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Minsk-2. Summer of 2016. Bifurcation point: “Gorbulin’s plan” renovated – from defensive to offensive

Vladimir Gorbulin, head of the National Strategic Studies Institute, advisor to the Ukrainian president. Photo: newsru.ua

On July 6 2016, ahead of the NATO Summit, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over Ukraine’s growing military activity in Donbass. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin met with the ambassadors of Germany and France in Moscow. Such format of the meeting once again reminded the sides concerned about the Minsk process which, as Putin’s Administration admitted two weeks ago, has come to a stalemate. It turned out a few days ago that the meeting in the format of the Normandy Four was postponed until autumn on the initiative of the Russian side. In the meantime, the Russian side understood that the Minsk-2 was inefficient yet a year ago. Nevertheless, on July 1, the defense minister of Poland told mass media the NATO Summit in Warsaw will adopt a “landmark decision” that will make Russia “retreat from the territories of Ukraine it has occupied illegally.” The Polish minister meant not only Donbass but also Crimea. It is obvious that NATO’s “decision” will be implemented in a direction different from Minsk-2.

Recently Vladimir Gorbulin, the former secretary of Ukraine’s Council for National Security and Defense and the advisor to the incumbent president, published an article entitled “2017: to be continued…” on Gazeta.Zn.UA, wherein he describes the prospects of the conflict for Ukraine for the year to come. Meantime, a year ago, Gorbulin explained the logic of Kiev’s actions in its strategy of “neither war nor peace” in Donbass and the use of the Minsk process to deter Russia. Then Gorbulin suggested the “fifth” by his calculations scenario of “neither war nor peace” or “local war and permanent talks” that has become a reality. It suggested:

— A local or deterring war in Donbass to cause “demotivating losses” or demoralize the population of the breakaway territories;

— A permanent negotiation process in Minsk without final results, such as arrangements or any formats;

— A gradual shift from passive defense to active one, from containing the adversary to ousting it;

— More pressure on Russia by the West and measures to isolate it diplomatically;

— Consistent and fundamental reform of the Ukrainian public;

— Rapprochement with NATO and EU, as well as Ukraine’s participation in the establishment of the local military union with post-Soviet and Central European countries.

Russian mass media named that strategy of “hybrid war” against Russia “Gorbulin’s plan” a year ago.

Gorbulin defined the position Kiev took with the help of Minsk as a “defensive strategy” in view of the country’s “temporary weakness” and “insufficient support” to it. According to Gorbulin, the major and the only foreign policy stratagem of Ukraine is to “buy time and build up its strength.” Consequently, Gorbulin’s plan implied that Ukraine would overcome its weakness and get “sufficient support” from its “allies.” Yet, it is possible that the weakness will be overcome but the support will remain “insufficient” or vice versa – Ukraine will not overcome its weakness, but there will be “sufficient” foreign support. The latter option is perhaps the one we will see in Warsaw soon. Both the internal and the external options of building-up implied mobilization of the forces of Ukraine and its “allies” and their political and diplomatic buildup…against Russia.

A year ago, Russian analysts focused on the military component of Gorbulin’s strategy – the final phase of war – an attack on the people’s republics in Donbass on the model of Croatia’s operation in Krajina, and not on the aspect of “deterring” Russia through non-implementation of the Minsk agreements and holding useless talks. Here is how Gorbulin defined the task of the Minsk process: to stand up against the Kremlin strategically and not to play in Donbass by the Kremlin’s scenario. This is what we observed throughout past year. Gorbulin’s new article is “interesting” as it continues the topic of “neither war nor peace, but concentration of forces” ahead of the NATO Summit. Gorbulin suggests shifting from defensive to a political offensive, not a military one. The logic of “Gorbulin’s plan” for the next stage of “deterring” Russia starts with a “bifurcation point” which he defined for the summer of 2016. He anticipates a “change of paradigm” in the ongoing long-term conflict. Yet, that “change of paradigm” does not mean a sooner end to the conflict. It appears that the conflict will continue directly under the strategy of “local war and permanent talks” with no drastic escalation.

Gorbulin is not afraid of large-scale military actions with the Russian troops, though he believes that Ukraine will suffer defeat in the battlefield due to the difference of military potential. He thinks Ukraine will need to cause tangible losses to the Russian military in case of a large-scale war and win time to receive the West’s support. Perhaps, he draws parallels with the August War of 2008 between Russia and Georgia that was stopped by the West as rapidly as it started. Gorbulin believes that the West’s political support will help Ukraine win politically in case of a heavy war. In case of radicalization, Gorbulin suggests Ukraine’s leadership to impose martial law and announce the state of war.

Nevertheless, Gorbulin believes that the major task of Kiev is the same – to take diplomatic, economic, and information measures to prevent a large-scale war. In addition to it, Ukraine must continue its military buildup and continue pursuing the policy of public consolidation around the Ukrainian nationalism.
Gorbulin suggests seeking an asymmetric response to the power of the Russian army. He thinks it necessary to create a military-industrial commission with the president in the head to determine the priorities in the field: create operative and tactical missile systems, Ukrainian analogues of Javelin anti-tank missile, and even own combat drones and fighting robots. The goal is to reduce the capabilities of Russia’s armored forces and artillery.

According to Gorbulin, Ukraine’s new strategy in the “hybrid war” against Russia must be based on asymmetric actions, for instance, more and more initiatives are needed in the foreign policy, such as measures to to strip Russia of its UN Security Council veto power.

Ukraine should boost the cooperation with NATO by actively involving into the discussions for creation of new coalitions of states in Eastern Europe under aegis of U.S. It is anticipated that NATO will create a common warship flotilla in the Black Sea with the participation of Ukraine. (It is noteworthy that Bulgaria failed that plan after it suddenly refused from participating in the establishment of a permanent NATO fleet in the Black Sea).

According to Gorbulin, Ukraine must seek an international ban on Russia’s ideology of the “Russian world.” Gorbulin demands the same legal punishment for the people (countries) advocating for the “Russian world” as for the supporters of the Nazi ideology. In his article, Gorbulin claims: “Several various ‘orthodox armies’ operate (or operated) in the east of Ukraine committing such atrocities the ISIS militants have never thought of.” (sic!)

In addition, Gorbulin offers more active measures in the information field, since counter-propaganda and increased brainwashing of the population seem insufficient to him. Ukraine needs legal norms at the international level to restrict foreign information policy of Russia. In particular, he believes it necessary to introduce quite new information policy in Donbass. All the above measures are instruments of “hybrid war.”

Gorbulin openly says that Ukraine is experiencing certain difficulties in the conflict with Russia. There is heavy social and economic situation in the country; the people are exhausted with the undeclared war, dramatic reduction of the living standards and no vision of reform.
Gorbulin admits that the economy is vulnerable in Ukraine and recommends the leadership to prepare for radical steps, such as introduction of emergency situation in economy and more sanctions against Russia. In particular, he offers restricting Russia’s economic influence on Ukraine i.e. imposing sanctions against companies with the Russian capital. It is also specific that Gorbulin says nothing about the need to blockade the communications with Russia.

It is noteworthy that Gorbulin recommends softer policy of de-Sovietization and lustration to avoid more public discontent.

Gorbulin believes that at the new stage of hybrid war, Ukraine is no longer concerned if the EU sanctions are intended to deter Russia, as the sanctions have already played their role. He suggests Ukraine to act so as if there is no longer the factor of sanctions. It is evident that Gorbulin implies that Kiev must ignore possible pressure by Europeans concerning the implementation of its part of the Minsk agreements.

Yet this February, Gorbulin said the Minsk process will deter Russia for some two-three years, no more. Kiev and its “allies” believe that Russia will not leave the Minsk process on its own. At the same time, despite the praised Minsk process, Russia’s opponents think that the Minsk agreements are international arrangements with insufficiently high legal status, and their political weight depends on the sides’ readiness to implement them. Since Ukraine fails to implement its part of commitments, the Minsk Agreements lack political weight too. That is why diplomatic maneuvering let the Ukrainian authorities win time and prepare for the next stage of confrontation until the last moment.

Thanks to Gorbulin, it has turned out that to deter Russia Ukraine formally agreed to put on agenda of the Minsk talks some fundamental issues of Ukraine’s domestic policy yet a year ago. Then Russia thought it was a big success.

Afterwards, Ukraine launched a diplomatic attack and demanded restructuring the agreement allegedly to get a new impulse to implement it. Berlin and Paris supported that demand, and Moscow had to agree on it in November 2015. However, Kiev thought it at least unreasonable to make return concessions to Russia. Later Ukraine gradually pushed through foreign policy, security and humanitarian issues during the talks and the domestic issues fell out of the agenda. Furthermore, Kiev has repeatedly tried to increase the number of the participants in the negotiations by inviting U.S. to join the process. Kiev and its “allies” even demanded internationalizing the conflict through setting up an OSCE Police Mission in Donbass.
General efforts point at wider prospects of the Minsk process, but at quite different level of settlement. Moscow asks a common and ultimate security in “greater Europe,” does it? Well, the NATO Summit in Warsaw creates instruments to deter the military threat too. After a pause, they will offer Russia a settlement of the large-scale military-political crisis. A new negotiation process will start at a new level and with a bigger number of participants to settle more complicated and contradictory political issues connected not only with Donbass but also with Crimea and other crisis points in the post-Soviet area – Transnistria, Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As for the Kaliningrad region, they will offer demilitarization, for instance, in exchange for withdrawal of the NATO battalion from Poland and Baltics to defuse mutual military tension. A similar demilitarization will be offered for Crimea.

EU is now promoting deployment of the NATO troops in Donbass under the guise of the OSCE Police Mission, which will become a model for introducing the concept of “international management of disputable territories with uncertain political status.” Under this concept, for instance, government of Donbass will be transferred to a temporary international administration backed by NATO and EU for the period of preparations for its return to Ukraine. Actually, to settle protracted conflicts in the post-Soviet area, a renovated version of the “mandated territories” under international administration will be promoted. This will be introduced as equal and ultimate security for Eurasia.

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