Archive for August, 2014

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Next question….

August 31, 2014

As the Russian military slowly begins to carve out a “Novorussiya” in the Donbas, and the Russian Academy of Sciences has been tasked with publishing a history of “Novorussiya” – and perhaps if ferreting around in historical documents of Catherine The Great, they may discover a map that will cover a region that The Kremlin feels if can not only carve out, but ultimately control and police thereafter, without too much difficulty.

Overextension would create unnecessary problems.  Thus the question arises – Just how much The Kremlin does believe it can effectively control and police amongst a Ukrainian population that no longer subscribes to the “one people” or mythical “Russian soul” rhetoric espoused by The Kremlin?

Can it effectively control and police more than the immediate strategic priorities of Mariupol, Volnovakha, Donetsk, Debaltsevo, Lisichansk/Rubezhnoye/Severodonetsk region and lastly Luhansk?

Can the Russian Academy of Sciences produce a map of “Novorussiya” that will match the real – rather than ideological – abilities of The Kremlin amongst what will generally be, and remain, a hostile Ukrainian society?

Will the Donbas become a consolidated bridgehead for a year or so, before pushing on into the rest of whatever any Russian Academy of Sciences history of “Novorussiya” will create?

When The Kremlin reaches the limits of what it considers its abilities to effectively control and police, there are questions thereafter for Ukraine and the West.

How to contain, and when ready, drive back a wholly false creation unrecognised by their respective governments and international institutions?

The West may decide to arm Ukraine, but that is a matter of bilateral foreign policy and nothing to do with the EU unless there are EU embargoes in place. Individual sovereign nations could already be arming Ukraine if they had the desire to do so.

Sanctions will stay – and grow. Damage over time to the Kremlin will accumulate. The fighting will continue, either legalised with the army and volunteer battalions, or via extralegal partisans (and there is no guarantee partisans will decide to continue to keep the fight solely on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia when so much inviting infrastructure to go at in Russia).

The British are calling for Russia to be kicked out of the SWIFT banking system, which would have tremendous impact almost immediately on Russia. That said, it won’t fly with the all the other EU Members.

In short it is a public statement of extreme action by the UK that they know will never actually happen – no different from the strategic voting seen at the UN where nations are seen to vote seemingly against their own national interests in the full knowledge that a veto will be thrown down by somebody else, but they are seen to be doing the right thing, or do so to curry favour with others for voting that way.

Next week at the NATO Summit the UK will announce a Joint Expeditionary Force made up of the UK, the Baltics, Poland, Holland, Norway, Denmark and Canada – no USA – which would give the appearance of a “European theatre” coalition of the willing NATO group, within NATO.  However, whilst that may seem to be its orientation within the context of Baltic fears and the Ukrainian war, it has a distinctly “Arctic” look about it too – where Russia is becoming aggressive due to oil and gas claims. Clearly the UK and Holland are involved for their BP and Shell interests and others have direct claims on the Arctic.

Would such coalitions of the willing be extended to “partner nations” and will Ukraine become a “partner nation” once it sheds it official non-aligned status – something that quite possibly will occur in the imminent future?

Whilst all parties appear to have goals and tactics – there appear to be no strategies as yet.

Will any be formulated and effectively implemented by party?

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Goodbye non-alignment?

August 30, 2014

Sometimes things appear to be dramatic prima facie, when in fact they are anything but.

This afternoon, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, after a meeting the the National Security Council, submitted a draft bill for consideration by the RADA, to abolish Ukraine’s long standing official non-alignment status.

Prima facie, and in the context of the current war on-going between Ukraine and Russia in the east, a dramatic turn of events perhaps.

“Pursuant to the decision of the NSDC the Government of Ukraine submits to the Parliament a draft law called to abolish a non-alignment status of the Ukrainian state and resume the policy towards Ukrainian membership in NATO.”

Defiant stuff vis a vis Kremlin intentions for, and aggressive actions within, Ukraine.

There will no doubt be stern words and condemnation from within and those around The Kremlin for the sake of propaganda – particularly from the swivel-eyed far right lunatics that see everything as a CIA or NATO inspired plot.  That the actions of The Kremlin they so keenly support have pushed Ukraine further and further away as a nation, society and ideologically, will no doubt fly directly over their heads.

Yet despite all that propaganda noise, as and when it comes, The Kremlin will remain confident that Ukraine joining NATO is not going to happen any time soon – if at all.

Of the five chapters that outline conditions for NATO membership, one wonders if Ukraine actually meets any of them currently – and how many years it will take to meet all of them.

In brief, of the political and economic issues, Ukraine would need to demonstrate stable democratic institutions (far more than simply being able to hold reasonably free and fair elections every 5 years), actively pursue, or ideally have settled, any regional or ethnic disputes (Crimea?), have good relationships with their neighbouring nations (Russia?), display robust commitment to human rights and rule of law (which is not something Ukraine is renowned for),  have a market economy, and civilian control of, and over, its military.

Regarding the chapter on defence, firstly Ukraine must spend enough – and commit to continuing to do so – on its defence.  There is also the obvious issue of reforming its military to effectively enhance the collective defence arrangements of NATO members.  Clearly serious financial and reforming assistance is required.

There are also criteria regarding legislation and information security that Ukraine would have to meet, despite undoubtedly still having many Kremlin infiltrators amongst its ranks, and most of the Ukrainian State infrastructure still working on pirated Microsoft software and heaven only knows what downloaded malware, spyware and Internet nasties.

Whilst some of those issues can be overcome very quickly indeed, there are certainly others that will take years to accomplish.

Compliance with NATO membership requirements is not going to happen tomorrow.  Or next week.  Nor next year.

There is then Article 10 to consider – the unanimous agreement of existing members to admit a new member.  Even the most casual of glances at the existing membership highlights one or two (currently) Kremlin Trojan Horses, discounting a few naturally dovish members that will acquiesce to the robust noises from The Kremlin about NATO on its borders – even though NATO is already on its borders.

However, the Ukrainian leadership are of course aware of these facts, just as much as The Kremlin and the NATO leadership itself.  It was undoubtedly all raised once again today at an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

President Poroshenko may need to show some flexibility too, having campaigned stating NATO membership would only be pursued if 70% of the nation were in favour.  Still, he is a politician and subjected to “events, dear boy”, and those most serious events are being orchestrated by a very aggressive and unfriendly neighbour.

So, is this more just posturing by Ukraine following overt Russian military invasion in its eastern regions over the past few days, far beyond what has gone before this year?  Nothing for The Kremlin to really raise an eyebrow over should this bill pass through the RADA and become law?

Maybe.

Clearly and unambiguously, the Ukrainian leadership is attempting to permanently reject the official and currently legally held non-aligned status, in preference for alignment with western constructs.    Actual NATO membership and EU membership, or not – when and if they ever come – is somewhat irrelevant today.   What is important, should this bill pass, is that Ukraine will not be constrained to act in a non-aligned way from that moment onward.

An alignment toward the western constructs within Ukrainian law there will be, snuffing out any remote chance of membership within any Russian led alternatives.   If the September ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and DCFTA rules out the Eurasian Union – which it does, although not so the CIS trade agreements if a few simple tweaks were applied – today’s submitted draft bill also rules out any CSTO, SCO or emerging alignments too.

Should this bill pass and be signed off by the president, any notions of a “neutral Ukraine” can be forgotten.  Formal membership of western clubs or not, Ukraine is not rejecting its non-aligned status for it to be replaced by one of officially recognised neutrality – no matter how much that may upset the geopolitics of the region.

It makes the NATO Summit in Wales during the first week of September somewhat more interesting – not that anything more than training, reform assistance and enhanced intelligence sharing seem very likely to be forthcoming – (officially at least).

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Partisans

August 29, 2014

Today, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, begins a visit to Ukraine that is due to last until 3rd September.

Tomorrow, whilst in Kyiv he is due to introduce the fifth human rights report regarding Ukraine.  If the MSM is to be believed, the report will be critical of both sides – albeit the quotes in the link appear particularly onerous for those fighting against Kyiv and their sponsors.

That the government in Kyiv be criticised for human rights abuses by those forces under its control is only right.  It took the decision to incorporate and assimilate the volunteer battalions into the Ministry of Interior in order to bring about not only some form of official command and control, but to legalise otherwise unlawful groups regarding combatants.  In doing so it was well aware that any overzealous, disproportionate, criminal and otherwise inhumane acts by such volunteer battalions would ultimately and unambiguously be laid at its door.  However, better that than to have an anti-terrorist operation (ATO) comprised not only of the Ukrainian military and Ministry of Interior personnel, but also illegal volunteer battalions that could and would otherwise be framed as no different to the terrorists Kyiv’s operation was fighting against by some on-lookers.

That said, things have progressed.  The ATO continues and engages with those it was designed to.  The Russian Army however, is now unambiguously involved on both sides of the Ukrainian border.  That the conflict has not been recognised officially as the war it actually is, is because both politically and legally, it suits nobody to do so – for the time being.

Meanwhile, Russian troops and proxies resupply and reinforce positions in eastern Ukraine, and indeed expand south toward the strategically important coastal city of Mariupol – strategically important both for the realisation of any “People’s Republics” and also for struggling supply routes to the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula.   Thus Kremlin options to create a frozen conflict increase should it choose to, or to recognise and annex the People’s Republics in order to secure land based supply routes to Crimea, or simply to enter the next round of negotiations in a position so strong that it need not move from its demands of Ukraine at all.

That the Ukrainian leadership cannot and will not meet all of those demands is entirely understood by The Kremlin – and also by the vast majority of the Ukrainian public, who have little desire (currently) to cast aside the values they fought for to bring down Yanukovych, simply to be subjected to equally corrupted Kremlin values.  Thus the impasse is not only governmental – it is societal.

It is this societal issue, one that fought for the values it believed in at Maidan, and again fights in volunteer battalions, that should be cause for concern for not only the Ukrainian government, but also The Kremlin – and indeed the UN human rights bodies – as swathes of Ukrainian sovereign territory change hands time and again.

There can be no accurate account of the weaponry and munitions in eastern Ukraine – indeed there is no accurate account of the small arms and munitions (in particular) leaving Ukraine and entering the Russian Federation either as volunteers/adventurers return.

When the territory temporarily – or otherwise – changes hands in eastern Ukraine, left behind advancing or retreating lines are now armed people/groups that are beginning to  form outside of Kyiv’s previous attempts to control and legalise the volunteer battalions.

Across Facebook, VK and other social platforms, some accounts are beginning to create secret “admin” controlled partisan pages.  Tweets are beginning to appear from well-followed accounts, not only suggesting partisan activity, but that such activity be taken into Russia, targeting Russian infrastructure – telecommunications etc.

(Readers do note that links to such accounts and related embedded tweets are deliberately not included so as not to promulgate them, but seek in Russian or Ukrainian and ye shall find.)

Should that begin to occur, how can either governments of Russia or Ukraine guarantee gas transit to Europe, and should the gas infrastructure be hit, would it occur in Russia or Ukraine?  Pipe or pumping station?  Which pipeline?  As the undeclared war between both nations spills into other areas, it will become increasing difficult to make such assurances with regular troops and incorporated volunteer battalions, let alone partisans.

For all there may be concerns over the ideologies held by some members of some volunteer battalions, all of which were deliberately assimilated into the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior for clearly identifiable legal and control reasons – notwithstanding the distorted ideologies of some of those they fight against too – Kyiv has at least made the effort to assume legal responsibility for the actions of those volunteer battalions.

It would seem an almost impossible task to do so over secretive partisan groups should they actually form, who by their nature will take matters into their own hands by making decisions unilaterally when opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps they will not form.  Perhaps if they do they will not become active.  Perhaps they have already formed.

However, given the fact that such calls already exist, it would be foolish to ignore what is becoming a distinct extralegal possibility, and that may lead – or not – to a very dark and/or difficult place indeed.

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A Batkivshchyna implosion?

August 28, 2014

What seems long ago, on 6th June, an entry appeared here predicting the implosion of Yulia Tymoshenko’s political party, Batkivshchyna. – “With regard to Batkivshchyna, the only question is whether it splits into two or three parts – Ms Tymoshenko and loyalists to her, those who will stick with Arseniy Yatseniuk, and those who will head directly to the Poroshenko camp either via Solidarity or UDAR.

Regardless the integrity of Batkivshchyna is ruptured. The party ranking at least twice as high as its leader in every Ukrainian Olbast. The end is upon it, and implosion similar to that of Party Regions assured.”

Well that moment appears to now be upon the party – unsurprisingly within 48 hours of President Poroshenko dissolving the current RADA, thus commencing the statutory 60 days of campaigning prior to the 26th October elections.

Within 24 hours of the elections being caused, gapping chasms began to appear between Mrs Tymoshenko and Olexandr Tyrchunov.

Withing 48 hours, that split now appears to have become terminal – as predicted back in June..

The fault, undoubtedly that of Mrs Tymoshenko and her firm personal belief that Batkivshchyna, just as Block Tymoshenko previously, are nothing more than a vehicle for the ego and policies of Yulia Tymoshenko.  As has been written here in many an entry over many years – and as is the case with all populist politicians – the party need control the leader, not the leader the party.

It appears that quoting, reading and plagiarising Vaclav Havel (and others) in statements to the world during the years of her incarceration, have taught her little.  It seems that the reception she received upon her release and very subdued reception by the crowds of Maidan have taught her little.  The fact the Batkivshchyna Party actually coalesced as a party with something resembling an ideology and cause during her absence for several years, seemingly went oblivious to her.   Her 12% polling at the presidential elections in May, instilled no clear-eyed appreciation of her political future.

Her early maneuvering prior to the electoral starters gun, naturally all form and little substance, in “New Batkivshchyna, Old Heart” is very likely in need of a by-pass, if not necessarily resuscitation – yet.

All of this entirely predictable for anybody who has met and/or worked with Mrs Tymoshenko.  You either work for Mrs Tymsoshenko – or you work against Mrs Tymoshenko.  You do not work with Mrs Tymoshenko – and within hours of being given the chance to prove that once again due to the elections – she has split her party, with a number of senior, currently governmental and ministerial members, leaving.

Presumably, though it is not yet clear,  Turchynov, Yatsenyuk, Avakov, Denisov, Golovko, Mateychenko, Pashinsky, Paruby, Emets, Lynchenko, Burbak, Pishni, Hmil and Apostol etc., will head to President Poroshenko’s Solidarity party, or that of UDAR – those parties signing a pact prior to the presidential elections of mutual support.

If so, a disaster for Batkivshchyna when it comes to polling day on 26th October.  These politicians will take with them a considerable part of Batkivshchyna voters – discounting those already lost to other populist politicians like Oleh Lyashko.

That Mrs Tymoshenko will return to the RADA as leader of Batkivshcyna Party is certainly assured.  The cost to what was becoming something of a genuine political party with identifiable ideology and cause – immense – though many will doubt that actually matters to her much.

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The end of the beginning? Probably not

August 27, 2014

On 9th November 1942, at The Lord Mayor’s Day luncheon held at The Mansion House, London, Winston Churchill gave his famous speech regarding “the end of the beginning“, following the first allied victory in North Africa/Egypt.

Ukraine, it has to be said, appears far from “the end of the beginning” unless a rabbit is magically pulled from a hat today in Minsk.

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Upon entering the meeting, only an hour ago, stated “the fate of our country and of Europe is being decided here in Minsk.”

By a strange quirk of history, 26th August 1968, saw the Czechoslovakian leadership forced to sign terms with Kremlin regarding the “normalisation” of ties to facilitate leaving Warsaw Pact.  What emerges from 26th August 2014, at the time of writing remains unknown – the meeting occurs at the time of writing.

There does seem very little room to maneuver – although there is some – and thus an “end to the beginning” remains a bleak prospect –  An even bleaker prospect is “a beginning of the end” as far as Kremlin designs upon, and obstructive and coercive actions against, Ukraine are concerned.  They appear robustly set for a decade and more – far over the horizon – unless The Kremlin itself fall, and whether that be closer than we think or not at all, this issue of Kremlin succession seems unlikely to result in any change of policy toward Ukraine.

If the “end of the beginning” would be marked by an end to armed Kremlin shenanigans in eastern Ukraine, the next act in the play will concentrated much more on political obstruction and attempted intervention both domestically within Ukraine and regarding any of its international policies that can be disrupted too.  Needless to say, economic pressures will continue to be exerted,  as well as ad hoc subversive acts across the entire spectrum of political, economic and social life where either opportunity or need present itself.

A “beginning of the end” remains a very, very long way off for Ukraine when it comes to Kremlin interference – regardless of any very unlikely agreements that may magically – or perhaps mendaciously – be claimed in Minsk.

 

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Kremlin Minsk Preparations

August 26, 2014

Tomorrow sees a meeting in Minsk of Presidents Putin, Poroshenko, Lukashenko, Nazarbeyev, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton, European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger and European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht.

As was stated in an entry here a few days ago, after the humanitarian trucks rolled into Ukraine – and before they rolled out again loaded with looted technical parts from Ukrainian factories required for the Russian defence and space industrial complex – “Perhaps it is far more basic than that? By upping the ante, is it simply a way to give the impression of negotiating from a position of strength when the Minsk meeting arrives? Another act of Kremlin defiance prior to that meeting to insure all attending are well aware of The Kremlin ability to act unilaterally as and when it wants to.”

@leonidragozin As I wrote today in the blog – it is about negotiating from a position of strength, and facts on the ground create that

Somewhat diplomatically put, as that clearly was and remains the case – at least in part.  Since then Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, today announced that The Kremlin will continue to send humanitarian aid into Ukraine, regardless of any Ukrainian objection or international condemnation.

Also today, approximately 50 Russian military tanks entered Ukraine at Novoasovsk, and whilst engaged by Ukrainian forces, made it ways toward Mariupol, the strategic port city of the Donbas.

The Donetsk People’s Republic looks a far more viable entity with the port city of Mariupol than without it – and creating that impression and possibility prior to the meeting in Minsk tomorrow matters when strengthening a Kremlin negotiating position.

Ukrainian forces have retreated to the city of Mariupol.

As the tweets related above state, a full invasion force it was certainly not.  Creating further difficulties on the ground for Ukraine, and once again upping the ante was and is – at least in part – the point.

To be blunt, The Kremlin does not need to win any military war in eastern Ukraine – it simply needs to avoid losing.  Ukraine on the other hand, cannot afford to have a hot or frozen conflict take root.  The combined weight of Luhansk and the Donbas Oblasts would be an incredibly heavy anchor to have to drag toward Europe.  Not an impossible weight to drag along, but one that would slow any momentum dramatically.

As such it appears The Kremlin has now completed its preparations for the Minsk meeting.  The ante has been upped, military facts on the ground have been changed by entering Ukraine further south of the existing fighting, announcing a  declared intent to ignore Ukrainian borders and refusals of further convoys entering Ukraine under a humanitarian pretext etc.

The Kremlin has improved its negotiating position by changing facts on the ground within the space of 5 days.  It is now in a far stronger negotiating position than 2 weeks ago.  It therefore follows that it will not feel much need, if any, to offer concessions or to reach an agreement that falls significantly short of its initial positions tomorrow.

Ukraine cannot and will not accept any loss of territory or sovereignty.  It is engaged in a war of independence and a fight for its right to choose its own course.

The Europeans are currently bereft of ideas acceptable to all EU Member States, and whilst more sanctions may or may not come, any damage over time will neither change the facts on Ukrainian soil, nor change Kremlin course soon – if at all.

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Positive expected outcomes from the meeting tomorrow?  Low to no none, unless there be a rabbit to pull from a hat by somebody.

 

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Ukraine Today (UT) TV – English language

August 25, 2014

Today, the 23rd anniversary of the independence of Ukraine, sees the launch of the English language TV station “Ukraine Today“, a station owned by the oligarch Igor Kolomoyski, owner of several other TV channels in Ukraine.

ukr today

The station will also be broadcast in other languages very soon apparently, with German and French being the next priorities.

The channel has been created to mitigate the distinctly skewed Russia Today (RT) outlook that is relentlessly broadcast to the world.  Fair enough.  However, that being the case, in its efforts to do so it may well end up so alien to facts and the truth it will become just as risible as RT is.

The inherent problem will be one of comparison and perceived competition – particularly given the awful decision regarding the name of the new media outlet in such a similar manner to its Russian nemesis.

Ukraine Today will be far better served reporting the news (rather than Op-Eds/commentary) – accurately – warts and all.  After all Utopia does not exist anywhere on the planet, so there would be nothing gained, and much lost, by pretending Ukraine comes close.

Hopefully it won’t enter a downward spiral of competition of distinctly fictional content with RT, but that is a distinct possibility.  Time will tell.

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