by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
While the United States and a good many countries around the world this weekend have been reflecting on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s move into the Oval Office, drawing up balance sheets of his promises and achievements, Russia has had a rather different issue on the front-burner: the coming war with Ukraine.
The situation in Donbass (South-Eastern Ukraine) has been an intermittent feature of Russia’s political talk shows for the past couple of years, along with the military campaign in Syria and more recently the stages in the preparation for presidential elections on 18 March.
To be sure, minds became focused on Donbass in the closing weeks of 2017 as military action on the front lines separating the forces of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk enjoying Russian support from Ukrainian militias and armed forces reached an intensity not seen for more than a year. This, despite the heralded exchange of military prisoners by both sides before New Year’s under talks supervised by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill.
Then, this past Thursday there came a wholly new development. Readers in the United States and Europe may be forgiven for knowing nothing about it as yet. Only the Russians have placed it under the microscope and have been seeking to give it meaning. I am speaking about a draft law passed that day by the Ukrainian Parliament (Supreme Rada) which the Russians believe amounts to a declaration of war.
As usual, the most comprehensive interpretation of this emotion-charged development has been delivered by the head of all Russian television and radio news services, Dmitri Kiselyov on his Sunday evening news wrap-up.
Dmitri Kiselyov, News of the Week, Sunday, 21 January 2018
According to Kiselyov, the new law, which awaits Poroshenko’s signature, ends Kiev’s participation in the Minsk Accords and prepares for war. The mission in Donbass is no longer described as an “anti-terrorist operation.” The mission now is to send armed forces against “military formations of the Russian Federation” in Donbass. A military HQ is created to coordinate the military operation to be waged in Donbass. Whereas till now the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Lugansk were under the Minsk Accords considered as negotiating parties, there are henceforth only “occupation administrations” of the Russian Federation on these territories. Russia is identified as an “aggressor.” Says Kiselyov, "This makes it all the more convenient for Ukraine to start a war.” In this way, Poroshenko has prepared the way not to pay the country’s foreign debts. In this way he has prepared to stay in power forever.
The report then switches over to the Vesti reporter on the ground in Donetsk. Local residents confirm that the law means war. They see the current moment on the front line as “calm before the storm.” Donetsk soldiers at their trenches say they are fully ready to engage with the enemy.
Kiselyov draws back a bit, wondering whether he is not overstating the dangers. Perhaps the draft law, which Poroshenko still has to sign, will not be implemented, like so much else passed by the Rada. But it is not the law itself that is the issue. It is the mood in favor of war in Kiev. The facts speak for themselves, he tells us: Poroshenko has done nothing to implement the Minsk Accords. Not one cease fire along the lines of contact has been observed. There are attacks and deaths every day. Only counter force has pushed back recent Ukrainian attempts to gain territory. Kiev has written off the population of the two republics. It has cut off all transport and telecoms links. It does not pay pensions and assistance to the needy. It closed the banking system and there are no commercial ties. Kiev does not recognize the population of Donbass. For Kiev the two provinces are merely territory to take back from the occupiers.
Other circumstantial evidence that war at this moment is in the interests of Kiev comes from the economic front. The EU has refused to extend 600 million euros of credits to Ukraine due to corruption. The IMF recently refused a tranche of $800 million over failure to introduce reforms. Meanwhile, in 2019 Ukraine has to start repaying earlier loans. This will come to 14 billion dollars a year, which amounts to one-half the state budget of Ukraine. Due to the dire economic conditions, Poroshenko, Grossman and all the other government officials in Kiev have become utterly unpopular, They have no chance of winning any elections.
Apart from Kiev, who else wants a big war in Ukraine? .For its part, Europe is fed up with Ukraine. Macron and Merkel no longer are keen to continue the Normandy format of negotiations.
However, the United States stands out as a backer of war. Washington has started delivering lethal weapons including the Javelin anti-tank missile system free of charge to Kiev. Trainers are now on location. The US has budgeted $350 million for the war in Ukraine.
And what does Russia say to all this. Per Kiselyov, for Russia, the best would be to stay with Minsk. But it seems there is no way back.
Analysis and Forecast
The Maidan demonstrations which culminated in the coup d’etat of 22 February 2014 in Kiev overthrowing the government of nominally pro-Russian Premier Yanukovich have been seen by some analysts as an operation of the Neocon dominated U.S. State Department under Barack Obama to take revenge for their humiliation a year earlier when Obama reneged on his declaration of “red lines” in Syria over chemical weapons attacks. To the surprise and dismay of the Deep State, Obama agreed to a Russian proposal that they oversee the destruction of Assad’s chemical arsenal instead of ordering an air attack on Damascus with the objective of overthrowing the Syrian dictator.
Now that the United States has been again and still more decisively humiliated in Syria by the nearly complete military victory of Assad forces with substantial Russian air assistance, the Deep State once again is looking to Ukraine to wreak its vengeance on Russia.
It is clear that the Kremlin has very little to gain and a great deal to lose economically, diplomatically from a campaign now against Kiev. If successful, as likely would be the case given the vast disparity in military potential of the two sides, it could easily become a Pyrrhic victory. But notwithstanding Kiselyov’s calming words, it may well be that Moscow feels it has no choice. Kiev must be neutered now and very quickly, a new provisional government must be installed now and very quickly lest the United States and its NATO allies have the time to intervene militarily, creating the conditions for the outbreak of WWIII.
Watch this space in the coming days.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018
* * * *
Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/ For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg