By Alexander Mercouris, for Russia Insider, Jan 20, 2015
As the economic situation in Ukraine goes from bad to worse, the response of the Ukrainian government’s attention is focused instead on resuming the war in the Donbass. Over the last few weeks, we have heard boasts from President Poroshenko that the combat capabilities of the Ukrainian military have been fully restored since its defeat last summer and that all its losses in armour (according to Poroshenko, 65 per cent of the total with which the Ukrainian army started its offensive in June) have been made good. We have also had a succession of mobilisation decrees calling up a grand total of 250,000 men in three waves extending to June 2015.
All of this has been accompanied with the usual fiery rhetoric against Russia and the people in the Donbass the Ukrainian government calls “separatists” or “terrorists”. Meanwhile a tragic shelling of a bus near Volnovakha has been blamed by the government on the rebels, leading to staged protests attended by government officials in Kiev and elsewhere [on Jan 18].
The sequel has been a renewal of the fighting on a scale unseen since the Minsk Protocol was signed on 5th September 2014. Over the course of the fighting, the rebels appear to have captured the new terminal of Donetsk airport (they already held the old terminal), a Ukrainian counter attack to recapture the new terminal contrary to Ukrainian reports appears to have failed, at least for the moment, there has been renewed shelling across the whole front, including indiscriminate shelling of Donetsk, an air raid was launched on the rebel held town of Gorlovka and the rebels, for their part, have shelled government positions near Mariupol.
How did we get to this position? The short answer is that the Ukrainian government has refused to carry out the peace process it committed itself to in the Minsk Protocol. The constitutional negotiations that were supposed to happen and which the government committed itself to in the Minsk Protocol and which were supposed to lead to a final settlement of the Ukrainian conflict have never taken place.
The Minsk Protocol also committed the government to extensive decentralisation of the Donbass region, preliminary to a final peace settlement and to elections there. The elections duly took place, but the government did not recognise them or their outcome, and though the Ukrainian parliament passed a law for the decentralisation of the Donbass, the Ukrainian government then almost immediately reversed it.
Previously, back in September, I discussed the Minsk Protocol in detail here, where I said:
…the Protocol is in my opinion a total red herring. The Protocol is not a contract or treaty. There is no court or tribunal that will arbitrate on the meaning of its words. All the sides will construe it as they wish. The junta will not of course construe it as I have done and nor will its western backers even though my interpretation is undoubtedly the correct one. The junta will continue to call the NAF (the “Novorossian Armed Forces” – AM) “terrorists” and will continue to deny they are the representatives of the Donbas whether they win the election or not. Certainly the junta will not recognise an election the NAF wins or any declaration of independence the NAF makes. For what it’s worth in my opinion there is little chance of the terms of such an election being agreed upon or such an election taking place whilst the Donbas remains part of the Ukraine.
Every word in this paragraph has come true. The Ukrainian government still refuses to recognise the Donbass leaders Zakharchenko and Plotnisky as the representatives of the people of the Donbass, even though their signatures are on the Minsk Protocol which the Ukrainian government negotiated with them and itself signed. Elections in the Donbass did take place in November, but as I predicted, the Ukrainian government did not agree to their terms. The Ukrainian government still calls Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky and the other Donbass leaders “terrorists”.
The reason I was able to make that prediction in September with such confidence and why that prediction has in every respect come true is because the nature of the Ukrainian government allowed for no other.
The basic truth about the crisis in Ukraine and why there is a war there – the one that many people especially in the West refuse to acknowledge – is that the faction that seized power in Ukraine through the February 2014 coup is structurally incapable of negotiation or compromise with those it considers its opponents.
I discussed the nature of this faction when I discussed the results of the elections in Ukraine last November. Briefly, the whole purpose of the February coup was so that the faction in Ukraine that holds power now could achieve the unrestricted dominance of Ukrainian society which is its only way of making true its vision of a unitary, monolingual, monocultural Ukraine that is forever distanced from Russia.
Given the diversity of Ukrainian society, it cannot compromise with its opponents since were it to do so that would jeopardise the entire project that is the reason for its existence and the justification for its hold on power. That is why it acted in February to eliminate from Ukrainian political life the faction that had held power in Ukraine before and why it remains committed to eliminating its opponents in the Donbass now.
It is also incidentally the reason for the repeated attacks on the Lenin statues discussed by Paul Robinson. Given the regime’s overriding, aggressive drive to reshape Ukraine in its own image, it cannot tolerate the existence of these statues precisely because so many Ukrainians adhere to them and by doing so hold fast to a different vision of Ukraine from the one the regime has. The very reason why Robinson says it is a mistake to attack these statues is therefore for the regime a compelling reason to destroy them. The statues have to be eliminated from Ukraine just as opponents who think of Ukraine differently must be.
It is this drive – not Russia’s actions – which is why Ukraine is in a state of perpetual war and crisis and why atrocities like the 2nd May 2014 Odessa fire can happen without being properly investigated or the perpetrators brought to account.
Though the Maidan regime is deeply divided and factionalised, its drive to remake Ukraine and to eliminate all opponents of its vision, is the common denominator of all its factions. As factional differences intensify as the economic situation deteriorates, fulfilment of the drive through war increasingly becomes the way the regime retains coherence, making a renewal of the war inevitable.
What this means in practice is that negotiations between the Ukrainian government and the Donbass as a route to peace in Ukraine are all but impossible. As Yanukovych repeatedly discovered during the Maidan crisis (see our discussion of his ouster here), any attempt to achieve a compromise is bound in the end to fail since the Maidan movement which holds power in Ukraine now is structurally unable to compromise.
What this means is that there cannot be peace in Ukraine whilst the present government survives there and whilst Ukraine retains its existing borders unless overwhelming pressure is brought to bear on the government by its Western backers to compromise in a way that left to itself it will never do. Nor can there be any hope of economic stabilisation in Ukraine when the government’s focus is so single mindedly elsewhere.
This reality is now well understood by all the parties in Ukraine itself. It is also widely understood in Russia. The unanswered question of the Ukrainian crisis is how far it is understood in the West. The answer I suspect is very little. This is why all the West’s pressure is on Russia and the Donbass, where it is not needed and where it achieves nothing, and none is on the Ukrainian government, where it is really needed and where it might do some good.
That is is why we also still hear Western declarations of support for Ukraine and its government. Given Ukrainian realities, as a way of achieving peace in Ukraine, that is almost the worst thing Western governments can do.
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