Kiev has been pinning its hopes on being able to re-create the Croatian success in recapturing territory from secessionist Serbs with western assistance in 1995. However, unlike Serbia in 1995, Putin's Russia will not stand by as Donbass rebels are defeated
Minsk Agreement II - Rest in Peace
It is pretty clear that the chances of peace, which were always tiny, are getting worse and worse by the day. I personally never believed that the Minsk-2 Agreement (M2A) would be implemented by the Kiev junta and I am not in the least surprised. The most what the junta could do was to withdraw some (not even most!) of its heavy weapons and then bring news ones in. As for the political steps foreseen by M2A they are simply unthinkable for the junta. In fact, even if Poroshenko decided to comply with M2A and, say, negotiate a future Ukrainian constitution with the representatives of Novorussia, he would probably be overthrown within 24 hours, not only because the Nazis like Yarosh would never accept that but because, more importantly, Uncle Sam would never accept that either.
The key actor: the USA
The single most important actor in the Ukrainian crisis are the USA which has far more influence than the EU or any local political force. And the fact is that the USA have everything to lose from a peaceful outcome of the Ukrainian civil war. Why? Simple!
The US powerbase in the Ukraine is composed of two very different groups: first, the Nazi ultra-nationalists with very strong ties to Ukraine emigrants in Canada and the USA and, second, the corrupt oligarchs. Now here is the key factor here: neither of these two groups are a majority of the Ukrainian people, even if we exclude the Donbass. In fact, even when put together into one “pro-US 5th column” the Nazis and the oligarchs are still not a majority. This crucial fact translates into a very simple but crucial policy imperative: the USA cannot allow anything remotely “democratic” in the Ukraine: it is either “people power” or “US power”, but it will never be both. From that flows a 2nd very simple policy imperative: the US needs to maintain a state of crisis at all costs: war, civil war, industrial or ecological disaster, MH-17, unknown snipers, etc. Peace will sooner or later bring some form of people power which, in turn, will mean that the USA would lose control of the situation.
This is why whether the next crisis results from yet another military defeat or from food shortages and riots, the junta’s “solution” will be the same one: martial law. The Rada, in fact, just passed such a law allowing easy imposition of martial law.
Martial law as a way to save the current regime
The big advantage (for the USA) of the introduction of martial law in the Ukraine is that the two “pillars” of US power in the Ukraine (Nazis and oligarchs) will most obviously the ones to declare and implement martial law, thus their power over the country will remain safely in their hands. Furthermore, martial law will allow the regime to viciously crack down and crush any opposition under minimal or even no legal constraints of any kind. Any person or group protesting or otherwise disagreeing with anything the junta does will be declared “agent of Putin” and dealt with by either imprisonment or simply executed.
The imposition of martial law will also be a financial bonanza for the oligarch which will use it to ruthlessly eliminate any opponents or anybody questioning their practices. But there is more to a martial law option than just short term benefits:
Longer term benefits of martial law: the preparation of a “Croatian” scenario
More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the junta in Kiev is preparing for what is often called a “Croatian” scenario.
UN Protected Areas in the Serbijan Krajina in Croatia
[Sidebar – short reminder: at the end of the first phase of the civil war in Croatia, the Croats were unable to defeat the local Serbian population which had lived in an area called “Krajina” – from the same root as the word “Ukraine” meaning “border region.” The UN then established “UN Protected Areas” or UNPAs in which the local Serbs were supposed to be safe from Croatian attacks. These areas are shown in dark blue on the map. The Croatians then waited a few years, while being trained and armed by the USA, and eventually they attacked under the cover of the USAF. The UN forces immediately surrendered and Krajina was rapidly overrun, resulting in a massive movement of Croatian Serb civilians feeling the Croatian offensive. The “civilized world” stood by and either applauded or said nothing].
The American-Ukrainiane oh-so-subtle plan appears to be very similar to the “Croatian variant”: buy enough time to prepare for a massive attack and then crush the “separatists” is a short but very intense campaign. The big question is – can that work?
An “Operation Storm” in the Donbass?
Externally, the similarities between the two wars are striking: two US client states use the cover of a peacekeeping operation to prepare a massive assault against its own population. But there are also crucial differences which one should not underestimate:
The first and most important difference is the difference between the rump-Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) under Milosevic and Russia under Putin.
For one thing, Yugoslavia was obviously not a nuclear superpower and Milosevic had to count with the possibility that Serbia and Montenegro could be simply invaded by the USA and NATO. There is exactly risk of that happening in Russia.
But even more importantly, Milosevic did betray his Bosnian-Serb and Croatian-Serb brothers and impose sanctions on them. In contrast, Putin allowed both “Voentorg” (the delivery of weapons) and “Severnyi Veter” ( or “Northern Wind” – i.e, the sending of volunteers) Novorussia).
But this goes way beyond Putin: there is a 90% or so agreement in Russia that there is no way that Russia will allow the Nazis to overrun the Donbass. So if Putin did let that happen, he would be putting himself and his allies in grave danger. In fact, Putin had a very hard time even defending his decision not to send the Russian military into Novorussia last year. Most Russians did agree, but it took some very intense PR campaigns and a lot of convincing.
The 80%+ support Putin enjoys in Russia is exceptional and strong, but it is not unconditional and while the pro-western “liberal” opposition presents no threat to him, the nationalist opposition is currently rather weak because Putin is very careful in his policies. But should he “sell out” Novorussia or suddenly turn pro-Western and that rather currently tame nationalist opposition could become very dangerous.
In reality, since it is the “patriotic” (but non-nationalistic – big difference!) segment of the population which is the real power base of Putin I don’t see him doing anything to alienate them, especially not by allowing Novorussian to be invaded by the Nazis.
There is also a pragmatic reason why Russian cannot allow Kiev and its Nazis overrun Novorussia: not only would their next attack be inevitably be directed at Crimea (they already promised that numerous times!), but even the combats in Novorussia only would most likely pull the Russian forces in anyway.
The bottom line is this: Russia will never allow an “Operation Storm” in Novorussia.
The second big difference is the terrain and forces involved. The Serbs in the UNPAs had given up their heavy weapons, the terrain was either low mountains or a narrow valleys and, most importantly, they did not have a “safe border” from which they can be supported and resupplied (like the Afghans had with Pakistan during the Soviet occupation).
Furthermore, the Novorussians have slowly and painfully struggled to transform their militia of volunteers into a regular army force and while this process has not been easy, to say the last, it appears to have been pretty successful. Keep in mind that even before these reforms, the militas were rather successful in all their operations and that their air defenses had succeeded in imposing a no-fly zone over the Donbass. Their biggest weakness was their limited capability for coordinated attacks and counter-attacks, but that has probably changed now. Not only that, but by all accounts the Novorussians now have large stores of weapons, plenty of armor and more than enough men. As a result, the Novorussians are now probably capable of combined arms operations.
When the US and NATO bombed the Krajina Serbs, they enjoyed air supremacy, they faced no air defenses, the number of targets they had to engage was very limited and the Serbs, having been betrayed by everybody, had no will to fight left. The Ukrainians have lost most of their airforce, the number of potential targets they might want to hit in the Donbass is very large and very well defended.
Last but not least, there are at least two major cities in Novorussia, Donetsk and Lugansk. These cities are large, easy to defend, very well prepared and capable of resisting for a very long time. No such cities existed in the Serbian Krajina.
Back to reality
The similarities between the civil wars in Croatia and the Ukraine are both superficial and deceiving. In purely military terms the conquest of Novorussia by the Kiev junta would be infinitely more difficult than the relatively simple Croatian operation to invade Krajina.
As for the famous US aid, let’s remember not only the little good it did to the Georgians, but also all the other US allies who benefited from lavish US aid, huge weapons deliveries, CIA organized death squads, the full propaganda support of the US corporate media and who still were defeated. Even the deployment of US military forces as a solution of last resort rarely proved effective against a popular insurgency.
Do the Ukrainians and the Americans understand that a Krajina-like operation in the Donbass is impossible? The latter probably do, especially the military specialists. As for the Ukrainians, they don’t really care. For them it is all about pretending, keeping a rationale alive to justify their actions, making promises of “defeating the Moskal’s with the help of the USA and NATO”. Whether that actually happens or not is irrelevant for them. What matters is keeping the good times (for them, of course) going for as long as possible. And when the inevitable happens, they will flee like so many other US stooges in the past, from the Shah of Iran to Ferdinand Marcos.
But in the short term we should have no illusions about the immediate future: the junta forces will attack again and even though their next offensive will probably be much more effective than their previous ones, they will be defeated again, either by the Novorussians or by the Russian military.