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Time for a swift re-framing during the lull?

February 28, 2015

Though a ceasefire remains far from in effect in eastern Ukraine, it is fair to say there is something of a lull in the fighting.  Indeed there was an entire 24 hours where nobody died, though it is the exception and not the rule.

Today heavy weaponry has started to be pulled back – certainly by the Ukrainian side, OSCE observers yet to confirm the same by the Russian sponsored side at the time of writing.

In the meantime, since Minsk II was agreed, Ukraine has signed a military and defence cooperation agreement with the UAE – which despite Ukrainian pretensions, does not mean the UAE will be sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine, as the above link preempted in its final paragraph.

“Thus we shall have to wait and see what, if anything, the military cooperation deal with the UAE actually amounts to.”

It never pays to take any statement upon face value, as today’s statements from the UAE underline – “The UAE and Ukraine signed an agreement on military and security cooperation… The agreement does not foresee any deals on weapon deliveries between the countries.” – Faris Mazrouei, UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Security and Military Affairs.

However, having been overly meek, entirely reactionary – and belated at that – throughout the Kremlin’s military adventures and illegal annexations in Ukraine, perhaps the lull (ceasefire is simply an untruth) can be used for some proactive reframing of the “arming Ukraine” debate by the western hawks.

If both the Kremlin and the West are content to see the current lull as generally in line with Minsk II – then there is a question that the western doves/don’t arm Ukraine lobby must now face.  That question is when to accept the sale of lethal arms to a Ukraine that is not under any embargoes when it comes to its military shopping?

Only the seriously deluded can expect a normalisation of Ukrainian-Russian relations within the next generation – regardless of any perceived win, lose or draw for either nation.  Surely the meek and weak western doves are not so meek and weak as to never to accept Ukraine to arming itself to the benefit of foreign MICs, fearful of the potentially nasty Kremlin response – for a generation?

France has seemingly agreed to supply Ukraine with electronic warfare (EW) and drones via a deal signed with Thales, according to  Oleh Hladkovskiy, First Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.  The more cynical will perhaps believe it only when they see it – or the French/Thales confirm any such agreement.

Drones and EW however, are not high tech defensive lethal weaponry it has to be said – but advanced defensive weaponry it is.

As it is clearly OK for Germany’s Daimler to team up with Kamaz to produce armoured trucks that may well end up in occupied Ukrainian territory, or northern Kazakhstan pulling a howitzer, or Azerbaijan carrying spetsnaz to blow a gas pipeline carrying Azeri  gas to the EU, in the current circumstances, perhaps it is equally OK for Poland to send Javelin firing mechanisms, but no delivery system or missiles, Romania to send delivery systems but no missiles or firing mechanisms, and Lithuania to send missiles, but neither firing mechanisms nor delivery systems to Ukraine – and then claim innocence when they are used for something they, as individual components, have no lethal outcomes?

Sarcasm aside however, the smart western hawks may perhaps point to the lull as compliance with Minsk II (as the weak western doves will), together with the apparent French decision to fulfill part of the Ukrainian weaponry shopping list (from a decidedly timid French administration) as a starting point.

Not a starting point for arming Ukraine during war/conflict as matters are currently framed and/or perceived – but with some swift and nimble soft power and diplomacy, reframing the situation and the issue to that of arming a Ukraine at peace – whilst the lull lasts and it is politically expedient for all sides to pretend Minsk II is being adhered to.

How long the window for any such attempt to reframe the arming Ukraine issue will last – who knows?

As Director of U.S. National Intelligence James R. Clapper stated today, “We do not believe that an attack on Mariupol is imminent. I believe they will wait until the spring before they attack.”  Perhaps so, but tomorrow is 1st March, traditionally recognised as the start of Spring, albeit it is deemed to end 31st May.

It is certainly not in The Kremlin interests to press onward now in any meaningful way.  It too can do with a period of letting the dust settle militarily (even if the war continues on political, diplomatic and economic fronts).  It’s interests may well be best served by playing to the European doves as the more serious/painful EU sanctions are due for renewal between now and June.  If and when it is certain they will be reimposed, then it may decide to continue toward – or around – Mariupol.  If it thinks some of the most important sanctions will be relaxed, then it will wait until they are allowed to expire before pressing onward – knowing that any re-imposition would be questionable once they have expired.

In the meantime those in eastern Ukraine will have to be content with nibbling away at Ukrainian lines without any notable gains, whilst the Kremlin pockets any Ukrainian or European concessions that may be offered or extracted through other levers.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that The Kremlin is prepared to hock eastern Russia to the Chinese in the pursuit of control over Ukraine.

“There used to be a psychological barrier. Now it doesn’t exist any more. We are interested in maximum investments in new industries. China is an obvious investor for us.” – Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich

“Putin is currently in a tough situation. We all know this. One of the ways to help him get out of the mess is trying to improve ties with China.  It has been very difficult for CNPC to do upstream cooperation in Russia under Putin. We have tried numerous times before, to no avail. Now the situation has changed, the chance of doing that is higher.”  said a senior Chinese oil industry official familiar with CNPC’s strategy and Sino-Russian energy cooperation.

(It’s very clear who is negotiating from a position of strength in that conversation).

Returning to eastern Ukraine, there are perhaps 2 months in which to re-frame the arming of a Ukraine at war debate, to one of arming a Ukraine at peace (before war starts again), and setting that perception in the public space.

Whether that can be achieved, whether there is even the will to try, or whether any such reframing will be attempted prior to, or after having quietly armed Ukraine anyway – who knows?

How long before the western hawks call out the doves on any expedient “ceasefire/peace” interpretation and use it as a premise to arm a “Ukraine at peace”?

What is certain is that sooner or later, a Ukraine that is not subject to any arms embargoes will rearm itself with the weaponry it wants – with or without either European or Kremlin consent or tacit approval.  There is always an arms seller/supplier for any buyer – embargoed or not.  That is the world we live in.

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