Archive for September 21st, 2014

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The end of the beginning – Ukraine

September 21, 2014

In the late hours of yesterday, a 9 point plan to in effect freeze the conflict in eastern Ukraine was hammered out.  As has become the pattern,  immediately before, during, and after any such talks, fighting has increased, rather than decreased.

The 9 point plan appears to be a rather loosely worded bastard child born of both President Poroshenko’s and President Putin’s respective peace plans.  Thus it can be expected that only the very few points that are contained within both presidential plans will actually be adhered to by both sides.

Nevertheless, for reasons of political and legal expediency for both Russia and Ukraine, not to mention the EU, IMF, WB, OSCE etc., the ceasefire will be deemed as holding.  Only a gross violation of it, such as the fall of Donetsk airport or the city of Mariupol would probably constitute acknowledgement of its failure – and perhaps the fall of Donetsk airport would not be deemed enough even then.  The fall of Mariupol could not, however, be ignored.

Thus for Ukraine, the ceasefire need to be seen to officially hold to facilitate the 26th October elections, as well as further IMF lending in the winter, whereby Ukraine hopes that the 3rd and 4th tranches will be simultaneously released by the IMF.  A recognition of war simply puts an end to both necessary events for Ukraine.

For the Kremlin, further overt action would be needed to push on westward as local support simply isn’t there to augment its irregular and regular fighters in eastern Ukraine.  That in turn may lead to further sanctions.  By the turn of the year, the sanctions already in place will begin to bite in Russia.  A year from now they will actually hurt significantly.

The removal of Russian forces, irregular or regular from Ukrainian soil seems unlikely – but there will be a pretense of removal in the hope of then pressuring Kremlin Trojan Horses and the weakest European links to lessen the current EU sanctions.  The robust continuance of sanctions is a significant factor in the eventual outcome for Ukraine.  Sanctions cause damage over time – and the Europe/Ukraine/Russia confrontation is now set for the long term, both on and off the military battlefield.

Also, having scored a major political victory in delaying the DCFTA until 31st December 2015, it is also unlikely to throw that card away too swiftly by pushing onward on Ukrainian ground this calendar year, to the point where the EU and Ukraine throw Russia out of the negotiating room it has just forced its way into, and return to the DCFTA unchanged and without any delays.  It is for this reason The Kremlin seeks to gain a legal instrument from all parties to prevent implementation prior to 31 December 2015 – though they will be foolish to provide such.

The freezing of the armed conflict territorially in eastern Ukraine – should it hold more or less – is therefore nothing more than the end of the beginning.

As has been written before on the blog, cities such as Odessa have far less to fear from military invasion than they do from a coercive political assault amongst their corrupt political class and weak institutions.  Only should such a political assault fail entirely, would the real prospect of military confrontation in Odessa rear its head.  Such a confrontation would certainly bring about a reaction from Europe that would inflict serious damage on The Kremlin one way or another very quickly.  The cost of physically taking the city for The Kremlin would be immense both in body count and western reaction – far outstripping anything seen so far.  Therefore incessant political coercion and subterfuge is likely to be the chosen battlefield for Odessa unless The Kremlin decides to “go for broke”, quite literally.

To be entirely blunt, it suits all parties to freeze battlefield matters until the turn of the year if an acceptable position to freeze in, is found for all parties –  (aside form sporadic clashes where finger pointing as to who is responsible occurs).  If no such position is found, of course, matters in eastern Ukraine will continue as they have been these past months until one such a position is found.

On the presumption a freeze occurs – even if only until some time next year – the fight will then become more prominent  in other sectors.

There will be the political shenanigans within certain cities in order to turn them from a “united Ukraine” position to a “special status” position.  Kharkiv, Kherson and Odessa the most likely major targets.

There will be the usual gas games, other farcical economic pressures with Ukrainian products mysteriously and suddenly failing to meet Russian standards after having met them for decades.

The Kremlin will work on its friendly nations within the  EU as well as those over which it holds economic leverage to undermine existing sanctions.

All of these happen now of course and in concert with events on the battleground in eastern Ukraine – however as one area of physical conflict cools, The Kremlin will naturally turn up the heat on another area of political or economic life – or both.  Matters will be kept “hot” one way or another.

As much as a short term freeze may suit The Kremlin today, time is not on The Kremlin side if it is to prevent Ukraine from leaving its orbit.  That, in case we have forgotten, is what this is all about – The Kremlin resorted to military action to slow down the Ukrainian trajectory out of The Kremlin orbit.  It grabbed a somewhat strategic peninsula in Crimea whilst it could, fully prepared to take the international response for doing so, but in eastern Ukraine such action occurs whilst it scrambles around looking for other ways to keep Ukraine within its orbit.  It has, at most, bought itself until 31st December 2015 by delaying the DCFTA implementation.

Even an averagely successful, truly independent and genuinely democratic Ukraine becomes a major threat to a Kremlin machine built on and around endemic and ingrained corruption and repression.  The Kremlin needs poor and dysfunctional neighbours to remain the centre of anything.

Though clearly the intentional destabilisation of relations with most Russian neighbours is nothing more than an Orwellian-esque  doublethink exercise in threat generation for its own domestic constituency, carried out in order to justify and legitimise the Kremlin shift toward a Russian Military Complex capable of retaking and controlling all the FSU territories, a successfully departing Ukraine from Kremlin orbit, would certainly mean trouble for those other neighbours.

Thus if the EU and Ukraine do meet 1st January 2016 in full accordance with the AA and DCFTA, then currently there appears no alternative to yet another round of warfare – unless by that date, the sanctions are still in place and will therefore really be hurting.  Then perhaps a trade off of sanctions removal for uninhibited DCFTA can be engineered.

Further meaningful Kremlin military intervention therefore, is likely to come long before 31st December 2015, should it feel there is no way to completely scupper the DCFTA – however having managed to eek out the opportunity to do so, it will not squander that opportunity unnecessarily.

If the EU and Ukraine manage to hold it together and sanctions do instill a significant amount of pain over the next 15 months to the unlikely culmination of The Kremlin letting Ukraine go, then The Kremlin will need another target nation or entity to occupy the State controlled media and propaganda fed minds of the Russian public.  Preferably not a neighbour that will draw the same level of response from the western nations with whom they have agreements.

The end of the beginning, perhaps is now almost with us.

The beginning of the end for somebody, will be toasted in with the Year of the Sheep – perhaps appropriately, as somebody will begin an ever evident, and yet unwitting, journey as a lamb to the slaughter.

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