By Rostislav Ishchenko, published on Fort Russ, June 23, 2015. Translated from the Russian original by J.Hawk of Fort Russ.
The period between the first assault on Slavyansk and the first Minsk agreement [summer of 2014] was not only the hardest for the DPR and LPR [Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic], but it also solidified the conceptions of the so-called “militarists” and “peacemakers.” I’m putting them in quotation marks on purpose. Because both are fairly loose. If one is to look at the cross-section of media activity, one will see that the vast majority of experts and politicians underscores the unavoidability of resolving the Ukrainian question through military means. In other words, there are no differences of opinion when it comes to assessing the situation.
There are no serious political forces (the totally marginalized liberal opposition doesn’t count) which call for peace at any price. The actual disagreement between “peacemakers” and “militarists” is not about whether to fight–it’s stupid to argue about the appropriateness a war that is long ongoing–but on how to fight. And whether it would have been worthwhile to use the Russian army in the early stages of Ukrainian crisis to overthrow the not-yet-entrenched Nazi dictatorship.
“Militarists” would say yes. And I would unconditionally agree with them if it was only a matter of conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It is genuinely unnatural to watch a Nazi regime take shape and mature right next to you, a regime which already declared its goal to be the destruction of your country and your nation, and do nothing. It’s no secret that the Ukrainian authorities organized so many provocations in early 2014 that one could have lawfully launched ten wars. The transfer of Crimea to Russian jurisdiction necessitates, at a minimum, a re-establishment of the Ukrainian state. The current Ukraine will always consider Crimea as its property and, from the point of view of international law (and not of Russian hurra-patriots) the matter will never be definitively closed. Therefore the Ukrainian state has to be destroyed, one way or another.
I can cite an endless list of arguments in favor of invading already in February of 2014. But why? The Russian leadership, judging by the results it obtained in the last 15 years, is rather smarter than the hysterical bloggers and has a better view on what is happening than the owners of government leak sources which can’t even comprehend that “exclusive” information is simply used for disinformation. If the hurra-patriot understands the practical unavoidability that Russia will be drawn into a hot conflict at a certain stage, it’s bizarre to assume that the Kremlin doesn’t see it or that it underestimates the danger. If you look at the work by Russian state media, you’ll see that they have reformatted public opinion in the last 18 months from the then most-widespread view that “we don’t need this. Let Ukrainians figure it out on their own,” to “we’ll reach Paris, if need be.” One doesn’t conduct an information campaign of this kind purely for entertainment. One doesn’t exchange the US image as a “terrible friend” for that of a “comical enemy” just because.
Nevertheless, the [Russian] forces which have been occupying a threatening position next to Ukraine’s borders never did appear in Ukraine. They didn’t show up in spite of a Federation Council permission and the request of Yanukovych who was legitimate at the time. Moreover, such permits are not issued on a whim, and such requests are not made lightly. Instead of the army we got Minsk. And the game became a long-term one. So why is Russia preparing for war but isn’t starting one?
Because only the “militarists'” narrow-mindedness and Ukraine obsession keeps them from understanding that the global war of destruction between Russia and the U.S. is not about Kiev and Donbass. It’s about the future of humanity. Including our future. It’s a global conflict, systemic conflict. The old, departing, terminally ill American world is fighting to prolong its agony. That world cannot survive. Victory simply means postponing death. But even dying, that world can inflict lethal damage to the new world which is being born in front of our eyes and with our participation. In order that the new world, in which a unilateral U.S. hegemony or something like it would not be possible, Russia has to conclude the confrontation with the U.S. in a strong position, having preserved or even increased its potential, rather than suffering attrition in the course of the conflict. Only the existence of a strong and authoritative Russia, which doesn’t claim the title of an absolute hegemon but which is capable to slap down anyone who tries to occupy the throne vacated by the U.S., guarantees that the casualties suffered by humanity in that last conflict of the old era will not be in vain and that we will receive a wonderful new world and not a new edition of the old one. Only in that case will the tears of the children of Donbass, but also of Damascus, Baghdad, and Belgrade, not have been shed in vain.
If we look at the situation from that position, we’ll see that the U.S. was preparing a classic trap for Russia in Ukraine. It deliberately brought to power a regime not simply russophobic (Yushchenko was a more hard-core russophobe than Poroshenko), but a vicious one at that. Not by accident did it give the regime a blank check for the Odessa massacre, for the lawless suppression of activists in Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Zaporozhye, for the political murders in Kiev, for the Right Sector torture chambers, for other Nazi excesses. It created a situation into which the Russian leadership could not help but intervene. It was necessary to intervene under the pressure of Russian public opinion. The army would have had to move into Ukraine. After which Russia would have gotten its Vietnam and Chechnya in combination.
First of all, the Ukrainian military is clearly incapable of anything but anemic resistance which would have been broken in days or even hours. But the Nazi volunteers and tens of thousands of simpletons who now “defend the Motherland” against “Russian aggression” on the Donbass, or who collect money for all of the army’s needs, from food to uniforms and weapons, or who conduct media disinformation, those wouldn’t simply disappear. Some of them would become partisans, others would sabotage, yet others would simply quietly hate the new government. Russia would have been stuck with a huge bankrupt territory with 40 million poor who would be either hostile or disloyal. It would have tied down Russian resources which are not made of rubber.
Secondly, the U.S. would have been able to consolidate Europe along anti-Russian lines faster and more decisively. Those political forces which currently act from pro-Russian positions would have simply been muzzled by saying that a treacherous, armed to the teeth brown bear attacked a peaceloving, democratic yellow-blue bunny. That would have been the end of discussion. Europe has to defend itself and its values. It’s wholly possible we’d have seen a European version of McCarthyism. Sanctions would have been implemented immediately and on a full scale, they’d have hit the unprepared Russian economy very painfully. Western Ukraine, with the assistance of European “volunteers”, U.S. instructors, NATO weapons, and other such treats, would have become the equivalent of Donbass for Russia–an attritional small war which cannot be won decisively and which can last for decades. The army would have been tied down by the need to control the occupied Ukraine and to suppress banderist resistance, the economy would have been in crisis. The people would have demanded of the authorities to explain “what do we need this for?”, the society would enter a vicious circle of destablization. “Militarists” would wash their hands, criticize the Kremlin for incompetence and, in solidarity with the liberals, would say that they would have never allowed such a catastrophe.
And thirdly, Russia’s allies in Eurasia, BRICS, Shanghai Organization, etc., which already don’t regard Moscow’s leadership with approval, suspecting it of attempts to “resurrect USSR” or to take America’s place and start dictating its will to the world, would have abandoned all joint projects. Some would be concerned that if the army can be sent into Ukraine, it can be sent elsewhere as well. Yet others, smarter, would come to the conclusion that its unwise to tie yourself to a country which cannot predict the consequences of its own actions.
So instead of all that we got Minsk. What did Russia get?
First of all, during the Slavyansk-Minsk period, Russian citizens directing the uprising and who, like Portos, fought for the sake of fighting, were replaced by controllable local inhabitants. LPR/DPR leadership became presentable. It could be shown to the world without being asked “Why is a national uprising in Ukraine conducted by Russian citizens?” The uncontrollable anarchy which is utterly unpredictable was transformed into normal organizational structures. Field “commanders” who fought without logistical support and who felt that the “civvies” were a burden became officers in LPR/DPR armies.
Normal civilian administrative structures were created between Minsk 1 and 2. Banditry, stealing of cars and apartments, was thwarted. There appeared a financial system, the republics’ economy was made to mend. In general, structures which allowed for normal life (even though under fire). The republics would not have survived without these unnoticeable but critically important changes. The “wild geese” would not have survived without popular support, and the population quickly stops supporting those who wage war for their own pleasure and their own idea, on the territory where the population lives, and who don’t care about how the population is to survive.
In addition, Russia forced Kiev, kicking and screaming, to sit at the same table as the insurgents, thus de-facto recognizing them as an equal party in the negotiations. Then Merkel and Hollande appeared at the same table in the second phase. Moscow achieved that which it demanded since the Association Agreement with Ukraine–a direct dialogue with Europe concerning Ukraine. Now, with the Karasin-Nuland group, there is also a platform for a direct dialogue with the US. Everything that Washington tried to avoid for 18 months, happened. US, against their own wishes, acknowledged their involvement in the Ukrainian crisis (the previous official version was the battle against the corrupt regime by the Ukrainian people). Now Washington and Brussels bear responsibility for how the situation unfolds in the political and legal sense. It’s impossible to pretend Russia is sinning against the weak while the US is not involved. Poroshenko, who demanded direct negotiations with Putin, now finds itself in the same waiting room as Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy–waiting to see what the real parties to the conflict decide.
Thirdly, while the war is continuing and Minsk negotiations continue, there is growing disappointment in Ukraine’s own politicians who promised an easy life and delivered a war instead, in Europe which did not help, and in the US which didn’t save them. The process may be slow, but it is continuing. Just as the process of growing contradictions within the regime. Spiders in the jar are starting to eat one another. It means that when Ukraine is free from the Nazi regime, only marginal groups of the population will continue to reject Russia (hard-core Nazis, hard-core liberal intelligentsia, part of the bureaucracy which loses its jobs when the state vanishes–for example, MFA and SBU employees, ideologies of neo-banderism and the creators of new Ukrainian history). The rest, disappointed in the European choice, will have no alternative but to turn toward Moscow–one has to live somehow.
Ideally, in the event of its full implementation, the “peacemaker” plan would deliver all this without losses and battles, but later. Federated Ukraine with a new constitution and broad autonomies would not only recognize Crimea as part of Russia (Crimea would not be mentioned as Ukrainian territory in the new constitution), but would also gradually integrate itself with the Eurasian Union and Customs Union. It would simply have nowhere else to go. Neither the US nor the EU are not going to support Ukraine. Was that plan feasible? No. No ideal plan can ever be implemented in its full form. It’s good if you get 505. The US wanted to draw Russia into a conflict and create a Vietnam in Ukraine. Therefore Kiev was absolutely unwilling to negotiate and started the Donbass ware even before it had full control over the army. As a result, the Minsks became a platform for Moscow and Washington maneuvers around the question of who will create Vietnam for whom, and who will be the aggressor in the eyes of the international community. So far Russia is better at these maneuvers.
But all maneuvering has to end. There was a unique situation last week, when Obama administration showed interest in peaceful resolution of the conflict. It’s understandable. They have to leave Ukraine by 2016 without losing face, otherwise Democrats might not even run in the election. The GOP would tear them to shreds for “indecisiveness.” The Kiev regime, despite the hurra-patriots’ screaming about the growing might of the UAF, is growing weaker, as would any regime which wages a civil war in a bankrupt country. The Old Europe, even though it did not dare leave the US umbrella, is not happy about the losses associated with the need to demonstrate “Atlantic solidarity.” The EU wants to turn the page.
The general situation in Ukraine and around it is getting out of US control. Obama is trying to preserve, through compromise, the possibility of playing on the Ukrainian board in the future. Russia’s leadership might meet it half-way. The Kremlin is consistently outplaying the White House, and the question of drawing Ukraine into Russian integration projects is not nearly as much of a matter of principle as even a couple of years ago. One can calmly wait for events to unfold, after all, Kiev has nowhere to turn–EU won’t admit it, won’t give money, and the economy is already destroyed. All that’s left is to bow before Russia. It will save Ukraine only because it doesn’t need a 40-million poverty zone and instability on its borders. Especially since the Ukrainian citizens, who are indistinguishable from Russian ones, would quickly pass that instability into Russia. But I am absolutely certain that the peaceful scenario, while beneficial to the US and Russian long-term interests, won’t come to pass. The “hawks” in Washington are too strong. Both parties are campaigning on a platform of strengthening sanctions against Russia. The admission of failure in Ukraine (which the US assent to a compromise would be) would kill too many promising careers at the CIA and the State Department. Kiev politicians are incapable of changing the propaganda tune, of giving up on the war, of reaching an agreement with Donbass. Because then they would become enemies not only to the anti-fascists, but to the fascists too. Because, what were they fighting for if the eventual agreement was on the terms proposed at the start of the war? The ideological, convinced Nazis from volunteer battalions, and the motivated part of the army for which the war is a matter of principle, might not forgive this “treason.” It’s one thing when a demoralized and defeated army surrenders. It’s something else when the officers believe that the politicians “stole” victory.
In other words, everything suggests that in spite of a certain de-escalation accompanying the negotiations, a big war in Ukraine is unavoidable and a provocation aimed at launching it has already been worked out by the US.
Even though they can’t implement their ideal peace plan, the “peacemakers” obtained a terrific result considering what the starting conditions were for a military campaign. Russia has not become an “aggressor” for most of the planet. The situation in Ukraine is a deadlock from the West’s point of view, and it can’t be ended without Russia, which means Russia need not be in a hurry. The Russian leadership’s international prestige has grown, contrary to what the hurra-patriots are saying. Even Egypt decided to conduct joint exercises with our navy in the Mediterranean. Egypt, which since the mid-’70s has been under full US control. It’s not even a gesture. It’s a bell which tolls for Washington’s influence in the Middle East.
And those who are afraid that, due to “being late” invading, Nazi propaganda in Kiev will create millions of zombies which will hate Russia from generation to generation, I’d like to remind that the majority of those who are now fighting against Russians on the Donbass, who have created the current russophobic Ukraine, grew up and became politically socialized during the era of communist propaganda which operated constantly and effectively for 74 years. What they were taught was entirely different from what they are doing right now.