Ceasefire announcement does not point to an end to the Ukrainian conflict but to a weak government, unable and unwilling to make peace,
- but incapable of going on the attack because of the weakness of its military and the opposition of its western backers
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Since the announcement of a ceasefire beginning on 1st September 2015 Ukraine has enjoyed its first period of (relative) peace since the start of the Ukrainian government’s so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in April 2014.
Reports for the first time speak of a real cessation of the shelling of Donetsk.
On previous occasions when ceasefires have been announced the amount of fighting has died down, but it has never stopped completely, whilst Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk has gone on uninterrupted.
On this occasion, though some fighting undoubtedly is taking place, the ceasefire seems for the moment to be genuinely holding.
This ceasefire is happening contrary to most people’s expectations - including mine - that the Ukrainian government would launch an offensive in the summer.
Why instead of that offensive do we have a ceasefire instead?
The short answer is that the Western powers - or at least Germany - have warned Ukraine against launching an offensive.
The key event was the recent meeting between Merkel and Poroshenko (with Hollande in token attendance) in Berlin.
Prior to this meeting the Ukrainians had assembled a large army of 90,000 men on the battle-front, with Poroshenko making belligerent speeches that appeared to threaten a new offensive.
A series of armed clashes over the summer looked like probing attacks, with the Ukrainians testing militia defences in preparation for their offensive, which at any moment seemed about to start.
There were also reports, that appeared to be confirmed by the OSCE, that the Ukrainians, in breach of the terms of the February Minsk agreement, were bringing their heavy equipment back to the front line.
In the event all the probing attacks were rebuffed, and when Merkel met Poroshenko she appears to have warned him against launching an offensive, telling him he should abide by the terms of the February Minsk agreement instead.
The result has been a total reversal of Ukrainian policy, with the ceasefire in place and Poroshenko once again talking about the importance of implementing the Minsk agreement.
Why has Merkel, who has shown a consistent reluctance to rein in the Ukrainians in the past, acted in this way?
The likely answer is that her intelligence officials have warned her that in the event of a new Ukrainian offensive the Ukrainians would be defeated, and the Russians have warned her that in that case, instead of pursuing further negotiations with the present Ukrainian government, they will demand its reconstruction.
The formation in Moscow of what looks like a Ukrainian government-in-exile, is a clear statement of Russia’s intentions if the war resumes, and as such is intended both to strengthen Russia’s hand in diplomatic negotiations and to serve as a warning to the Ukrainians and to the West.
Merkel does not want to be put in a position where she is directly confronted with a Russian demand for the Ukrainian government’s reconstruction after it has been defeated in battle because it chose to launch a military offensive when it should have been carrying out the Minsk agreement.
She undoubtedly knows that the political and economic situation in Ukraine is now so precarious that the Ukrainian government might not survive a further defeat, in which case the Russian demand for its reconstruction - especially if the Ukrainian far right attempts a takeover -might become irresistible.
Last week’s rioting outside the Ukrainian parliament shows how precarious the political situation in Ukraine now is, with the government encountering fierce opposition both within the parliament and outside it, whilst being apparently unable to keep order or deal firmly with the far right groups that are challenging it.
The rioting however also shows that despite the ceasefire the Ukrainian conflict is not ended.
If it does nothing else, the rioting shows how strong is the opposition in Kiev to even the very limited (actually bogus) steps towards decentralisation the Ukrainian government is taking. It turns out that even the government's pretence of complying with the Minsk agreement is too much for Ukraine's far right.
More ominous still is the Ukrainian government’s refusal - or inability - to withdraw its 90,000 strong army from the front line.
The Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov once said a loaded pistol in the first act of a play must be discharged before the play ends.
The 90,000 strong army is Ukraine’s loaded pistol.
An army of that size cannot be kept idle in the field indefinitely.
It must be used or in time it will disintegrate, with ever larger numbers of soldiers deserting, and those remaining becoming increasingly angry and disaffected.
There are already signs of demoralisation and indiscipline. The announcement of the ceasefire with no concurrent demobilisation can only have made things worse.
Ukraine’s government cannot however bring itself to withdraw or demobilise its army.
Doing so would admit the war - and the Donbass - is lost. Last week’s riot in Kiev shows the danger of doing that.
The mere existence of this army is therefore a factor in pushing Ukraine towards war, with the authorities in Kiev under pressure to use it before it becomes unusable.
Ukraine’s conflict is not frozen. Rather Ukraine is in limbo, caught between war and peace, unable to advance or retreat, with its economy in free fall, and its political system becoming increasingly weak and discredited, so that it cannot even surmount what should be minor challenges from violent and unpopular groups like Right Sector.
Ukraine’s tragedy is that there appears to be no way out - short of a total breakdown - since all the obvious routes are closed.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Anyone is free to republish, copy, and redistribute the text in this content (but not the images or videos) in any medium or format, with the right to remix, transform, and build upon it, even commercially, as long as they provide a backlink and credit to Russia Insider. It is not necessary to notify Russia Insider. Licensed Creative Commons