Archive for December 16th, 2017

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Russia to withdraw officers from the JCCC

December 16, 2017

Buried within the 15th December OSCE SSM (Special Monitoring Mission) report that outlines the daily deaths, carnage, infrastructure damage and general misery in eastern Ukraine, there were a few lines that stood out – “On 14 December, the Ukrainian Armed Forces representative to the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) in the JCCC headquarters in government-controlled Soledar (79km north of Donetsk) shared with the SMM a letter from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation informing Ukraine that the Russian Federation would withdraw its Armed Forces officers from the JCCC.”

Obviously there are questions to be asked.

The first clearly relates to the veracity of the letter purportedly from the Russian MoD.

Secondly if the letter is authentic (which is possibly is), does the Russian MoD have any intention of actually going through with the withdrawal of its officers from the JCCC?

A reader will by now have become more than skeptical about any proclamations emanating from The Kremlin, the Russian State institutions or much of its media.  That is not to say all such emissions are fake, fraudulent or deliberately misleading.   While trust in The Kremlin has gone, there is a requirement for objectivity when analysing the Russian noise to locate and understand any specific signal – or signals.

Even if a reader has reached a conclusion about “what Russia wants”, and even if a reader has an informed understanding about how the Russian national and international machinery, both formal and informal, have been, are, and will continue to be employed to achieve those goals, objective analysis is required to “best guess” what, where, how, when, why and who is next.

What is connected to what – and what is not?  More than a decade ago a Russian diplomat (or “diplomat”) told the blog that “Everything and nothing is connected if we want it to be“.  Hardly a revelation, for ever thus has been the game, but perhaps worth reiterating nonetheless.

As such intelligence is not simply a matter of collection, collation, analysis and dissemination – ie. being able to produce answers when questions are asked – but perhaps more so about asking particularly difficult questions in the first place.

Ergo why would The Kremlin decide (or appear to have decided) to remove its military officers from the JCCC?

In and of itself those officers participating in the JCCC have no budgetary impact for Russia whatsoever.  The intelligence they produce through interaction with the Ukrainian military and the OSCE SMM would surely demand they remain in post.  (To be entirely clear, the JCCC is not an OSCE entity.)

Between the Russian officers within the JCCC and the Russians participating within the OSCE SMM patrols, any Russian intelligence agency would be loathed to see such personnel removed from these formal structures.

Indeed President Putin’s recent and incredibly dull annual press conference gave not the slightest indication of a policy change toward the occupied Donbas.  Unless geography radically changes through earth-shattering seismic shifts, Ukraine, as a neighbour, will always be more important to The Kremlin than any other adventures in MENA or beyond.  If the bullets do eventually stop, then the war will continue by every other means possible.

That said, just because there is no hint at a Kremlin policy change, at least insofar as stopping the death and destruction in eastern Ukraine, that doesn’t mean there won’t be one – and the timing of that is ultimately dictated by The Kremlin regardless of the current pressure put upon it and individuals surrounding it.  The Kremlin is engaged in a war of exhaustion and clearly feels it can continue to absorb the current level of pain inflicted upon it.

So, if it appears to make very little sense to remove Russian officers from the JCCC from an intelligence point of view, where does that leave us?  How does their removal affect the Ukrainians?  Would they be anymore “blind” to Russian intentions without Russian MoD input at the JCCC?  Are there any direct effects to the civilian population, or to humanitarian aid?

Clearly almost 4 years into this war, the Ukrainians have long since set up networks and also have “external assistance” to understand what is occurring within the occupied Donbas.

Would Russia leaving the JCCC mean a Russian offensive is nigh?  If so does it not pay to leave such personnel embedded within such organisations to gather intelligence upon the effectiveness – or otherwise – of such an offensive?  Or to learn of counteroffensive measures?

If this removal is not directly connected to the events on the ground in and around the occupied Donbas, what is it connected to – if anything?

Is it perhaps the on-going attempts to return the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe and PACE structures – despite having done nothing to mitigate the declarations and resolutions of those entities that witnessed Russia lose many of its rights within?

Russia has hinted it will leave if not allowed to return.  That would deny Russians access to the European Court of Human Rights, and by extension further weaken human rights NGOs within Russia.  The political rallying cry by some leaders of these institutions is that this should not be allowed to happen.

A cynical reader will understand that financial contributions by Member States of these institutions is based upon national GDP, making Russia one of the biggest financial contributors.  Many will view Russian money rather than Russian human rights as the motivator for some institutional leaders muting the return of Russia – despite in doing so making these institutions ethically empty.

Nevertheless, without Russian money, the budget is less, and the “impact” of these organisations on the ground thus diminished as fewer “projects” can be funded throughout the region.

So be it.

The entire CoE and PACE structures would be fatally wounded by allowing Russia to resume its place having conceded nothing over why its rights were curtailed in the first place.

Further although being a member of as many “international clubs” as is possible may give the appearance of a “globally engaged Russia”,  how much interest has The Kremlin in these particular institutions?  It has no veto power as it does within the UNSC.  Indeed, theoretically it has as much weight as Malta – which is why Russia would never join the EU, for it would face the same situation of being an equal of many – but no more..

Thus these are hardly international formats whereby getting things done on Kremlin terms (or not at all) is forthcoming.  So is it worth the expense and continued shunning from a Kremlin perspective – short of these institutions prostrating themselves before The Kremlin and publicly surrendering all that they claim to stand for?

If Russia leaves, with or without the CoE leadership rediscovering both their spine and moral compass, how then can the Russians remain part of the OSCE SMM if not members?

Therefore, was Mr Putin’s suggestion of a UN peacekeeping force (albeit on Russian terms) a forewarning of its decision to leave the CoE and PACE, and yet retain its official agents in the field in and around the occupied Donbas?  After all the UNSC remains a vital tool of Kremlin foreign policy, whereas the CoE and PACE clearly have a much more limited use.

If The Kremlin has decided to kick the CoE and PACE to the curb (to the laments of the distraught bean counters and project managers within), and thus perhaps sacrifices its OSCE SMM personnel (and agents therein), is there sufficient reason to retain the Russian military officers within the JCCC?  After all, Russia claims it isn’t involved despite all evidence to the contrary.

If as a result of a Russian exit from Coe and PACE, the circumstances in and surrounding the occupied Donbas suddenly worsen – quite by coincidence of course – yet The Kremlin pushes onward with the UN peacekeeper option upon its own terms, will others give concessions to deescalate promptly?

Should the JCCC decision be linked to the OSCE SMM Russian personnel or the CoE and PACE at all?

Does direct Russian involvement appear lessened by removing Russian military officers from the JCCC, while retaining its personnel in a OSCE SMM international format if the CoE and PACE leaderships crumble at the thought of drastically reduced funding?

Is The Kremlin simply seeking to remove itself from as many official and/or visible formats relating to the occupied Donbas – while obviously still very much keeping control over them?  The JCCC perhaps being one of many such moves in the offing?

Could this move be prompted by the Ukrainian law likely to be passed next week that names Russia as an aggressor and the occupied Donbas exactly that – “temporarily occupied territories”.  What implications, if any, then under the Hague and Vienna Conventions (among others perhaps)?

Would the passing of this law signify a time for all overt direct influences to be seen to be cut in order to reinvigorate the “civil war” narrative in an attempt to avoid any possible repercussions under international law?  Is it designed to force the Ukrainian military to open an official channel of communication with the “Republics”?

Are there yet other reasons to pull out of the JCCC – or at least threaten to do so?

How does this dot change the picture?  How should it be joined to the others, and to which others should it be joined if a reader is to arrive at something approaching an accurate analysis of current Kremlin thinking?

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