Still a spark of hope for a solution in Ukraine?

In the midst of rising tension with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, even the smallest sign of progress should not be neglected. In The Independent of today, 31 July, we can read that for some time there have been secret negotiations underway between Germany and Russia to bring the crisis under control. 

This plan fits into a longer series of agreements under the auspices of the EU or otherwise linked to Europe. It envisages mutual concessions of which the most important are: energy and economic sovereignty for Ukraine; cessation of Russian help for the armed insurrection in exchange for a measure of federalisation, and recognition by the West of the referendum in the Crimea to rejoin Russia. 

Those who would consider this plan too ambitious, do well to realise that at this moment no more gas is being delivered to Ukraine and this will lead to a complete collapse of its economy in the autumn and winter. Hence, writes Margareta Pagano, the discussions between Germany and Russia about a peaceful solution which would include giving the bankrupt country an economic boost on the basis of a secure energy supply.

In exchange Poroshenko would agree not to aspire to NATO membership, whilst Putin would drop his objections to the free trade agreement with the EU. In addition the Russians would compensate Ukraine with a billion-size package for the loss of rental income for the Russian naval base at Sebastopol. 

A key role in the negotiations over a new gas deal with Gazprom was apparently played by one of Ukraine’s wealthiest tycoons, Dmitry Firtash. Firtash between 2006 and 2009 negotiated the first big gas deal with Russia. He supports Poroshenko and meanwhile lives in Vienna where he is locked in a legal battle to prevent extradition to… the US.

These negotiations were going on when flight MH 17 was shot down, and were promptly suspended. According to insiders with whom Pagano spoke, however, the German plan is still on the table and the discussions will probably be resumed once the investigation into the disaster will have been completed. 

And that is where the problems begin. For this is in every respect a ‘European’ plan, and a spokesperson of the British ministry of foreign affairs declared in a comment to the paper that it is highly improbable that the US or Britain would ever recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea. At any rate it would not be the first such agreement that is being scuttled by an ‘Atlantic’ intervention. 

  • In February this year there was a detailed agreement between president Yanukovych and three EU foreign ministers (Germany, France, Poland), in the presence of a lower-ranking Russian official, but without any Americans. Immediately following its signing scores of demonstrators as well as policemen were killed, according to the Estonian minister of foreign affairs, by gunmen associated with the Maidan occupiers. I refer to my earlier blog on this.
  • The second agreement was signed on 20 April in Geneva by the US, the EU, Russia, and the new power-holders in Kiev. Again the next day there was an attack, this time by the neo-fascist Right Sector, on unarmed citizens in Slavyansk, with five casualties the result. 

Hence it would be a miracle if the Merkel-Putin agreement, if negotiations are resumed at all, would be successful. The interests pro and contra are enormous; trade between the EU and Russia runs at almost half a trillion US dollars a year. And shouldn’t we also ask the question again as to who may have been behind the shooting down of flight MH17?

Kees van der Pijl

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