Ukraine in the White House: Will the US throw out Minsk 2?

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May 12, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

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Just yesterday, the White House received Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavel Klimkin. While the main discussion was with Vice President Mike Pence, for the first time a Ukrainian guest was received by US President Donald Trump as well, a move that has been met with enthusiasm and servile gratitude in Ukraine.

Based on the information that has been published, the main outcome of the meeting was summarized by Vice President Mike Pence when he proclaimed the need for the Minsk Agreements to be fulfilled. In Pence’s words, this is the “most viable” path towards peace in Ukraine. In my opinion, these words should dishearten the Ukrainian foreign ministry. Although Pence said nothing (at least publicly) critical towards Ukraine, which has consistently sabotaged the execution of Minsk 2, Pence’s voiced support for the Minsk Agreements in their existing format is hardly pleasant for official Kiev, and tellingly so. This is resonant in itself, not to mention President Trump’s “loud silence” on the matter, which in another situation would have been twisted as a pretext and expression of support by the US for its Ukrainian “ally.” But this has not happened and probably for a reason. 

In order to understand what happened in the White House yesterday, let us go back two to three weeks ago. On April 23rd, a US citizen working for the OSCE’s monitoring mission was killed on the frontline between Ukraine and the Lugansk People’s Republic under strange circumstances ending with the explosion of the mission’s car. The American’s death was perceived as a pretext for President Poroshenko to on that very same day call US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The incident was followed by a State Department statement calling on Russia to exert pressure on the Donbass “separatists” who were alleged, contrary to the principle of presuming innocence until proving guilty, to be the organizers of the explosion.

During the telephone conversation with Tillerson, Poroshenko once again voiced the Ukrainian-beloved idea of deploying a UN peacekeeping contingent (“blue helmets”) to the contact line in Donbass. This would be a direct repetition of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina after which victory was snatched from the winning Bosnian Serbs as a result of the Dayton Accords. 

Poroshenko is incapable of winning open battle against the Donbass republics. Most importantly, fearing Russia, which will not sit back and allow a new Ukrainian blitzkrieg, Poroshenko hopes to internationalize the conflict and shift his headache onto the heads of his Western “friends.” This move is undoubtedly a correct one given Poroshenko’s own interests. 

In a commentary for Fort Russ prepared after the incident with the American OSCE casualty, I expressed confidence in the notion that this Ukrainian plan will not work out: “What’s more, the very idea of deploying peacekeepers to Donbass contradicts the basic principles of the Minsk process, as Russia has repeatedly said. And Russia will not allow the sad Balkan experience to be repeated at its borders. Not only the Kiev regime, but also the United States, will have to take this into consideration.”

In addition to the new US President’s acute problems in Syria and on the Korean Peninsula, new problems in Donbass are being added. Does Donald Trump really need an enemy in the face of Russia in a geographical area where Russia is certainly stronger?

Of course, the new US administration does not profess Russophilia, but is simply trying to objectively interpret their capabilities. Hence why they are trying to fight opponents through local proxies. In the Far East, this is South Korea, which is the US’ cannon fodder in a possible war against North Korea. Against Russia, the Americans are arming Ukraine. Just last week, the US House of Representatives adopted a decision to allocate military assistance to Ukraine. By the end of September, the Pentagon will allocate $150 million to Ukraine. These funds can be spent on training, lethal weapons for defensive purposes, vehicles, and equipment. The House of Representatives has green-lighted the project and sent it for approval to the Senate. 

Global and Russian media have paid constant attention not so much to American Congressmen’s willingness to afford military assistance to Ukraine, as to the demand attached that the Ukrainian government not give any of the American aid to the Nazi Azov regiment. In a recent interview with Russian and Donbass media, I called this demand a “smokescreen” designed to redirect public opinion in the desired direction. The bill’s authors in Congress can say that their hands are clean and American aid will not fall into the Azov Nazis’ hands. Nevertheless, the essence of the project is that the Americans are not afraid to give military aid, including lethal weapons, to Ukraine. This did not happen even under Obama, but under the “friend of Russia,” Trump.

Thus, the events of the past weeks and yesterday’s White House meeting confirm that the Trump Administration is in no hurry to aggravate relations with Russia on the second-rank issue of Ukraine and Donbass. The Americans, like the Germans, are not going to torpedo the Minsk Agreements like Ukrainian and Polish politicians propose. Trump’s tactic is solving “local” problems with local hands, in this case with Ukrainians. Is this gross or cynical? In the very least, it is better than getting involved in direct political and military confrontation with Russia. 

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