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Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014

Ukraine Crisis Continues

Sunday 20 July 2014, by Arun Mohanty


The Ukrainian Government has been contin-uing punitive military operations in the rebellious south-east of the country for more than two months, and did not go for extending the ceasefire date in spite of the call by leaders of Germany, France and Russia. The initial talks in participation with former Ukrainian Presi-dent Leonid Kuchma, representing official Kiev, and well-known Ukrainian public figure Victor Medvedchuk, the leader of the “Ukrainian Choice“, representing the rebel side, were short-lived burying the hopes for negotiated settlement of the conflict that has snowballed into the most serious global crisis ever since the end of the Cold War.

The newly-elected Ukrainian President, Pyotor Poroshenko, has been talking about his two plans for the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis: Plan A stipulates to have a negotiated settlement, and Plan B emphasises on a military solution. President Poroshenko for a moment seemed to adhere to Plan A, raising hopes for extension of the ceasefire deadline followed by resumption of talks between official Kiev and the representatives of the rebellious regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east of the country. Nearly seven million people out of the total 45 million population of the country live in these two regions considered to be the industrial heartland of Ukraine.

President Poroshenko’s decision not to prolong the casefire has been most likely prompted by two factors. First, he is under tremendous pressure from the US Adminis-tration to intensify the punitive military opera-tions in the east of Ukraine. The US tactics seems to be to escalate tension through intensifi-cation of military operations in the rebellious region and thus provoke Russia to use force in Ukraine. Russia is unlikely to sit as a silent spectator when more and more Russians and Russian-speaking people in the east would be butchered by Kiev, which has been stressed by President Putin in his recent address to the Russian diplomats. Secondly, President Poros-henko is also under pressure from the “Maidan”, consisting of the “Right Sector” people who represent the neo-fascists and radical nationalists primarily living in western Ukraine and have been threatening the President with ‘Maidan’ that threw the then Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovich, out of power in February this year through a violent coup.

Poroshenko’s decision not to prolong the ceasefire under apparent Washington pressure seems to have awakened the Europeans about the US game-plan that seeks perpetuation of the crisis and tearing away of Ukraine from the Russian orbit forever. This has led to certain course correction of the European powers on the issue of the Ukrainian crisis. In spite of US pressure, the European powers, except Britain and Poland, are in no mood to intensify punitive sanctions against Russia, which is being projected as an aggressor though it has withdrawn its troops from its border with Ukraine for the sake of tension de-escalation facilitating peace talks. The European countries, compelled to toe the US line on Ukraine in the past, appear to be having second thoughts about their unqualified support to Washington on the crisis, and this is reflected in their latest actions. The European Union has clearly told the US to understand that the path of negotiations is the only way to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, ruling out any use of force. This was evident from the joint telephonic conversation that was held between German Chancellor Merkel, French President Ollande, Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko on June 30. It was decided to organise the talks of the contact group set up on the Ukrainian issue with the participation of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Russian ambassador to Kiev Mikhail Zurabov and OSCE special representative Telyavini as a result of these telephonic discussions.

These discussions were also aimed at achieving unconditional bilateral ceasefire, release of all hostages, establishment of control over the Russia-Ukraine border through OSCE moni-toring and verification. It was further decided that Ministers of Foreign Affairs of these four countries would immediately start working to set up a mechanism for achieving the above objectives. It seemed that the discussions laid out a clear roadmap for a peaceful solution of the Ukrainian crisis. However, Poroshenko’s decision to resume the military operations in the east of the country within just a few hours after the discussions were concluded defying the above agreement clearly indicates the level of US pressure under which he is compelled to function.

Despite this development, some European Union members, particularly Germany and France, continue to insist on a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian question, which is clear from the talks that Chancellor Merkel and President Ollande held with Poroshenko on July 4, 2014. The talks once again insisted on immediately resuming the work of the trilateral contact group for bringing about a lasting cease-fire and release of the hostages.

Foreign Ministers of Russia, Germany and France had a joint telephonic conversation on July 6 that once again insisted on implemen-tation of the Berlin agreements reached on July 2 for immediate resumption of the work of the contact group for achieving a lasting ceasefire between the Ukrainian troops and insurgents of south and east Ukraine.

Europe, perhaps realising the US game-plan, appears to be showing greater understanding of the Russian position that aims at facilitating talks between Kiev and the insurgents for achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis. There is growing acceptance in Europe of the fear that a full-fledged military conflict in Ukraine would play havoc in the continent as tens of thousands of refugees would cross the Ukrainian border fleeing from the horrors of the war. European concern about the emerging humani-tarian catastrophe at the centre of the continent as a result of Kiev’s punitive air strikes would only further grow as Kiev intensifies its bombardments over south-east Ukraine.

Indeed, tens of thousands of citizens from the war-torn Ukrainian territory have reached Russia in order to escape from bombings and heavy artillery fire by the Ukrainian troops. While the Russian Migration Service says that one lakh and sixty thousand Ukrainian citizens have sought refuge in Russia over the weeks, other sources put the figure of refugees at more than half a million. The gap is attributed to the fact that many Ukrainians, who have crossed over to the Russian territory, have not registered themselves at the migration service office. Exodus of refugees is likely to grow in the coming weeks and months as Kiev intensifies its military operation in the south—east of the country.

Incidentally, I met with one of the female Ukrainian refugees at the residence of one of my Russian friends, who is a leading journalist in Moscow. My friend’s daughter, Natasha, has given shelter to this Ukrainian lady, Marina by name, who has fled Slavyansk, the symbol of the heroic resistance to Kiev’s semi-fascist forces. Marina, through constant flow of tears from her eyes, narrated the horrors perpetrated by the Ukrainian authorities in her home town, which is without water and electricity supply and under complete blockade. Narrating the story of her escape from Slavyansk, Marina said that she had to run away from the ghost town leaving her two sons fearing they would be caught in the train and sent to the filtration camp (concentration camp). She was right in her apprehension. Ukrainian border guards harassed her as much as they could in the most inhuman manner and forcibly took away from her bag US $ 5000, her entire life’s saving, to start a new chapter in her life in Russia. She had plans to bring her sons to Russia after she gets settled there. But she was left on the streets without any money, and Natasha, on learning about her plight, came forward to provide her shelter in her tiny two-bedroom Moscow apartment.

The Russian Migration Service has set up hundreds of camps in the bordering regions, but is unable to cope with the massive exodus of refugees coming from Ukraine. The Ukrainian Government does not provide safe corridor for passage of the refugees, rather the Army indiscriminately bombs over the rebel territory jeopardising the lives of scores of innocent people, which I saw in Russian TV reports.

Marina told me about the filtration camps run by the pro-government forces in Ukraine. What I understood from her was that these filtration camps are nothing but concentration camps run by the pro-Kiev forces. Men and women of active age are caught by the pro-government forces and thrown into these concentration camps where they are physically tortured for extracting information about the insurgents. Though the government troops too torture the captives, most notorious in this act are the National Guards, mainly consisting of people with fascist ideology from west Ukraine and the devil private armies built by Ukraine’s most notorious oligarch and the Governor of the Dnepro-petrovsk region, Igor Kolomeisky.

The entire development reminds one of the situation of East Pakistan in 1971, when the language movement there snowballed into a liberation war leading to the emergence of Bangladesh, a new country in the political map of the world. This happened because West Pakistan treated East Pakistan as its colony and tried to impose its values and culture destroying the Bengali language and culture. When the people in East Pakistan launched a massive movement to save their language and culture, West Pakistan tried to crush it through crude military inter-vention that led to the exodus of millions of refugees to Indian territory and triggered the revolution culminating in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

The current situation in Ukraine is so similar to that of East Pakistan that one cannot but draw a parallel. There is an east-west divide in Ukraine too. West Ukraine, over the past two decades following the Soviet disintegration, has been making all efforts to impose its language, culture and value system over the rest of the country, particularly over the south-east of the country, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people. West Ukraine, consisting of three regions—Lyubov, Ivan Franko and Ternopol—out of the total 27 regions of the country, is inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians, whose number is just about four million of the 45 million strong country. According to gallop polls, 84 per cent of the the Ukrainian population prefers to speak in the Russian language, which leaves less than 16 per cent preferring to use Ukrainian and other minority languages at home and official transactions. But all the Presidents of post-Soviet Ukraine, without any exception, including those like Kuchma and Yanukovich, who won the elections on a broadly pro-Russian platform, have tried to impose the Ukrainian language, west Ukrainian culture and values over the vast majority of the country that wants to speak its native language as well as defend its native culture and value system.

This vast majority was more or less a passive and silent majority, preferring not to protest against violation of their cultural and language rights. But the coup in Kiev on February 22 by the fascist forces with the support of the US awakened the sleeping masses of the south-east of Ukraine who were frightened by the prospect of radical nationalists keeping the entire country under their grip. People living in the south and east of Ukraine refused to obey the junta that came to power in Kiev through a coup and defied the fascist authorities in Kiev. Though Kiev now has a more or less legitimate govern-ment with Pyotor Poroshenko as the elected President, however controversial the election might be, he is not his own man and is controlled by the US and its henchmen—the fascist forces of west Ukraine, who are keen to escalate tension with Russia and keep the vast majority without their language and cultural rights. So the people in the south-east of Ukraine are unlikely to agree to live in such a situation, particularly after making such huge sacrifices in their battle for independence and sovereignty.

All this is not to argue that there is no peaceful solution of the issue or Ukraine cannot exist as an united country within its present borders. In spite of all that has happened, it is still possible for Ukraine to remain as an united country but what the US and Ukrainian leadership have to realise is that Ukraine can-not survive as an unitary state any more. Ukraine with its civilisational divide and historical fault-lines, has to be a federation based on constitutional reforms. This is the only peaceful solution for keeping Ukraine united and sovereign. However, the new President, instead of initiating talks for making Ukraine a federation, intensifies military operations; talks about some abstract decentralisation of power in the Polish pattern and keeping the country as an unitary state, which can never be acceptable to the people of south-east Ukraine and which only further complicates the already complicated issue. If Kiev does not start serious negotiations with the representatives of the rebellious territory for making the country a federation, it would be impossible to prevent the break-up of Ukraine.

The author, who is the Chairperson of the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and the Director of the Delhi-based Eurasian Foundation, was recently in Moscow.

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