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Cold War or Cold Peace?

June 19, 2014

Ukraine faces a choice in its future relations with Russia.  The bloody shenanigans in eastern Ukraine will not go on forever in the form they currently manifest themselves – though shenanigans will continue in differing forms.

Oplot, The Russian Orthodox Army and the Vostok Battalion – the three major anti-government paramilitary groups active in eastern Ukraine have varying degrees of allegiance to self proclaimed leaders such as Denys Pushylin of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.  Those allegiances ranging from tepid to almost non-existent currently.

Whether Pushylin’s on-going visit to Moscow will change that remains to be seen.  Will his meetings with Babakov, Matviyenko, Glazyev and Zhirinovsky change the minds of the paramilitary commanders of these units?  It seems doubtful, as he is missing one or two paymasters whose political interests will ultimately require Mr Pushylin to get out of the way.

In fact, some would question the loyalty of some paramilitaries to the very concept of the Donetsk or Luhansk People’s Republics.  Those with a preferred ideologically based geopolitical outcome look toward a Novorussia or Russian annexation.  Thus some on-lookers question whether the specific individual DPR and LPR entities exist outside of the minds of a very small circle of people, such as Denys Pushylin.  The “buy in” even amongst the paramilitaries for these two distinct entities is very small.

With Russian annexation unlikely to come any time soon – if ever, and in-fighting between self-appointed leaders frequent, the creation of Novorussia seems some way off.  Internal battles for power must be first settled.

In the meantime, the Ukrainian military is gradually making in-roads.  The priority now being the recapture and control of the national border with Russia – which it is doing, albeit rather slowly.  It is to be hoped that the Russian and Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsmen are successful in setting up humanitarian corridors as recently discussed.

Once that is completed, after yesterday’s RADA vote with 261 votes in favour, Ukraine will unilaterally demarcate its border with both Russia and Transnistria.

Belarus, it would seem, is deemed to present far less of a threat – quite probably rightly.  Would President Lukashenko willingly and knowingly allow his territory to be used as a transitory route for weaponry and paramilitary fighters to pass through en route Ukraine in large numbers?

Naturally, Crimea does not need demarcation when Kyiv considers it remains Ukraine.

Thus, this RADA law having passed yesterday evening, now provides that within the month, Ukrainian unilateral border demarcation occurs.  The expectation of many checkpoints being closed is a reasonable one.

As President Poroshenko has stated “‘Ukraine is in a state of war. This is a new type of warfare–with use of professional subversive groups, mercenaries'” – we can expect requests to the EU and UN for border control assistance to be forthcoming and frequent.  Whether any such assistance comes – and in what form – remains to be seen.

It seems, in the absence of any truly unexpected event (over and above the continued large number of fighters and weaponry crossing into eastern Ukraine) that President Poroshenko will sign the AA/DCFTA on 27th June together with his Georgian and Moldavian counterparts, come what may.

On the presumption that this will be ratified by all parties fairly swiftly to the angst of The Kremlin, combined with some success as stemming the flow of weaponry and fighters into eastern Ukraine, the question then arises as to the true nature of any future political Russia-Ukraine relations for decades into the future.

Will some form of Cold Peace be reached?  If so it will require Ukraine to declare military neutrality (no to NATO) and acceptance of the Crimean situation/annexation at the very least.  If Ukraine is not prepared to robustly and permanently rule out joining such an alliance in the future, or accept the annexation of Crimea, then a Cold Peace is not workable, and a Cold War of sorts between the two nations looks to be the only option on the horizon (short of full scale conventional war).

The Cold War of sorts would appear to be the most likely at present.

Viewed through that lens, how likely is it that the much talked about “wall” – two meters (six-feet) high, 25-30 cm (10-12 inches) thick wall of reinforced steel, complete with electronic alarms, trenches and minefields – will actually be constructed along the Ukrainian-Russian border?  A fantasy or a reality about to manifest?

It wouldn’t be the first such wall in human history – but it would certainly bring about a very physical reminder to all of what will be a Cold War of sorts that seems likely to exist between the two nations very, very shortly and for some time to come.

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