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A fundamental question – Where is democracy’s eastern border to be?

January 28, 2015

With the war in eastern Ukraine continuing with no end in sight – as expected by anybody with a reasonable understanding of The Kremlin, its motivation and desired outcomes – with yet more Ukrainian territory being lost almost by the day over recent weeks, a fundamental question, based upon facts on the ground, has to be asked.

The question is where, hopefully collectively with Ukraine, has “the west” decided that the eastern-most border of its shared political, economic, social, ethical and moral values will be.

The official line has to be that the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine must be respected in line with international rule of law, and thus Ukraine’s official eastern-most border would be that line, in recognition that The Kremlin has not the slightest interest in being like – or wanting to be like, the west. But that is not the current situation on the ground.

Indeed the clocks running concurrently for Ukraine and the Kremlin are not synchronised when it comes to critical time lines.  Sanctions, oil prices etc., alone may eventually beat the Kremlin given enough time – but Ukraine does not necessarily have that amount time.  Simply throwing just enough money at Ukraine to keep it afloat in the hope of synchronising those clocks will do little to prevent further loss of Ukrainian territory in the meantime.

That Ukraine has under-mobilized, chosen some dubious military defensive lines, and is suffering from questionably poor military and political leadership regarding this war simply makes matters worse.

Yet The Kremlin is not only at war with Ukraine for wanting to head west, but it is at war with the post WWII architecture – political, legal, economic, ethical, social and moral as well as being at war over the post Cold War territorial outcomes – overtly and covertly.

There are fundamental differences held by Ukraine and the west vis a vis The Kremlin at the root of this war that are simply not going to be negotiated or appeased away – particularly so as the Kremlin has now managed to get itself stuck in an aggressive posture in Ukraine, with no new ideas.  Hence it will keep doing what it is doing until eventually stopped, or it forces a bad peace on Ukraine and the Kremlin wins.

If the Kremlin feels it needs another Oblast to be certain of controlling Kyiv politics, it will take one unless stopped.  It is not about how much Ukrainian territory it holds – it is only about holding enough to insure the desired result – political control. +/- Mariupol, +/- Kharkiv or Kherson in the grand scheme of things are an irrelevance to the Kremlin.  It is about control of the destination of Ukraine by doing enough to accomplish that – No more and no less.

If it is necessary to portray Ukrainian troops as a NATO legion and have an entirely overt Russian military adventure into another Oblast, the Kremlin will do so.  If it is not necessary, it won’t.

Momentum and initiative remains with a Kremlin that has absolutely no intention of returning Ukraine’s border control to Ukraine, thus surrounding its “proxies” and severing supply.  To think otherwise is entirely delusional.  It also has no intention of annexation or overly financing these invaded regions. Though the “terrorists/rebels/separatists/criminals/warlords/Orthodox jihadists” may have slightly different territorial aims to the Russian troops, ultimately these territories have no future without being client mini-states of the Kremlin either way – or they face a return to Ukraine should the west and Ukraine roll back the Kremlin gains.  A return to Ukraine is not coming any time soon.

Thus continuing to message a strategy of doing just enough, is not enough – because it hasn’t been enough.  Neither has any response been timely enough.  The initiative has to be taken from The Kremlin, because the Kremlin has simply run out of ideas and thus is stuck on its current course of a zero sum, win at (almost) all costs on the Ukrainian front.

Half-hearted half-measures leave Ukraine in the worst of possible places – but if Ukraine wants more robust western assistance, it has to be more robust itself, meaning leading the international political initiatives against the Kremlin instead of waiting for others to do so.  Man up/mobilise over and above what so far is equivalent to a small football stadium of men.  Stoically reform, even if with baby steps, despite incredibly difficult circumstances.  Write budgets that are genuinely politically brave, rather than those submitted knowing the IMF will change them, but then having the option to blame the IMF rather than take responsibility for unpopular choices itself.  Explain the options and choices it faces transparently with its constituents – and why which route is to be taken.

For Ukraine, this is a war.  It should not try and pretend otherwise, regardless of what official title it may want or need to give it, for whatever legal or politically expedient reasons.

For the west, this is a crisis, if we accept that a crisis is protecting core values and interests without engaging in conventional warfare.

For the Kremlin it is a multifaceted war far exceeding the geographical limitations of Ukraine, but one with the very foundations of western democratic architecture – albeit a war it will ultimately lose.

Ukraine and the west have to present the Kremlin with a significant challenge across all the fronts upon which it is waging war – both within and without of Ukraine.  The initiative has to be seized from the Kremlin.

In order to do so, it would perhaps be beneficial to identify, even if privately behind the curtain, just where the eastern borders of western democracy and shared values – if only temporarily in the distant hope of rolling back the Kremlin held ground in Ukraine – is going to physically be.

Will it include Ukraine at all – if so, what’s in and what’s out?

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