A deep rift opened between the United States and Europe over how to proceed in relations with Russia once the conflict in Ukraine appeared to be spinning out of control. Read on…
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Why the Minsk-2 Settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis Will Hold
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Over the past few days, the media commentators have had their say about the cease-fire accords reached in Minsk last week. The consensus is not merely skeptical, but almost certain that this deal will fail, just as the September arrangements failed.
Most commonly in Western media the negative prognosis rests on negative appraisals of Vladimir Putin, who is cast as the aggressor, who will take an arm when he is offered a finger, who cannot be long appeased, and whose steady objective is the recreation of a Russian or Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, for which the Ukrainian gambit is but the first step. In the week leading up to Minsk, the War Party on Capitol Hill, well ensconced in power under the nominal Democrat Barack Obama as they were under the nominal Republican George W. Bush, demanded in the form of a think tank report chaired by Brookings Institute chief Strobe Talbot that lethal weapons be shipped to the Kiev regime as the next step in ratcheting up pressure on Putin and getting him to change course on Ukraine.
Paradoxically the beating of drums achieved results diametrically opposed to what was intended. This is true first of all in the United States, where debate over the causes and prospects for resolving the Ukraine crisis flared up and opposing sides took to the air waves with greater intensity than at any time since the coup d’etat in Kiev a year ago. Two of Talbot’s subordinates at Brookings publicly repudiated the report at the risk of their own jobs. Meanwhile, the leading rejectionists of the Washington Narrative, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen, Cohen appeared on numerous national television and radio programs either individually or paired with their ideological opponents.
Indeed the otherwise moribund Realist School of International Relations led the charge in a bid to reclaim their place at the foreign policy Establishment table. They correctly identified NATO expansion as the underlying causal factor, with Russia occupying a defensive as opposed to offensive position in the fray over Ukraine. These same realists, in particular Professor Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy magazine, overdid the case, arguing that Russia’s almost irrational posture in Donbas as it defends its waning influence in its region is the behavior of a country in steep decline, a country with an imploding demography and economy in shambles. Though this misunderstanding of Russian reality today, this reliance on outdated facts can and should be disputed at another time and place, we in the anti-war movement open our arms to others who challenge the War Party as welcome Fellow Travelers.
In Europe the overplayed hand of America’s War Party has brought us to a juncture resembling the situation over Syria 18 months ago, when the issue of Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in their civil war was used to prepare the grounds for an all-out Western assault on the country. Europe, specifically the British Parliament, revolted against the use of armed force proposed by David Cameron, and the US President had to back down from his planned military intervention. Now it is Germany and France that have revolted against the American hawks and sued for peace in Minsk.
The revolt was facilitated by the public expression of scorn for Europe’s would-be peace-makers, Angela Merkel in the lead, branded as “stupid” by none other than Senator McCain at the Security Conference in Munich. As if to spite the Americans, Merkel and Holland have been celebrated in the European press these past few days as a “diplomatic dream team” and their nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize are pouring in.
More generally a deep rift opened between the United States and Europe over how to proceed in relations with Russia once the conflict in Ukraine appeared to be spinning out of control. In recent weeks the Donbas rebels clearly were taking the upper hand, expanding their territory and raising the daily body count of Ukraine military regulars to the hundred plus level of last July, when defeat on the ground persuaded Poroshenko and his backers in the US to call for a cease fire.
It is no accident that the shuttle diplomacy to reinstate a truce came just as it was announced that the Donbas rebels had encircled what are estimated to be 6,000-8,000 Ukrainian Army troops at Debaltseve – marking, if true, a devastating defeat of the Kiev military machine that could have domestic political consequences.
At the same time, after dire predictions for its economy going back almost half a year, the Ukraine is finally on the ropes. It has not paid pensions and salaries for more than three months. It has hard currency reserves measured in a few weeks. It is utterly dependent on massive new loans from the IMF, the EU, the World Bank and donor nations to stay solvent in 2015. And the IMF is the cornerstone; its approval or refusal to implement aid packages to Ukraine on its table is the decider for all other interested parties. Yet, its chief Christine Lagarde made plain two weeks ago, that aid will not be forthcoming if Ukraine continues to pursue the war in the Donbas, hemorrhaging as it is more than $8 million per day.
The desperate situation of the European protégé in Kiev has been papered over by the Public Relations experts and spin doctors in Brussels. Poroshenko was rushed to the European capital immediately following Minsk to be accorded all public honors of a victor who has forced the villain Putin to the peace table and is awaiting finishing touches on what is now called a $40 billion package of assistance. But all that is just eye wash.
In the background, with the prospect of Washington exercising its military option and pushing Russia to react in ways that only can spell open, as opposed to stealthy Russian military intervention in Ukraine with, as consequence, a Europe-wide war, the EU’s leaders have been shaken to their toes by the determination and by the winning hand of Moscow. They whined at Munich about near misses in European air space between Russian jets on an unannounced military exercises and civilian aircraft. And images of nuclear mushroom clouds have finally come back to haunt their dreams. As Spiegel On Line noted in an article datelined 13 February, “Nuclear Specter Returns. ‘Threat of War is Higher than in the Cold War.’”
For all of these reasons, I believe that the Minsk-2 accords will be successful, will bring long term peace and quiet to the war-torn southeast of Ukraine and will put the nail in the coffin of NATO expansion, even if that does not figure in the signed agreements.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
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G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. He is a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. Doctorow’s latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide.