Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ukraine: One possible Russian-driven solution

Bill Clinton: Ukraine Saviour?
Ukraine is in turmoil, with positions apparently hardening on all sides, since the Geneva Agreement outlining a method of resolution was agreed upon a short while ago.

The level of support for the anti-Kiev position in eastern Ukraine is unclear at the moment:

Armed men have seized public buildings in a string of towns in the Donbas region. It is unclear how much support they have. Polls suggest that two-thirds of people in the south and east want to stay part of Ukraine and not be annexed by Russia, as Crimea was in March. Even among anti-government protesters and gunmen there is disharmony over aims. Some want to join Russia; others want more autonomy within a federal country.

Russia, speaking for the anti-Kiev forces, insists on the Geneva Agreement being implemented by that government:

Earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kyiv.

"The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people," Lavrov said.

He added the pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings "only if Kyiv authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized."

Here’s one take (from Gulfnews in Dubai) on what is needed:

The way forward in this standoff is not to add the fuel of rhetoric to the fires of ethnicity, or by claiming that a Third World War is at hand. That simply isn’t so.
What is at hand is a standoff that can be ended with international agreement and dialogue on the ground. Russian language rights need to be restored in the east of Ukraine. And barricades need to come down, in the east — and in Kiev. And more sanctions won’t end the stalemate.

Stalemate in Ukraine:

The Kiev government is in disarray, unable to rely on Ukrainian forces to fire on Ukranians in the eastern regions, unable to persuade the insurrectionist groups in central Kiev to lay down their arms and vacate the public buildings, and unwilling to take serious steps at involving all Ukranians in serious discussions of constitutional amendements aimed at a decentralized united Ukranian state. As well, serious reforms of the governmental institutions and the incorporation of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the revised constitution (along the lines of the exemplary Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) are not being pursued with vigour in Kiev.

The Kiev leaders are fiddling while Rome burns.

In the eastern part of Ukraine, ethnic Russians wish to have more power, to have Russian elevated to an equal state language, and to remain part of a more democratic, reformed and united Ukranian state. Right now, they appear leaderless, lack a common negotiating position, and have a minority who would prefer separation followed by absorption into Russia to continuation as part of a Kiev-ruled Ukranian state.

The US has stated publicly that it will not use force (directly or through the provision of arms to the Kiev government) to fight any Russian incursion into the Ukraine ala Crimea. This position is accepted by NATO and the EU countries. The US and EU nations are intent on discouraging a Russian invasion and takeover of the eastern part of Ukraine, through increased economic sanctions, targeting individuals and entities in Russia. However, President Obama has admitted that although increased penalties will hurt Russia, they will not persuade Putin to stop his actions to destablilize Ukraine and prevent Ukraine drifting into a political and military accord with the EU.

Russia is prepared to inject more special forces into eastern Ukraine in order to protect Russian speakers, as Putin framed it; he is also, he says, prepared to send Russian troops across the border into those regions if the Kiev government starts killing Russian speaking Ukranians.

However, Russia, says Putin, does not want to absorb Ukraine into Russia. It prefers a “neutral” Ukrainian unified state, with deeply decentalized political power, revenue raising powers in the regions, arms removed from all citizens and only carried by the Ukrainian army and the regional police forces. And, of course, no membership in NATO.

One Possible Outcome that preserves one Ukraine:

Something has to give. Somebody has to take leadership in moving serious negotiations on the amendment of the Ukranian constitution forward. The Kiev government does not want to do so, believing that it has the West on its side and mistaking such support for military support if a shooting war breaks out. Brinkmanship is their negotiation tactic, with a hope that things work out by Russia taking a hike and leaving them alone.

The US is not playing a meaningful role in launching serious constitutional talks, nor is the EU.

And Russia is waiting, but hoping that it a shooting war of Ukranians against Ukranians does not break out.

If the Kiev government continues to misread the limitations on US and EU support for Ukraine, and sends more Ukranian forces into the eastern part of the country to take over the cities now occupied by the anti-Kiev forces, this could become a gamechanger.
It is highly probable that Putin will then send Russian troops into the eastern provinces of Ukraine to resist the Kiev government forces. This will amount to a takeover by Russia of that part of Ukraine, something that is not really Putin’s top priority right now.

Assuming that Russia does send its own troops into the eastern provinces, is there anything that Putin can do that might move the whole situation back to one that accords with the Geneva Agreement? Can Putin achieve his aims of a decentralized Ukranian state, with Russian protected, but a unitary Ukranian state preserved?

The answer is Yes.

If the US and EU do not do something meaningful to move the Kiev government towards meaningful implementation of the Geneva Agreement, and if the Kiev government starts a shooting war in the eastern provinces, then Putin will send his troops into those provinces.

However, Putin does not need to carve those provinces out of Ukraine and absorb them into Russia. He can adopt a different policy, that could have a high probability of achieving a “neutral” Ukraine, a decentralized unitary Ukranian state, arms removed from individuals and carried only by military and police forces, non-NATO membership, and the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine (exept Crimea).

How can Putin do this?

By holding a referendum in the eastern provinces, now controlled in this scenario by Russian troops, that allows all Ukranians in those provinces a choice of two futures: Absorption into Russia, or remaining in a unified Ukranian state if certain conditions are met within a set time.

Those conditions would include: a revised constitution that devolves power to the regions, makes Russia an equal national language in each province where the majority of citizens agree by referendum that it should be equal, arms carried only by the central Ukranian army and the provincial police forces, new elections for new provincial governments, a new election for the new united Ukranian central government.

And, of course, the adoption through a referendum in the other regions of the Ukraine of the same revised constitutional proposals.

If the revised constitution is agreed to by the majority of Ukranians in the other Ukranian provinces, and the elections are held, then Russia will remove its troops from the eastern provinces.

Who will be proactive in brokering a solution based on the Geneval Agreement?

The above scenario is a worst-case one, triggered by the Kiev government forces starting a shooting war inside Ukraine.
However, it would kickstart a serious discussion of constitutional reform inside Ukraine.

The best alternative for Ukraine is that the US and EU work to prepare a serious constitutional revision incorporating devolution of powers, protection of Russian language rights, removal of arms, injection of new funding by other countries to help stabilize the reformed economy and build democratic institutions, accepting “neutrality” in the form of non-NATO membership for Ukraine etc.

So far, most the the US and EU efforts have consisted of Chicken Little statements, much hand-wringing, ineffective economic sanctions, and little else. It’s time for leadership and statesmanship.

If Secretary Kerry cannot do this, President Obama should find someone else who can. Perhaps former President Bill Clinton might fit the bill, provided his mandate for achieving constitutional change in Ukraine is clearly spelled out.

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