Friday, 18 April 2014

Ukraine: The New Great Game over Ukraine.

'In Khartsyzsk, an industrial city 30 miles from Donetsk where separatists have been in control of the city hall since Sunday, local activists said they had no plans to leave public buildings. Barricades of tyres have been built around the city hall, which flies the flag of the Donetsk People's Republic. Banners draped outside proclaim "No to Fascism" and "No to the EU". Another banner reads "Russia+Donbass=heart".
At the barricade, Vladimir Pakhomovich, a former miner, said: "We are not Moscow or Kiev. They do not command us. We are just here to defend our people. Until we get a referendum, we do not intend to leave."'
The Geneva Agreement between the US, the EU and Russia presupposed that the main geopolitical protagonists vying for control over Ukraine actually can control the paramilitary nationalists on the ground. The pro-Russian separatists are not any more likely to accept anything short of their demands than Svoboda.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, can huff and puff about Russia's responsibility for tacitly backing the pro-Russian militias but if he had been in good faith he should have denounced the presence of Svoboda and Right Sector in the Kiev government as part of the 'de-escalation'.

The very fact an interim government in Kiev contains ultra nationalists is one reason the Eatern militias in Donestsk and Luhansk would be wary of disbanding before they are guaranteed a referendum. As the armed groups from western Ukraine got what they wanted, they demand the same.

As in Syria, the danger is that Kerry seems to be setting up diplomatic talks in Geneva by making preconditions bound to fail so as to retain a pretext for backing the Kiev government at all costs. Mentioning anti-semitic leaflets in Donestsk is repellent hypocrisy given Svoboda's position in government.

Requiring illegal groups be disarmed could well be interpreted by Russia to mean the western Ukrainian militias too, so there would be the problem of who would disarm first followed by accusations from both sides that the other is cheating or ratting on the agreement at Geneva.

Moreover, the amnesty granted to protesters prepared to surrender their weapons and only punishment for those who committed crimes could founder on the fact that Kiev accused Russia's secret services of organising the sniper attacks on the Maidan protesters while Moscow accuses provocateurs.

Kerry has made it clear he and the US sides unconditionally with the Kiev government. By doing so while making it plain it is only Russia 'destabilising' Ukraine, there is scant hope that the crisis or the potential for Ukraine descending into a civil war, as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, could be averted.

Bringing in election monitors could mean that elections in May are not marred by violence and intimidation and the referendum on the status of the Eastern regions promised by the Kiev government is more than a token gesture to defuse the anger in Donetsk and other predominantly Russian speaking cities.

Unfortunately, the OSCE has had, on occasions, a patchy record of success in determining what is a a free and fair election, as when it declared Mikheil Saakashvili's curiously high vote in Georgia in January 2004 as acceptable ( he gained  96% ), a result that went unquestioned because he represented Western interests.

Moreover, given that Ukrainian militias were able to storm buildings and overthrow Yanukovych, a democratically elected president whose election was validated by the OSCE, the Eastern militias demanding a referendum now have reason to believe that official procedures would not guarantee their demands.

Should elections and a referendum point towards the break up of Ukraine without civil war, it is hardly likely that Western powers would accept anything beyond more federal powers for the East. Both Kerry and the EU's Baroness Ashton repeat their commitment to the 'territorial integrity' of Ukraine.

The partition of Ukraine would be unacceptable to many Western nations and the US because they still refuse to give up the absurd dream of NATO expansion and hence control over the Black Sea and the oil and gas pipelines that link Europe to the Caucasus and from there on to Asia.

Yet it could only be through a de facto partition and referendums being held that the spectre of violence can be overcome. If the EU was quite prepared to accept the break up of Yugoslavia and independence for Kosovo, then some ethnic Russians wonder why they are to be treated differently.

The reason, of course, is that 'self determination' for Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, from Transdnistria to Donetsk, is considered to run contrary to Western energy interests in Ukraine and NATO's ability to gain control over the Black Sea and Eurasia.

The double standard is that only Putin is ever criticised for wanting to control oil and gas as a 'political tool'. The British media only ever mention the strategic relevance of controlling oil and gas pipeline when the Kremlin aims at it but never when EU states and the US play the New Great Game too.

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