The latest developments in the Ukrainian question

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The article was originally published in Greek on February 3 2017. By Teo Cubanos for avantgarde. Translation by FT.

Over the last few days, the Ukrainian army has launched extensive attacks while the ferocious conflict is raging virtually all along the contact line between the Donetsk People’s Republic and the rest of Ukraine.  It has been firing Grad rockets and heavy artillery at settled areas resulting in civilian casualties on a daily basis. In many cases, it has attempted to advance forces by conquering buffer zones. Besides the humanitarian crisis that could break out in the dead of winter, as water, electricity and natural gas infrastructures are being shelled, the region is menaced with an ecological disaster as the Ukrainian army is also firing factories, chemical installations etc.

Chairmen of the People’s Councils of DPR and LPR, Denis Pushilin and Vladimir Degtyarenko urged Russia, USA and Germany “to stop Ukraine and compel Poroshenko to cease criminal actions against Donbass people”.

The Donbass People’s Republic head Zaharchenko, stated that Ukraine resumed hostilities in view of USA and Russia looking for “common ground”.

The Ukrainian authorities blame the escalation of the conflict on the PR and Russia. On January 31, Ukraine’s representative to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, addressed the Secretary General of the United Nations “demanding from the Russian Federation to cease hostilities immediately and comply strictly with the ceasefire”.

On January 31, The Security Council of the UN published a statement of “grave concern” about the deterioration of the situation in Donetsk.

The Russian Foreign Ministry in its statement accuses the Ukrainian authorities of armed provocations in Donbass.

On February 1, a new meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG)  was held in Minsk, in which Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine and the Donbass People’s Republics participated.

Ukraine is one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council of the UN for 2016 and 2017. In February 2017 (ie a few days ago) Ukraine took over the Presidency of the Security Council.

On February 2 the issue of the escalation in Donbass was to be discussed in a meeting of the Security Council, after the initiative taken by Ukraine, within the framework of Ukraine’s Presidency.

Poroshenko “cut short” his visit to Berlin in order to meet with Angela Merkel, “due to the emergency situation”. Prior to that though, he got around to telling her that the West should extend and tighten sanctions against Russia.

According to the Ukrainian ambassador in the USA Valerii Chalyi, Poroshenko is to travel to the US in February within the framework of Ukraine’s Presidency in the UN Security Council and he “might” meet with Trump.

Continuation of sanctions and turmoil in EU  

On December 19, the European Council had decided to prolong the sanctions against Russia for another six months, until 31 July 2017. In the Reuters related article it is mentioned that the President of the Council Donald Tusk stated that “some of our colleagues would probably prefer 12 months but…what is possible is to maintain our current format, which means six months”.

In that very session the European Council brought up the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which had been rejected in the  Dutch referendum in April. The Council “took into account the Dutch concerns” thus the amended agreement does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the European Union , nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status in the future. In addition, it does not grant to Ukrainian and European Union citizens respectively the right to reside and work freely within the territory of the member states and Ukraine. Nevertheless, it encompasses all the rest concerning free trade, security etc. The bill for the ratification of the new agreement was submitted on January 31 to the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament. Although there are doubts about whether it will be ratified before the Dutch elections in March, Ukrainian officials are optimistic that the ratification can be completed at the beginning of the year.

In the specific meeting of the European Council, it became apparent once more that some countries are in favour of a tighter “security policy” with regard to Russia (Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Lettonia etc). These happen to be mainly the countries where the US army has been strengthening its military presence lately.

Recently, a paper authored by 8 EU member states (Britain, Denmark, Esthonia, Finland, Lettonia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden) has reignited the “power competition” regarding the handling of the Ukrainian issue, calling for the USA to probe closer cooperation as a “partner” of the EU in promoting the “necessary reforms” in Ukraine. This constitutes a virtually overt questioning of the supremacy of the French-German axis in the political handling of the accession negotiations not to mention the Trilateral Contact Group. And this, while “Theresa ‘Brexit’ May” is currently seeking a balance with Trump, pursuing an enhanced role of the UK in the new state of order on the side of the USA.

Quoting the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Russian news agency, TASS, reports that Berlin blames Kiev for the escalation in Donbass. Yet, neither the previously held political stance nor the latest statements of Angela Merkel indicate this. The article points to “sources” in the German government. But the government is bipartisan. And Süddeutsche Zeitung is social democratic. In Germany, the elections are to be held shortly. And we should also bear in mind that SPD (with its Minister of Foreign Affairs in the coalition government) does not particularly agree with the hard line of sanctions against Russia.

And this is all happening just the moment when the candidate of the French right wing running in the forthcoming elections, François Fillon, puts forward a political suggestion to Germany which actually says that “Trump is going to degrade the significance of the EU as a “partner” of the US empire and intends to act more and more “directly” in the name of the USA, dictating and enforcing the terms and conditions of the “alliance” offered rather than “shaping them in cooperation” with the Europeans. So, let’s do it like Trump but for ourselves! Let’s be the first to halt the sanctions, after all that was an American idea in the first place. If Trump wishes to impose US domination unilaterally, by promoting “divide and rule” amidst the countries within the EU, as well as in the relation between Russia and the EU, let’s do this first ourselves!

It is incredible how the line of the French right wing is reflected in the German social democracy while the French social democracy mirrors the German right wing…

The Empire’s stalemates and Trump

In its attempt to encircle Russia, the US empire found itself very close to a large-scale  war, first in Ukraine and much more in Syria, facing a power correlation and a “scenery” which were anything but propicious and led its tactics to an impasse. The political and military stalemate, in conjunction with the general financial and economic dead end brought about by the crisis, call for solutions. Trump, Brexit, the rise of the European eurosceptic far right are nothing but the aftermath of these dead ends. These shifts do not fundamentally reverse the essential strategy on which the previous imperialist setting has been based. On the contrary, they show the logical outcome of that strategy.

Just like the far right Islamophobia, the walls, the deportations etc. stem from – and further evolve – the bow-tie, institutional “liberal” Islamophobia of Obama and the EU, and in the same way that the far right, fascist cannibalism is the transformation of the liberal posh cannibalism, in the arena of geopolitics, Trump seeks to deepen and strengthen already existing aspects of the US imperial tactics and at the same time undo those aspects that failed, in order to preserve the essence of the empire strategy.

Trump’s policy targeting China is the follow up of Obama’s “pivot to Asia”. The tension between the USA and Germany is an enhanced version of the American- German frictions of the previous period (including a string of clashes between the IMF – Germany, US fines imposed on European corporations etc) as the German Europe envisaged by Schäuble and Merkel is stirring up trouble. It’s high time for an American Europe, except that, due to the great recession, there will be no Marshall plan, just the military part, only on condition that the highest economic and political cost-benefit relation is ensured for the US.

Trump’s recipe in the Middle East boils down to the basic principles: Long live Israel and Saudi Arabia, death to Iran and its friends. Well, says Trump and his gang, we tried to kill two birds with one stone in the case of Syria. Things didn’t work out for us. We jeopardised a massive-scale military confrontation on a ground where our strategic enemies presented an undivided front. Let’s pull back or rather take a step sideways, try to cool down a bit in the heated zones where we are on the verge of sparking a military conflict with the Russians within an unfavorable context. We deploy the ideological-political features we have in common with Putin’s platform. We do our best to undermine the bonds the Russians are attempting to forge with the Iranians and the Chinese. Simultaneously, we make sure Eastern Europe is teeming with our military forces and we reorganize our forces “against terrorism” in the Middle East. And why not try to deploy the Russians to teach Germans a lesson and put them back where they belong. Should that involve keeping Assad where he is for the time being and stop grumbling all day long about the Crimean peninsula, so be it. Those who steered the ship so far identified themselves obsessively with the previous tactics and they turn hysteric thereby risking everything. We can be flexible and at the same time we do not renounce any of the options for a course of action.

The Empire’s headquarters are looking for new solutions across the board: in economy, society, politics, ideology, geopolitics. This calls in question all the previous settings, structures, functions and narrations of the Empire, even its own cohesion in the long term.  There is a ferocious conflict taking place in the US, in the form of clashes and negotiations, between two directions. It has been for quite some time and it is escalating. Similar procedures are underway in Europe. Brexit and especially, the rise of Trump have further exacerbated this situation: the game is on.

Kiev is concerned and gets aggressive

At the beginning of the year in Ukraine, a discussion was stimulated by an article written by the oligarch Victor Pinchuk and  published in the Wall Street Journal bearing the title Ukraine must make painful compromises for peace with Russia, which infuriated hardcore Maidan supporters.

The escalation of the conflict in Donbass coincides with Trump assuming US Presidency and more specifically, with the phone call between Trump and Putin. After his recent meeting with May, Trump stated implicitly that “it is still rather early to consider lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia”.

Washington Post is clearly following a Clinton, hysteric-against-Russia line in its interpretation of the situation: “Putin is the one who escalates in order to test Trump, wear out Ukrainian economy just when it was showing signs of resurgence and despite the fact that the reforms are underway. He does not only aim at lifting the sanctions but also forcing the acceptance of a Russian sphere of influence including Ukraine. If Trump goes along with this, Putin will achieve a third objective: diminishing US global influence to the gain of Russia”.

Let’s not forget that Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, just before Trump’s official rise to Presidency, chose to take his last foreign trip before leaving office to Ukraine, where he urged Trump not to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia and he also said that “the world community must stand as one against Russia”.

On January 24, Poroshenko urged the US administration to maintain the sanctions pointing out that “he wishes the bipartisan US support towards Ukraine to continue and he sees no correlation between potential progress in the Middle East and the situation in Ukraine”. In other words this means “Don’t use me as leverage for the Syrian issue”. That’s the statement he made while on a two-day diplomatic tour to Estonia and Finland.  The armed forces of Estonia and Finland are conducting US backed military exercises aimed at confronting the “Russian menace”. A week before Poroshenko’s appeals to Trump, the US signed “defense cooperation agreements with Lithuania and Estonia to bolster NATO defences in the face of a Russian threat of aggression”.

Poroshenko sees that while the adjacent pro- American countries rise in value and grow more significant for the Empire, Ukraine is facing the possibility of turning from “the forefront of the Empire and the spearhead of the US imperialist aggression against Russia” into “leverage for negotiation” to be used in Trump’s “pro- Russian” maneuvering as part of the new tactics of the US Empire within the context of the strategic goal of encircling, weakening and forcing Russia to submission.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (that is to say, a medium embedded in the US administration) has recently published an article entitled “Anxious Ukraine risks escalation in creeping offensive”. The article pointed at Kiev and mentioned that “observers say the Ukrainians appear to be trying to create new facts on  the ground” sensing that US support is waning and fearing that Trump could cut them out of any peace negotiations as he tries to ameliorate relations with Russia. The article went on to point out the risk of provoking a military response from Russia, as was the case with previous Kiev advances which led to devastating Ukrainian defeat  in Ilovaisk in August 2014 and in Debaltseve in February 2015”.

Poroshenko is concerned that his country, until recently being the ground which confirmed “the solid bonds of the Western world” and a symbol of western firm resolution towards Russia, could be reduced to a pretext triggering further disintegration tendencies within the EU as well as a pretext for frictions between the US and Germany. Such tendencies and frictions have been simmering for a while. In the beginning, they emerged in an economic- political form (North vs South of Europe, Cameron- EU negotiations, Grexit and “This Is A Coup”, IMF at odds with Germany, US fines imposed on European corporations etc) but now they are transforming into overtly political issues and progressively they acquire political representation and foreign alliances seeking out for new balances (Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Fillon/  Visegrad group, the 8 EU countries  pushing  for Ukraine etc).

Closely intertwined with the conversation about Pinchuk’s article, is another  discussion in Ukraine, about whether Ukraine should raise a wall along the contact line with Donbass and whether it should be “virtual”, thereby sealing off Donbass or even real. The deputy speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament,  Oksana Syroyid –member of  the party of “Samopomich” which has 25 seats in the Parliament- believes that “the regions occupied by our eternal enemy, Russia, must be isolated economically as well as politically and judicially, we must build a virtual wall, have customs borders along the contact line and control any movement and goods transfer”. “Look”, she says, Putin and Trump underestimate each other, they both hope they will take in each other, but this is not feasible and eventually they will clash”. Then, Ukraine will be invaluable to the world, Syroyid thinks, as this is the place where the world can stop Russia and the line must be drawn at Donbass.  

All things taken into consideration, it does not look so much like a coincidence that the current aggression of the Ukrainian troops at Donbass seems to be aiming at a choking wall around Donbass.

By launching an attack against the Donbass, Poroshenko is trying to negotiate Ukraine’s role as a valuable partner of the West at a moment when the West is in a state of confusion reconsidering its tactics. On the official twitter of Ukraine’s presidency, Poroshenko says: “the shelling is massive. Who would dare talk about lifting the sanctions in such circumstances?

The new military attack of the neoliberal neo-fascist regime of Kiev must be crushed!

Solidarity with the struggling people of Donbass!

Victory to the arms of the People’s Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk!

 

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