Again close to a solution in Ukraine—and once again Washington and London block the way

Last Saturday, 7 February, Chancellor Merkel and the French president, Hollande, were in Moscow after a first stop in Kiev to negotiate with Poroshenko. Since the latter’s military offensive against his own population in the east appears to be turning into a complete debacle and the country’s economy is about to collapse, there is sudden interest in Kiev in a peaceful solution. John Kerry and his team (including Victoria ‘f**k the EU’ Nuland) were also in Kiev, but the missed the chance to talk to Merkel and Hollande. For the rift between America and ‘old Europe’ has not been as wide as it is today.

The US, as always faithfully followed by London, are seeking a humiliation of Moscow in Ukraine. In his magisterial Frontline Ukraine (IB Tauris, 2015) Richard Sakwa analyses the conflict there as between the ‘monists’ who want a single Ukrainian national state, and the ‘pluralists’, who take the multinational reality of the country as their starting point.

In a monist Ukraine Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians would be a minority, who, as I was told myself once by a prominent ‘monist’, would for instance have to ask for permission if they wanted to marry somebody from Russia. Ukrainian would be the country’s exclusive official language. The pluralists argue that everybody in Ukraine speaks Russian or can speak it, whereas not everybody speaks Ukrainian even though the languages are closer than Dutch and Frisian.

Yanukovych did not speak Ukrainian, or only with difficulty, but Poroshenko did not need an interpreter for the negotiations with Putin, in the presence Merkel and Hollande.

These negotiations deal with the restoration of the federal structure that the pluralists (here called ‘separatists’) demand, that is, a distribution of authority between the federation (foreign and economic policy, money) and the lesser entities (mainly education and hence, recognition of Russian where it is the majority language). That is not an extreme demand because in the US, Canada or Germany, such a system functions since people can remember. Yet the US and Britain are dead against it, because they want to exploit the deep crisis in which the Eurozone and Russia find themselves in order to weaken them even further by disrupting their economic interdependence even further (Russian gas against European industrial and agricultural exports, etc.).

Meanwhile Paddy Ashdown, an experienced British politican and former intelligence operative, has joined the long line of experts (Kissinger, Helmut Schmidt, John Mearsheimer, Sakwa....) who assign the responsibility for the Ukraine crisis squarely to the West and its policy of an economic and political offensive after the collapse of the Soviet Union, irrespective the consequences.

In The Independent, Ashdown writes that ‘The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority.’

‘Instead of opening the doors to a strategic partnership to Moscow, we sent young men still wet behind the ears from Harvard business school to privatize their industries, and teach them the Western way of doing things. The result was a bonanza of corruption, the humiliation of the Yeltsin years and a clumsy attempt to enlarge our “Cold war victory” by seeking to expand NATO and Europe right up to the Russian border. There was always going to be a consequence of this folly and its name is Vladimir Putin.’

Incidentally he advocates, in the remainder of his article, that sanctions against Russia are to be maintained in order to make Russia pliable, but some way out should be offered too.

However, for Merkel and Hollande time is running out because the Greeks have revolted against the economic package that has been imposed on the country by the IMF (the ‘economic NATO’, and the EU. A revolt that is coming dangerously close to a political rupture with the actual NATO confrontation policy. Because we may have forgotten that Greece from 1967 to ’74 lived under a brutal military dictatorship installed with NATO assistance—but the Greeks have not.

The Ukraine agreement now within reach, will conform largely with the agreement that Merkel and Putin were secretly negotiating when flight MH17 was shot down and the negotiations were discontinued. Whether this time there will again be a spanner in the work, remains to be seen.

What we can be certain about is an intensification of the anti-‘Putin’ campaign. As Robert Parry has explained once again on the indispensable, the personification of a country with which we are seeking a fight, is not just populism or journalistic laziness. It is as conscious tactic to silence voices called for moderation and reconsideration, by disqualifying them in advance.

Whoever hesitated to support NATO policy, or the actions of Washington and London on their own, can then be conveniently dismissed as a friend of ‘Milosevic’, ‘Saddam Hussein’, ‘Ghadaffi’ and now, ‘Putin’.

This in most cases will lead to an embarrassed silence, and in the meantime the media will continue to hammer on the misdeeds of (fill in the name) and how we are going ‘to make him pay’, ‘present the bill’, and other pub talk.

That this time this may run the risk of an uncontrollable conflict, potentially a world war… It is hard to believe but that too will be laughed off in the editorial bureaus and political corridors.

For that is the other side of the fixation on one personality: the assumption that the country in question, Russia in the case, also really wants to get rid of the strongman. A partitioned Yugoslavia, with new refugee flows from Bosnia and more recently from Kosovo, chaos in Iraq and Libya, nothing will bring the war party in Washington and London to its senses.

Will Merkel and Hollande this time get the chance to help de-escalate the conflict?

Kees van der Pijl

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