The Trilateral Contact Group has started a meeting in Minsk to deal with the situation in Eastern Ukraine. Diplomats and officials from around the world are pinning theirs hope on positive results. However, as the saying goes, ‘An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.’
EMPR analyzes why the original Minsk agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on until now and what needs to be done to deescalate Russian agression against Ukraine.
Background: two sets of so called ‘elections’ in the so called ‘People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk’.
The first ‘status referendums’ occurring on 11th May 2014, illegal by Ukrainian law (article 73 of the 1996 Constitution of Ukraine, and article 3 of the 2012 law on referendums) asked ‘Do you support the declaration of state independence of the Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republic?‘ The results coincidentally produced the 89% in favour previously suggested by Russian far right leader Alexander Barkashov in a taped SBU recording. The OSCE’s Ranko Krivokapić, from Montenegro, said ‘The idea that free and fair voting could take place in these so-called referendums is absurd…. I call on the ‘de facto’ authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to call off these mockeries of a vote. All in Ukraine should instead focus on making their voices heard on 25 May, when the country elects a new president‘. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a statement which said that the results could not be ‘taken seriously‘. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said ‘This is the Crimea playbook all over again. No civilized nation will recognize the results. And if Russia takes the next step to re-enact its illegal Crimea annexation in eastern or southern Ukraine and sends more forces over the border, harsh US and EU sanctions will follow‘. The Putin regime, having first called for the elections to be delayed later recognized the vote while claiming they would ‘analyse‘ it later – they never released any details of their analysis if such a study even took place.
We are no doubt familiar with the western sanctions that have followed; the second round of sanctions in of April 28th and the third round starting in July but still ongoing with Japan banning the issuance of securities by five Russian banks on 24 September 2014 [fuller list is here]. We are also familiar with the events in the war zone since then and direct military Russian intervention in late August which lead to Ilovaysk. This has been attested to by numerous fighters who survived and by independent journalists – recently featuring in a Newsweek article where 1,200 Russian dead in their late August operations are spoken of. Does the West recognises this? Not openly.
So now we have self proclaimed ‘Prime Ministers’ Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky after another illegal ‘election’ procedure which was also contrary to the Minsk Protocol under which by [Article 9 here] the ‘special status’ laws elections could have been held in December on a legal basis. This document was signed by Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky themselves so CLEARLY THE MINSK PROTOCOLS ARE NOW DEAD – not that there has been a ‘ceasefire’ in any case as was supposed to have happened. The supposed ‘international monitors’ of the newly created ‘Agency for Security and Cooperation in Europe‘ or OSCE included Alessandra Mussolini, grand daughter of the late ‘Duce’ who invented fascism so for the Putin regime’s dogma spouting mouthpieces to accuse the Ukrainian Government of some ultra right wing bias is a blatant absurdity.
As expected Russia has ‘welcomed‘ the results with deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin saying: ‘The elected representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk regions obtained a mandate to hold negotiations with central Ukrainian authorities to solve problems via a political dialogue‘. As expected the West has condemned the elections from Carl Bildt ‘If the Kremlin recognises these fake Donbas elections it’s a slap in the face of the EU and all that supported and believed in Minsk agreement’. to the the recent Visegrad meeting with the UK Foreign Office making a joint statement that the elections were ‘illegitimate’ and that ‘The only elections that have legitimacy in Ukraine are those held under Ukrainian law’. European Union foreign ministers will review sanctions against Russia during a meeting on November 17 said the new EU Foreign Affairs chief, Federica Mogherini. The US condemned the elections before they happened as a breach of the Minsk Protocol.
So all this is pretty normal; Russia recognises it puppets and continues to add to their forces, the West, in accordance with Ukrainian legality and the Minsk Protocol condemns but does little but talk of further sanctions… In the meantime brave Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers prepare for an assault. What better result of the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ of subterfuge and ‘non – linear war’ could the Putin regime have asked for? It’s a joke at Ukraine’s expense.
So firstly what are the options open to the US, the EU and other groups such as Ukraine’s neighbours and secondly what should they do?
The first and preferred option will always be to ‘consider, think about or discuss’ further sanctions:
Sanctions are without doubt hurting Russia, as is the falling oil price. Over the last months the Russia Ruble has fallen against the US Dollar. The request of Rosneft’s Igor Sechin* for $40 billion in loans in August was indicative of many Russian companies now cut off from cheap Western credit. In the West bank loans are currently cheap, ECB rates at 0.15% while in Russia the Central Bank has had to raise rates recently from 8% to 9.5%. Bashneft’s request for $40 billion in roll over loans was answered by the state raid on Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s Roshneft oil company; Yevtushenkov was charged with money laundering and embezzlement in a form of Yukos Part 2. It didn’t take long for the court to decide that Bashneft belonged to the Russian state ‘in order to protect government interests’ and because of ‘significant legal violations’ during its privatisation. This is how Mr Sechin, a former colleague of the (in)famous arms dealer Victor Bout, deals with an insolvency problem caused by sanctions. This is but one example – the willingness of Alexei Millar’s Gazprom to do a deal with Ukraine in conjunction with the EU is based on similar needs – their sales this year are 24% down on last years and a similar funding crisis to Rosnefts may not be far off when long term contracts come to be renegotiated. With oil prices below $85 per barrel and continued low demand the Russian budget is in a mess. Little wonder then that Russian Finance Minister told the Federation Council on October 7th the country’s military spending plans need to be ‘more realistic’ and take into consideration forecasts for economic growth and budget revenue.
The sanctions imposed thus far have at least resulted in the Ukrainian/EU agreement with Gazprom/Millar/Putin regime which, though it amounts to extortion, will at least get Ukraine through this winter. Sadly for Mr Yevtushenkov they have also resulted in him becoming another victim of the Putin regime; the latest of a long list. Additional sanctions may be difficult for the EU as they have almost recession themselves but the US certainly is in a position to impose further sanctions.
For Ukraine’s immediate and near neighbours it is in their interests to support Ukraine with weaponry, training staff, equipment, financial support or whatever:
Militarily and equipment wise after the NATO summit it was agreed that individual nations could supply Ukraine with whatever they saw fit – a kind of ‘no policy in particular’ in regard to supplying arms to Ukraine. President Poroshenko, in one of his wiser comments, remarked along the lines that it is cheaper and easier for Ukraine to mass produce the armaments it can produce than to buy newer and vastly more expensive western systems that it would take some time to train Ukrainian troops to use. For the price of 20 Leopard 2’s you could have 50 T-84s etc… and as a general rule this is true. There are however long term decisions that will have to be made by any new Government on future procurement. One thing that the US could do – and hurry up with – in this regard is to hurry up with ‘S.2277 – Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014’ as it appears in the US Congress Books. One of the articles of this proposed Act is ‘Provides major non-NATO ally status for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova (during the period in which each of such countries meets specified criteria) for purposes of the transfer or possible transfer of defense articles or defense services’. Now ‘major non-NATO ally status’ doesn’t create an alliance in the common sense; it doesn’t commit US let alone NATO troops to defend Ukraine but only allows access to US ‘War Reserve Stocks’ at a preferred price if required. This has been asked for by the Ukrainian Government and would be most welcome in adjusting the Ukrainian armed forces toward the long overdue re-equipping and retraining process they require in the longer term. It would also solve short term deficiencies if such equipment could be supplied under a greater loan provision. In respect of Russia’s effective recognition of the recent illegal elections, contrary to the Minsk Protocol in the United States own view, it is to be hoped that the newly elected US Congress will press forward with Russian Aggression Prevention Act with urgency and that President Obama will understand Ukraine’s need for additional support.
The question before them is would they prefer in future to have a free Ukraine as a neighbour and perhaps ally or Russia eager to reimpose a criminal state backed by secret police on them? Certainly a inclusion of Ukraine and others into Visegrad alongside the integration of LITPOLUKRBRIG with the Visegrad Battlegroup would be positive step and should be the first priority of both Polish and Romanian defence policy. The Ukrainians holding the line in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts currently are all that saves them having Russia as a neighbour other than the whim of the Russian President. These integrations need to start now because this will not stop until it is stopped. Asking Ukraine to shoulder the burden alone is a denial of Ukraine’s neighbours own interests; Ukraine is your front line. Act accordingly. In this regard I welcome the recent Polish decision to re-man at least three military bases in the east will increase from the current 30 percent of capacity to almost 90 percent albeit by the end of 2017. Ultimately a regional alliance framework, perhaps based on Visegrad, could provide long term security for all and for Ukraine without requiring Ukrainian NATO membership.
Additionally General Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, (SACEUR) has layed out his preparations for 25,000 strong ‘NATO Rapid Response Force’ (NRF) which include a ‘forward presence’ of personnel engaged in organising supply and liaison with local commands (ie Polish, Romanian and Baltic nations) should the NRF be required to deploy. Why not extent this ‘forward presence’ to Kyiv? It is a waste of time preparing to fight Russians in Estonia and letting them have all Ukraine without lifting a finger – you’ll be fighting ‘little green men’ on the Vistula instead of the Dnipro. What General would propose as strategy as this? You can be sure that even if the Putin regime and it’s Donbas based puppets assimilate their required gains in Ukraine in the short term a later ‘little green men’ invasion will occur. If it were to occur in the Baltic states another simultaneous push would almost certainly come on the Ukrainian front to divide both attention and resources. Have the Generals read the histories of 1919-20? It makes no sense to be fighting ‘little green men in Estonia, which frankly can’t be defended, and not fighting them in Ukraine. The ‘forward presence’ in Kyiv remains an option but would require the Ukrainian Government and NATO Command approval but if made public would make bold statement of deterrence which may pre-empt any further aggression.
Thirdly and not least most importantly Ukraine can be strengthened itself by ensuring that reforms are carried through and money is supplied:
EU and individual missions to advise to on judicial independence and countless other subjects should be pushed forward and an ‘International Conference’ be held to recommend a ‘Marshall Plan’ of whatever amount of monies to be invested in Ukraine dependent on a graduated and monitored series of reforms over 10 years. This would send the clearest signal to the ‘Peoples Republics’ that thier future lies within Ukraine as the Russian economy withers. It’s a big ask but boosting Ukraine reform and the economy would generate greater investment from private sources and might even ‘kick start’ the EU economy. Ukraine is an investor’s dream if corruption can be got rid of; cheap wages and free flow of goods to the EU… The car companies and agriculture companies will be sure to invest if the international makes such a statement of commitment toward Ukraine’s future. It would also benefit Ukraine’s neighbours – not least Russia should they wish to also allow Ukrainian exports or invest in Ukrainian rebuilding. All investment though should be conditional on an agreed reform basis
The international condemnation of the recent elections is words. We may see further sanctions and closer neighbourhood cooperation if we’re lucky. The question of how to reply the numberless breaches of international laws and ‘Agreements’, Memorandums and lately Protocols boils down to three things in the real nitty gritty of decision making. The first thing a nation is aware of is it companies who have interests in the threatened country and thus ask it’s Government to protect it’s interests in some country threatened by disturbance; the commercial advantage which applies little to Ukraine at present. The second is the breach of a principle, for if it can be broken once then what is law and who is safe? This of course applies directly to Ukraine at present. Where does this Russian neo imperialism end? If Ukraine can be attacked because people speak Russian what of Latvia and Estonia who the west is Treaty bound to defend? Where do we draw the ‘line in the sand’? is a question all western Governments must now ask themselves bearing in mind that the Minsk Protocol has been broken by it’s Russian and Russian puppet signatories. The third and last appeal to a Government’s senses is the ‘humanitarian’ one; once enough are killed they may be persuaded to act. In essence as it appears to Western Government’s now it is a matter of juggling appeasement with deterrence – each have their own biases, many influenced by direct links to Russian money, others persuaded by gas deals that would effectively enslave their own people (yes you Mr Orban!). It’s a divide and conquer policy that works well with some and less so with others at present.
What the West desperately needs to understand in both the ‘Ukrainian crisis’ and their own predicament is for their analysts and policy makers to understand the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ of non – linear war. In reality they are already ‘at war’ in the terms of the current Russian doctrine.
Ukraine is the front line and THE MINSK PROTOCOL WASN’T WORTH THE PAPER OR WORDS SPOKEN ABOUT IT – many Ukrainians could have told Mr Bildt and the other international talkers that at the time had cared to listen but they chose to believe, as did President Poroshenko, that some deal was possible; they were wrong. The questions they must now address are: How will you deter further Russian aggression and where will draw a line and, should it be necessary, where would it be best to fight? These questions every international official must, if he has once understood the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’, ask himself. I have suggested several steps that could be made for the future financial and security benefit of all. It is unlikely that any of them will take place until the West understands that by not drawing a ‘line in the sand’ over which reactions will occur – they need not be named too explicitly but outlines must be made clear – THE AGGRESSION AND PSEUDO AGGRESSION OF PLAUSIBLY DENIABILITY WILL CONTINUE. Clearer and more specific lines need to be drawn such that the continued arming and supply of ‘separatists’ will result in NATO/US/EU supply of weapons to Ukraine. Further Russian troops involved in Ukraine will result in US training advisors and the preparation of a rapid responce force should Ukraine request it. The Bear only understands plain language and the most general language now that the Minsk Protocol lies in ruins must be that of deterrence for all Western leaders. To quote Churchill ‘An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last’. Ukraine is today the West’s front line. It would be wisdom to recognise it and act now to deter further incursions in Ukraine and elsewhere. The point is not to cause war but to support Ukraine, whether financially or by alliance, or by showing willingness to come to it’s aid, to deter further aggression. Nobody wants war so deterrence must be chief strategy of the west in preventing further war in Ukraine and elsewhere.