4 May 2014 — New Eastern Outlook
The Kiev regime’s deadly assault on cities in the East and South of Ukraine in recent days has opened a new chapter in the ongoing conflict in that country. The scores of dead and injured provide a sad testament to the fact that what was a united country little more than three months ago has now become a nation tearing apart at the seams.
As the Ukrainian military launches assaults on key cities in the East and South, the danger of civil war, which once seemed possible but unlikely, is now becoming an all too real threat. However, the threat does not end there. A full blown civil war in Ukraine would necessarily require intervention from Moscow as the security of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian nationals in Ukraine, as well as Russia itself would be threatened. With a neoliberal-fascist alliance supported by, and subservient to, the West, ruling the day in Kiev, Moscow would be forced to respond if only as a defensive measure. In such a scenario, events and outcomes often become unpredictable, precisely the recipe for a military conflict of terrifying global proportions.
The Changing Complexion of the Crisis
In order to understand where the situation in Ukraine is heading, it is critical to examine how the nature of the conflict, specifically in the East, has transformed from one of political grievances and calls for regional autonomy, to a military and paramilitary campaign to crush opposition. In doing so, it becomes clear that this fundamental transformation has severely limited the political and diplomatic options of the various sides, making a civil war and regional instability a very real possibility.
As strategically critical cities such as Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, and Odessa are under assault by a combination of regular Ukrainian military and Right Sector and other fascist paramilitary forces, there can of course be no substantive negotiations, let alone diplomacy geared toward de-escalation. As Dmitry Peskov, Russian Presidential Press Secretary, noted in his address to the media, “Russia will continue the policy aimed at de-escalation. We shall do whatever is possible and wherever it is possible so as to follow the de-escalation path step by step,” while noting the fact that, “The authorities in Kiev are not only directly responsible, they are direct accomplices in these criminal actions. Their hands are full of blood.”
The obvious contradiction is clear: on the one hand Moscow wants to follow the framework established by the April 17th Geneva agreement and move towards de-escalation from all sides, while on the other hand Russia acknowledges that they have no legitimate counterparts in Ukraine (the regime in Kiev being illegal and unrecognized by Moscow) nor do they have negotiating partners in Washington which is continuing to back Kiev. In fact, Russia acknowledged this fact explicitly, referring to the US position as being rooted in “cynicism.”
Essentially, Moscow is touching upon the key point, though perhaps in a diplomatic and indirect way, namely that the US and its Western partners have no interest in peace and order in Ukraine, but rather are manipulating the situation to their own advantage while feigning indignation. Naturally, Russia has ample cause to feel this way as the April 17th Geneva agreement, like the February 21st agreement before it, were never implemented or adhered to by the junta in Kiev or its Western backers.
With regard to the most recent agreement which called for de-escalation from both Kiev and the anti-Maidan protesters in the East and South, there never was any disarming of the fascist paramilitaries employed as shock troops, nor were there any substantive steps taken by the “government” to ease tensions or move towards negotiations. Moreover, Russia’s charge of cynicism by the West is perhaps best substantiated by the fact that the US continually calls for peace and order in Ukraine while providing overt political, diplomatic, economic, and quite possibly tactical support to the Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces. The line between hypocrisy and cynicism can be quite blurry indeed.
It is critical to remember that the basic demand expressed in that April 17th Geneva agreement was that “All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation, or provocative actions.” While the US continually accuses Russia of breaking the agreements, the reality is quite the opposite. It is, in fact, Kiev and its patrons in Washington and Brussels who have broken the agreement with the military assault on the East and the covert and overt support provided by the West. In light of this, is it any wonder that Russian President Putin has repeatedly referred to double standards and hypocrisy when it comes to Western rhetoric?
In analyzing how the conflict in Ukraine has fundamentally changed though, one must also examine the tactics and developments on the ground. The fire in the trade unions building in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, which killed at least 38 innocent Ukrainians, is a war crime of the highest order. Allegations from many sources on the ground are that the fascist Right Sector militia, which is nominally under the control of Kiev, was responsible for setting the blaze. While an investigation to determine conclusively who was responsible for the blaze is necessary, though perhaps unlikely, it is certainly in keeping with Right Sector tactics to this point, including the use of petrol bombs. Moreover, videos have emerged showing survivors of the fire being beaten, humiliated, and denied access to medical care including ambulances and emergency first aid, all of which constitutes yet another war crime.
Of course the military operations themselves constitute a great breach of international law. By deploying the military against its own people, not foreign fighters, Kiev has committed a grave atrocity, though it is being framed as anything but criminal by the Western corporate media. The reality however is that, in light of these crimes and the deliberate sabotaging of the peace process, the next stage of the conflict could become devastating for far more than simply Ukraine.
Where Do We Go From Here?
What makes the current situation so dangerous is the fact that Moscow has completely lost faith in the diplomatic avenues for peace. They have seen multiple peace agreements broken by Kiev and Washington and, because of that, might be unwilling to engage in the process again. This then would leave Moscow little option other than the use of force to both stabilize the situation by protecting civilians and to secure its borders. In doing so however, Moscow would undoubtedly open itself to carefully manipulated negative public opinion in the West, further sanctions, and possibly more from the West. While Russia might publicly argue that such measures would not affect the country, they recognize that there will be negative consequences.
Additionally, any Russian military action would be taken as an immediate justification for the rapid expansion and possible active deployment of NATO forces. One could easily imagine a scenario in which Russian military forces move in to secure their border, while NATO forces mass on the Polish-Ukrainian border, awaiting a possible confrontation. This possibility was noted by renowned American scholar and author Stephen Cohen, who explained that, contrary to popular belief, such a hot war between US-NATO and Russia is not unthinkable, but rather, sadly, a very plausible scenario in the context of Ukraine.
Any peace-minded person would naturally shudder at the thought of a US-Russia war, with all the attendant dangers of nuclear conflict. So, then the question becomes, is there any hope for peace?
Any chance for peace would first require that the Kiev junta immediately end its bloody repression. The cessation of all military operations and a pullback of troops would be an important first step. From there, negotiations regarding the federal semi-autonomy status of the eastern and southern regions could begin in earnest. Likely, Moscow could dangle a few carrots such as gas pricing, recognition of the junta in Kiev as the legitimate government, and other forms of assistance. In return of course, Moscow would demand the disarming of the fascist paramilitary forces, a fact-finding mission to determine the culprits of the numerous war crimes committed, and most importantly, internationally recognized neutrality status for Ukraine in order to guarantee that Ukraine doesn’t become a larger, more dangerous version of NATO partner Georgia.
Perhaps it’s overly optimistic to think about such scenarios when the images of carnage and destruction in Slovyansk, Odessa, Kramatorsk, and elsewhere are streaming in every hour. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe that, despite the track record of deceit and destabilization by the West in this crisis, that they should still be regarded as partners for peace. Perhaps it’s foolish to hope that cooler heads prevail and that diplomacy and rationality overcomes warmongering and lunacy. But what choice do we have?
In a few months, the world will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, a conflict that consumed the entire world, devastated multiple generations, and set the course for the bloody history of the 20th Century. That war began through poor diplomacy, imperial hubris, and an unwillingness to compromise. It was a struggle over spheres of influence, resources, economics, and geopolitics. But it could have been avoided if only the world leaders of the time had chosen the path of peace and compromise, over war and destruction. Let us hope that the lessons of that war have been learned, lest the devastating consequences be repeated.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”