The end of January saw an escalation in the violence in the Donbass. Fascist militias, backed up by the regular army, launched a series of assaults on the civilian population. Under covering shell fire from the Ukrainian army, paramilitaries infiltrated the disengagement line, in clear violation of the Minsk agreement. They met with stiff resistance from the militia of the people’s republic of Donetsk (DPR). Ukrainian shells took out power supply to a coal mine near the town of Avdeekva, trapping over 200 miners underground for several hours. According to the US State Department, the fighting “caused dozens of Ukrainian military casualties,” which suggests that the incursion received the rebuff it deserved (‘Ukrainian paramilitary supported by army attacked rebels in East’, RT, 31 January 2017). The provocation also backfired on the diplomatic front.
The dog that didn’t bark
The initial US response was striking in what it left unsaid. Speaking for the White House, Sean Spicer remarked blandly that the president had been “kept aware of developments” and spoke vaguely about “further updates as we go on.” The State Department issued a six-sentence statement uncontroversially calling for an immediate ceasefire and full implementation of the Minsk agreements. Signally absent was the usual Goebbelsian rigmarole about ‘Russian aggression’: the dog failed to bark. It was left to the newly-minted US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, to belatedly accuse Moscow of escalating the violence and insisting that sanctions would remain in place until Ukraine regained Crimea. But even as she was uttering these words, the US Treasury Department was busy relaxing Obama’s sanctions against Russia’s Federal Security Service, measures which are now seen as an impediment to the smooth conduct of government business with Russia. A CNN source suggested that Haley “didn’t get direction from the White House but she wasn’t asked not to do it”, hardly a ringing presidential endorsement of her aggressive stance. Nor could such an endorsement have been expected given Trump’s publicly stated recognition of Crimea’s right to be federated with Russia.
By contrast Kiev’s response was theatrical in the extreme. Poroshenko melodramatically broke off talks in Germany to denounce Russia and rush home to deal with the military crisis. In reality, however, this turn of events was no surprise to the Kiev junta, which had itself engineered the military provocation, hoping thereby to keep the US and EU on side and poison relations between Moscow and the new US administration. As Russia’s envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin put it, Kiev was “desperately, frantically trying to achieve a military settlement to the conflict,” blaming Kiev for a provocation that was intended to keep the issue “on the international agenda” and “at the same time suck in with their reckless confrontational policy newly elected heads of state” – i.e. Trump (Nicola Gaouette and Richard Roth, ‘UN ambassador Haley hits Russia hard on Ukraine’, CNN, 3 February 2017).
Earlier in January, US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham took a trip to Ukraine where they met with Poroshenko and were videoed with the president and a group of men in Ukrainian army uniform. Graham told his host: “Your fight is our fight, 2017 will be the year of offence. All of us will go back to Washington and we will push the case against Russia. Enough of a Russian aggression. It is time for them to pay a heavier price.” The call to arms could hardly be clearer or better timed, preparing the ground for the coming provocation.
McCain piped up to say: “I believe you will win. I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win. We have succeeded not because of equipment but because of your courage. So I thank you and the world is watching and the world is watching because we cannot allow Vladimir Putin to succeed here because if he succeeds here, he will succeed in other countries.”
If the world was watching, so was Trump, and he was quick to draw attention to the fact that McCain and his coterie are “always looking to start WWIII”. Trump’s core message is plain: clear up the accumulated mess left by a string of unwinnable imperialist wars before looking to start another one with Russia (see Scott Humor on the Saker website: http://thesaker.is/how-the-kiev-regimes-war-on-donbass-broke-geopolitics-by-scott-humor/).
Berlin will not to be bounced
The German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung suggested that the effect of Poroshenko’s histrionics on Germany’s attitude to the Ukraine conflict might be the reverse of that intended. “Berlin believes that Poroshenko is determined to do almost everything to prevent the lifting of sanctions against Russia,” the newspaper claimed, adding that, after assessing the information received from the OSCE observers, the German government pointed to the fact that “first and foremost, the Ukrainian military is trying to change the situation along the line of contact in its favour… Taking into account the growing tensions, it is obvious that they aim at deteriorating the situation to a great extent in order to stop the US president from easing sanctions [on Russia].” The paper points out that “Trump may lift sanctions regardless of the situation on the line of contact. In this case, Kiev will suffer double damage as Russia’s position will strengthen while the conflict in eastern Ukraine will worsen. Berlin cannot say if Kiev could be stopped from making provocations” (Suddeutscher Zeitung: ‘Berlin blames Kiev for deteriorating situation in Donbass’, InSerbia Network Foundation, 31 January 2017).
Nor can Berlin tell whether next week or tomorrow it may find itself left carrying the can for a sanctions war against Russia whose primary instigator is throwing in the towel, an economic war which is doing more harm to European economies by the loss of the Russian market for their agricultural exports than it is to Russia’s own economy. Indeed, some argue that an unintended consequence of the sanctions against Russia has been the diversification of Russia’s economy, with less reliance on oil revenues and more emphasis on agricultural development. In the last three years Russia has become the world’s biggest producer and exporter of organic grains (see Scott Humor, op cit).
Germany has many sound economic reasons to be improving relations with Russia, not least the fact that Gazprom is her biggest energy supplier. Ironically, some of the institutions fostering economic and cultural links between Germany and Russia, seen in the Gorbachev/Yeltsin years as essentially conduits for western influence into the ‘benighted east,’ are now helping to cement an economic relationship in which Russia is an equal (and in some respects dominant) partner. Stefan Wagstyl in a recent Financial Times article explained that “since the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 3m Russian-speaking immigrants have arrived from the former Soviet Union… Berlin and Moscow formalised these links with a plethora of organisations, headed by the German-Russian Forum, financed mostly by German business, and the Petersburg Dialog, funded mainly by the German foreign ministry. While post-Soviet Russia was weak, these institutions were mostly seen as a way of transferring western values east. But now, their critics view them as channels of Russian influence into Germany. ‘Under Putin, these networks have taken on a different, more nefarious [!] goal: to alter the rules of bilateral relations, influence German policy toward eastern Europe and Russia and impact EU decisions through influence networks in Berlin,’ writes Stefan Meister, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, in a report published by the Atlantic Council last year.” (Stefan Wagstyl, FT, 31 January 2017)
What strikes the Atlantic Council guru as “nefarious” in all probability strikes many German capitalists as simply good business sense. If the White House itself is rapidly losing interest in pursuing a war with Russia in Ukraine, what incentive remains for Europe to endlessly indulge Poroshenko in his refusal to implement the Minsk peace agreements long since signed off by Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Kiev? One key requirement of those agreements is the holding of elections in the Donbass. Germany’s ambassador to the Ukraine, Ernst Reichel, outraged the Kiev junta by daring to suggest practical steps whereby such elections could be held. He said that, whilst “any Ukrainian politician must be able to pursue his election campaign without fear… this does not necessarily mean the elections in the Donbass can only take place when there are no Russian troops, or when the Ukrainian flag is raised at each city council.” The ambassador gently pointed out that “Ukraine cannot secure 100 percent of national interests by means of its ideas on resolving the conflict, because you need to talk further actions with Russia” (‘”Russian troops” in E. Ukraine no obstacle for local election – German Ambassador’, RT, 8 February 2017).
For these exceptionally mild and even-handed suggestions, Reichel found himself (a) summoned to Ukraine’s foreign ministry to explain himself and (b) pilloried in Kiev’s rigged parliament, the Rada, with some MPs accusing the German ambassador of taking “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s course”. Such a charm offensive on the part of the junta is unlikely to win the gangster Poroshenko any new friends in a post-Brexit EU more intent on postponing its own disintegration than on cheerleading for a war against Russia. The possibility of a looming Marine Le Pen victory, a rock on which the EU could founder for good, is of more pressing concern in Paris and Berlin than getting in line behind the latest Russophobic stunt pulled by the hysterical Kiev junta.
With the benefit of hindsight, most ill-advised of all has been the junta’s steady vilification of Donald Trump through every twist and turn of the presidential election. Ukraine’s UN envoy called Trump “a clown that has gone off the rails” who posed “a greater danger than terrorism”, whilst former PM Arseny Yatseniuk claimed that he “challenged the very values of the free world”. Interior minister Arsen Avakov described Trump’s comments on Crimea as the “diagnosis of a dangerous misfit” and said he was a “dangerous outcast” who was “dangerous for Ukraine and the US”. These and other choice epithets were not just some random unguarded comments from individuals but reflected the junta’s complete identification with the Obama-Clinton camp. One Telizhenko, who used to work at Ukraine’s embassy in Washington, has revealed that the ambassador, Valeriy Chaly, actually instructed the embassy not to talk to the Trump campaign. “We had an order not to talk to the Trump team, because he was critical of Ukraine and the government and his critical position on Crimea and the conflict… I was yelled at when I proposed to talk to Trump… The ambassador said not to get involved — Hillary is going to win.” Life is full of surprises (see Kenneth P. Vogel and David Stern, ‘Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire’, Politico website, 11 January 2017).
With an economy only kept afloat by vast infusions of IMF dollars and a war in the east which it cannot hope to win, the Kiev junta has no better plan than to keep stonewalling on Minsk and keep provoking conflict on the Donbass border, in the hope that by crying wolf loud enough it will revive enthusiasm in the US and EU for confrontation with Russia. In practice it seems more likely that such propaganda games will have the reverse effect to that intended, alienating the very sponsors upon whom the crippled junta depends.
Long live the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk!
Down with the Kiev junta!