Aftermath of the drama of MH17—Further down the path to war?

Whoever still doubted the wisdom of the slogan, War Is No Solution, must have reconsidered after the downing of flight MH17 and its 300 victims. 

Would our foreign secretary Frans Timmermans ever think back of the day he strolled across Maidan square in Kiev to express his support for the demonstrations against Yanukovych, in the footsteps of other EU politicians and of course US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland (
"F**k the EU")? Shouldn’t he have acted more forcefully to bring about negotiations and containment of the conflict? 

Meanwhile the army of those in power in the capital is waging war against armed rebels in the Russian-speaking east of the country, killing large numbers of civilians. According to the UN, in June there were already 257 civilians, 14 children among them, among the 356 dead. The casualty figures have risen further since, because whoever may have thought that a pause would have been called after the shooting down of MH17, is mistaken. The troops loyal to Kiev have resumed the offensive and in Lugansk alone there were again 44 civilian dead in the two days following the disaster. In addition the supply of electricity and water to large parts of the city has been cut off and the big, Russian-owned oil refinery of Lisichansk has been set on fire. Where will this end? 

Well, as far as the Dutch government is concerned, we will mount an armed expedition to Ukraine. ‘The Dutch cabinet have launched a high-calibre diplomatic lobby campaign to dispatch hundreds of international military and forensic police experts to Ukraine. They must secure the disaster zone where last week 193 Dutch people perished in a plane crash. Last night after the mourning ceremony in Eindhoven the cabinet convened in [the Hague] to discuss the risky plan’, De Volkskrant wrote this morning.

Today Timmermans will fly to Kiev to not only demand recognition of the Netherlands as the country most affected in terms of victims, but also to be awarded the leading role in what follows. 

To cite De Volkskrant again: ‘A lot of work goes into the legal justification of the mission: If Ukraine agrees to the presence of foreign military on its territory, a bilateral agreement would suffice and a complex new resolution on a “UN policy mission” may be prevented.’

Every word in these sentences counts. We will be in the lead role of a military mission to eastern Ukraine, not with a UN mandate, but on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Kiev, which for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union has a government made up of a collection of (West) Ukrainian nationalists, ranging from an elected president, Petro Poroshenko, to the fascists of Right Sector.

At the same time there is fierce fighting going on in the area concerned, so the chances that ‘we’ will become involved are very high, and this time the Dutch-led military will be armed and will not be cowed as happened in Srebrenica. However, since we are there in agreement with Kiev, it is also clear whose side we are on once our troops become engaged militarily.

There is a second factor that makes it necessary to be extremely careful. It concerns the fact that according to the rightwing newspaper, The Washington Times, Obama has instructed the Pentagon to dispatch military advisers to assist in the fight against the rebels. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed to USA Today that the initial discussions with Kiev on the format of the assistance had already taken place earlier this week. This of course would be a major step from the $5 million for body armour, night goggles and communication equipment already signed off by the president. 

When prime minister Rutte in the aftermath of the MH17 disaster spoke with Obama, they agreed that there should be a more forceful attitude towards Moscow, although the media yesterday made it known that American intelligence had been unable to find proof for a Russian role in the drama—other than that the Russians are responsible for the conflict as such, have ‘created the circumstances under which the disaster could happen’, etc. 

The most important of these circumstances of course is the fact that Russian is Ukraine’s second language. The revocation of
the law of 2012 which rules that every region where at least ten percent of the population speaks a language other than Ukrainian, is allowed to use that language for official purposes, was the first measure adopted by the Kiev parliament after the Party of the Regions had been expelled from it. Certainly the revocation was not enforced, but the problem remains. The map below gives the percentages of Russian speakers at the time of the census of 2001.

Will the Netherlands also take on the task of settling this language issue?  

The sanctions against Russia that have been announced and which will be broadened, will be child’s play compared to what can go wrong once American military advisors and an armed mission led by the Netherlands go into eastern Ukraine.

Once more: War is No Solution! There must be an immediate cease-fire and negotiations between the warring parties, that is what the Netherlands must make an effort to achieve. Only then would the senseless shooting down of MH17 bring about at least one positive outcome.

Kees van der Pijl

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