The war in Donbass has become one of the central links in the geopolitical tug-of-war between the main driving force of multipolarity – the Russian Federation – and the declining American superpower which, contrary to many analysts’ forecasts, has not – or has not been allowed to – discard its far-away “Project Ukraine” since Trump was elected.
Indeed, for the past several months straight, a voluminous share of the information sphere has been engulfed by constant forecasts that war is just around the corner. Ukraine has moved the bulk of its forces up to the frontline; American, Canadian, and Polish NATO “instructors” have been sighted at Ukrainian positions evermore frequently; the US has finally opted to openly, officially supply lethal weaponry to Kiev; the US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has consistently pushed an unconditional, bellicose line; Kiev has adopted a range of new laws that pave the legal and discursive path for a new war; and the socio-economic and psychological disintegration of the former Ukraine is accelerating at such a pace that a “preemptive” strike against “Russian-occupied Donbass” might just be the last tool in the toolbox that the Kiev regime’s current personnel have to save their skin. The list could go on and on. All of the preconditions for a restart to the war in Donbass seem to be falling into place.
Particularly astute readers might recall that this is not the first time that this scenario has reared its head – indeed, habitual “scares” are endemic to frozen conflicts, since participating sides try to tempt or provoke the other(s) into playing their cards, and in order to keep the opposing side(s) on their toes in a war of attrition.
But Donbass is not going to remain a frozen conflict. The initiators of the war in Kiev and Washington are running out of slack.
First of all, Russia has dealt a qualitative, game-changing blow to the US in Syria, having successfully saved the country from a Libya scenario and, most importantly, in the process become one of, if not the most important broker in the region that has forged a networked alliance with all the most important regional actors. In other words, the US’ other main front against Russia is collapsing. With Syria under control, Russia will be able to shift its attention back to Donbass.
Secondly, the US and Ukraine are losing their most important guarantor of Project Ukraine – the European Union. It’s almost become banal to say that the European Union is in crisis on every front. Meanwhile, most of the new, rising alternative parties explicitly stand for reversing the Washington-fanned rift in Russia-Europe relations. Indeed, their constructive stances vis-a-vis Russia are one of the main motives for their hyperbolic demonization. If “old Europe” refuses to tow Washington’s line and instead realizes the urgent need to resolve growing domestic problems and construct a realistic vision for Europe in the 21st century, then “new Eastern Europe”, which has predicated its existence on militaristic lobbying as the “Eastern Flank of NATO”, will have part of the rug torn out from under it. The only place for countries like Poland and the Baltic states to turn would be Washington.
But the Atlanticist US Empire is in a stage of profound decline and the American establishment is increasingly incapable of formulating a coherent, long-term foreign policy for maintaining the Atlanticist project which the US has anchored around itself alone in unipolar fashion. Over the past decade, even the US’ own National Intelligence Council and Atlantic Council have repeatedly admitted that the globalization of Atlanticism proclaimed in the 1990’s as the “End of History” (Fukuyama) predicated on unipolar US hegemony is on the decline in the face of emerging multipolarity, and that US geopolitics is faced with essentially two options for survival: (1) minimizing losses across the board through “geopolitical austerity”, most commonly known in the American lexicon as “cutting back”, or (2) completely rethinking the US’ identity and strategy. The latter, of course, implies a Trump figure in the least or short term and a qualitative policy revolution in the most or long term. And, as we know, Trump hasn’t been allowed to make US foreign policy tenable again.
What’s more, a frozen conflict in Donbass is simply no longer in anyone’s interests – neither the US’, Russia’s, Ukraine’s, nor Donbass’. The difference is that the US and Ukraine have no other options left. This might just be the fruition of “Putin’s cunning plan” which many analysts treated with skepticism back when the Minsk Agreements were first signed.
In other words, war in Donbass is inevitable, because it is one of the US’ last cards left, and the US establishment shows no signs of opting for a strategic retreat on this front if the employment of Kurt Volker serves as a barometer.
Instigating war with the nuclear superpower that is Russia over failed Project Ukraine definitely qualifies as “extreme foolishness, folly, senselessness, or foolhardiness”, i.e., one of the dictionary definitions of insanity. Sanity vs. insanity – this is what the showdown between rising multipolarity and declining unipolarity has come to resemble. These are the terms and stakes of the war in Donbass.