Frank Lee has presented some critically important interventions on a Russo-Ukrainian crisis that still leaves the west flummoxed. He returns here to continue his critique of a western left response that has shown little improvement.
At the time of writing this (11–February-2015) Talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine are scheduled to take place in the Belarus capital, Minsk. These talks are labelled as ‘make or break’ in the current Ukrainian crisis. It seems that these negotiations were prompted by a panic in European circles caused by the deterioration of the military situation in the East of Ukraine.
The Novorussian armed Forces, (NAF) seeing their cities being subjected to round the clock, indiscriminate shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces (UAF) notwithstanding an official truce, decided that they had had enough and went onto the offensive, probably against Putin’s wishes. Firstly Donetsk airport was recaptured after months of intermittent fighting, and fighting then erupted all along the front line. Ominously for the UAF a large contingent of their army numbering between 8,000 and 12,000 has been encircled around the town of Debaltseve. Many of them wretched conscripts, badly led and low in morale. This is similar to what happened in August/September 2014, when another encirclement carried out by the NAF resulted in a rout – the battle of the southern cauldron – of the advance guard of the UAF. It was after this defeat that Poroshenko sued for peace first time around.
My thoughts at the time was that this conversion to peace on Poroshenko’s part was merely a fig-leaf to give himself and his army a respite and time to regroup and rearm ready to resume hostilities at a later date; this is actually what has come to pass. (See my article in Chartist – Ukraine: pause for breath) At that time the NAF in fact actually wanted to go further and take the southern port town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and finish off the UAF as a fighting force, but they were held back from doing so by Putin who believed in diplomatic solution.
And so here we are again. But this time both Merkel and Hollande seem to have acted on their own initiative by unexpectedly flying to Moscow to meet Putin and discuss the issue. I think that they have finally twigged that if Washington begins to arm Ukraine with heavy weapons this will invite retaliation from Russia and a massive escalation of the war.
The United States, for its part, seems more interested in a Russian, Donbass surrender then a negotiated peace, hence the braying of the US media, both Houses of Congress and various other pressure groups and think-tanks, for arming the Kiev regime with heavy weapons. After all, any ensuing war will not be fought on American soil. This escalation of the war is a very real concern, for the Europeans however, since such a war will be fought on European soil.
This explains Hollande’s and Merkel’s sudden Damascene conversion to the cause of peace. Moreover, there are domestic considerations that also weigh on the minds of both leaders. In France Marine Le Pen leader of the Front National has turned into a staunch critic of Hollande’s foreign policy and has called Brussels “American lackeys” over the EU’s Ukraine policy. She further accused Washington of attempting to start a “war in Europe” and expand NATO towards Russia’s borders.
“European capitals do not have the wisdom to refuse to be dependent on US positions on Ukraine,” Le Pen told French journalists on Sunday.
“Regarding Ukraine, we behave like American lackeys,” she said, before warning that “the aim of the Americans is to start a war in Europe to push NATO to the Russian border.”
This is actually what the left should be saying instead of being, as it is, outflanked by the far right. But the pusillanimous centre-left, in particular including The New Statesman, The Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Times (aka Pravda-on-The-Potomac) have either been silent or openly supportive of the US neo-cons on the issue.
Similarly French ex-President Sarkozy, has opined “Crimea has chosen Russia, and we cannot blame them … we must find the means to create a peacekeeping force to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.”
Hollande and his government are not popular and Le Pen and Sarkozy are hitting him where he is most vulnerable.
Frau Merkel is opposed to the arming of the Kiev regime and being pushed on one side by the US, NATO, and the Washington neo-cons, and from the other by much of German business which has extensive operations in Russia, as well as increasing political opposition in Germany. Significantly Germany’s increasing distance from the US was reiterated by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Who reiterated Germany’s rejection of weapons deliveries to Ukraine in a speech on Sunday… “I see this, to say it openly, as not just risky but counter-productive,” Mr. Steinmeier also hit back at open criticism of Germany’s position on weapons deliveries from U.S. Senators and others here in Munich on Saturday.
“Perhaps we are so insistent because we know the region a bit,” And he might have added in this respect that Germans don’t want to see another Russian flag hoisted on the Brandenburg Gate for a second time in less than a century.
Whether this shift in the European position represents a decisive break from the US-imposed policy of ongoing war in the Eastern Ukraine remains to be seen. It could equally be argued that this is just the west playing soft cop, hard cop with Russia and Putin.
What also remains to be seen is how the Russian proposals go down with the Donbass separatists. Putin favours federalization with some autonomy for the Donbass regions and an integrated Ukraine. This has been ruled out by the Donbass leader Alexander Zakharchenko who, after all the mayhem, murder and destruction of the region by Ukrainian forces, wants complete secession for the Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples’ republics. And rest assured this is also the position of 90% of the population of the Donbass. Whether Putin is able to make Zakharchanko and the Donbass swallow this bitter pill is a moot point. But it would be a brave man who tries to run up the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine in the centre of Lenin Square in Donetsk. Putin has also got his domestic critics including Igor Strelkov and Segey Galzyev two influential, marverick, hardline members of the Russian polity, who regard Putin as being, too soft, on Russia’s internal and external enemies. Strelkov in particular, a romantic figure, is regarded as a national hero among many ordinary Russians, and is openly critical of Putin, who would be very unwise to try to silence him. Strelkov is not Pussy Riot. It would be truly ironic if the regime change that Washington so assiduously desires brings either or both of the gentlemen to power in Moscow.
My own view is that the outcome of this conference will have already been decided in Washington regardless of what the Minsk participants say or want. The Kiev regime is completely in thrall to Washington; a puppet government, it does not have an independent foreign policy, it was paid for ($5billion according to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland ) and installed by the US and continues to owe its precarious existence to the Americans. What will Poroshenko bring to the talks? Nothing new. No compromise, no concessions, the war to continue. This, even though Ukraine is close to economic and military collapse.
I hope I am wrong, but I think the ludicrous and tragic the show must go on, since the war parties in Washington and Kiev believe they can get what they want by military means. The truth is however that …
‘’The Ukrainian army is being defeated not because it lacks weapons. The Ukrainian army had an overwhelming advantage in weapons at the start of the war in spring 2014 when it had tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, aircraft and helicopters in abundance whilst its opponents had none of these things.
The Ukrainian army could not win then and now that its opponents are far better armed it cannot win now. It cannot win because the overriding political factor that caused the conflict — the hostility to Maidan of the people of the Donbas — makes such a victory impossible.’’ (Alexander Mecouris – Russia Insider)
This war, like all wars, will come to an end one day. But only when some geopolitical realism breaks out. Geopolitical wisdom at present is in short supply, however, and neo-conservatism is there in abundance.
Frank Lee is a member of the CHARTIST Editorial Board and regular contributor on economics and Ukraine.