Frontline Ukraine: Appallingly, we in the West have been more misled than the Russians

By Jonathan Power

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces logbook recorded 77 violations on 9 July, while the Russian Federation Armed Forces logbook recorded 115. Both sides attributed a smaller proportion of ceasefire violations to the Ukrainian Armed Forces”, reports the Organisation For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) which has been charged with monitoring the cease-fire, and includes Russia as a member.

“Not once but now twice – once last week – one of the Ukraine Maidan regime’s allied parties, the neo-fascist Right Sector (RS), has claimed responsibility for the 2nd May, 2014, terrorist pogrom in which 48 activists opposed to the Western-backed Maidan regime in Kiev were killed; most of them burned alive as Ukrainian ‘nationalists’ shot at them, tossed three Molotov cocktails into their building and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.”, writes Gordon Hahn today, a highly respected expert on Ukrainian and Russian affairs.

So who is right and who is wrong?

Of course the first quote above simplifies a horrifically complicated situation and is only true for one area. Nevertheless, this snapshot shows that the Russian observers can be fair. As I write both sides – the Ukrainian government’s army and the Russian-supported rebels – are fighting flat out to take control of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine – again reported on by the OSCE.

Although many areas of the East are quiet the cease-fire negotiated by President Vladimir Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande is in danger.

Politically, the situation appears to be almost stalemated. Parliament has been slow to legislate for the full equal rights of the second language, (as is the situation with Swedish and Finnish in Finland) and is hesitating on devolution. Some of the senior ministers come from political parties with a Nazi pedigree.

As my second quote underlines, the extreme right wing Right Sector Party, an important part of the coalition that supports President Petro Poroshenko, will stop at nothing to get their way.

Although it has dropped its talk of joining NATO, Ukraine along with Europe and the US have not made a joint statement affirming that NATO membership will not be sought.

On the rebels’ side, it is beyond doubt that official Russian forces, along with a patchwork of volunteers including Chechnyans, are fighting alongside them. Nevertheless, Putin seems to have partly lost control of the rebels. They are determined to fight on with or without Russian support. The tail, as can often happen in international politics, is wagging the dog.

In Moscow, quite recently, I was told by a close advisor to Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev that how to pressure the rebels to compromise and respect a peace deal was “the million dollar question”.

A new book “Frontline Ukraine” by Professor Richard Sakwa of Essex University is the first academic study published on the crisis.

It is well done, with an enormous amount of detail. His skill is to get into the minds of all the participants. He is uncompromisingly fair to the Russians, the rebels, the Ukrainian government as well as to the EU and the US. None come out of it well.

But as a Westerner I am appalled that “my side” – both government and press, have misled us in the way Sakwa describes. If I were Russian, I would say the same, although not so much or so gravely.

Russia’s position, given the historic attachment to Ukraine and given the West’s earlier trumpeting about membership of NATO, plus its broken promise to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO in former Warsaw Pact territories, is the more understandable of the two sides.

Sakwa gives a devastating quote from Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State and an old Cold War warrior who, based on much contact over decades, knows Kremlin thinking intimately: “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other – it should function as a bridge between them. The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. For its part the US needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant, to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. For the West the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.”

His discourse strikes the inmost circle of the target.

His thinking is joined by the senior American academic observers of foreign policy Zbigniew Brzezinski and John Mearsheimer, again two old Cold War warriors.

President Barack Obama and his European counterparts have gone out on a limb. Their policy has been from day one counterproductive and sometimes seriously underhand. They have been irresponsible and if they go on like this they might take us right up to the edge of a great war.

Copyright: Jonathan Power 2015

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