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Upping the ante – Wagons roll

August 23, 2014

Today it appears The Kremlin has lost patience with the either the combatants in eastern Ukraine, the ICRC insistence of safe passage assurances from both sides prior to entry, and/or a seemingly deliberate stalling by Ukrainian border guard and customs service of the Russian humanitarian convoy.  A stalling that enables Ukrainian military to continue to make advances in and around Donetsk and Luhansk.

Nevertheless the Russian humanitarian convoy has rolled into Ukraine regardless of permissions and assurances – and seemingly without ICRC personnel too – in what is clearly going to be interpreted as yet another escalation by The Kremlin.

Krasnodon border crossing 20 meters from Ukraine

Krasnodon border crossing 20 meters from Ukraine

Why now, after already waiting a week to carry out this mission within full accordance with international norms?

To insure Ukrainian forces are far more restricted in their military abilities during the days the humanitarian convoy is going to be in eastern Ukraine?

To create an incident against the humanitarian convoy for which Ukrainian forces will be blamed – despite their illegal entry and defiance of all agreed procedures prior to entry into Ukraine?

To create an incident for which the separatists will be blamed, allowing The Kremlin to disown them having fired on a Russian humanitarian convoy?

Perhaps to insure there is no absolute defeat of the Kremlin sponsored fighters prior to the visit of Chancellor Merkel on 23rd August – the 75th anniversary of the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact – insuring she pushes diplomatic solutions against an open door, as Ukraine already seeks and acknowledges “There is no solely military way to solve the situation” despite its current military ascendancy.  Maybe she can convince Ukraine to give a little more than it would do otherwise.

Is it to have a yet larger Kremlin-cast shadow over Ukrainian Independence Day on 24th August, this time via an entirely undeniable violation of Ukrainian sovereignty?

Maybe it is to insure that there is still a Kremlin sponsored fight to negotiate the settlement of in Minsk on 26th August, when 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 all meet?

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?  An immediate retort to the statement of President Poroshenko yesterday, when he stated “We will not let anyone call into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state. Our state doesn’t threaten anyone. It is peaceful and doesn’t want to make war.”  This latest action immediately calling into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state again.  To be sure, President Poroshenko has been seeking to enter any negotiations from a position of strength too.

Maybe it has far more to do with the domestic Russian audience seeing that The Kremlin leadership will act in Ukraine within or without international norms and laws (again) prior to any negotiated settlements in Minsk – those negotiations clearly about far more than the situation in eastern Ukraine looking at the attendees.  Gas and trade are clearly on the agenda too.

The Russian domestic audience and domestic policy is certainly a major driver in Russian foreign policy – especially so in relation to nations on its periphery.  Domestic perception matters – and matters greatly.  A (perhaps final) act of “Russian power” in defiance of all international agreements prior to a negotiated exit in eastern Ukraine (as far as fighting is concerned)?

That said, it’s still not clear what The Kremlin will come away with from the Minsk meeting should it decide to end hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Time will very, very soon tell.

 

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