Negotiations in Berlin, violence on the ground, new negotiations in Minsk

Yesterday there were reports of a bloodbath among citizens fleeing the Donetsk/Luhansk area. According to the Guardian fifteen bodies had already been found after a bombardment by ‘Grad’ missiles (pictured being deployed by a pro-Kiev militia), even though the buses in the convoy transporting women and children had been clearly marked by white flags. It was hit when it was nearing the Russian border, from which it was still separated by a mere 8 kilometres. Unless this was a coincidence, the fear that whenever there is a beginning of negotiations, it is responded to by violence on the part of Ukrainian fascists, sadly was confirmed again. 

The Ukrainian military immediately produced the sort of explanation we are familiar with, which is that eastern Ukrainian rebels did this on purpose to be able to blame Kiev, but as in earlier incidents, this lacks all credibility. Such a scenario would only be plausible if there would exist a broad anti-Kiev public opinion which through an incident like this could be activated—but there isn’t. The mood in Europe and the United States is radically anti-‘Putin’, so what is there to be gained? It is best to leave the absurd details provided by the Kiev authorities concerning the role of the rebels for what they are.

Meanwhile an even more important round of negotiations has been announced, dwarfing the Berlin meetings of the foreign secretaries in significance: a meeting between Putin (the real one) and Poroshenko, the only elected politician Ukraine has on offer. On 26 August they will meet in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in the presence of, on the one hand, the heads of state of the countries signed up for the customs union with Russia, viz., Belarus and Kazakhstan. Poroshenko on the other hand will be accompanied by representatives of the EU Commission, who already have his signature for their free trade agreement. It is worth remembering that the original conflict erupted from the haggling between these two projects for economic cooperation, which Ukraine finds itself sandwiched between.

In addition to the multilateral negotiations Putin and Poroshenko will also confer directly. According to Putin’s spokesman, Peskov, the relations between Ukraine and the customs union are on the agenda; there will also be several bilateral discussions between the two presidents. Poroshenko has confirmed this and has said that stabilising the situation in east Ukraine will be on top of his agenda. Will this again provoke new violence on the part of the Ukrainian fascists?

Notwithstanding this hopeful development, which has no doubt been accelerated now that the bill for the absurd sanctions against Russia has come in, the dynamics of the conflict have created the conditions for even more violence.

According to opinion polls the Radical Party of the ultra-right Oleh Lyashko would emerge with an estimated 23.2 percent from any elections.

Lyashko is co-founder of the notorious Azov battalion, a militia mainly composed of fascists. Neo-Nazis from Sweden who were involved in the Maidan demonstrations as sharpshooters (so possibly also in the shootings in February that scuttled the agreement achieved between the European ministers and Yanukowych and ushered in the violence ongoing since) also are members of this battalion (see my earlier blog).

The fact that a grouping like this can count on a quarter of the votes, is only possible because the violence itself has a mobilising effect. When your side suffers losses, the fury that results spreads like an oil spill, so that many more people besides those who originally were in favour of violent solutions, now also choose sides. My source in Kharkov tells me that the conflict has cost him many friends already and that the country is being torn apart.

For that, we read in the recent issue of the authoritative Foreign Affairs written by John Mearsheimer, we may in turn place the entire blame on the West, which has totally blinded and even after the war with Georgia in August 2008 still did not want to recognise that Russia will not tolerate NATO controlling vital advance routes towards its homeland, right on its border.

Kees van der Pijl

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