accord becomes clear to one and all, Putin will finally move on.

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