We don’t even doubt that President Poroshenko will ratify the law on de-occupation of Donbass. Once he does it, any action by Russia (even demonstrative inaction) will be regarded as a reaction to this law. And this will give Russia a whole kit of instruments for pulling the strings – instruments ranging from diplomatic trolling to de facto recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR).
For Poroshenko, this law may well be a way to solve his domestic problems: a chance to gain the hearts of the right-wing voters and to weaken the “party of war” (though you will hardly find a party of peace in Ukraine now, will you?). But, in terms of external politics, this law will hardly give Kiev a lot of dividends.
In Aug 2008, even the scrupulous observers from the West were not aware of the Dagomys agreements, signed in 1992-1994 and stipulating deployment of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia and Gori district of Georgia (the responsibility zone of the Joint Peacekeeping Force). Nor did they consider point (d) of article 3 of the United Nations General Assembly’s Definition of Aggression resolution (“an attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State”) applicable to the war of 08.08.08. They needed weeks or even months to realize that it was not just a war but Georgia’s aggression against Russia.
The conflict in Donbass has been there for almost four years already. Since it started, the world has become aware where Ukraine is located and what is going on there. There will be no more headlines like “Russia has attacked Ukraine!” We also doubt that the West will use this law as a pretext to bear down on Russia. The law will be counterproductive for the West’s sanction policy and will be the last and the least thing it will keep in mind when considering the future of that policy.
Firmly confident that sooner or later Russia will get tired of Donbass as one is tired of a suitcase without a handle, the Kiev-based political experts have suddenly found out that their own country, Ukraine, has turned into such a suitcase for the West. Poroshenko is trying to make best of this situation. The Ukrainian president’s struggle with the EU over the anticorruption court in Ukraine is a matter of political survival or even personal freedom for him. The Europeans have no good choice here: if they let Poroshenko push the law the way it is now, the latter will gain control over the court while they will have to answer the question what “freedom and democracy” they are fighting for in Ukraine (not to mention the recent scandal in Poland, who may face EU sanctions because of its government’s wish to control the local supreme court); but if they break up with Ukraine, the question will be… the same: what did they fight for? What did they ruin a whole country for? Ukrainian economist Andrey Golovachev compares this situation with a head-on approach of two battle-planes but he is confident that the winner will be Poroshenko: the Ukrainian President has no backing space unlike the EU, who will be able to minimize its reputational losses.
As regards Russia, there is no need for it to spare the feelings of either the West or Ukraine. Moscow should give a painful diplomatic reply to Kiev simply because it has a chance to do it easily and safely. Let’s speak clear. Russia should have reacted immediately to Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from the United States instead of hoping that the next U.S. president would be more sensible. The Russians reacted six months later and lost their consulate general in San Francisco as a result. So, this time their reply to Kiev will be a reaction to its insensible actions rather than an attempt to rock the boat. We should react immediately instead of hoping that somebody will become sensible once he manages to coax his own radicals.
Technically, Moscow’s appropriate response to Kiev’s de-occupation law - no matter how painful it may be – will create no new quality for the West to be able to blame it for escalating the conflict.
For example, once the law is made public, Moscow might ask Ukraine’s president, the Supreme Rada and Constitutional Court to explain if the use of the terms “aggressor,” “aggression” and their derivatives means declaration of a war between Russia and Ukraine and would have to insist on a clear answer. Kiev would certainly not give one. So, Moscow would be able to suggest removing the terms from the law. We mentioned this scenario half a year ago (see “Kiev will declare Russia ‘an official hybrid war.’ Georgian lessons”). Such a request would not be aggressive but might be quite effective and compliant with the international law.
Dozens of international organizations use in their reports maps picturing not only states but also territories of undefined status. Since the status of “particular districts and Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts of Ukraine” (as defined in Minsk 2) is yet to be decided, we have the right to regard those “districts” as such territories or even to call them the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR). Freedom House is one of the organizations publishing such maps. Let’s put aside the criteria that organization applies when saying that Russia is “not free” while Abkhazia Russia “occupies” is “partly free.” What we care for is the “territories” and their borders.
Such maps are published every year and picture Tibet and Kashmir as territories of undefined status but neither China nor India regard them as a threat to their sovereignties. But this is not the case with Ukrainian diplomats: PACE Vice President Volodymyr Ariev went crazy when he saw such a map. Perhaps, it was the first such map he saw. The unsettled status of the DPR and LPR has been confirmed by Minsk 2 – an agreement based on a declaration by four presidents and a resolution by the UN Security Council. So, why can’t we term them as “DPR and LPR” on our maps? Just look how the South Kuril Islands are termed on Japanese maps or how the Falkland Islands are called on Argentinean maps. And nothing awful has happened so far: the sides develop their diplomatic relations and trade and show no aggression towards each other.
If Kiev refuses to change its de-occupation law, Moscow would be able to recognize the obvious – but yet undefined (due to Kiev) – status of Donbass. By the way, on its maps, Freedom House pictures Somaliland within administrative borders of once united Somalia even though the eastern part of Somaliland is controlled by the Government of Somalia (to be more precise by Puntland, a pirate province showing loyalty to Mogadishu). Consequently, we might also picture the DPR and LPR within the administrative borders of former Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts. They would have the color of Ukraine but with lower intensity.
Such a “cartographic slap” in Kiev’s face would be just one of the measures we should take to show it that the next step would be recognition of the independence of the DPR and LPR within their constitutional border. Until then, we need as close political and social-economic integration with those republics as possible. Just representations of Moscow in Donetsk and Lugansk are not a bigger sensation than, say, the representation of Addis Ababa in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. The fact that Somaliland is not recognized is not an obstacle for the Ethiopian president to give a joint press conference with his Somaliland colleague, nor is it an obstacle for the EU to send its official delegations to that country or for that country to have an official liaison office in Washington. So, none of Russia’s possible steps would look more absurd than the use of a de-occupation law by a country having a friendship, cooperation and partnership agreement with us. We should use all of our chances for preventing Kiev from escalating the conflict and for coercing it into implementing the Minsk agreements. The only alternative to this scenario is war.
In the article “Kiev will declare Russia ‘an official hybrid war.’ Georgian lessons,” we suggested that Ukraine might follow in Georgia’s footsteps, when Russia’s policy of “endless patience” made Mikheil Saakashvili believe that he could attack South Ossetia without being punished. The last six months have shown that Kiev is not thinking about impunity. It is thinking about victory and this is not insanity.
Russia’s reactions are giving the Kiev regime more and more grounds for hoping that the Kremlin will not recognize the independence of the DPR and LPR, will not conclude mutual assistance agreements with them and will not officially deploy its troops in their territories until the Ukrainian army deals the first strike – a strike that will be decisive and destructive for the DPR and LPR militias. Once this happens, Russia’s reaction will imply significant losses. Today we have 115 battalion tactical teams for a possible war in Donbass. But only half of them at best have combat experience. The Ukrainians have 85 such units and all of them have been involved in Kiev’s “anti-terror operation.” Today there are seven Ukrainian soldiers per each self-defender in Donbass.
Neurotic Saakashvili hoped for a blitzkrieg and even dared to quote Hitler: “Better an end with horror than a horror without end,” he said in one of his interviews. The Kiev strategists and their patrons seem to hope for a long trench war. “Long” here means weeks, a month or even more. They probably hope that if they attack Donbass, Russia will not dare to take the conflict outside its borders. But even if it dares, it will capture a number of key points along the border at best and will hardly go farther until its air forces crush the Ukrainians’ air defense and transport infrastructure. But this will take weeks if not more.
Today nobody knows what surprises the sides are preparing for one another, but it is clear that a few weeks of Russia’s dominance in the air will not ruin the Ukrainian army even if the Ukrainians runs short of communications and food – especially as they will be advancing and taking at least some parts of Donetsk, Lugansk or Horlivka, while their mass media, military commanders and President will be alleging more and more victories over the “aggressor.”
And this time will be more than enough for the West to convince Russia not to counterattack, in other words, to recognize its defeat. The key word here is “more than enough time” – time guaranteeing victory.
The practice shows that the West will realize all of its warnings no matter if Russia fulfills its requirements or refuses to do it – from disconnecting Russian banks from SWIFT, to boycotting 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. One Ukrainian journalists is sure that the world cup will not take place. But she is not aware what Russia will pay this price for.
It seems that the Kremlin has decided not to create problems for Poroshenko in his combat against the “party of war.” It is mistaken. There is no bad Obama and good Trump, there is no bad Turchynov and good Poroshenko. All of them are as good as well they realize the extent of the losses they can sustain.
So, we must make it known to Kiev that our very first response will be so destructive and quick that the West will have no time for ultimatums. We must make it home to them that while their 85 battalion tactical teams will be storming Donetsk, the Russians will be capturing Kharkov, Poltava and Kiev. And the Ukrainians will have nothing else to do but to capitulate. They may even try to declare an underground guerilla war, but it will not be as serious as the Kiev propaganda machine expects it to be. The supporters of the Kiev regime will be lucky if the Russians enter their capital before it is captured by the underground and this is true even for Bandera-oriented Lutsk and Lvov.
You get the idea: preventive measures against Kiev are the only way for us to save our world cup.
Albert Akopyan (Urumov)