In Background, Feature Articles, Russia, Ukraine

By New Cold War.org editors, June 8, 2015

The leaders of the G7 (Group of Seven) imperialist countries are meeting for two days in Germany to discuss managing their domination of the world. Below is an article from The Moscow Times and related readings written at the outset of the summit and analyzing the stakes involved in the discussions and decisions to be made, or not made, in Germany.

G7 ('G1-plus-6') leaders at summit meeting in Germany on June 8, 2015 (Michael Kappeler, Reuters)

G7 (‘G1-plus-6’) leaders at summit meeting in Germany on June 8, 2015 (Michael Kappeler, Reuters)

The issue of the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and the related pressures and threats against Russia will occupy much of the proceedings. The ‘G7’ (which serious analysts are coming to more accurately term the ‘G1 (United States)-plus-6’) used to be a ‘G8’ that included Russia. But Russia was excluded from the august body last year when it refused to go along with NATO/EU/U.S. diktats that it police the anti-austerity and anti-fascist peoples of Crimea and eastern Ukraine into submission.

The summit meeting was preceded by a predictable increase in shelling and mortar attacks by the Ukrainian army and paramilitiaries against the rebel, pro-autonomy regions of eastern Ukraine. The attacks were “predictable” because military initiatives, however reckless or however much in violation of the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement, are one of the few means the government in Kyiv can use to pressure the Western powers to continue supporting it unconditionally. The NATO governments have made such a case of Ukraine being a victim of “Russian aggression” that they dare not be seen as doing anything but support whatever nonsense comes out of the mouths of Ukraine’s rulers.

Some of the heaviest exchanges of artillery and ground fighting in months has taken place during the last week in and around the town of Marinka, just north of the city of Donetsk. Rebel forces sought to neutralize the Ukrainian artillery batteries that have been shelling the people of Donetsk and its environs for months, in violation of Minsk-2. The ceasefire agreement was signed on Feb. 12, 2015.

The deterioration of the ceasefire in the past several weeks has led to much speculation that it is finished and that a resumption of outright war is inevitable. We await definitive proof. We hope, for the sake of the people and self-defense forces of Donetsk and Lugansk, that the ceasefire holds and that Kyiv is obliged by domestic as well as international pressure to make progress towards a political settlement.

Another set of recent speculations has the Russian government ending its humanitarian and other support to eastern Ukraine. Here, the evidence is much less convincing. Including proof to the contrary from the words of the Russian leaders. Below is an excerpt from an interview by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 6 with a leading, Italian daily newspaper. Putin is making an official visit to Italy this week. In the interview, he makes a forceful argument that the government in Kyiv needs to fulfill the most important condition of all in the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement–that it talk to the rebel forces in eastern Ukraine and satisfy their demands for democracy and political autonomy.

Another “predictable” outcome of the recent increase in shelling and other war crimes by Ukrainian armed forces is obfuscation by Western media of what is really taking place. An example is the reporting on Canada’s state broadcaster. Using a tired refrain from its language of the past year, it says that “fighting” increased in eastern Ukraine last week. By whom, and for what purpose? Alas, we are left in the dark. The pro-Kyiv CBC hides the actual news so as to not discredit its chosen side in the conflict. (Following the logic of the CBC’s language, perhaps more progress towards a settlement could be reached if the shadowy “Fighting” could be compelled to join the governments of Kyiv and the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk at a negotiation table.)

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon, June 8, 2015

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon, June 8, 2015

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rode into the summit meeting in Germany astride his high horse preaching support for Kyiv’s war in eastern Ukraine and punitive measures against the Russian government and people. He has good reason to act thusly. His popularity at home is tanking:

  • The key pillar of the Harper government’s climate-vandalizing (Alberta tar sands) economic “policy”–high oil prices–has collapsed.
  • There is increasing protest against his authoritarian rule, notably against the police-state Bill C51 and anti-trade union Bill C-377 and Bill C-59.
  • Bill C24 went into effect on June 5, authorizing the government to strip citizenship from dual citizens or those citizens born outside of Canada.
  • Several of Harper’s appointees to the unelected Senate of Canada are on trial for corruption and embezzlement. (Prior to being elected, Harper hypocritically championed the cause of an elected Senate.)
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining Canada’s colonialist past and present treatment of Aboriginal peoples delivered its final report, on June 2. Six years in the making, one of the report’s troubling conclusions is that Canada is guilty of genocide against the original peoples of its territory. Harper has been silent on the report’s many recommendations. His government has specifically opposed a key recommendation–that it convene a national inquiry into the estimated 1,100 Aboriginal people, mostly women, who have been murdered or gone missing in the past several decades.

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Excerpt from June 6, 2015 interview of Vladimir Putin with Corriere Della Sera newspaper of Italy:

Specifically, there needs to be a constitutional reform to ensure the autonomous rights of the unrecognised republics. The Kiev authorities do not want to call it autonomy, they prefer different terms, such as decentralisation. Our European partners, those very partners who wrote the corresponding clause in the Minsk Agreements, explained what should be understood as decentralisation. It gives them the right to speak their language, to have their own cultural identity and engage in cross border trade – nothing special, nothing beyond the civilised understanding of ethnic minorities’ rights in any European country.

A law should be adopted on municipal elections in these territories and a law on amnesty. All this should be done, as the Minsk Agreements read, in coordination with Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, with these territories.

The problem is that the current Kiev authorities don’t even want to sit down to talks with them. And there is nothing we can do about it. Only our European and American partners can influence this situation. There is no need to threaten us with sanctions. We have nothing to do with this, this is not our position. We seek to ensure the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

It is essential to launch economic and social rehabilitation of these territories. What has happened there, exactly? The current Kiev authorities have simply cut them off from the rest of the country. They discontinued all social payments – pensions, benefits; they cut off the banking system, made regular energy supply impossible, and so on. So you see, there is a humanitarian disaster in those regions. And everybody is pretending that nothing is wrong.

Our European colleagues have taken on certain obligations, in particular they promised to help restore the banking system in these territories. Finally, since we are talking about what can or must be done, and by whom, I believe that the European Union could surely provide greater financial assistance to Ukraine. These are the main points.

I would like to stress that Russia is interested in and will strive to ensure the full and unconditional implementation of the Minsk Agreements, and I don’t believe there is any other way to settle this conflict today.

Incidentally, the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics have publicly stated that under certain conditions – meaning the implementation of the Minsk Agreements – they are ready to consider themselves part of the Ukrainian state. This is a fundamental issue. I think this position should be viewed as a sound precondition for the start of substantial negotiations.

All our actions, including those with the use of force, were aimed not at tearing away this territory from Ukraine but at giving the people living there an opportunity to express their opinion on how they want to live their lives.

I would like to stress this once again, as I have said many times before: if Kosovo Albanians were allowed this, why is it prohibited to Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars living in Crimea? And by the way, the decision on Kosovo’s independence was made exclusively by the Kosovo Parliament, whereas Crimea held a region-wide referendum. I think that a conscientious observer could not but see that people voted almost unanimously for reunification with Russia.

I would like to ask those who do not want to recognise it: if our opponents call themselves democrats, I would like to ask what exactly democracy means. As far as I know, democracy is the rule of the people, or the rule based on the will of the people. So, the solution of the Crimean issue is based on the will of the people of the Crimea.

In Donetsk and Lugansk people voted for independence, and the situation there is different. But the main thing, something we must always bear in mind, is that we should always respect the feelings and the choice of the people. And if somebody wants these territories to remain part of Ukraine, they should prove to those people that their lives would be better, more comfortable and safer within a unified state; that they would be able to provide for themselves and ensure their children’s future within this state. But it is impossible to convince these people by means of weapons. These issues, issues of this kind can only be resolved by peaceful means.

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No peaceful end in sight for Ukraine, analysts say

By Ivan Nechepurenko, The Moscow Times, page one, June 8, 2015

Diplomacy will be essential to ending the ongoing Ukraine conflict, but more than a year into it, the key stakeholders in the crisis lack the political will to compromise with one other and to commit to a peaceful resolution, analysts told The Moscow Times amid reports of fresh fighting near Donetsk.

Following several months of relative calm, disturbed only by occasional bouts of short-lived local skirmishes, heavy artillery has been rolled out once again in the ongoing conflict between pro-Russian insurgents and Kiev’s forces.

The conflict in Ukraine’s east has taken a devastating toll on the region’s population. It had claimed more than 6,400 lives, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations, and some 15,900 have been wounded. Much of the region’s economic infrastructure has been destroyed.

The recent resurgence of violence in war-battered eastern Ukraine highlights the frailty of the internationally brokered Minsk accords. Though they may have been successful in producing a temporary respite from the fighting after they were signed in February, the accords have thus far proved incapable of offering a framework for a more fundamental resolution of the conflict.

Predictably, when fighting flared last week, the fighters and the external stakeholders in the conflict were quick to blame each other. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed the rebels launched the attack with the help of the Russian armed forces, and ordered his military to prepare for a possible “full-scale” invasion by Russia along the length of their joint border.
“The concentration of Russian troops near the state border is 1 1/2 times greater than it was a year ago,” Poroshenko declared during his state of the nation speech, delivered before the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday.

Igor Konashenkov, official spokesperson for Russia’s Defense Ministry, quickly denied Poroshenko’s claims in comments carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.

In another typical exchange, Western officials blamed Russia for the flare-up, while Moscow claimed that Kiev provoked fighting ahead of both the Group of 7 summit that got under way Sunday in Germany and the upcoming deadline for the extension of biting European sanctions against Russia.

“The Ukrainian side has taken steps to aggravate tensions many times in the past in the run-up to some major international events… We are seriously concerned now over the most recent manifestation of such activity,” RIA Novosti cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Thursday.

Upon his arrival to the Bavarian Alps on Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “standing up to the Russian aggression” would be discussed at the G7 Summit.

Speaking with Italian journalists ahead of his upcoming visit to Milan, President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia is driven by a lust for aggression. He reiterated his stance that peace in Ukraine will require Kiev to to ensure the autonomous rights of the self-proclaimed rebel republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

“The problem is that the current Kiev authorities don’t even want to sit down to talks with [the leaders of the rebel republics]. And there is nothing we can do about it. Only our European and American partners can influence this situation,” Putin said, noting that sanctions and threats of such against Russia won’t breathe new life into the Minsk accords.

“Incidentally, the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics have publicly stated that under certain conditions — meaning the implementation of the Minsk agreements — they are ready to consider themselves part of the Ukrainian state,” he said.

Amid these and other statements, the diplomatic effort to solve the crisis was undermined by the decision on Saturday of Heidi Tagliavini, the OSCE’s special representative to the Minsk contact group, to step down from her role. According to sources inside the group, Tagliavini — who was praised by all sides for her role in the negotiations — left due to her disenchantment with the accords’ implementation, RIA Novosti reported.

No surprises

According to Vladimir Yevseyev, director of Moscow-based think tank the Center for Social and Political Research, given the continuous failure of the diplomatic process, it was inevitable that intense fighting would resume at some point. “Both sides had to restore their resources and mobilize their forces,” Yevseyev, who correctly predicted in March that combat in the region would pick up again in June, told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.

“What is worrying is that heavy artillery has largely returned to the same positions it occupied before the Minsk talks,” he said.

One of the key provisions of the Minsk accords was the withdrawal of heavy arms by both sides. According to Yevseyev, some of that weaponry has taken the opposite route, moving closer to the front lines.

Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Center of Political and Conflict Studies in Kiev, was likewise unsurprised by the revival of fighting. “It is clear that Kiev does not want to talk to the insurgents, whom the leaders regularly refer to as ‘terrorists.’ And what do you do with terrorists?” he said in a phone interview.

According to Pogrebinsky, the only diplomatic solution to the crisis would entail democratic elections to give rise to legitimate leaderships in the rebel-held regions. These elections should be observed by European, Ukrainian and Russian polling monitors, which would pave the way for a comprehensive conflict-resolution process, he said.  “The only alternative to elections is a war of attrition, which Ukraine would likely lose,” he said. “Such a scenario would be tragic.”

Andrei Piontkovsky, a respected opposition-minded Moscow-based political analyst has another theory: that Putin offered the West the option of freezing the Ukraine conflict, but to no avail. “Putin proposed the option of a peaceful coexistence with the West. Russia would keep Crimea, but would refrain from further expansion into Ukraine,” said Piontkovsky, who based his speculation on the talks between Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held last month in Sochi.

“It is clear that this offer was rejected and now Putin has no choice but to escalate the situation,” he said in a phone interview.

Read also:
G7 leaders urge tough line on Russia at start of summit, The Moscow Times, June 8, 2015

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