Originally published October 2015
Little noticed amongst all the Syria coverage, peace has been breaking out across Ukraine. After a faltering start, the so-called ‘Minsk II’ agreement – signed in February by the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ – now seems to be making serious headway.
A new ceasefire, which began on September 1, has been largely adhered to by all sides, paving the way for the withdrawal of weaponry from the frontline which was a key demand of the Minsk agreements.
On the political front, there have also been breakthroughs. One of the key sticking points was resolved two weeks ago when representatives of the self-declared People’s Republics in Lugansk and Donbass agreed to postpone elections to ensure they are held in line with Ukrainian law and international electoral standards. Meanwhile, in August the Ukrainian parliament – after a heated and tumultuous session – approved a law on decentralization that grants significant autonomy to the Eastern regions; another key demand of the Minsk agreements.
That the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) are keen for the peace to hold no surprises. For, ultimately, the US-UK destabilization strategy in Ukraine aims at weakening all of them.
It is worth recalling the key US and UK role in fomenting the war in the East of Ukraine. Whilst both powers openly supported the fascist-led coup in February 2014 – British EU commissioner Catherine Ashton, for example, giving immediate recognition and finance to the new coup government – they have also been instrumental in stoking the war in the East of the country. When resistance to the coup began in the Donbass region in April, CIA Director John Brennan was immediately flown to Kiev. By the time he left, the Ukrainian coup government’s bloody crackdown on the Eastern regions was well under way; it was pretty obvious he had been sent to push for precisely this response.
However, the crackdown did not go as hoped. Ukrainian tanks were met by angry crowds demanding the soldiers refuse to fire on their compatriots and give up their weapons. Many did precisely this, expressing sympathy for the resistance and fraternizing with the crowds; within days, a full scale mutiny appeared to be underway, with 21 armored vehicles turned over to the resistance. The futility of a military solution became increasingly clear, and even the coup-installed Prime Minister Yatsenyuk began making noises about federalism and the need to respect the rights of ethnic Russians for the first time since coming to power. The door appeared to be opening for negotiations and some kind of peaceful compromise.
It was at this point that no less a figure than US Vice President Joe Biden was sent over – and, once again, the offensive was renewed the day he left. But this time the reliance was less on the regular army, and more on the ‘National Guard’, a new paramilitary formation created the month before by Andriy Parubiy. Parubiy, from the extreme Russophobic ‘Fatherland’ party, had been the ‘head of security’ of the Maidan protests (and therefore directly implicated in the sniper shootings of February 20) before being made National Security Chief of the new government following the coup. The National Guard was a crude means of putting ultra-nationalist militias on the government payroll – and following visits by Biden and Brennan these militias became the spearhead of the US policy of war on Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population.
Within weeks, new militia such as the Azov, Donbas and Dnipro battalions were created, incorporated into the National Guard and thrown into battle. Azov’s founder, Biletsky, explained that: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the white races of the world in a final crusade for their survival: a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” The US has subsequently poured hundreds of millions into the training and equipping of such militias.
The result of this fascistic war has been to weaken Russia, Europe and Ukraine itself. On the one hand, it has been a willful provocation of Russia, whose very modest attempts to defend the eastern regions (allowing Russian volunteers to join the resistance, for example) have been characterized as aggression and used by the US as means of maneuvering Europe into supporting self-destructive sanctions against Russia. At the same time, Ukraine – which had higher per-capita industrial output than Germany during Soviet times – has become an economic basket case, facing massive inflation and economic contraction. Just last week, Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko requested a doubling of the $40 billion IMF rescue package just to stay afloat.
All of this suits the US very well. On the one hand, it is fully in line with veteran cold warrior (and Obama advisor) Zbigniew Brzezinski’s strategy to maintain US supremacy by keeping Europe and Russia divided. On the other, the sinking of the Ukrainian economy leaves the country utterly dependent on foreign loans and at the mercy of its Western creditors in the IMF, making the return of a genuinely non-aligned foreign policy along the lines of those followed by Yanukovich ever more unlikely. That is why the US has been at the forefront of pushing for this war.
It is also why not only Putin, but Hollande, Merkel and even Poroshenko are so keen for the war to end. So long as the ceasefire holds, European sanctions on Russia are due to expire at the end of the year. And as EU President Jean-Claude Juncker – well aware of the damage sanctions are doing to the European economy – said last week, “We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia … we can’t go on like this… We can’t let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington.” Likewise, even Poroshenko – despite all his tub-thumping at the UN – knows that simple geographical reality dictates he needs to have a constructive relationship with Russia, and that continuation of the war will make economic recovery impossible.
For the US, however, the surest route to maintaining economic war against Russia, keeping Europe and Russia divided, and keeping Ukraine dependent, is for the war in the Ukraine to continue. This is why the US policy of directly supplying and training the fascist militias is so worrying. For these militias will be the wild card in the months to come. They have already shown their willingness to violently challenge Ukrainian government authority, and have made no bones about their willingness to subvert any peace agreement that is not to their liking.
Three people were killed, for example, during ultra-nationalist demonstrations against the decentralization law, and in July Right Sector militias were involved in a firefight with Ukrainian police, leaving four dead. Following that incident, the Right Sector’s press spokesman commented that: “In the event of a new revolution, Ukrainian president Poroshenko and his associates will not be able to flee the country as the former president did. They can expect nothing but execution in some dark cellar, conducted by young Ukrainian military men or members of the National Guard.” A fascinating article by Nicolai Petro argued that, in the event of a full scale showdown between the paramilitaries and the official government forces, it is far from clear that the government would win.
The fascist militias, then, are the wild card who may threaten the peace that Russia, Europe and even the Ukrainian government are seemingly so committed. Could it be that the US has been developing its relationship with these forces for this very reason? The fact that the immediate US response to the success of the recent ceasefire has been to promise an additional $300 million worth of training and equipment to military “and other security forces” in Ukraine is a worrying step indeed.