War and Peace, this time by Vladimir Putin

By Ameen Izzadeen
The game which Russia and the West are playing in Ukraine is becoming curiouser and curiouser. With the referendums held on Sunday in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk overwhelmingly approving self-rule, Russia, instead of taking the path that enabled it to annex Crimea in March, has taken a different path, surprising the West. Although Russia recognised the referendums’ outcome as the will of the people, it has urged caution and also not responded to the calls of separatist leaders to annex Donetsk and Lugansk.
Prior to the referendums, Moscow even advised the pro-Russian groups in the two provinces not to go ahead with the vote and urged the new rulers of Ukraine to hold the presidential election as scheduled on May 25. He also withdrew Russian troops massed along the border with Ukraine. Moscow even facilitated the release of OECD (Organisation for Security and Cooperation) officials taken hostage by pro-Russian rebels. By these goodwill gestures, Moscow thought it could defuse the crisis. But neither the West nor the puppet regime in Kiev was in a mood to reciprocate.
In these moves was yet another message from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the West: Come to the negotiating table. Last month, he wrote to 18 heads of European nations which buy Russian gas via Ukraine, asking them to come for talks. He even held several telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to warn her of the dangerous turn the Ukrainian crisis could take if it was not solved amicably. The phone calls, together with the pressure applied by the German industrial sector, have apparently put the brakes on Merkel’s rush to join the US-led war party, though she talks of imposing further sanctions on Russia. There are about 6,200 German businesses in Russia and more than 300,000 German jobs are at risk if trade with Russia is cut off. Besides, Berlin depends heavily on Russian gas and an alternative energy supply source could be costly. Russian gas supplies via Ukraine account for more than 50 per cent of Europe’s gas needs. Merkel has since expressed support for a negotiated settlement and pinned hopes on talks held on Wednesday in Kiev, though this meeting did not include Russia or pro-Russian rebels from Ukraine’s east.
Following the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February, Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom almost doubled the price of gas to punish Ukraine. Prior to the overthrow of Yanukovych, Moscow had offered Ukraine discount after discount in gas sales though Kiev continued to default on the payments. Putin claimed that Moscow had subsidised Ukraine’s economy to the tune of a staggering US$ 35.4 billion. He wanted Ukraine to join a Russia-led Customs union. But the West pressurised Yanukovych to join a partnership agreement with the European Union. All hell broke loose when Yanukovych decided to spurn the EU deal. Though Yanukovych abandoned the EU deal under pressure from Russia, polls show only one third of the Ukrainians supported the EU partnership. Thousands of Ukrainians who are supporters of neo-Nazi parties such as Svoboda took to the street with the US and its western allies playing a behind-the-scene role. The protests eventually overthrew the democratically elected president, Yanukovych. In response, an angry Russia in March annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region following a referendum held by the region’s pro-Russian majority.
In another compromise that also demonstrated Russia’s readiness to recognise Ukraine’s “illegal” government, Moscow on Wednesday said it would start gas talks with Ukraine if its new leaders agreed to pay off at least a part of its gas debt.
“Nobody ever said: hand over US$ 4 billion straight away, rather (we said) show that you are ready to act … If they pay part of it, that’s the minimum requirement for resuming talks,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told reporters.
He indicated that Russia could consider selling gas to Ukraine at a new concessionary price.
But there appears to be little or no reciprocity to the Russian compromise. This was evident at the talks the Ukrainian leadership held in Kiev to find a solution to the crisis in the country’s Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions. At the talks in the parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine’s new leaders sharply attacked Russia, with acting president Oleksander Turchinov accusing Moscow of launching “systematic action to destabilise eastern and southern regions of Ukraine” to produce an “explosive situation”.
The pro-Russian separatist leaders were excluded from Wednesday’s talks, where the Ukrainian leaders discussed proposals to decentralise power to the region but rejected calls for federalism, a demand put forward by Russia. The exclusion of the pro-Russian leaders from Wednesday’s talks which brought together ministers, political party leaders, candidates for the presidential election and business leaders, drew criticism from Moscow and the pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine’s east.
Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the Pro-Russian mayor of the rebel stronghold of Slaviansk, scoffed at the talks, saying, “The Kiev junta organised that? … Our first condition for talks with the Kiev junta is the immediate pullout of all the troops of the Ukrainian army from the territories of the Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk regions… As long as they are on our territory there will be no talks,” he declared.
The talks were held a day after pro-Russian rebels ambushed a Ukrainian military convoy and killed at least seven soldiers. The attack once again proved the rebels’ resolve to resist Kiev’s rule. Weeks ago, the rebels brought down at least three Ukrainian aircraft. As things stand today, the Ukrainian military finds it difficult to bring the regions under its control.
Yesterday, pro-Russian rebels gave an ultimatum for the Kiev military, warning that if troops did not withdraw from certain areas in the Donetsk region within 24 hours, they would be taken over by force.
Just like the Ukrainian regime, Washington is also adopting a tough line. Unlike the phone calls with Merkel, Putin’s telephone conversations with the United States President Barack Obama have produced more friction than a formula to find a peaceful solution to the growing crisis which threatens to trigger World War III. Washington has rejected Sunday’s referendums as “illegal” endorsing Kiev’s rejection of the rebels’ direct-democracy method to show to the world that the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine deserve self-rule.
The US administration is also silent on growing evidence that Kiev-backed neo-Nazi paramilitaries instigated the clashes in the southern troubled city of Odessa where Ukrainians make up more than 60 per cent of the population and the Russian-speaking people 30 per cent. More than 40 pro-Russian civilians died when neo-Nazi paramilitaries and pro-Kiev protesters set fire to a trade union building after rival demonstrations by the two groups. YouTube Video clips show armed neo-Nazi paramilitary members instigating the Odessa clashes. These neo-Nazis were Washington’s hit men during the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Yanukovich in February.
There are also reports which spoke about the presence in Ukraine of dozens of US military officials and members of the notorious US-based private mercenary group Academi – formerly known as Blackwater, the butchers of Iraq. CIA chief John Brennan was also in Kiev recently on a mission to advise the Ukrainian government on how to handle the military campaign. Or is it how to put into action covert operations aimed at destabilising Russia?
With Washington and the puppet regime in Kiev rejecting Moscow’s compromise, the situation in Ukraine’s eastern region will only go from bad to worse, provoking Russia to intervene. But Russia apparently wants to play the game according to its own rules.
Moscow has the option of invoking the Responsibility-to-Protect doctrine to send its troops to Ukraine’s eastern region. It can even cite the precedent the US has set in Libya, where the West played a key military role in the overthrow of the Muammar Gaddafi regime. The Russian Parliament has already empowered President Putin to take necessary action to protect Russian-speaking people within and outside Russian territory.
But Moscow is exercising restraint because it does not want to fall into a trap the West has set for it in the Ukrainians crisis. Already the US and Nato have taken advantage of the Ukrainian crisis to strengthen their presence in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, close to what Russia regards as its backyard. Russia believes that even a limited war with Ukraine could lead to a Europe-wide war or a World War. Such a large-scale war will be a drain on Russia’s economy. It can hardly afford it. If Russia avoids being dragged into a war in Ukraine, the West could, in the alternative, trigger an ethnic conflict by arming and financing the pro-Ukrainian paramilitary groups against the Russian-speaking civilians who are a majority in the east. Russia sent message after message, urging the US to recognise Russia’s security concerns, especially Ukraine’s importance as a buffer state, but Washington, it appears, has little or no intention to do that.
Weakening Russia economically – and militarily if possible — is one of the main objectives of the US and its western allies, and that was why they scripted the events that led to the overthrow of Yanukovich by neo-Nazi elements. A weakened Russia would enable the West to intervene unhindered in West Asia and in the territorial disputes between several US allies and China. Besides, the West can move freely into energy-rich Central Asia – Russia’s southern backyard.
Russia is not unawares of these moves. That is why it is offering an olive branch with one hand and arming the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine with the other hand. If push comes to shove, Russia can also threaten to fire its nuclear missiles and bargain for a peaceful deal.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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