Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nostalgia Lives

"They are Ukrainian citizens, [Kharkiv peace march bombers] who underwent instruction and received weapons in the Russian Federation, in Belgorod."
Markian Lubkivskyi, aide, Ukrainian security agency, SBU

"The plan was signed last night. ... Starting from today there are two weeks to withdraw heavy weapons."
Eduard Basurin, deputy defence minister, Donetsk People's Republic
Ukrainian soldiers near Artemivsk, 23 February 2015 Both sides have pledged to start withdrawing heavy weapons

Vladimir Putin's mission is coming close to accomplishment. At least one part of his mission. To prevent Ukraine from signing that Association Agreement with the European Union. His plan for Ukraine is to have it join the Eurasian Economic Union. An economic union primarily and certainly initially, but meant to morph eventually into the political and security organization that will bear quite a resemblance to a previous one, called the USSR.

Nor would he wish Ukraine to come anywhere near joining NATO. Once before NATO refused Ukraine's expression of interest in joining it. And nor are the major powers invested in NATO too terribly keen on Ukraine's expressed interest. Given Moscow's equally expressed interest that Ukraine not become part of NATO. Had it been heretofore, imagine the consequences of the stealth Russian military incursions into Ukraine, let alone Mr. Putin's casual annexation of Crimea.

So the standoff between Russia and NATO, Russia and the EU (more a caricature of European queasiness in economic uncertainty) will continue yet awhile, while the Baltic nations fidget with fear over possible implications for them in Mr. Putin's clear expansionist ambitions. Ukraine has remained resistant to Moscow's plan that the Donbas now partially controlled by the rebels (Putin's proxies) have a veto on Ukrainian foreign policy.

Russia and its client secessionists have only partially succeeded thus far in their greater ambition in pursuit of which Ukraine has come close to being a basket case of nerves and futile rage over their misfortune in a brutal neighbourhood. Will there ultimately be war, or not? Ukraine is no match for the Russian military; the sneak preview has been instructive and demeaning to Ukraine, leaving it ragingly demoralized.

So far the rebels have attained less than half of the Donbas. Before the new ceasefire the rebels made it clear their long-range plan included the whole of the Donbas. The Mariupol land bridge to Crimea is vital to that plan. The Ukrainians have succeeded in cutting off the water supply and land transport to Crimea, and that would collapse as a lever in hopes of restoring the Crimea to its rightful owner, if Mariupol fell.

The rebels have now accused the Ukrainian army of shelling Donetsk. And the Ukrainian military has stated that separatists attacked government forces in Shirokino, east of Mariupol, and in Peski, outside Donetsk. According to Ukrainian commanders, a buildup of separatist forces near Mariupol has become a reality. They accuse Russia of repeated aerial reconnaissance missions, raising fears of an attack impending to seize the port city.

An attack on Mariupol, should Shirokino fall, would present as an operation in a large scale, taking weeks to prepare. Under the February 12 Minsk agreement, both sides have two weeks to withdraw artillery and tanks out of striking distance, and both agreed at the weekend to begin withdrawing heavy weapons shortly. An initial prisoner exchange has taken place. On the other hand, since both sides claim that firing is continuing, the withdrawal process will be suspended.

Not to worry, however; although Mr. Putin sneers at Ukraine's contention that it must have the return to its possession of the Crimean Peninsula, recommending that Ukraine be more concerned about its fragile economic position, he also states with confidence that there will not be a larger, extended war. "I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope this will never happen," he said.

If the Minsk agreement was implemented, eastern Ukraine would "gradually stabilise".

Map showing the battle lines in eastern Ukraine

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