As the provocations and ceasefire breaches on the part of the Kiev junta intensify, the ‘Normandy Four’ (i.e. France, Germany, Russia and the junta) have met in Berlin for the first time in a year. But whilst Russia does its best to help broker a political settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, and whilst the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk demonstrate their readiness to engage with the Minsk process by supporting non-binding elections across the Donbass, Kiev is obsessed solely with trying to persuade Germany and France to get behind its campaign for international observers to be handed guns and told to patrol the Donbass/Russian border. Meanwhile as ‘president’ Poroshenko fiddles, Ukraine’s economy burns, scorched by the consequences of enslavement to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The junta turns up the heat
After the February 2015 Minsk agreement, there was some temporary diminution in the attacks launched by the junta, but over time these increased again. Again, after a unilateral ceasefire by the Donbass republics, brokered by Russia, put diplomatic pressure on the regime to back off, there was a further temporary diminution in violence (in relative terms only, be it understood: nightly ‘low-level’ shelling continued to terrify the population of Donbass throughout). But now it seems that the ceasefire breaches and other provocations are reaching a new level.
Under the Minsk memorandum of 2014, combat aviation and drones are banned in the ceasefire zone, with the exception of the surveillance drones employed by Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers. Yet on 13 October, for the first recorded time since January 2015, the Ukrainian army flouted this ban, trying to use a combat helicopter to carry out an attack on defensive militia positions. According to vice-commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) militia, Eduard Basurin, the helicopter, forced to ditch on the outskirts of the Krasnogorovka settlement when it came under fire, had on board “several military instructors from NATO member states” (‘Helicopter downed by Donbass militia reportedly had NATO instructors on board’, TASS, 14 October 2016) .
Another straw in the wind was the assassination on 16 October of a much-respected militia leader by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in what authorities described as “state-level terrorism”. Pavel Arsen Sergeyevich, whose nom de guerre was ‘Motorola’, was murdered by means of an explosive device detonated remotely as he and comrades were going up in the lift of the tenement block in which he lived (see ‘Zakharchenko blames Ukraine’s security service for Motorola’s murder’, Donetsk News, 18 October 2016) .
The day after this cowardly act, Basurin reported that the Kiev forces, “having decided that they have broken our will of the victory by their terrorist act, again attacked our positions… The enemy started attacking us since 08:00 a.m. in the morning. Despite their massive losses that, according to the preliminary data, amount to 5 dead people and over 10 people wounded the fighters not for the first time assume the offensive during the daytime. At the same time the enemy does not evacuate its dead people and not render the wounded assistance. It seems that they, the Ukrainian fighters’ condition is inadequate, they are under the influence of psychotropic substance. At present time the enemy’s attack has been stopped at the expense of the DPR Armed Forces serviceman’s life. Three servicemen got wounded while defending their land as well. The Ukrainian military violated the ceasefire regime 398 times altogether over the past 24 hours from that number using the heavy artillery and mortars 336 times.” Basurin concluded his situation report on a defiant note: “Despite the fact that we were hurt, the DPR People’s Militia keeps implementing the Minsk Agreements, but patience is not unlimited and it is located near the critical point now. We are ready at any time to properly react to the criminal actions of the Ukrainian-Nazis and terrorists and we are always ready for it” (Eduard Basurin, ‘Donetsk Defence: Situation report’, Donesk News, 17 October 2016).
The timing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation to the heads of state of France, Germany and Russia, along with the junta boss Poroshenko, to Berlin for further ‘Normandy Four’ talks, beginning on 19 October, whilst clearly not accidental, is open to a number of interpretations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov drew attention to one such interpretation: “Take a look at the Ukrainian presidential website and you will read there that Poroshenko, Merkel and Hollande have agreed to hold a Normandy format meeting on October 19 for the purpose of forcing Russia into compliance with the Minsk Accords” (‘Kremlin confirms Putin will take part in Normandy Four talks in Berlin on October 19’, TASS, 18 October 2016). This is a sour joke indeed. Ever since the first Minsk protocol of September 2014 it has been the People’s Republics, guided by Moscow, that have been ready to work with the Minsk process, whilst it has been the Kiev junta, fearful of upsetting the fascist and ultra-nationalist forces to which it owes its existence, that has consistently stonewalled.
Other reasons Merkel might have for summoning everyone to Berlin to talk about Ukraine might be (a) the growing disquiet in the crisis-stricken EU at the economic damage being done as a consequence of tagging along with US sanctions against Russia and (b) the still greater disquiet over the consequences for European countries of getting bounced into military conflict with Russia if US imperialism, faced with a humiliating collapse of its proxy war in Syria, were to lash out in blind fury at Syria’s powerful defender. In short, right now Merkel might be less interested in chastising Moscow for its imaginary sins than in getting Europe unhitched from an Anglo-American war chariot that looks to be careening out of control.
At the beginning of October, citizens of the Donbass flocked to the polls in elections which, whilst acknowledged as ‘non-binding’, effectively served notice that Donetsk and Lugansk are seriously committed to enacting all the provisions of Minsk, not least open and democratic elections. An electoral observer explained: “On the 2nd of October the people of the Lugansk People’s Republic headed to the polls to cast their vote in the primary elections. According to the Minsk agreement, Ukraine should enact laws which would enable the Donbass republics, Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), to hold local elections in their territories. Such laws have not yet been passed and Ukraine has officially signalled that it does not plan to respect the agreement. Due to the circumstances, a suggestion was made by two social movements in the LPR, Peace to Lugansk and the Lugansk Economic Union, that limited non-binding primary elections would be held instead of binding elections. The primary elections have the full support of the official LPR government, but are completely funded and organized by the social movements. According to the Oleg Akimov, the Chairman of the Trade Union Federation of LPR and deputy of the national Council of LPR, the primary elections are principally held to evaluate and test the electoral system, to get a feel for the will of the people and to demonstrate that the LPR is able to hold elections according to the OSCE’s stan-dards” (‘Primary elections in the Lugansk People’s Republic – an observer’s account’, Donetsk News, 3 October 2016). The elections were a bold and courageous step, with, in at least one case, polling carried out hard on the heels of the neighbourhood being shelled the previous night. Many thousands voted in a huge turnout.
Poroshenko dreams of colonising Donbass as Ukraine economy hits the buffers
Meanwhile, Poroshenko remains obsessed with his plan to turn the present unarmed OSCE observers into an armed force tasked with policing the Donbass/Russian border, thereby delivering through ‘diplomacy’ the victory which Kiev’s army and fascist auxiliaries have been unable to secure through war. On 10 October over 15,000 people gathered in Lugansk under a statue of Lenin to denounce these plans for foreign armies effectively to occupy the Donbass.
On the economic front, Ukraine is finding out the hard way why it was that Yanukovich held back from signing the free trade agreement with the EU, and why Poroshenko was no friend of Ukraine when he kicked the stool out from under Yanukovich and signed in his stead. Prior to the agreement coming into effect on 1 January 2016, all Ukrainian goods apart from sugar were exported to the lucrative Russian market tax free. But as was made clear to Poroshenko’s elected predecessor, Russia would be committing economic suicide were it to continue to exempt Ukrainian goods from import tax whilst Ukraine set about removing all taxes from European goods into Ukraine. The obvious consequence would be for tax-free European goods to be re-exported en masse into Russia, undermining Russia’s own home economy (see ‘Russia receives no reply from Kiev on invitation to discuss transit restrictions’, TASS, 10 October 2016). Russia cannot be expected to bail Ukraine out from the hole it has dug for itself with the EU Association Agreement, any more than it can be expected to kiss goodbye to the $3bn debt that the junta still owes to Russia. All that keeps Ukraine on life support is the continuing drip-feed from the IMF in the form of massive loans made in violation of its own rules regarding bad debtors.
In short, the would-be ‘nationalist’ Kiev junta has succeeded only in handing the nation’s destiny over lock, stock and barrel to the IMF and NATO, just as their Banderist forbears sold the country to German fascism last time around. The workers in Ukraine can only advance on the road to their own emancipation by spurning ultra-nationalism and standing with the people of the Donbass in a common struggle against both the Kiev junta and its imperialist patrons.
Down with the Kiev junta!
Victory to the Donbass resistance!
NATO out of the Ukraine!
At the conclusion of the Berlin talks the assembled leaders agreed in principle to the deployment of an armed OSCE mission in east Ukraine to monitor the demarcation line. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov drew attention to the fact that the OSCE itself “has so far been unable to answer the question regarding possible conditions of this mission’s work” and insisted upon the non-military character of such a police mission, with monitors armed only with “standard-issue weapons”. In short, “There is an understanding on the positive nature of the deployment of such a mission, but it needs to be worked out in the framework of the OSCE”. Russia is herself a key member of the OSCE, and it will be of great interest to study the precise remit and national composition of any proposed armed mission.