Tuesday 24 June 2014

Has Poroshenko made a U-turn?

Very meticulous analysis by Alexander Mercouris who pays close and very good attention to signs and details. On my part, I would say: let's give this new game a chance.

I would also add that today's leak about Poland's disgracefulRussophobic servility apparently helped remove Poland from the original trio (Germany, France, and Poland) which blessed and stood behind the February 21 "agreement" that put the current oligarchic dictatorship in power in Kiev. So the timing appears to be effective. Not a long time ago, Poland and its "foreign policy" were praised as making Poland nearly a new great power (before its fall). In reality, though, Poland's Russophobic servility to the US was verging (we don't need to go here all the way) on political prostitution, which made the Polish government serving as a pimp to the new fascists, heirs to the Banderites (who killed some 100,000 Poles).

Now, the new dynamic is giving France a historic opportunity to grow some balls or at least a spine--for the first time since de Gaulle, and Germany a unique historical opportunity as well as responsibility to save Europe and the world from an ultimate case of US imperial madness, which wedded itself to new Nazism in Ukraine and to pushing all of us into the doors of a world war.

A key element in this ought to be a reaffirmation of the powers that matter to the principle of de-nazification which is at the foundation of the post-World War II order and it is so for a very good reason--in the form of 70 million dead.

And, of course, the Kiev regime should pay what it owes to Russia for gas.

--Vladimir Suchan

Poroshenko's U-turn

Alexander Mercoulis

After refusing to negotiate with the resistance Poroshenko has done just that. The result is that following the bogus "unilateral ceasefire" we now have an actual genuine mutually agreed ceasefire.

A number of points:

1. It is no coincidence that the ceasefire happened on the same day as a telephone conversation between Poroshenko and Merkel.

2. Poroshenko has previously consistently refused to enter into any talks with the resistance. When he purported to announce his ceasefire a few days ago he did it unilaterally. In his conversation with Merkel and Hollande yesterday Putin however insisted that negotiations with the resistance were an essential element of any peace process. There is no hint either in the Kremlin's report of this telephone conversation or in any statement from Germany or France that has been made since that conversation that either Merkel or Hollande disputed Putin's demand.

3. I would add that Putin made the same point in the two Kremlin statements I discussed previously (see below on this page) and on the occasion of his visit yesterday to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

4. The same points have of course also been made by Lavrov in even more forceful language. It is interesting how Lavrov plays hard cop to Putin's soft cop (Molotov and Stalin played the same game). This should fool no one. Their positions are the same.

5. As I discussed in a thread to a comment of Mark Sleboda's on his Facebook page, Merkel and Hollande boxed themselves into a corner by committing Germany and France to sectoral sanctions on Russia in the event of escalation of the crisis in the Ukraine. Merkel and Hollande made that commitment at a time when US and European leaders claimed to be concerned about the threat of a Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine. That threat had no reality as Merkel and Hollande would have known in light of the assurances Putin would have given them over the course of the numerous telephone conversations he had with both of them (Merkel especially). Merkel and Hollande therefore made the commitment in the belief that they would never be required to honour it. What they never anticipated any more than any other western leader did was the popular uprising in the Donbas. When it became clear that the US would demand sectoral sanctions if the conflict in the Donbas was not brought to a stop the pressure was on Merkel and Hollande to bring the conflict to a stop so as to avoid having to impose sectoral sanctions on Russia that would have badly damaged the German and French economies. Given Putin's insistence that direct talks between the parties was the only way of bringing the conflict to a stop that made it all but inevitable that they would force Poroshenko to agree to such talks.

6. In other words the threat of sectoral sanctions has ended up working to Russia's diplomatic advantage once it became clear that Russia's terms were the only ones upon which the conflict could be brought to a stop.

7. The talks that took place today in Donetsk have therefore been externally imposed. Left to itself the junta would never have agreed to them as shown by Poroshenko's outright refusal to agree to direct talks and his fantastic demand that the resistance disarm and flee to Russia when he unveiled his "peace plan" a few days ago. A sign of how politically difficult and embarrassing for Poroshenko today's talks are is his decision to use Leonid Kuchma (a former President, Yanukovitch's patron and a hate figure for the Maidan movement at the time of the Orange Revolution) as his representative in the talks in an obvious ruse to distance himself from them and to deflect criticism inside the junta from himself (see Vladimir Suchan on the sort of person Kuchma is).

8. The fact that the talks have taken place at all and that the ceasefire that Russia has been demanding for weeks is now in place must be considered a success for Russian diplomacy. It will have been particularly humiliating for Obama to be informed of all of this by Putin in a telephone conversation the two of them had today.

9. The biggest credit however must go to the people of the Donbas whose uprising and resistance in the face of frightening odds has fought the junta to a standstill and forced the junta contrary to its wishes to the negotiating table on however tenuous a basis.

10. It is important however to stress that the talks that took place today are purely exploratory, they are in no sense a constitutional negotiation of the sort the Russians have been insisting upon and that the only outcome of today's talks is a brief ceasefire that is due to end on Friday. It is absolutely clear that the junta remains as fundamentally opposed to serious constitutional negotiations as ever. The greatest possible pressure will have to be maintained on the junta to ensure that constitutional talks take place and the same pressure will be needed to ensure that those talks do not end in deadlock but actually go somewhere. Disarmament in this situation for the resistance is not an option. Far from this being the end of the conflict it is arguably for the resistance the moment of greatest danger when they will have to convert the advantage their courage on the battlefield and Russian diplomacy have won for them into concrete political gains. To those (Vladimir Suchan, Mark Sleboda) who are concerned that the resistance may be sold down the river by a Russian government intent on pursuing its own interests, this is the moment when the greatest vigilance is needed.

8. There are some hopeful signs:

(1) a key factor in today's agreement is that the junta has been forced to agree to the presence of Russian ceasefire monitors in the Donbas alongside those from the OSCE. A few days ago the White House was insisting that the US would oppose a Russian military presence in the Ukraine under any circumstances. It is now happening in the form of ceasefire monitors (who will of course be military officials) and the junta itself has been forced to agree to it. The numbers are of course nominal but the mere fact of their presence on the ground fundamentally alters the political calculus.,

(2) The Russians were directly involved in today's talks in the person of Zubarov the (incompetent) Russian ambassador. Importantly no representative of any of the western powers is reported to have participated. The OSCE was represented by the Swiss lawyer/diplomat Heidi Tagliavini who some years ago wrote an EU commissioned report that clearly identified Saakashvili (currently serving as the junta's adviser) as the initiator of the 2008 South Ossetia war.

More importantly the Kremlin released today a statement that identified Viktor Medvedchuk (a Ukrainian businessman and politician on the US/EU sanctions list) who participated in the talks as a person in whom it has confidence.

This may mean that it was Medvedchuk (who is believed to be personally close to Putin) who was the true representative of the Kremlin at today's talks. The Kremlin statement significantly commends Medvedchuk's support for the Ukraine's federalisation, which suggests that this remains the Kremlin's objective and that the resistance can continue to rely on the Kremlin's support in pursuing it.

(3) Though nothing is guaranteed the mere fact that the junta has been forced into direct talks with the resistance even if only on the subject of the ceasefire means that diplomatic pressure is likely to continue from Russia and Europe for the junta to enter into substantive constitutional negotiations. The same political imperative that obliged Merkel and Hollande to push Poroshenko into today's talks will surely require them to continue to push him into constitutional negotiations. This provides some assurance that these negotiations will begin soon. The time frame however is desperately short with the ceasefire due to end as soon as Friday. The immediate pressure will be to extend it.

However, against all this there are the following worrying counter signs

(1) Federalisation may no longer correspond with the Donbas's aspirations. It probably would have commanded majority support in March. After the murder and mayhem of the "anti terrorist operation" it is no longer clear that it does. Realistically it may be the best that is on offer given that Russia remains committed to the preservation of the Ukraine's formal unity. However the extent to which federalisation will be seen in the Donbas as a victory commensurate with the suffering of recent weeks probably depends on what precisely "federalisation" in the end actually means. A Swiss style canton like system allowing individual regions very broad autonomy and rights to pursue their own commercial relations independently of each other might suit the Donbas. The kind of relationship Russian regions have with Moscow almost certainly would not. The devil will be in the detail and here if negotiations start the resistance would be unwise to rely on Russia to do its work for them.

(2) I am frankly worried about the presence of Medvedchuk and Tsariev in the talks. Neither has compromised with the junta, both have been the subject of threats and both are on the US/EU sanctions list. However both are former PoR politicians. Moscow's biggest mistake in its handling of the Ukraine has been its decision to limit its contacts to a PoR establishment that proved corrupt and incompetent and which is now completely discredited. I hope this pattern is not repeating itself and that we are not seeing a situation where the Kremlin is choosing the political leadership of the resistance for it.

(3) a federalised Ukraine risks leaving the fascist junta in Kiev still in place (see Vladimir Suchan about this). In itself that is dangerous. However it is also arguably something of an abandonment of the rest of the Ukraine. At the very least it is essential that Russia is made guarantor of any federal structure to prevent the junta at some point in the future from going back on whatever it is obliged to concede. In saying this however I must also say that federalisation amounting to the effective partition of the Ukraine would be such a massive blow to the junta and to the whole Maidan movement that I think it would be unlikely to survive in power for very long. A comparison might turn out to be with Saakashvili who clung on for a while after his defeat in the 2008 South Ossetia war but whose political credibility in the end was so damaged by it that it eventually caused his fall.

In summary, Russia has wrested back the diplomatic initiative after the political defeat it suffered as a result of the coup in February. However the interests of Russia and of the resistance in the Donbas though they overlap are not identical. A small but important battle has been won but the struggle is far from over. The most difficult part of the struggle is still ahead and the outcome is still in doubt. It is a good sign that the resistance continues to insist that the Ukrainian military entirely withdraw from the Donbas as a condition of getting constitutional talks to start. Political pressure should now be brought to bear to secure this.

Alexander Mercoulis is a frequent contributor to discussion on Russia on RT.  His most recent contribution is HERE

Comments from, Mark Sleboda

Well-worded and thought-through. Problems I see with this:

1. On the ground the ceasefire is a complete fiction, although perhaps an agreed-upon fiction atm. The catalogue of violations of it is already so long as to not be worth listing.. Regime forces never stopped shelling which continued even last night, airstrikes were made hours after its announcement, and paramilitary forces continue attacks. Further more and more heavy gear and weapons are being moved into area around Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and Lugansk's border with Russia under pretext of this "ceasefire". Whether all of the disparate NAF forces and groups are represented by the negotiating leaders and will uphold ceasefire in face of Regime attacks that everyone in media and politics are busy pretending aren't happening is doubtful.

2. It is unlikely that the NAF fighters or the people of the Donbass will ever agree to be part of a united even federalized Ukraine that has spent last few months calling them all "terrorists" and trying to exterminate them. Would you in their shoes?

3. It is unlikely that either the Maiden or the ultranationalist/fascist crazies on the street or in Rada will abide by any ceasefire or let this stand. They will both continue attacks in East, exert pressure on Regime to cease negotiations and resume full-scale attacks, and stage protests and occupations in Kiev against Regime for negotiating with "subhuman terrorists".

4. On June 27th day ceasefire is to end, the EU Neoliberal Suicide Pact is to be fully signed committing all of Ukraine to second class colony status to Brussels. Not a coincidence these dates, showing this "ceasefire" as PR fiction for hand-wringing EU politicians benefit to assuage their conscience. EU will not budge from fiction that Poroshenko has right or mandate to do this as it is the culmination of all their machinations since November. And after it is signed and a fait accompli?

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